Big Brother Is Nudging You

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Released a few weeks ago, without much fanfare, so far, I have been able to see, was a rather sinister report produced by the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee (its first report of the 2022-23 session). Titled “In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals”, a few members of the unelected House of Lords seek to push behaviour change by the British public in order to achieve the objectives of the unelected Climate Change Committee. It smacks more of Big Brother and less of democracy, so far as I can see.

Including endpieces, index and appendices, it runs to 140 pages, an opening summary, nine chapters, a further summary of conclusions and recommendations, and six appendices. A detailed in-depth study of its findings is beyond the scope of a short article here, but there’s plenty to be concerned about, even from a quick overview. 1984-style Newspeak abounds.


Underlying the report is the continuing belief, obviously shared by the whole of the Parliament which passed the Climate Change Act, and the Climate Change Committee, that urgent action by the UK is somehow both necessary and sufficient to deal with the “climate crisis”. Patently this is nonsense, with the UK producing around 1% of the world’s man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on an ongoing basis, and global GHG emissions continuing to grow year on year. I suppose it’s inevitable that members (albeit that they are unelected) of a Parliament that passed that nonsensical piece of legislation are not going to question its underlying beliefs, but the lack of intelligent questioning with regard to the direction of public policy is deeply disappointing.

And so, the Report opens with a summary which contains some highly questionable statements:

The twin crises of climate change and nature loss demand an immediate and sustained response.

One short sentence, so much to criticise. No questioning of the so-called “climate crisis”. No discussion as to how the two perceived crises might be linked. No recognition that attempts to “deal” with the “climate crisis”, involving large-scale industrialisation and despoliation of the environment are exacerbating nature loss. No discussion as to who is to offer the “immediate and sustained response”. No recognition of the futility and expense and of unilateral action by the UK. Still, just fifteen words in, and the scene is already set. Common sense and intelligent questions will not be on display in the following pages.

The opening paragraph contains a second sentence:

The Government has committed to reaching net zero by 2050 and to leave the environment in a better condition for future generations.

Here we see the same lack of logic on display, the same quasi-religious belief that “net zero” equates to environmentalism, despite the abundant evidence regarding the environmental vandalism that is associated with net zero.

We need to change people’s behaviour

The second paragraph of the opening summary gets to the heart of the matter:

People power is critical to meet those targets. Analysis by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) suggests that without changes to people’s behaviours now, the target of net zero by 2050 is not achievable. Drawing on the CCC’s assessment, we have identified that 32 per cent of emissions reductions up to 2035 [later in the report they add that “63 per cent relies on the involvement of the public in some form”] require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.

The use of the word “decisions” is interesting, as an early example of Newspeak appearing in the Report. Accepting that the crazy “net zero” targets unilaterally adopted by Parliament, and pushed so assiduously by the CCC, cannot be met without changes in behaviour by the public, the Committee concludes that public behaviour has to change. Of course, to date the public has in effect decided not to go along with the agenda – if it supported it, a 140-page report would not be required to address the issue. And so, the public’s behaviour has to change, we have to be made to change our ways, and this compulsion is described by the Committee as “decisions” by the public. Another paragraph makes this abundantly clear:

In our inquiry, we looked at evidence about the ways in which people can be encouraged to change their behaviours and the action the Government has been taking to do that. Whilst the Government has introduced some policies to help people adopt new technologies, like electric cars, these have not been replicated in other policy areas and there is a reluctance to help people to cut carbon-intensive consumption.

We have to be helped to make the “right” decisions. Funnily enough, the policies adopted to help people “decide” to buy electric vehicles (EVs), haven’t worked. There’s a very good reason for that. EVs cost a lot of money – certainly they are a lot more expensive than cars with internal combusion engines (ICEs). Relief from road tax, and the avoidance of fuel duty, and even for a while a bribe of a few thousand pounds towards the purchase price (paid for by other taxpayers, including very poor people) isn’t enough to “persuade” poor people who can’t afford to buy electric cars to “decide” to do so. There’s more to this issue than just cost, of course. There are practical issues too. Poorer people tend not to have garages, or even drives, where they could park their EVs and charge them overnight. People who make longer journeys in their cars suffer from range anxiety. Busy working people don’t have time to sit around checking their emails and drinking macchiato while waiting for their EVs to charge up.

And so, we see another immediate failure of logic on the part of the Committee. Noting that the Government has introduced policies to “help people adopt” EVs, they ignore the fact that those policies didn’t work, and conclude that it’s a failure that such policies haven’t been replicated in other areas.

Expect your life to change dramatically

Moving on, we are told:

…the Government is in a unique position to guide the public in changing their behaviours. The Government should provide clarity to individuals about the changes we need to make, in how we travel, what we eat and buy, and how we use energy at home, and should articulate the many co-benefits to health and wellbeing of taking those steps. A public engagement strategy, both to communicate a national narrative and build support for getting to net zero, is urgently required.

Newspeak to the fore again. Guiding the public in changing our behaviours means leaning on us very hard so that we have no choice. Guiding = compulsion, to all intents and purposes. Why else ban the sale of new ICE vehicles from 2030? If we could be guided and persuaded to “do the right thing”, banning would be unnecessary.

And just look at what that paragraph slipped in: how we travel; what we eat; what we buy; how we use energy at home. Is there much left? Paragraph 29, on page 15 of the Report is explicit:

The Government should focus as a priority on enabling the most impactful behaviour changes that will be needed to meet climate and environmental goals including adopting ultra-low emission vehicles; installing home insulation and low-carbon heating technologies; taking fewer long-haul flights; changing of diets; and generally reducing carbon and resource-intensive consumption and waste.

Public engagement strategies, national narratives – euphemisms for relentless propaganda, hectoring and bullying. Dishonest attempts to persuade us that the changes are good for us, Big Brother knows best. Co-benefits to health and well-being? Isn’t that for us to decide? Most people, I have little doubt, would regard their lives as having been diminished if their ability to holiday abroad is rationed, if they are forced to use inadequate public transport rather than their own vehicles, if they are left shivering in houses with heat pumps rather than gas boilers. Most people, I also suspect, would be horrified if they knew what “net zero” policies were already costing them in the myriad hidden ways that have been sneaked in over the years. No wonder there’s a cost-of-living crisis, a crisis which is much more real to most people than a “climate crisis”. The gilets jaunes message has travelled from France to the UK now – while Parliamentarians are concerned about the end of the world, the people they seek to control are worried about the end of the month.

Choice is not an option

How is all this to be achieved?

Behavioural science evidence and best practice show that a combination of policy levers, including regulation and fiscal incentives, must be used by Government, alongside clear communication, as part of a joined-up approach to overcome the barriers to making low-carbon choices.

Newspeak euphemisms abound! Policy levers – regulation (= compulsion); fiscal incentives (= carrot and stick, taxes and bribes); clear communication (= relentless propaganda); barriers (= an understandable reluctance on the part of the public to make their lives worse) to making low-carbon choices (= making their lives worse). By the way, paragraph 80 on page 27 makes it clear that they are talking not just about financial incentives, but also about financial disincentives.

And if choice isn’t an option for you and me nor, apparently, is it a choice for businesses:

Fairness is key to effective behaviour change and now more than ever must be at the heart of policy design. As the country faces a cost-of-living crisis, the Government must tailor behaviour change interventions to avoid placing a burden on those who can least afford it. The Government must also work with the many groups and organisations at different levels of society who have a critical role in securing behaviour change for climate change and the environment. Businesses are in a position to enable behaviour change through increasing the affordability and availability of greener products and services and engaging customers and employees, but need direction from government if they are to act against their immediate financial interests.

Talk about La-la Land! The cost-of-living crisis, the financial hurt caused to those who can least afford it, are the direct result of Government “net zero” interventions to date. Apparently, business has to pay to bail out those who are suffering from Government ineptitude. And just how sinister are those final words? Businesses “need direction from government if they are to act against their immediate financial interests.” Seriously? Businesses are to be forced to act aginst their financial interests. Company directors, whose legal duty is to act in the best interests of shareholders, are to be compelled to do the opposite, it seems. How casually those extraordinary words were slipped in.

Covid lessons

I try very hard to avoid being a conspiracy theorist. I generally subscribe to the view that when something bad happens, it’s better explained by cock-up than conspiracy. I have to date given a wide berth to people who claim that covid lockdowns were a trial run for climate lockdowns. And yet, having skimmed this report, the first doubts are beginning to dawn on my consciousness. For we are now told:

Lessons can be learned from both successful and unsuccessful behaviour change interventions in other policy areas. Most notably, the widespread behaviour change brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognise that the changes demanded by the pandemic were seen as a short-term response to a short-term emergency, nonetheless it will be a major missed opportunity if the Government does not seize the chance to evaluate behaviour change interventions implemented during the pandemic and apply lessons learned.

Because I am so bothered by them, I quote paragraphs 103 and 104 (and part of 105) (pages 33 and 34) in full:

Some witnesses also told us lessons can be learned from government communications during the pandemic. One Home said: “COVID messaging on the first lockdown across society shows what a successful public communications campaign looks like for behaviour change.” The transferable lessons that can be learned from government-led communications, public engagement and education during the pandemic are explored in more detail in Chapter 8.

There are similarities between the specific challenges faced during the pandemic and those that may be faced in behaviour change for climate and environmental goals, such as the widening of inequalities and the spread of misinformation. Sir Patrick Vallance told us COVID-19 “both fed off inequality and fed inequality” and expressed concern that the same is probably true in the context of climate change and environmental damage, stating: “It is worse for those who are poorer, disadvantaged and marginalised. It will make that gap wider if it is not handled properly.” During the pandemic, Ofcom applied rules on harmful content in the Broadcasting Code to COVID-19 misinformation, and Carnegie UK suggested that Ofcom could use the same approach in the context of misinformation about climate change and environmental damage.

However, there are some clear distinctions between behaviour change in the pandemic and behaviour change required to meet climate and environmental goals, and the consequent limits to transferable learning. In particular, Mr Lord emphasised behaviour change for climate change and the environment would need to be “sustainable and sustained”, whereas the pandemic required time-limited actions. Sir Patrick Vallance echoed this concern from an organisational point of view, explaining SAGE and SPI-B are set up for “specific emergency situations”, suggesting this structure is not necessarily appropriate for longer term emergencies.

I hope and trust that I am not alone in finding those words to be deeply dispiriting, indeed borderline alarming.


The Government’s approach to enabling people to change behaviours risks a failure to meet statutory climate change and environment goals. Swift action to rectify the approach is required.

Be in no doubt. Big Brother isn’t just watching, he’s nudging – and perhaps more.

via Climate Scepticism

November 23, 2022

Big Brother Is Nudging You — Climate Scepticism

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