Has Climate Week been compromised by teaming up with RBS?

Climate Week has come under attack for linking up with the Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS has very substantial investments in the fossil fuel economy with its financing for coal and gas attracting justifiable attacks. I am a supporter of Climate Week and have also supported the campaign to change RBS’s policies.

Even though RBS is a part of the fossil fuel problem, it is in my opinion a mistake to attack Climate Week for making a sponsorship deal with it.

With the honourable exception of organisations like the Co-Op and Triodos, our financial system is mainly clueless when it comes to promoting an ecologically sustainable future. Banks back corporates and projects in all kinds of unsustainable activities. The question for me at this late stage in averting what looks like an unfolding climatic catastrophe is not so much whether our financial system (including most banks) is part of the problem, it is much more one of how are we going to change everything very quickly.

Having thought about this quite a lot, I have come to the conclusion that two things we must do are raise popular awareness and influence culture in relation to what this all means. The climate change challenge, and all the other things linked to it, from halting deforestation to the decarbonisation of energy, will require changes that cannot be done without support from the public, including in how we consume. People need to be part of the solution. They have to want to change.

We climate campaigners have not done well on these priorities. The scientific case is made. The political speeches are on the record. In the UK we even have a Climate Change Act which requires an 80 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Yet for many the issue remains remote and irrelevant. Most people don’t know what to do, or how to do it. It is still not normal for most people to think low carbon, not on the scale needed. It simply has not become part of our popular culture. It is still a niche interest.

Climate Week, along with 10:10, Start, Global Cool and a few others, is among a band of micro organisations that have undertaken the mammoth task of trying to raise popular awareness and support for the big changes needed. They are all making progress with Climate Week’s first outing achieving a huge impact at ground level in homes, schools, communities and businesses right across the country.

But is the message fatally compromised through an association with RBS? I don’t think so. No matter how pure Climate Week might be, this controversy has revealed the deep tension at the heart of our predicament. We inhabit and economic system that is embarked on a course toward ecological suicide. There is no shortage of science, logic or moral arguments as to why it must change: what is lacking is popular demand. It seems to me that the gains being made by Climate Week in mobilising that far outweigh the risk that its association with RBS will somehow strengthen and sustain the fossil fuel economy.

Climate Week could have chosen to have no corporate sponsors. But then it would have done a lot less too. While RBS is a sensible pressure point for campaigners, in my opinion Climate Week is not. Let’s by all means focus the heat on banks, but let’s not undermine the very few organised efforts that are changing how people think.


Originally published by The Independent.