No time for blogging this week. I have thousands of words to churn out for another publication. But, oh dear, maybe I shouldn’t bother trying to write anything new here, a quick look at my dashboard shows another crop of comments on the old Tesco blogs. Could be my bag for life…
Most of us had done the easy things before we bought our tickets for The Age of Stupid in 2009. We’ve already switched to low energy light bulbs, turned down the heating and we wash our clothes at 30 degrees C. Most of us even drive less and buy more local food. But if the makers of the climate change film were setting out to change more than that, the results of an Edinburgh survey may prove disappointing.
Two years ago I took part in questionnaires exploring the impact of the film. The results have just been published by Rachel Howell, a PhD student at Edinburgh University’s Centre for the Study of Environmental Change and Sustainability.
Rachel produced four questionnaires: the first two (Q1 and 2) were answered by willing members of the cinema audience immediately before and after seeing the film; Q3 a few months later and Q4 12 months after that.
So the results? People left the cinema feeling they must do something NOW but the film probably did little to change long term behaviour and attitudes. This is my paraphrase of Rachel’s summary but essentially the film (starring the late Pete Postlethwaite) was preaching to the converted. Most of us had already done the easy things. Even the converted can’t shift habits like flying and living in badly insulated homes with non-renewable energy when alternatives are not easily available or affordable. By the end of Rachel’s project respondents had dropped from 241 to 104. Perhaps worst of all by June 2010:
“Belief that it’s worth lobbying politicians about climate change had fallen by Q3 and fell even further by Q4.”
I went to see the film because I am concerned about climate change. I can see and feel my own small world getting warmer (despite this arctic winter) and I believe the great majority of scientists who link climate change with human actions.
If you disagree you have probably stopped reading this. If you went to see the film as a climate change sceptic you possibly came out of the cinema even more convinced that reducing ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions is unnecessary. If the world is warming it is not because we are flying, driving and consuming more. (It’s sunspots or a natural cycle. And it’s too late to change).
That’s our ‘Confirmation bias’ – people with opposing views can be presented with exactly the same information without shifting ground. Even if they wobble, as a Stanford University experiment shows, people usually return to their original stand regardless of evidence (sometimes more convinced than ever).
Floods, forest fires and blizzards rage across the warming world. Is it impossible for us to change? Luckily there are people with open and questioning minds. According to The Edge, a web magazine quoted by Saturday’s Guardian, “A good scientist is never certain”. Lack of certainty is precisely what makes conclusions about complex issues more reliable – in arguments about climate change scientists are rigorously testing each others’ theories.
So respect scientists who acknowledge uncertainty. As Rachel concludes:
“I have submitted a second paper, about the final follow-up, which is as much about the difficulties of conducting longitudinal studies of behaviour as about the results.”
Like others in the survey I try to avoid flying (the train is more fun anyway). But big changes need political leadership so, unlike others, I believe in lobbying my MP and MSP more than ever. In fact they are both actively trying to strengthen legislation on climate change. Even if they were not this is probably one circumstance where their ‘confirmation bias’ would give way to evidence of mass public support for change. That’s one certainty: politicians want to be elected.
Rachel says if you want to know more about the survey, final follow-up or a copy of the paper she has published in the academic journal Global Environmental Change, email: email@example.com
Does Edinburgh get the kind of Tesco it deserves? I am intrigued to find that old Tesco stories on my blog still attract new comments, curiously some of them are from people who indignantly defend the supermarket but there is an encouraging majority from people who want to support local shops.
Tonight I peered through the window of the old bed shop in Picardy Place which is being fitted up for the new Tesco Express. It’s still a building site but under bright lights you can see a handsome space that might have been all kinds of creative things. Or even a more imaginative kind of supermarket. It’s not so fanciful, take a look at what Tesco does in other parts of the world.
A few years ago Ray and I discovered that shoppers in Prague and Budapest enjoy a distinctly different kind of Tesco experience. Perhaps it has changed now but in 2007 the newly colonial retailer was almost unrecognisable in both cities and not just because of the old communist architecture.
This is the real market but Tesco was selling the same kind of sausage
In Budapest, Europe’s biggest Tesco hypermarket (then run by Yorkshireman Paul Kennedy) stocked an astonishing 90% of local produce. Likewise in Prague – where Tesco occupies a rambling old Soviet department store – the Czech supermarket sells mainly Czech goods. And the busiest part of the store by far is the area selling fresh meat, chickens with heads and feet, fish, cheese and local fruit and veg. The kind of stuff Czech people buy in markets and local shops.
Britain moans about EU regulations but rolls over backwards to accommodate US retailing culture: fast food, heavily packaged and laden with fats and sugars. In the rest of Europe even McDonalds looks and tastes better – Dougal discovered a McDonalds in Bratislava where they served delicious goats cheese salad, long before they decided to offer healthier options in Britain. (Other travellers make equally surprising discoveries)
So I am sure Edinburgh could successfully demand more and better of supermarket chains. The increasingly dysfunctional city council hides behind planning regulations but consumers, Facebook groups and even good old fashioned voters could combine to persuade both retailers and councillors to do things differently. We could start by electing a different council next year.
Meanwhile of course local residents can keep on supporting Broughton Street’s excellent independent shops where we can find almost everything we need.
Központi Vásárcsarnok, the Great Market Hall in Budapest. Wouldn’t it be great to have one of these in Edinburgh? If the City Council wants to mess about with the Assembly Rooms they could at least do it in style…