The Entire See Through Elephant Revealed
Reducing Carbon – Ends, easy: means, tricky.
After nearly three years building a complex system to get ordinary people acting to measurably reduce carbon, See Through News has struggled to explain how it all connects. Until now.
Despite our best efforts to explain a rapidly-growing and fast-evolving project as clearly as we can, the See Through News website has become a higgledy-piggledy repository of car parts. Each may be original, ingeniously crafted and beautifully engineered in its own right, but displayed individually rather than combined into a vehicle, it’s not been easy to discern their purpose.
We’re working on a new-and-improved website, but the challenge goes deeper than content management systems, fonts, and layouts.
Our many previous attempts to explain what See Through News is and how it works have involved elephants, triple-decker buses, the vascular system of leaves, mazes and icebergs. Most left most See Through News novices more confused than ever.
When setting out to explain, our objective was clear: the path to get there, not so much.
Understood ‘carbon drawdown’ means:
a) stopping shoving more carbon into our atmosphere
b) removing the excess amounts post-Industrial homo sapiens has already shoved up there
and the first half of the See Through News Goal, the bit about ‘Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown…’ is straightforward. Measurably reduce as much carbon as quickly as possible.
Ambitious, yes, but at least it’s a clear and obvious destination. The second part of the STN Goal, ’…By Helping The Inactive Become Active’, is where we’ve struggled, until now.
Our fiendishly intricate methodology, involves storytelling techniques, slow-burn manipulation, and the kind of behavioural psychology jiggery-pokery usually deployed by purveyors of shaggy dog stories and snake oil.
See Through News creates a baffling array of public-facing projects and activities, which not only barely mention carbon at all, but appear to be completely unrelated to each other. This made it a challenge to explain what all those podcasts, superhero drawing competitions, AI projects, community filmmaking projects, supercomputing competitions and teaching slum-dwelling Kenyan schoolchildren how to make videos etc. have to do with each other, let alone with measurably reducing carbon. We’d say:
- they were deliberately diverse, in order to capture as many Unwilling Inactivists as possible. Uh-huh.
- how they were all different paths leading to the same destination. Okaaaay.
- all the workings, and connections to the rest of the system and the Goal, are laid out in articles published on the website and in our free weekly newsletter. Can you run that by me once more?
See Through News had itself a serious elephant problem.
The Six Men of Indostan
John Godfrey Saxe‘s 1872 The Blind Men and the Elephant retells ‘a Hindoo fable’.
As it was recited in Victorian drawing rooms around the British Empire, Saxe’s poem globalised a powerful metaphor for not seeing the wood for the trees. It goes like this:
Six blind men encounter an elephant for the first time. One feels the animal’s side, and concludes an elephant is like a wall. Another, feeling its trunk, deduces it’s a kind of snake. A third, palpating its knee, reckons it must be a kind of tree. The others, having first encountered a tusk, ear and tail, are convinced an elephant must be a spear, fan or rope. ‘Though each was partly in the right, all were in the wrong!’
The tale of the ‘six men of Indostan’ was written to expose the folly of theologians arguing about the ineffable.
It’s survived as a powerful description of how different partial perspectives can prevent us from seeing the big picture.
For three years, See Through News has failed to expose people to the entire elephant. Until now.
The See Through Asset Hierarchy
Aaaaand…here it is.
Still takes a bit of time to absorb, and maybe not, like Harry’s Beck’s London Tube Map, an instant design classic.
Having so many moving parts, in different stages of development, on different platforms means it’s always going to be complicated, but we hope it’s now clearer. Like any graphic, it’s goal is to be self-explanatory, but here are some pointers:
- Eventually, the See Through group home page will consist solely of one huge meter.
- The units will be in tonnes of CO2e reduced, CO2e being a carbon auditing industry standard for ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’, i.e. all greenhouse gases, pro-rata to the main one, carbon dioxide.
- Like a gas meter, the numbers will go up. Unlike a gas meter, each advance will represent a diminution, rather than an increase, in greenhouse gases.
- All upward ticks in the meter – i.e. all downward ticks in greenhouse gases – will be directly attributable to a See Through project.
- The website will be interactive, encouraging scepticism. Call greenwash on any upward tick on the meter, and you’ll be able to click through to as many levels of detailed explanation as to how this can be legitimately claimed and measured.
- The current website is confusing because its home page displays the many different, non-carbon-honking starting points to this journey. Starting at the destination and working backwards is clearer.
- These are the final gateways to the carbon drawdown destination, the turnstiles through the lower projects are trying to drive as many people as possible. To pass through the turnstile, you must have taken a See Through-induced action that measurably reduced carbon. Each click of the turnstile is an upward tick on the home page real-time carbon reduction meter.
- This is where all the non-measurable ‘raising awareness’, ‘informing’ and ‘educating’ is converted into measurable carbon drawdown, by converting the climate Inactive into Effective Climate Activists.
- There are currently three mechanisms in various stages of development. One may work fine, or we may end up with dozens, but three mechanisms, each complex in a different way, is plenty to be getting on with.
- The Act Game is the simplest to code. Its complexity lies in the subtle, squidgy, non-linear world of human political power dynamics it addresses. The Act Game will be the first to be tested, we hope using the Ben Law’s Woodland Year project, by mid-2024. The exact timing will, we hope, be driven by the timing of a UK general election, which presents a moment of maximum leverage.
- The Magic See-Through Mirror is among the earliest See Through projects conceived, but the hardest to implement. It has two daunting obstacles: a) STN has no bank account, b) it depends on bleeding-edge AI technology.
- a) remains the case but b) is no longer so formidable an obstacle. Breakthroughs in AI and Large Language Models have demolished many of the barriers. Recent AI specialist volunteers may have just contributed a breakthrough of our own in terms of our technical resources, which we hope to report on very soon.
- Days after its September 2023 soft launch, without any advertising, and with a pilot aimed at bottom-up adoption, See Through Carbon immediately attracted strong interest from upstream users. Current negotiations, if successful, could turbocharge progress we thought would take years into a few weeks. Watch this space.
- We’ve written articles about all these projects before (just search for them on the website) but our modest graphic breakthrough is to categorise them as a separate class.
- Guide projects, while still being entertaining and engaging in their own right, mention ‘the C-word’ (carbon) a bit more. This is represented by the increasingly deep shades of green towards the top of the chart.
- They are ‘Guides’ because, while still being fun/interesting/engaging in their own right, these projects are more overt and specific about how the public-facing Attractor projects below them lead to carbon reduction.
- These are the deliberately, confusingly, front-facing projects and activities, designed to attract the attention and interest of Unwilling Inactivists from all walks of life.
- Their diversity is designed to cast the net as widely as possible.
- Attractor projects must also work ‘on their own terms’. With no bank account or funding, See Through projects must offer some non-financial benefit to any participant.
- In the absence of money, in order to succeed any See Through zero-budget project must engineer a win-win-win situation.
- Win 1 is that it benefits the participant in a non-financial way.
- Win 2 is that it benefits the See Through volunteer in some non-financial way.
- Win 3 is that it measurably reduces carbon.
The See Through Paradox
Alert readers may by now have detected a certain paradox in the See Through approach. We call it the Transparent Trojan Horse.
How to deploy the kind of manipulative storytelling tricks used by advertisers and climate deniers to retard carbon drawdown, while at the same time describing those manipulations to anyone who cares to know?
Imagine being a conjuror explaining tricks as they’re performed. It’s no fun for the conjuror or the audience. That’s why we explain the tricks in the Guide Level and above, and don’t spoil the show at the Attractor level.
When accused of being manipulative, we ask how can we be, when we’re explaining precisely, at some length, in published articles, how we’re manipulating you?
The Answer’s Radical Transparency. What’s the Question?
This graphic will certainly evolve over time. It feels like a breakthrough now, but things are moving so fast, it may need updating by the time you read this.
We know when we can stop finessing it – the moment our website homepage consists of a giant carbon drawdown meter. Once that’s up and running, See Through projects will no longer need any behind-the-curtain explanations. We hope this chart will make itself obsolete as rapidly as possible.
As each project evolves from theory to completion, it requires less explanation. Showing is easier than telling.
Explaining how See Through projects all hook up will never be straightforward, but we’ll keep on doing our utmost to explain what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why.
Radical transparency, i.e. saying the same time to everyone all the time rather than trying to gain advantage through asymmetrical access to information, has turned out to be a very practical solution.
After all, two things will always be true:
- Truth will always out, sooner or later. Save time by telling the whole truth all along.
- As carbon-based lifeforms in a carbon-based ecosystem, a mission to re-balance the composition of the atmosphere protecting all life on Earth will never become outdated.