An Arctic Scene 1881, by William Bradford

In mid November 2010, secondary schools in Lincolnshire were invited to take part in the launch of a new scheme, a climate-change themed project that will be, in the words of the press release, “aimed at helping young people explore the human demand on the earth’s ecosystem.” The two organisations behind this development are an agency called The Mighty Creatives and an entity called Cape Farewell, about whom I will write more in a moment; the name of this project is speakgreen.

What exactly is speakgreen? According to Cape Farewell’s website, it will involve “Green Teams” of pupils to be formed in participating schools; these teams will be “facilitated at a senior level by school leaders, teachers and youth workers, and mentored by the experienced educationalists at Cape Farewell Education.” And what will these teams do? They will “investigate aspects of climate change in the region, initiating creative and scientific projects, and building links to local artists, scientists and journalists.”

So far, this project does not seem entirely dreadful, on the face of it. Investigating aspects of climate change sounds a lot like science, after all – making observations and doing experiments, advancing and testing hypotheses, that sort of thing. And in principle no-one, surely, would be against the idea of creative and scientific projects in schools.

It is when you start looking into Cape Farewell’s web presence and activities, however, that you realise that the science is actually secondary to their stated mission. Although oceanographers and geologists take part in Cape Farewell’s frequent voyages to the Arctic, this is first and foremost an artistic endeavour; the project was created by artist David Buckland in 2001, and is concerned with instigating a “cultural response” to climate change. Their best-known idea has been to expose designers, writers, musicians, comedians and – increasingly — schoolchildren, to the ostensibly fragile beauty of the Arctic, with the intention that participants will be inspired to communicate their learnings in a creative way to the rest of us, and thus help to effect a “cultural shift of values” in society.

A mostly harmless exercise, you might conclude – after all, these people are not blockading power stations, creating a nuisance at airports or demanding that we all turn vegan. However, I do not consider Cape Farewell or speakgreen to be harmless; indeed, in my view, their presence in British schools is of dubious educational value and their activities are a waste of public money. Here’s why I think this way.

Firstly, the presentation of climate science on the Cape Farewell website is a rather strange affair. There are sensible-sounding statements such as there “appears to be enough evidence over the last century to indicate that global warming is taking place”, that “increased amounts of C02 in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels is blamed by many as one of the main causes” and that there are “alternative explanations that show how longer term climatic changes can occur for a variety of reasons.” Do I detect a nod to scepticism?

But then utterly sweeping (and oddly phrased) conclusions are reached. “Rising CO2 and Methane levels are the reason for global warming, and their use [fossil fuels] continues to push up the world’s temperature to dangerous levels, predicting worldwide economic and social destabilisation, let alone any concerns for the welfare of the planet.” And there is this: “Climate change is caused by the way we choose to live in our urban environment…” Scientific caution morphs effortlessly into total certainty.

With such a leap to alarming conclusions, it is no wonder that arts and humanities students both past and present (of whom I am one, incidentally) appear to be disembarking from these voyages just as semi-literate, scientifically speaking, as when they started out. Theatre director Deborah Warner went on Cape Farewell’s 2010 expedition, where she watched a glacier calving at the end of the Arctic summer. This made a strong impression on her. “Climate change is real – in this environment it demands respect and brings us to our senses. We’ve witnessed the wonder of glaciers and seen the retreat in action. Most shockingly, we heard it.” Earlier in her article for The Independent, she states “But the climate-change consensus is very clear; 95 per cent of scientists cannot be wrong…” She writes with the heady enthusiasm of a religious convert.

Back to speakgreen, one proposed activity is the investigation of aspects of climate change in the region. When some of the more arts-inclined schoolkids return from their hunt for evidence of global warming along the Lincolnshire coast and touch base with their speakgreen mentors, I wonder whether they will have gained a better understanding of coastal erosion due to mundane things like longshore drift, or whether they too will have witnessed the melodrama of climate change happening before their very eyes. Call me cynical but I suspect it will be the latter.

Our urban lifestyles are causing global warming, or so the science appears to have said; what, then, should we do about it? Cape Farewell Director of Education Colin Izod believes that schoolkids should be encouraged to form an opinion on that subject. He tweets enthusiastically: “with speakgreen students need to understand that they can step forward and act and teachers that they need to step back and let them!” and “speakgreen is about school students believing they can have opinions about climate change and act on them. Voice,leadership & creativity!”

But some opinions are likely to be more equal than others. Performing a quick thought experiment, let us say that young Philip in the 3rd Year survives the science phase of the project with his critical faculties intact and forms an opinion that CO2 may not be the main driver of climate change. And let us say his equally perspicacious classmate Tracey forms an opinion that even if global warming poses a problem for the world, the best strategy would be to bring the developing nations out of poverty.

Do you think it probable that Philip’s and Tracey’s opinions would be discussed seriously in class, even acted upon? Would we then be able to watch the Green Teams of Lincolnshire perform a school play about the promise of cheap energy and GM food in sub-Saharan Africa? Or read fervent poetry dedicated to the uncertainties of climate science? Admire students’ colourful paintings of nuclear power stations, perhaps?

I think not. It will be the same old unimaginative, one-sided, dead-end fixation on bringing down CO2 emissions, and little else. But before anyone dismisses me completely as an old cynic (I’m not, I’m still a middle-aged cynic) I would urge you to visit the speakgreen website where you can find three videos about the project, which has already taken off in Northern Ireland and Germany, apparently. Watch them all, but watch especially the second one, which provides us with some good real-life examples of speakgreen-type opinions and activism in action. Here are a few highlights (bear in mind that these are children, who – unlike their teachers – should not really be held responsible for this idiocy.)

At 0:22: Uniformed schoolchildren from Banbridge in Northern Ireland gather around the Crozier Monument, which commemorates Francis Crozier of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, and which is situated on a busy intersection in the town. They are chanting and shouting at passing traffic. I think they’re yelling “get out of your car!” but it’s not very clear.

At 0:55: A Banbridge school teacher explains about a fake newspaper story created and published by the Green Team (she actually refers to it as a “scam” on the video) about the Crozier Monument’s polar bear statues being taken away because of “pollution”, in order to whip up a “public reaction” to something. Maybe pollution, maybe CO2, I’m not sure which.

At 2:43: The A-Z of climate change: “F is for famines and floods. Next time you see pictures like these, remember – we waste energy, we are responsible.”

At 5:54: At a televised debate, one of Banbridge’s Green Team makes a speech. It goes something like this: “Even if climate change is not all man-made, all the oil is being used up and humans are being used up, so what happens when I go to have a family, and my generation and the next generation goes on, what are we supposed to use?”.

Now hidden in there must have been something that represented time, effort and money well spent, but if there is, I have not found it.

And on the subject of money and propaganda, let us imagine that McDonalds or Kelloggs wanted to organise and supervise “food teams” in our schools; we would suspect a corporate agenda at work, but at least we would know that the funds would probably come from the companies themselves. However, when Cape Farewell and The Mighty Creatives organise their speakgreen activities, with an agenda as obvious as that of any corporation, they will be bankrolled to a large extent by the public. Cape Farewell’s biggest sponsor is the notoriously wasteful, taxpayer-funded Arts Council England (out of approximately £450,000 of Cape Farewell’s income from charities in 2009, £150,000 – a third, in other words – came from the Arts Council.) A close partner of Cape Farewell is the British Council, another fervent evangelist for CO2 mitigation and a happy recipient of our tax money. Cape Farewell’s partner in the speakgreen project – The Mighty Creatives – are part funded by Arts Council England and also by CCE – Creativity, Culture and Education – (often, confusingly, referred to on the internet by their old name, Creative Partnerships), themselves an offshoot of Arts  Council England, and who thus represent yet another stream of our tax money feeding into the project. The bottom line is that we are paying for much of this propaganda ourselves.

However, a reliance on public funding is also, potentially, speakgreen‘s Achilles heel. In the Spending Review of October 2010, the UK Government announced a cut to the budget of Arts Council England of almost 30%, which will leave the organisation wondering how it will be able to afford future funding for clients. In turn, CCE’s budget is being slashed by a colossal 50%. It is like a sudden and very severe drought, threatening (or promising, according to your point of view) to dry up and cut off the multiple streams of public money that once flowed so freely into projects everywhere – some that were worthwhile, others that were arguably less so.

Will speakgreen wither, then, or will it live on? Personally, I think that its survival, and that of other extravagances like it, might well be hanging in the balance now. Coinciding with the rise of public scepticism in this country about catastrophic man-made global warming, there is a significant (and indisputably man-made) downturn under way in the financial climate, both in Britain and worldwide.

As we approach the end of 2010, it is becoming clear that where funding for green projects is concerned, things may never be quite the same again.



Creative Partnerships press release:,455,ART.html

Cape Farewell:

Cape Farewell climate science:

Deborah Warner, writing in the Independent:

Cape Farewell’s funding:

Arts Council cuts:

Arts Council England and the budget cuts

14 Responses to “Cape Farewell, speakgreen, The Mighty Creative, and a change in the climate”

  1. […] 4. Harmless Sky on Cape Farewell, speakgreen, The Mighty Creative, and a change in the climate […]

  2. Cape Farewell sounds rather fun – free trips to the Arctic or the Amazon if you write a poem about it when you get back. It sounds like the source for the satirical opening passages of Ian McEwen’s novel “Solar”. Has anyone else read it? It was billed in the Guardian as the ultimate global warming tome, but instead it’s the standard British Novel about a randy old man, only with solar panels.
    And this is just Lincolnshire and the East Midlands. At Bishop Hill commenters are reporting such stuff from all over. See:

  3. Re the AGW indoctrination issue, there’s also plenty of good discussions going on Judith Curry’s Climate, Etchere‘s one of several threads dedicated to “Education versus indoctrination”.

    Ian McEwan’s Solar is up next on my “to be read” list, after I finish reading Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist. Ian McEwan is a Cape Farewell alumnus and makes what could be construed as a number of sly digs at the mindset of his fellow voyagers.

    This is from a review of Solar by Stuart Kelly on the Living Scotsman website:

    McEwan even mocks his own endeavour, as the artists enthuse that “it was art in its highest forms, poetry, sculpture, dance, abstract music, conceptual art, that would lift climate change as a subject, gild it, palpate it, reveal all the horror and lost beauty and awesome threat, and inspire the public to take thought”. This from a group he deftly reveals can’t organise a cloakroom.

    The voyages themselves are, by all accounts, wonderful to take part in – who would not pass up the opportunity to sail up to the high Arctic and see the sights there, or visit the rain forests of Peru, without having to pay a fortune? But (and I think this was something that McEwan was getting at) the exercise is intended to inspire art for a specific purpose. The beauty of Greenland is not appreciated in quite the same way as the beauty of the Milky Way, for instance (which is unlikely to be ever affected by global warming.)

    It is as if the Arctic is some sort of vast frozen attic full of objets trouvés which can be picked up and arranged to make a political or ideological point, or a white backdrop on which a message can be projected (which is what David Buckland appears to be actually doing here, shining ominous slogans such as “SELF LOATHING SELF GREED SELF LOVE” and “GOING TO HELL ON A HARDCART” onto the sides of cliffs.)

    Here‘s an article in the Independent about literature and the environment, in which writer Robert Macfarlane is quoted as saying (and I think this could be about any sort of art): “We have a word for literature whose political outcome is pre-meditated, and it is propaganda.”

  4. Alex Cull

    Very interesting (if a bit scary) article.

    Judith Curry’s site (which you cited) has also raised interesting questions regarding education versus indoctrination.

    As we move from education (and, with it, the encouragement of critical independent thought) to indoctrination (of the socio-political “party line”), brainwashing plus propaganda -geoff’s word (to pound the message into peoples’ brains), and start resorting to fear mongering (viz. Mencken’s “hobgoblins”), we are entering dangerous territory.

    Throughout history, despots have followed this path to strengthen and consolidate their power.

    But there is one snag in open, democratic societies today, which did not exist twenty years ago. Using the power of instant communication of information through blog sites such as this one, that of Dr. Curry and several others, this path can be stopped.

    And that’s what you, TonyN and all the others are doing here.


  5. Max, it’s one of the ironies of the internet age, that just as one side – governments, NGOs, organisations like 10:10 and – make use of the net to promote their point of view, convey information, get support and “raise awareness”, their opponents and critics can do so too, proving it a double-edged sword.

    A good recent example IMO – the annotated AR4 project described by Donna Lafromboise here (h/t Bishop Hill.)

  6. Alex
    I’ll be interested to hear your opinion of Solar. I’ve enjoyed a couple of McEwan’s novels in the past, but I thought this one was dreadful. The half-hearted AGW propaganda was almost the best part, since it was so double edged. If he’s really a Cape Farewell Alumnus then that explains the faintly satirical self-mocking early passage in the Arctic.
    Do you have any idea whether this is a unique venture in Britain, or is there one in every county, every region? I’m beginning to get a kind of paranoid Midwich Cuckoos feeling that the whole of society is being financed by the Department of Climate Change, to produce Ed Miliband / Chris Huhne clones.
    I wish I could share Manacker’s optimism about the power of the internet. I’d feel a bit less pessimistic if Harmless Sky had a half a million from the Arts Council. Shall we start a petition?

    [TonyN: Definitely!]

  7. Geoff, re Ian McEwan, here’s his short essay “A Boot Room in the Frozen North” following his experiences with Cape Farewell in 2005.

    About the seeming ubiquity of speakgreen-style initiatives, one common factor is the British Council, who are very keen on CO2 mitigation and since 2008 have been setting up International Climate Champions all over the world, working with partner organisations such as Cape Farewell in the UK and TERI in India.

    From this British Council site in the US:

    The International Climate Champions initiative is part of a range of activities within the British Council designed to build understanding of and drive action on climate change.

    In 2008 the program launched in 13 countries (Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) and then grew to encompass more than 800 International Climate Champions in 29 countries.

    In 2009 the program expanded to 60 countries across the globe, recruiting over 1,300 young people who are passionate about and committed to taking action on climate change. These champions are not only leaders in their communities but are also participating in international peer networks, both in person and online, to share ideas, projects and experiences.

    I think your Midwich Cuckoos metaphor is a good one!

    More links:

    In October’s spending review, it was announced that the British Council’s grant from the FCO is to be cut by about £30 million, as per this parliamentary memorandum:

    The Council’s Grant-in-aid will reduce from £180m (excluding capital funding) in FY10/11 to £149m in FY14/15. This represents a cut of 17%, which (with inflation) amounts to a real cut of around 25%. The British Council will implement this cut through a mixture of efficiency savings and increased income from English teaching, examinations and contract delivery activities. The British Council will contribute to the increased UK ODA spend that is part of the overall settlement. The Council, unlike the FCO and World Service, is able to raise a significant part of its own revenue. Its commercial income is currently £450m p.a. and after costs this provides a small surplus.

    So there’s a possibility that the International Climate Champions initiative will be affected by the efficiency savings. However, looking at this document, I have my doubts about that. It is the British Council’s Corporate Plan for 2010-2011, and well worth reading (I’m assuming, though that it dates from before the October 2010 spending review.)

    Section 3 of the document has this (my emphasis):

    Our charitable objects

    Our Royal Charter sets out the purposes for which we are established. These are to:
    * promote a wider knowledge of the United Kingdom
    * develop a wider knowledge of the English language
    * encourage cultural, scientific, technological and other educational co-operation between the United Kingdom and other countries, or
    * otherwise promote the advancement of education.

    We aim to respond to global challenges through the programmes which we believe will make the most effective contribution to the delivery of these charitable objects. For 2010–11,
    we continue to describe our work as falling into three broad areas: intercultural dialogue, UK creative and knowledge economy, and climate change.

    So it would appear that climate change is one of the British Council’s core issues.

  8. Add this to your list of 101 reasons to be very depressed
    Take a look at this bunch of Huhne Youth cadres and EdMillitants (An MBE at 25 for “co-founding an intergenerational equity consultancy”) and weep. These pseudo-activists, like McEwan and the Cape Farewell gang, are having their trips to Mexico and pseudo charities / consultancies financed by the taxpayer, in order to be trained to lecture the taxpayer on why he can’t have cheap trips to Mexico. I’ll bet that it won’t be their budgets that are cut at the British Council and the Art Council, because they’re the future. “Tomorrow belongs to me” as they explain so charmingly, pointing out that many of us will be dead by the time their cosy little fantasy comes to an end in 2050.
    I’d better stop there, before I have one of my eco-f…ist turns.

  9. Alex Cull

    Thanks for link (#5).

    The project described on the “No Frakking Consensus” site (which you linked) sounds like a pretty thorough approach to identify areas of uncertainty in the IPCC 2007 AR4 report. The “Person of Concern”, “Journal of Concern” approach seems to be a logical process for establishing areas of “concern” (or uncertainty) in the IPCC message and the reports supporting it.

    As the article states:

    Those of us who’ve been taking a close look at the 2007 report (also known as AR4) have identified numerous concerns. Now we have a tool to analyze it more comprehensively than ever before.

    The more than 18,000 references on which the IPCC builds its case have been coded via an automated process. This means one can now visually scan a chapter and see which citations are of potential concern. To gain a clean designation (and thus remain untagged by AccessIPCC), a reference must meet stringent criteria.

    The article lists the “stringent criteria” that these reference reports must meet to stay off the list of those of potential concern. It also states that these reports may not necessarily be flawed, but should be examined more closely.

    I think it is good that there is (or will soon be) something like that out there for people to check out. There certainly is enough of the “party line” stuff out there, so this could provide a bit of a balance.

    A blogger named PaulM put together a pretty comprehensive summary of errors, exaggerations, omissions and outright fabrications in AR4 (primarily related to the WG1 report). This was done on ClimateAudit, on a thread that has since been closed and removed, but the summary by PaulM is still available online (it has been cited earlier here). He used the somewhat different approach of listing IPCC claims that are in direct disagreement with published reports or observed data (or where there is considerable scientific uncertainty regarding the IPCC claim), rather than investigating reference reports based on their authorship.

    I’m all for this kind of open critique of the IPCC reports, which have been heralded as the “mainstream consensus” (and thus “scientific truth”) far too long.

    This is of particular importance now that “mitigating action” is being seriously discussed, in my opinion putting the cart before the horse, as the “science” supporting the need for this “action” is far from “settled”.


  10. Alex Cull

    The link to the Critique of IPCC AR4 by Paul M “Errors, distortions and exaggerations in the WGI Report” is here


  11. Max, Geoff, the “Errors, distortions and exaggerations in the WGI Report” site is an excellent resource, and have just bookmarked it for future reference. What this and the annotated AR4 exercise show is the power of people organising themselves and acting together effectively and on their own initiative, via the internet and with a shared interest but no top-down planning, financial incentives, expensive foreign trips or public money needed. This seems as different to the British Council sort of approach as it is possible to be.

    What struck me while researching the speakgreen article is the way that it’s assumed people are highly interested in green issues but need to be shepherded, so to speak, into doing something about it (“students need to understand that they can step forward and act and teachers that they need to step back and let them”, etc.) While some young people (e.g. the “youth climate leaders” in the Guardian article via Geoff’s #8 link) come across as self-motivated, how representative are they, and is there much of a youth climate mass movement?

    I tend to doubt it – rightly or wrongly, my impression is that there are a minority of children who are motivated to become green activists, and a majority of children who are largely indifferent or who have other priorities. Here‘s a link to an article about the 2008 “School Gate” Survey, which lists doing well at school, bullying, drugs and alcohol as some of the greatest concerns for 7-16 year-old UK schoolchildren (no mention of the environment or climate change.) And here‘s a link to an article about a 2009 Childwise survey for CBBC’s Newsround, which suggests that poverty and crime are the main concerns for the UK’s 6-12 year-olds (although pollution, recycling and the environment are briefly mentioned.)

    We live in the age of Facebook, YouTube and an unprecedented level of access to computers and mobile phones – my thoughts are that if teenagers can motivate themselves to set up a Facebook fan page for Justin Bieber, for example, surely they would just as well be able to organise themselves about any issue that interests or concerns them. Take away the public funding and various initiatives by WWF, British Council, Cape Farewell and the rest to get them involved, would schoolchildren – without being prompted – exhibit the same level of enthusiasm about climate change that they appear to do at the moment? I’m not convinced that they would.

  12. Alex:
    You ask “How representative are the youth leaders?” Not at all, no more than the Speakgreen bunch. The extraordinary thing is how they’ve managed to grab headlines, government funding, an MBE and a seat in the Lords with no public support whatsoever.
    Because of all party support for AGW, our money (well, your money) can be funnelled to supporters of a political world view which is opposed by probably a majority of voters, with hardly a peep of protest. Any young person with a spark of political or artistic ambition or civic sense will be drawn to these subsidised activities, where they will create a CV and eventually a career for themselves.
    The kind of corruption which used to belong to backroom deals and under the counter payments is now conducted in full view on websites.
    I’m sorry to say “I told you so” but this conforms to the doubts I had a year ago when TonyN announced “they don’t know what’s hit them”. The fact is, nothing hit them. Thanks to Muir Russell &co and the abandonment of investigative journalism, the state of the science and the state of climate change politics have been successfully dissociated. Nothing but a big freeze can save us from this grave distortion of democracy.

  13. Geoff, it turns out that Dan Glass, one of the young activists in the Guardian article linked to in your #8 has just been convicted of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass in the Ratcliffe-on-Soar case, along with 19 others. He claims that the activists have had huge support from the public; however, I find it heartening that the jury decided as they did. Here‘s a Guardian article from just before the verdict was announced:

    Hansen had flown overnight from his home in the US to give evidence about the science of climate change and in particular the threat posed to humanity by the burning of coal at plants such as E.ON’s at Ratcliffe-on-Soar.

    During his two-hour testimony and cross-examination, Ed Rees QC, for the defence, stopped him repeatedly to ask him to explain the technical terms he was using. But the message he delivered was the clearest – and starkest – crash course in climate change the jury, the judge and members of the public in the gallery are ever likely to get.

    If “the message he delivered was the clearest – and starkest – crash course in climate change the jury, the judge and members of the public in the gallery are ever likely to get” and the jury deliberated and still delivered a guilty verdict, does this not offer some hope for the future?

    As you say, though, the big freeze will help. Although unversed in climate arcana, the public are not as stupid as the warmists take them for (although I’m sure many people are annoyed at being labelled stupid for questioning CAGW.) Three chaotic and icy winters in a row, after 30 years of alleged global warming, should help to concentrate minds and make people wonder exactly why they are meant to be spending their time, energy and money on “tackling climate change”.

  14. Alex #13
    It makes you wonder how big the world of activists really is. On sites like Stop Climate Chaos they claim to be millions, but the same ones keep turning up. I once swapped tales of a young activist from the media – was it with you or with Luke Warmer? – and it turned out we were talking about the same bloke.
    I suppose one useful thing to try and do in the New Year might be to chart systematically the different Green groups on the web. I have the impression every Green has his or her own blog.
    I’ve just noticed how sour and anti-youth my #8 was. I’m not really like that, but when I see the MBEs being distributed, and a peerage for Bryony Worthington of “Sandbag”, it makes me very pessimistic about this movement coming to an end, even in the face of the folly of green energy policy. Chris Huhne in today’s Guardian is offering us cheaper green energy (ie cheaper than it would have been if he’d put its price up even more than he’s going to). In no other area would a politician get away with such idiocy, because there’d be an opposition, opposing him.

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