Enough with the theory – we’re about to test-drive a key component in one of our mechanisms to measurably reduce carbon
Carbon Reduction Action Sweepstake – short version
Christmas means competition time at See Through.
Unlike 2022’s See Through Carbon Competition, directed at Global South researchers, this year’s edition is open to anyone.
To enter the See Through Christmas Carbon Reduction Action Sweepstake 2023, all you have to do is
- email three numbers between 0 and 100 to firstname.lastname@example.org
On January 31st 2024, we’ll tabulate the real-world results. The closest average estimate wins the Prize.
What do the numbers mean?
If you prefer an educated guess to a random stab, here’s what those numbers represent:
To what percentage of a Facebook Group do you think the FB algorithm will show a particular post? i.e. what percentage ‘reach’ will FB report to the group admin?
Of those who are shown the post, what percentage do you reckon will click on a link it contains?
Of those who click the link, what percentage do you guess will click twice more, to email their MP on a specific carbon-reduction action?
If you’re curious, or sceptical, about how this test could help measurably reduce carbon, read on.
Sweepstake Number 1 – Facebook post
Other social media platforms are available -if this test works, we’ll benchmark the relative impact of other platforms. But we’re starting with Facebook because
a) it’s the world’s most-used platform
b) it’s the platform on which See Through News has the biggest reach (around a quarter of a million at time of publication)
Here’s a screenshot of the post in question (we’ll be testing various tweaks of the exact text, but this is a typical example):
Similar posts will be made to various petri-dishes to which See Through news has unique and exclusive access, in the form of the local level Notice Board groups we’ve been administering for the past couple of years.
Sweepstake Number 2 – Find Your MP
We’re not including the link here, as that would distort the test results, but if you click on the link in the post above, you’ll land on a page that looks like this.
Note that, depending on which local Facebook group post you clicked on, the title and sitting MP name/email are automatically customised to match the relevant parliamentary constituency.
At this stage, anyone landing on this page who’s already sufficiently convinced can click on the Email your MP link. Should they want more information, they can scroll down (you’ll find the relevant text at the bottom of this article).
The second number you’re guessing is the percentage of people who having landed on this page, go on to click the customised ‘Email your MP’ link, either straight away, or having read the additional information.
Sweepstake Number 3 – Email Your MP
Whoever clicks on the Email your MP link will see something like this. The exact look depends on your email platform, but this will appear automatically for most popular email platforms. For those that don’t auto-generate an email, there are cut-and-paste instructions.
Anyone who’s got to this stage can
- bail out
- edit the text in their own words
- just hit ‘send’
The third sweepstake number is the proportion of people who, having got this far, do 2 or 3.
By the way, if having read all this, and if you’re entitled to vote in the UK, you’d like to take action yourself, just click here.
The Mechanism – C2C
Those three sweepstake numbers represent the real-world test results of a key component in one of See Through’s three mechanisms to measurably reduce carbon – C2C.
‘C2C’, or ‘Content-to-CO2e Reduction’ converts online content (articles, posts, podcasts, videos etc.) into measurable carbon drawdown.
It does this by drawing ordinary people along a path that attracts, then motivates, then facilitates, them to take specific actions that will/won’t result in measurable carbon reduction.
Here’s an overview of the basic data flow.
See Through has three pilots set up, for:
- articles (of which this Facebook Post is one)
We’ll be placing these posts in various See Through News local Notice Board Groups, starting with those with memberships of 4,000+, or 10%+ of the population.
There are currently more than 20 such groups, mainly in the UK, but also in South Africa, The Philippines, and Ireland.
FYI at launch date, See Through News’s total Facebook reach is 220,000, on track to be around 290,000 by Jan 31st, when the sweepstake closes. Of course the absolute number makes no difference to your sweepstake entry, which predicts a percentage, but the dataset will comfortable exceed most national opinion polls regularly published in the mainstream media, which are often based on a sample size of 2,000 or fewer respondents.
What’s so ‘subversive’?
Admittedly, C2C is only ‘subversive’ to those who feel it’s somehow ‘sneaky’ or ‘cheating’ to orchestrate voters into clearly expressing their unambiguous wishes to their elected representatives.
Our political culture is so dysfunctional that many elected politicians appear to have forgotten that they’re meant to be our servants, not our masters, so they may see it as unfair, or subversive.
To illustrate C2C’s potential to nudge the dial, consider the following. (These numbers are based on the UK’s parliamentary system, but if proven, C2C can easily be adapted to other democratic systems, and indeed, with delicacy, to autocracies):
- UK laws are passed by 650 MPs
- For a law to be passed, 50%+1 MPs need to vote for it (i.e. 326)
- The psychological makeup of people who become MPs prioritises being re-elected over party affiliation or ideology
- The UK’s 650 constituencies average electorate is around 74,000
- The UK’s First-Past-The-Post system means margins of victory can be very slender – there are currently 30 MPs with a majority 1,000 or less
No matter their party affiliation, experience or intellect, all MPs are expert psephologists. They pay very close attention to anything that might determine their chances of re-election, because their worst nightmare is having to graciously shake the hand of their winning opponent on election night.
That’s why all MPs instruct their junior office staff (who daily open the mailbag, answer the phone, or, more likely, go through the email inbox) to alert them if they receive a certain number of messages from voters who feel strongly on a particular issue.
It’s not simply a matter of quantity, there’s also the question of quality. More specifically, what type of voter is emailing them. MPs’ offices typically divide their electoral roll lists into three broad categories:
- A) Loyal Supporters: those who’ll always vote for them
- B) Floating Voters: those who’ll determine whether they’ll be re-elected or not
- C) ‘Usual Suspects‘: those who’ll never vote for them
One of the few matters of rational logic on which politicians can reliably be counted to follow, are that they therefore:
- can afford to ignore large quantities of emails from C)
- pay very close attention when a certain number of voters from B) email them on the same topic
- start to panic when voters from A) send them similar emails
Precise instructions to their junior office staff on how many emails should trigger alerting their MP vary according to the size of the majority, and degree of complacency.
In marginal constituencies, 10 emails might be enough to trigger a red flag to the boss. Even in ‘safe seats’, the number required could be low dozens.
MPs do have other tactical considerations, such as breaking specific manifesto pledges, or breaking ranks with their political leaders’ consensus. That’s why the less a C2C call to action is perceived as partisan, or party-political, the better its chances of success.
Thus the nature of this call to action for the pilot. No British political party has a stated policy on the preservation of the interests of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, nor is the BCTGA likely to have much lobbying sway in Parliament. In any case, if enacted, converting to sapling nurseries will be much more reliable, long-term, non-seasonal business model. If they’re business people, rather than self-identifying Santa’s elves, they should welcome this legislation.
So how might this pilot play out?
Climate action is a numbers game
Like all politics, it’s a numbers game.
The sweepstake pilot results will benchmark the numbers for any given set of ordinary people – in this case, the FB members ‘polled’ our local Notice Board groups. In many cases, the membership of these groups comfortably exceeds the average turnout in UK local elections (around 33%).
The pilot tests the first part of the C2C mechanism, to benchmark the numbers, but once we’ve proved this component works, it gets interesting.
Imagine the email referencing a specific upcoming parliamentary debate, on which an MP’s vote is a matter of public record.
For example, let’s guess the answers turn out to be 10, 10, and 10, i.e. a 90% failure rate at each step.
In a Facebook group of around 8,000 (we have around 8 such groups currently), this would mean the Facebook robot shows the post to 800 members, of whom 80 click the link, of whom 8 email their MP. Let’s call it 9, for convenience.
As we’ve been careful not to frame the call to action in a party political way, let’s say there’s an even chance these are evenly distributed over Loyal Supporters, Floating Voters, and Usual Suspects.
Each MP has their own ‘rule of thumb’ multiplier factor for each voter email they receive. For every voter who bothers to email them, they reasonably reckon there are x more who think the same.
A factor of 100 is common, though this is usually applied to Floating Voters. Logically, it should be much higher for Loyal Supporters – say 300.
So if the sweepstake numbers turn out to be 10, 10, and 10, the number of voters in an average constituency who say their votes hinge on this single issue would be:
- Loyal Supporters: 3 x 300 = 900
- Floating Voters: 3 x 100 = 300
- Usual Suspects: 3 x 0 = 0
- There are currently dozens of MPs with a majority of 1,200 or less. They could be the swing votes that make this legislation law
- The legislation will come with a carbon reduction price tag
- See Through can therefore claim to have reduced that much carbon, if the law is properly enforced
Three guesses, three percentages – that’s the See Through Christmas Sweepstake. If this works to any degree, it could be the start of something rather wonderful…
What’s different about this carbon reduction action?
There’s no shortage of climate activists urging ordinary people to ‘take action’ to reduce carbon.
As we’ve extensively analysed on this website, we consider most of them to be ineffective because they share one or more of the following flaws:
- Means, not Ends: They aspire no higher than ‘raising awareness’, a vague term that’s hard enough to measure on its own terms, let alone in tonnes of carbon reduced.
- Wasted Activist Energy: Having created highly engaging content, earning valuable eyeball attention, they waste it by making the call to action insufficiently precise.
- Don’t Inform, Tell: Specifically, campaigns to ’email your local politician’ usually request a response from them, rather than informing them that your vote hinges on a binary yes/no action your elected representative takes, on the public record. This denies politicians the chance to copy-and-paste a carefully-worded expression of their sincere sharing of your concerns, freeing up their time to instead calculate the electoral consequences of risking ignoring you.
- Funding Mission Creep: Because most climate change activist organisations require funding to sustain themselves, much of their activist energy is diverted towards fundraising, rather than measurably reducing carbon
By contract, C2C:
- Output metric: C2C is designed to measure impact in the carbon accounting unit of tonnes of CO2 equivalent sequestered or reduced (‘CO2e’)
- Ju-Jitsus Social Media: C2C exploits our Silicon Valley Overlords’ usual eyeball-currencies of clicks, hits, shares and likes, without making that and end in itself
- Avoids the Money Trap: not optimising our content for profit guarantees our focus on carbon reduction. We can’t value our action via the Money-Goggled metric of dollars and cents, as we have no bank account.
Bold claim – prove it
This Christmas Sweepstake marks the first in a series of pilots that will mean we’ll no longer need to debate whether such an elaborate and complex mechanism ‘can possibly work’, or bite our tongues while climate activists take offence at our critiques of the status quo, without understanding that what they’re taking offence at is designed to help, not hinder or compete.
We’ll soon find out if this works or not. At least C2C has the merit of clearly setting out the terms of its success or failure in advance. If any of the numbers is zero, it will have failed, but we’ll know the specific point of failure, so can improve it.
So please email your 3 numbers to email@example.com, and let’s see what happens.
It could mark the first step of a very interesting 2024…
Once more, if you’re entitled to vote in the UK and want to take action yourself, click here.
Appendix 1: Optional additional information for step 2
Note: the details below are about Britain, as it has particularly low tree cover, but the same issues apply globally.
Britain’s Tree Health Challenges
Britain only has 13% forest cover, making it one of the baldest countries in Europe.
The UK’s current official target is to reach 16.5% by 2050, but it’s way behind schedule even for this modest target.
- Where: new woodlands need to be planted on what’s currently privately-owned, mainly agricultural, land.
- Forestry v farming: seen as separate, rather than complementary businesses. This culture gap means British farmers don’t see forestry as a diversification option.
- Money: current tax/subsidy incentives are weighted towards preserving hill farm smallholders, even though there’s little demand for their meat or wool.
- Biodiversity v tourism: British tourists like seeing forests when they visit France (29% forest cover) Germany (32%) or Finland (73%), but at home promotes images of bare hills covered in sheep. Sheep keep Britain’s once-forested hillsides as bio-deserts.
- Sapling supply: even when farmers are willing to plant trees on their land, Britain’s nurseries don’t have enough saplings to plant.
This last issue is a particularly frustrating bottleneck, as climate change means Britain has to change its planting policy for new woodlands radically and rapidly.
Trees take decades to mature, and temperatures and rainfall patterns are changing unpredictably.
Tree experts know not all Britain’s current native species will survive the UK’s future climate, but no one can predict which ones, or how soon our new climate will kill them.
Even for Britain to maintain its current paltry 13% forest cover, Forestry England says the UK must urgently plant a wide range of tree species adapted to hotter climates.
Ash dieback, which arrived with EU-grown imports, taught Britain of the dangers of importing foreign saplings. For biosecurity, Britain’s new trees must be nurtured in British nurseries before being planted in new British woodlands.
Britain currently has nowhere near enough tree nurseries to safely grow them, but it does have around three hundred ready-made nurseries – Christmas tree farms. Giving up Christmas trees, used for a month and burnt or thrown away, seems a very small sacrifice for giving today’s children a chance of still having woods in which they can play with their children.
This would require the British government to:
- Pass laws incentivising Christmas tree farmers to switch from growing disposable single-use firs, to growing approved tree saplings from more southerly latitudes.
- Pay Christmas tree farmers subsidies to help them transition.
- If there’s no funding, pay for it with a tax on Christmas trees.
- Expand Britain’s ‘Native Species Only’ list to approve species adapted to more southerly latitudes.
- Train farmers in forestry.
- Switch subsidies from promoting bare hills, to reforesting them.