A recent post on Decarbonise SA, Why pro-nuclear has failed where anti-nuclear has succeeded, made a mark. The response was, by the standards of my reach, massive. Decarbonisesa.com had both its biggest ever day and the biggest ever four day period. I received new subscribers, new ideas, new materials, multiple links from other sites, and a lot of discussion.

For those who missed this post, I argued that the essential reason that the anti-nuclear position has been so much more successful in influencing Australian policy than the pro-nuclear position is actually very simple. Anti-nuclear is, and operates as, a movement. Pro-nuclear is, and operates as, a largely disparate group of people who share a certain point of view.

Go back through history a bit and look at significant changes. Civil rights; anti-war, suffrage, feminism, pro-democracy, land rights. Against all of these, one can readily attach the moniker “movement”. That makes the issue both clear and simple. Movements are synonymous with widespread, fundamental change. So where does that leave us?

It seems most people grasped the implications. Certainly, Barry Brook in his BNC preamble summed up matters perfectly. If we actually care, if we actually want to see change, then the time for talk is rapidly coming to an end, and the time for action is rapidly ramping up.

Talk cannot fix this

That gives those of us who believe nuclear power is essential to avert a climate catastrophe the choice to either:

  1. Organise, learn from those who do it best including the anti-nuclear movement, and start behaving like a movement that actually intends to make a difference, or
  2. Continue self-reinforcing debates and discussion on the nuances of our areas of agreement, while our future is decided for us

Decarbonise SA is about creating an effective regional model to pursue option number 1.

The two messages in my previous post for making an effective movement were:

  1. We need a goal. In the absence of a goal, there is no movement, only a shared interest.
  2. We need a compelling, attractive narrative that communicates the values of the movement. In the absence of a narrative, people will not have the confidence to shift position on such an emotive issue. I proposed a values-based narrative for what it is to be a pro-nuclear environmentalist

In this post I further develop the concept of what it means to craft an effective movement. I don’t expect these conclusions to meet universal agreement, but as you will shortly read, that is the point.

Firstly a highly effective movement requires a critical mass. At the end of the day, a bigger movement of pro-nuclear environmentalists will be better.

BUT it will not be better if the movement is made bigger by diluting the message and the values.

Then, Decarbonise SA will have exchanged passion and commitment for numbers. That doesn’t work.

Why? Because highly successful movements do have a degree of exclusivity. They are defined, at least in part, by who is not a member as much as who is. Movements are most effective when they can be clearly compared to the status quo, or to movements that try to push in the other direction (thanks again to Godin).

How could I possibly call on people’s time, passion and enthusiasm in service of a movement that is populated by those with deeply different values? I wouldn’t do it. I don’t expect anyone else to either. It’s the reason I left GreenPeace and The Wilderness Society.

Saving the world through anti-science vandalism. It’s a tough job. Thank goodness for GreenPeace

We don’t need everyone. Believing we do is a serious tactical error. We just need enough, and we need those we have to be 100% committed. That all begs a very important question:

WHAT ARE WE NOT?

There are some things Decarbonise SA will pointedly not do, and not become. Most of these points are in response to some issues raised here and particularly on the BNC thread.

  • It will not be a friendly home for the airing of views by the many climate change deniers with whom I share an interest in furthering nuclear power. That their efforts may be complimentary to mine is not a good enough reason to dilute Decarbonise SA’s message.
  • It will not talk about “air pollution” in preference to “climate change” as though the latter is some kind of poisoned chalice. For years now, 100,000s of Australians have taken to the street for the Walk Against Warming, year in year out. These people have just contributed to the largest economic reform of my country in decades. Climate change is an incredibly mainstream concern and it is central to Decarbonise SA.

This is the Walk Against Warming. Not the Walk Against Air Pollution.
  • It will not smear, lie, or cheat. It will absolutely play hard-ball using facts, in context, in a calm and measured way. If such facts make others look bad or feel discomfort, like fossil fuel companies or anti-nuclear ideologues, then I am quite comfortable with that.
  • It is not Luddite or Malthusian. We love people; we just love a stable climate and sustainability too. We appreciate lots about the modern world; we just need to eliminate the catastrophic side-effects.
  • It will not move stable energy prices, jobs, economic growth and such benefits to the centre of the message. These will be frequently and clearly raised as benefits of nuclear power in South Australia. I look forward to attracting suitably qualified subscribers who might guest-post for me on these issues. But this is an environmental movement and will remain so.

If these points cut the potential following of Decarbonise SA in half, that’s actually quite ok. The half we get will be the ones that matter; the ones who will be committed and effective.

So, let’s now look at a response to the post and see what we can learn about keeping the ones we get and fostering that commitment.

…I know lots about the global nuclear power generating industry and I’ve been speaking for it loud and long over the past 12 years. I’m claiming at least 2000 converts to nuclear over that time. … I know that I can make a compelling case for nuclear power. 2000 converts to nuclear is testimony to that fact.

Indeed it is, in fact this is a fantastic effort. We sure can use this. But let’s remain practical. Those 2,000 people are only part of an effective movement if we can answer these types of questions:

  • What are their names?
  • Where are they?
  • What professions do they work in?
  • What are their networks?
  • Do we have their phone numbers? Email addresses?
  • Do they speak with you? Do they speak with each other?
  • Who are their State and Federal Members of Parliament?
  • Do they use Twitter? Facebook?
  • Do they even know each other exist, or are they skulking around thinking they must be the only ones who think nuclear power is ok?
  • What skills do they posses that they could donate?
  • Do they still agree with nuclear power or were they swayed by Fukushima?

The nub of all those questions is a question like this: From a standing start, could I write a letter to someone like Mitch Williams and get 2,000 signatures on it within a week?

Unless I (or anyone else) can get those names on that letter then sadly (tragically in fact), the value of that 2,000 people is about 1% of its potential, because 2,000 isolated opinions do not make change.

Would the pro-nuclear environmentalists kindly raise their hands?

So to the comment I quoted above, my response is this: converting people to the merits of nuclear power to resolve climate change is just the beginning, NOT the end. The end is many closed coal fired power stations and brand spanking new zero-carbon, zero pollution substitutes. The bit in between? It’s called a movement.

Movements make change. That’s why I want to know my subscribers, I want to talk to them, and I want them to know and talk to each other. That is what movements do. When that is happening, in larger numbers, then we can really get to the point of all this…

IT’S ABOUT ACTION

Decarbonise SA subscriber Marion Brook pointed to the need for action. That’s a good point. A movement, after all, is just a vehicle to organise and coordinate action. Movements make taking action an empowering and self-sustaining experience, rather than an exhausting and defeating one.

However, there is a Catch-22 in this. If we attempt too much action with an immature movement, we risk fatigue, exhaustion, and failure. A lot of you may be familiar with that process. At the same time the right action can help the movement build, strengthen and grow. How can these competing pressures be resolved?

Well, one way of looking at what I have been doing over the past five months is building brand capital; creating a recognisable name and logo, a body of published work and recorded interviews, to put some oomph behind the name Decarbonise SA. I have had assistance from Decarbonise SA subscribers, as well as more mature sites like Brave New Climate and Atomic Insights.

Like any other form of capital, brand capital should be invested. Wise investments will boost the brand. Poorly chosen investments will deplete the capital and undermine the brand.

So I need to remain cautious and selective on the action front to protect the value that we have created together so far and the enthusiasm and generous support of Decarbonise SA supporters. I don’t wish to strike out too hard in lots of areas before I know the effort can be sustained.

Right now, our number is not everything, but it is the main thing. Decarbonise SA has 61 subscribers. My goal remains 100. It has been since day one. This is the reason why. If I can’t get 100 people’s committed attention in a State of 1.5 million, I am probably not going to succeed. We need enough subscribers to share the load and ensure actions have a notable impact.

I can’t do it on my own and have no intention of trying

So there are loads of things we can, should and will do. I look forward to creating a committed page on the site to lay them out. But just for now, the actions I want to focus on are those where I have the most confidence of growth in subscribers for the minimum expense of my time and Decarbonise SA’s brand.

What actions are those? I’ll look at another bit of feedback to the previous piece to introduce this.

Fear comes from ignorance. Start with telling them about natural background radiation. Tell them that it is radioactive carbon that we use to date egyptian mummies. Tell them that the mummies ate the radioactive carbon thousands of years ago. Most people think that nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs are the world’s only source of radiation. They also don’t know that it is benzene from oil and coal that causes cancer, not radiation in small amounts [under 10 rems]. Tell them that coal contains uranium.

The above is, in part, right. But for me, it is also missing the main point of the challenge at hand. Most people do have perfectly functioning minds with a strong sense of enquiry and learning. My strike rate for moving people’s position is phenomenal.

But whether it is me, Barry Brook, Terry Krieg, Craig Schumacher or George Monbiot doing the speaking doesn’t really matter. Nuclear power is so good that the majority of people do indeed come around with a skilled presenter.

The challenge is, I cannot drum up audiences fast enough on my own. I NEED help from a movement of supporters. Then I can deliver my action that has the best ratio of value for time and effort more often. That’s my presentation. So, what matters is:

  1. Getting those audiences in the first place
  2. Successfully moving a reasonable proportion of them to active participation in the movement. They will then help us get more audiences.

You can help. On the top right of my site you will see where I am speaking next. If that is empty, or the next date is 6 months distant, I need help. Subscriber Andrew Starcevic helped me. I then got four more subscribers, was convinced to go on Twitter, and the reach of Decarbonise SA grew again as a result.

After every presentation, I should pick up more subscribers. So far, this always happens. If it doesn’t, I am doing something wrong and I will work out what it is and fix it.

With time and growth in numbers, we can unlock new actions.  Since the last post on this topic, I have received brilliant slogan ideas, designs and images for furthering the movement. I’m so glad, because I am rubbish at that sort of thing. It’s a great sign. People could also organise their own events, write letters to their own MPs, and so on. The members of movements DO those sorts of things. If we want to win, we do it too and do it better. Don’t let me stop you, but I am waiting until I reach 100 subscribers. Then I want to actively facilitate more of that and get it out there.

These things can and hopefully will happen by subscribers leveraging the Decarbonise SA network , leveraging the website to communicate, and even the brand itself if desired. That’s what this is all here for! We can partner and build networks with other groups too. With ample reinforcement from other subscribers the experience will be empowering, not exhausting, both for you and for me.

SO:

If Decarbonise SA always has a next speaking engagement, and Decarbonise SA is always growing, and we can confidently launch new actions with decent numbers behind us, and Decarbonise SA grows some more then guess what? We will win. It’s just a matter of time.

We know we are right. We have known that for some time now. Now, it’s time to make it matter.

11 comments

  1. Ben – It is a long way from SA to Lynchburg, VA. However, I would love to help you share your presentation in a way that comes more alive than a series of powerpoint slides.

    Have you thought about taking a couple of pages from Al Gore’s manual? A video version of the presentation could be posted in parts on YouTube or other video hosting sites and embedded into blogs like Atomic Insights. You might also hold some training sessions that can provide virtual “clones” who can take you presentation out to other parts of SA or even to a wider distribution.

    My wife has always talked about wanting to visit Australia.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

  2. To build a movement we need to build an organisation. A first step toward doing that might be to convene a meeting, or at least an informal gathering, of the subscribers to DecarboniseSA. Face-to-face, real-time interaction amongst like-minded people could generate some useful ideas and engender enthusiasm.

    1. For sure. I know of a number of really enthusiastic subscribers who I am sure would take the chance to do this. Great idea. I’m going to give it a couple of months while I get some other actions put away. All this is unpaid for me as you know so I need to be pretty protective of myself or I may well break, but this is something we need to do soon. Stay on my case Andrew!

    2. Andrew, it is amazing how encouraging and productive face to face communication can be. But I can also understand Ben concerns – no-one wants burn-out – so I have a suggestion…

      In case a ‘meeting’ sounds too daunting and official, for your first few meetings, don’t get together for DSA business (and most certainly not in a cold draughty hall), get together for a laugh in a nice warm pub, no pressure, no agenda. Sometimes just meeting like minded people is enough to give one’s spirits a boost. Isolation can lead to feelings of overburden and burn-out too.

  3. Climate change is an incredibly mainstream concern and it is central to Decarbonise SA.

    It most certainly is mainstream. According to the Garnaut Review more than 70% of Australians “believe” climate change is happening and that we should take some kind of action to prevent it. http://www.garnautreview.org.au/update-2011/commissioned-work/australians-view-of-climate-change.htm#_Toc287466793

    Regarding the support of DSA, I feel a little impotent over here in Victoria (I’m assuming there is little point organising a speaking engagement for you in VIC when what you want are SA subscribers). It’s frustrating, because I really do want to do what I can to help. Absent actual action, here’s an idea…

    If I were to get you a gig over here I would 1st try the local senior secondary college. I imagine a no-cost, high profile, educational speaker would be an easy sell to any public high school. The audience would be large and, for the most part, open to listening – they haven’t really had time to develop inflexible ideological positions. What’s more, in just a year or two they will themselves be voters; in around half a decade (2016) they’ll be the emerging, environmental communicators, teachers, journalists, politicians and grass-roots climate activists. We want them engaging in climate change discussion and in particular gaining an understanding of the reality of the climate change mitigation options open to us.

    (I keep meaning to run this one past Barry – perhaps I will now.)

  4. Great idea,Marion.While a lot of young people probably couldn’t care less about such issues I haven’t yet given up hope for a substantial minority beginning to think for themselves outside the box.

    1. Marion. Podargus, this is a great idea. My brother is head of pedagodgy at Balwyn High School in Melbourne and he directed a couple of students to me who had chosen nuclear power as a topic for exploration. Apparently the response they gave to learning about it was phenonmenal and their report back to the class was one of a really change of perspective.

      I will follow up this suggestion. Thank you.

  5. Ben, Podargus, thanks, I’m glad you liked it. Even if a majority of students are only there to get out of maths class (or whatever) and may never become passionate, vocal supporters of NP, they may just take enough on board to not to vote against it – should it ever come to that.

  6. I’m a tad hesitant to make this suggestion as I am not a religious person.However,I have just finished reading the latest book by Paul Collins, “Judgement Day”. In case you are not aware,Collins was an Australian priest who resigned after falling out with the conservative elements in the Vatican under Pope John Paul.He is a theologian,historian,environmentalist and author of many books on various subjects. He is also one of the patrons of Sustainable Population Australia.

    Judgement Day is directed at the Christian mindset regarding Earth and its environment,not only in the anthropocentric sense but for other species.It is possible that there are Christians in Australia who are environmentally aware and who could look favourably on nuclear energy as a way of ameliorating the human impact. As it is manifestly obvious that we are going to have to make some fundamental changes in our thinking as a matter of urgency it is possible that religion could play a part in this.

    This could be an opening for your plan,Ben.Maybe not.

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