23 May 2009 – Ed Milliband and Franny Armstrong on ‘The Age of Stupid’ – Hay on Wye Festival 2009

Ed Milliband and Franny Armstrong, 23rd May 2009

This was an extra event organised at short notice. Ed Milliband talked to Franny Armstrong about her film “The Age of Stupid”. They clearly had done this kind of thing before and had a good rapport. They showed 3 clips from the film throughout the session.

Armstrong started by explaining that it took years to get her film made, and once it was made she thought she would have done her bit for climate change and could retire from the field. But others told her that the film was a powerful campaigning tool, and especially in the year of the Copenhagen negotiations, she should set up a campaign around the film. So she started the Not Stupid campaign.

Milliband compared the campaign to the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005. He said that many people are cynical about that campaign, because they think it didn’t make any difference. Milliband isn’t cynical, he thinks that without that campaign governments would not have agreed to the targets that they did agree to. Right now is a critical time for climate change campaigns because we are in Obama’s first year when he has maximum power to get things done. Now is the time for people to create a popular movement to push the politicians further on climate change.

The first clip they showed from the film was about economic growth and consumerism – that our consumerist lifestyles are wrecking the planet.

M. responded to the clip by saying that he was in favour of low carbon growth not low growth. We need to try to persuade China that it is in its own interest to pursue a low carbon path. He referred to his own constituency where economic growth has raised living standards.

A. referred to Copenhagenwhere at the moment the best deal on offer will give us a coin toss chance of keeping warming under 2C.

M. Said that he would press for the maximum possible deal atCopenhagen.

A. Happiness is not linked to consumption.

M. Take flying as an example. Nowadays everyone has opportunities to fly. Saying to people that we will take away the opportunity to fly from people is not the right approach.

A. The right target is for a 95% cut in flights by 2020. Years ago people flew very rarely and it was a magical experience. If we return to the situation where you fly about once a decade then it becomes something very special, and what’s wrong with that. In order for us not to sacrifice our right to fly, others have to sacrifice their lives.

M. Politics is about the art of persuasion. It’s not realistic to tell people that they can’t fly.

A. You don’t need to persuade people. You can legislate and force people. For example, you didn’t need to get everyone’s agreement to enforce the smoking ban, you passed a law. Realistic is not the right word. If we do what is realistic we will all fry, we will cause the death of most life on the planet. We don’t have to wait for the Copenhagen agreement to do what is right nationally. We can pass national laws because it is the right thing to do and hope that people will follow our lead. In fact it is not politicians’ job to persuade people. It is the media’s job and the public’s job to persuade people.

They showed the second clip which was real life footage about a campaign against a local wind farm, on grounds mainly of aesthetics.

Someone in the audience asked a question about economic growth in which he referred to a recent report by Tim Jackson called “Prosperity Without Growth”.

M. Milliband hadn’t read the report but promised to do so. He restated that he still thought that economic growth should continue. But that we have to do it differently. Drive less. Fly not in the same way. Insulate and heat our homes differently. He cited the transition towns movement as a good example of what can be achieved.

A. The campaign on climate change has to address mainly the middle. Preaching to the converted is pointless and trying to convert sceptics is a waste of energy.

Her film has been accused on preaching to the converted. However, she has heard that although the first people to see her film were the converted, she has had many emails from people that said that afterwards they persuaded many of their friends and family to see the film as well, and for many of them the penny dropped. The film was privately funded by donations, which means they own all the rights to it, a completely new way of distribution. They are selling licences to screen the film. You can pay for a
licence then charge for tickets and keep the ticket money, use it for campaigning or just keep it.

One person in the audience made a question/comment to say that flying is so popular that it may be necessary to sacrifice this goal to win the main battle.

Another question was about the use of personal carbon allowances.

M. This is an idea whose time will come. But it would be very bureaucratic to administer. We may well get to the stage where we will do it. Before that, we should implement schemes where people get credit for using less. He is talking to local councils about this.

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