Thursday, January 21, 2010


So it's 2010, the year of 10:10. The idea is simple - in the year 10 we cut our carbon emissions by 10 percent. Individuals, companies, institutions can all volunteer.

A ten percent cut in a year is drastic but if, as the IPCC warn us, global carbon emissions need to peak and be declining well within a decade then 10 percent this year is what we need to do.

The campaign was launched last September with much fanfare from The Guardian

The 10:10 project, which hopes to replicate the grassroots success of the Make Poverty History campaign, is led by Franny Armstrong, director of this year's eco-documentary The Age of Stupid.

Armstrong said: "After every screening of The Age of Stupid people came up to me and asked what they could do. I was saying very generic stuff and I thought we needed a better 'here's what you can do'. Hence 10:10."

As Corporate Watch noted, you could hardly call Make Poverty History either grassroots or successful. However, I think Corporate Watch are wrong in saying

we can all easily reduce our carbon footprints without it having to be a demand on or from government. Thus the campaign does not really add anything new. In fact, 10:10 diverts people from other tactics that are required, such as direct action at Copenhagen, by disseminating a false sense of security

Much of our carbon reduction has to be a demand on government if we are to make the cuts needed. Who is it who decides what new electricity generators get commissioned? Who is it who emits so much on our behalf in public services, and regulates the private sector? Without making our cuts also a call for government action we merely tinker at the edge of the problem.

By banding people's cuts together in a united front, 10:10 does actually add something new. It says a significant portion of society wants cuts to outstrip the government's paltry targets, and we are prepared to do what's needed. In doing this, we not only act for ourselves but we make it clear that making such cuts is not a vote-loser. We give the government license to be more stringent.

Furthermore, by reaching out and involving those outside the green and social justice movements, and even outside all political circles, it adds something else new. It not only normalises action on climate change but begins to make carbon profligacy socially unacceptable. This, in turn, creates a political landscape where direct action on the issue receives a warmer reception and becomes more likely to affect real change.

A couple of weeks ago The Guardian noted

Perhaps the most striking aspect of 10:10's rise has been the breadth of its appeal: Barnet Labour Group alongside the Cambridge University Conservative Association, the London Jewish Film festival alongside Islamic publishers MELS (as well as Quaker, Catholic and Hindu groups); comprehensives alongside the country's most famous public schools; Tottenham Hotspur next to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. As one NGO veteran put it: "10:10 is the first climate campaign to reach beyond the usual suspects."

But how can they all sign up so readily? And do so alongside some blatant climate criminals like Eon and EDF? Simple. Nobody involved really has to cut their emissions. All they do is self-certify.

Worse, corporate 10:10ers reportedly don't even claim a cut in carbon emissions but in carbon intensity, the new linguistic get out of jail free card used by high emitters to make increases sound like cuts.


The Guardian had a piece on what we can do. Lots of stuff about using your car less, flying less, going vegan a few days a week. It's all low-hanging fruit. Don't know about you, but when the Guardian tells me that 'we buy 20kg or so of new clothes every year', they're not talking about me.

That first ten percent cut that 10:10 calls for is necessary and bold. It is also easy for anyone to do. By the time we get to the third, fourth and fifth batch of ten percent then it's cutting where we really feel it. At this point we start to justify all manner of luxuries simply because we want them. We feel that in making the first cuts we did our bit and now we don't need to do as much.

10:10 has already let signatories off the hook, saying businesses needn't cut anything like 10 percent if they don't want to.

In practice, 10:10 for companies means cutting at least 3% of your carbon emissions in a single year. We hope you will manage to do more but we recognise that many progressive companies that have made significant cuts already will find it hard to achieve further deep cuts

The campaign also does nothing to address another key aspect of perpetual economic growth; the invention of new needs. It refuses to consider whether an activity is entirely superfluous: supplying water is assessed the same as making remote control toilet flushes or being an arms manufacturer. Surely there are some activities that a sustainable society would cut to zero.

The concept of perpetual economic growth is so deeply embedded in our culture that we feel it cannot be challenged. So, even though it is the engine of climate change, 10:10 doesn't even need to be asked before giving it all the loopholes it wants.

There is certainly a need for a concerted, unified public effort on carbon emissions. Necessarily, it must be easy to sign up to, and it must include industrial and institutional cuts as well as individuals. In this, 10:10 has done a remarkable job in creating a groundswell. But, as we saw in Kyoto and Copenhagen, it doesn't matter who's signing up but what they're signing up to. If you bend your actions to be acceptable to the desires of the high-emitters, you won't come out with a meaningful result.

Regarding corporations, the drop from the campaign's headline 10 percent to 3 percent, the use of carbon intensity - a device to mask emission increases - and a total lack of auditing makes the claims of cuts meaningless. Yet we can be sure the thousands of businesses who've signed up will be using it as greenwash PR. Which will lead to greater sales and greater emissions.

This leaves 10:10 as effectively just another exhortation to change our personal consumption patterns. We can hope it has some positive knock-on effects - and there are signs that we'd be right to do so - but as it stands it is so self-enfeebled that, in itself, it is actually aiming to make no real difference.


DocRichard said...

10:10 is a good initiative, but we are limited in what we can do individually because of the economic framework that Govt sets. F'rinstance, people will tend to use the car if there is no bus. Therefore Govt needs to get more buses on the road. But they have privatised the buses. Therefore they should re-nationalise them, or subsidise them to open new routes.
&c &c.

Government action. Which needs a shift away from the free market fundamentalism that lies beneath Govt action.

Thanks for lettim me rant on your fine blog.

merrick said...

The urgency of climate change means much of what's needed can only happen by government regulation. Imagine how far WW2 rationing would've got if it were voluntary.

This is why they love the idea that we should act differently as individuals, preferably buying some new stuff. It shifts the onus away from government and corporate responsibility.

So it is to 10:10's shame that it lets the institutional signatories have a far lower threshold. Why don't 'progressive' individuals who've already made cuts also get their 3% threshold?

The implicit idea that somehow a solitary 10% cut is all that's needed is absurd and contrary to what we should be saying.

Dunc said...

The other problem I have with 10:10 is: how do you tell? Short of doing a really thorough audit, it's very hard to actually know what your emissions really are, never mind whether a given change makes a difference, and if so, how big. All those carbon footprint calculators are rubbish.

Now, I have plenty of data on my domestic energy use, but that's only a small part of the story. I'm a craft brewer, and at least 10% of my domestic electricity use is for brewing. I could eliminate that overnight, but if I'm still drinking beer, I'm pretty sure that would actually increase my overall emissions (the bulk of the emissions from commercial beers being located in transport, packaging, and the retail environment, all of which I completely eliminate by brewing at home). But I get my leccy from Good Energy anyway...

OK, I could just quit drinking beer, but I'm afraid that's simply not going to happen. ;)

Then there's the question of the amortisation of carbon costs associated with capital investment in energy-saving technology... This year I'm going to be upgrading my loft insulation - how long a period should I amortise the (unknown) carbon costs of producing / transporting / selling the insulation over?

Then, of course, there's the fact that I've been ratcheting down my domestic energy use over the last few years anyway (by about 20% over the last 4 years, IIRC), so a lot of the low-hanging fruit is already gone. Beyond upgrading the loft insulation, I'd be looking at serious capital investment (eg new boiler) to make any further serious inroads.

merrick said...


A good point, well made.

the variability of carbon calculators is enough to tell us about their reliability. Even trying to pin down a figure for something as straightforward a s train journey is really tough. The government's figures - as used by Monbiot in Heat - presume a modern electric train at 70% seat occupancy. blatantly loads of your journeys are nothng like that and will be 5, 10, 20 times that footprint.

And yep, they always treat insultion as if it were made out of carbon free angel's feathers instead of energy-intensively processed minerals. I'm sure figures for that could be worked out (for instance, wind turbines were calcualted to pay back their carbon debt well within a year), but why isn't it part of the calculator websites, why is it utterly unmentioned on 10:10 style stuff?

Thanks for the mention of beer. It sent me nuzzling around to get some figures on it. You're right, most of the carbon is accounted for in packaging, transport and shop refrigeration. See the next post, The Carbon Footprint of Beer, for more details.

Dunc said...

why isn't it part of the calculator websites, why is it utterly unmentioned on 10:10 style stuff?

In fairness, I can understand why - because it makes the whole business incredibly complicated. So complicated that most people would probably just throw up their hands and give up. And, of course, similar complications apply to every other product you buy.

The only way to get a real handle on your carbon footprint is to employ a team of experts to follow you around for a year, and then do whole-lifecycle assessments of every single thing you interact with. Since that's obviously completely impractical, approximations will have to do.

There are far worse things omitted from carbon calculators - like how much meat you eat (too much, in my case), how much clothing you buy (and what it's made of), etc, etc...

Mike Harris said...

That critique summed up my concerns with 10:10. I do think that something is better than nothing, and so it's no doubt worth having 10:10 around. Let's get this straight, Fanny's film might have it's heart in the right place, but does the Guardian? Afterall the Guardian is not really an environmental champion: it is a newspaper in the business of selling newspapers and appealing to a certain green/leftist audience. They are all in the business of selling advertising space to petrochemical and automobile companies. Could 10:10 really be a rather good customer relations campaign for them?

I cynically have to put 10:10 in a category with the recent Wave (and Make Poverty History) that I term "blue wash": they are initiatives that concerned and informed citizens can easily subscribe to and do something and feel not quite as hopeless as they might do other wise in the face of such a seemingly insurmountable issues as global warming, and they probably do acheive something and possibly there is an increased awareness amongst the rest of the population, but really it just serves to make everyone feel a little better, and stops them from getting really angry and demanding that the powers that be really do something about it.

And what is the cost of 10:10? What is the cost of all the extra work, the marketing materials, manufactured badges and logos, flyers. Are we really going to save the planet by creating more waste? I don't think so.

To get out on the streets is the only way.

timbird said...

Couple of other things. The campaign is also being used as a vehicle for greenwash in Governmental and political circles. Senior members of the main political parties have been able to sign up to make personal pledges, and be lauded by the campaign's organisers - who are keen to be able to claim a success, even if it's a largely meaningless one. Senior politicians thereby get some favourable publicity for themselves, while not actually being required to do anything substantive.

The original 10:10 idea was for Government action to reduce emissions 10% by the end of 2010. This was an idea that Armstrong pushed at Ed Miliband - who wouldn't have it, and told Armstrong it was totally politically unfeasible. So Armstrong toned it down. The upshot of that is that we now have a campaign that will be able to claim a success even if it achieves very little or nothing, while the Government stonewalls as it has always done.

jody said...

Thanks for writing this up. I was up for using the 10:10 campaign to help local organizations get their emissions down until the campaign signed up with MBDA Missile Systems. The world's military are the single largest polluter on earth (Worldwatch Institute has estimated that about 10% of global CO2e result from military activity). This is one industry that has no place in a no carbon world and we should not be colluding with them to green up their image.

Also, the world spends over a $1.2 trillion/yr on the military - money not available for environmentally sustaining projects. David Mackay says that making renewable infastructure available in the UK will cost us somewhere £300-£800 billion. It's pathetic to pretend that this industry can be working with us in an attempt to stop climate change.