Category Archives: Climate Change

House of Lords attacks nudging ???

Baroness Neuberger, chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee,  was on the Radio 4 today programme. yesterday.  Her thesis seemed to be that nudging techniques alone are not sufficient to tackle some of the huge challenges that our country faces, such as climate change or obesity. 

Well that was the headline anyway … Firstly, the report didn’t actually attack nudging, only that it shouldn’t be applied in isolation and secondly the media reports seem to miss the fact that the select committee’s report was based on two case studies. One of those case studies was all about encouraging a significant reduction in car use, if we are to have any chance of meeting agreed carbon reduction targets. However, I’ve not seen any significant press coverage on this point.

The Baroness’ select committee report, apparently, at least attacks civil servants for their interpretation of the steer that they are getting from their political masters, or possibly the policies themselves.  On one hand, the Government are stating a preference for the consideration of behaviour science techniques (which the scrutiny committee applauded);  but at the same time, they are also taking away the financial freedoms for Government Departments to be able to do anything else anyway. The select committee argues that the nudge alone is not enough.

On the Today programme, the Times columnist, Philip Collins, argued that there is an ideology behind nudging: “There’s a feeling that it’s better if things are done in a voluntary way, rather than through regulation and the state.”  But, both agreed that nudging was only part of the solution. Philip trotted out defaults the classic examples of auto-enrolment on pensions, organ donation and “save more tomorrow schemes”. 

The truth behind the headlines, as ever, is more balanced. For instance, one of the key recommendations from the select committee report  is that the Government should appoint an independent Chief Social Scientist to provide them with robust and independent scientific advice and to advise and shape the development of such policies. If the Sub-Committee really felt that these policies had no part to play then what would be the point of such an advisor. The BBC was just trying to make a headline, along with previous ones such as “Nudge or Fudge ?”.

That isn’t to say that nudges are the ultimate panacea. Of course, many times we will need to consider the environment (such as regulation) within which  nudges will sit. If you’ve read Thaler’s book, you’ll know that the first “[i]N” in Nudge stands for incentives – he never saw “pure social science” standing alone. However, what is important with the behaviour science approach is to design the overall package of measures together so that they can be mutually re-enforcing. We all know what if we hear nine pieces of advice that we don’t like, but just one that we do like; then we’re much more likely to take comfort in the tenth piece of information as it sits nicely with our current world view and gives us an excuse not to have to change.

Baroness Neuberger also challenged whether there was any catalogued evidence that nudging works, at a societal level.  She felt the case had only been proven at an individual level.  She argued that you may get a marginal difference in individual behaviour; but the Government are not doing the evaluations correctly when applied to a population.  With organ donation, she argued that actually the thing that would make the difference was training of the staff.  (It is that classic problem that in the real world, you can never set up an “experiment” such that you can only change one thing at a time – not at a realistic level, for a topic that matters quite so much – and hence you can never be quite sure which of the interventions that you made that be be credited with causing the difference.)

Of course, there is a massive “Catch 22” situation in this argument. Unless we undertake the interventions then we’ve got no chance of being able to gather the appropriate evidence. Also, it is a brave project manager, who cancels something essential for his own project in favour funding the evidential framework in order to assess whether the intervention worked in practice and support future projects. (The solution, by the way, is for the programme manager to set the context and mandate the use of the appropriate evidential frameworks and to give the project manager freedom to set financial priorities within his project.  It also takes the right culture for the project manager and the programme manager to be prepared to willingly cut entire projects – even their own – because there aren’t sufficient funds to do “everything necessary” and it is better to do everything necessary on a smaller number of projects than it is to do a large number of parts of projects.  Unfortunately, such cuts don’t necessarily make the best PR when communicating this approach.)

Completely missing from the headlines was the fact that one of the two case studies that the Select Committee looked at was: reducing the reliance of the British public on the car.

One of their specific recommendations from the Select Committee was that the Government should:

    (a)  establish and publish targets for a reduction in carbon emissions as a result of a reduction in car use;

    (b) publish an estimate of the percentage reduction in emissions which will be achieved through  reducing car use and  the timescale for its achievement; and

    (c) set out details of the steps they will take if this percentage reduction is not achieved by this time.

You can listen again to Tuesday’s Radio 4 Today Programme (at 07:50) at: bbc.

You can see a slightly longer video report by the Baroness on the site.

You can also download the reports there at:

  • Report: Behavour Change
  • Report: Behaviour Change (PDF)
  • Inquiry: Behaviour Change
  • Science and Technology Sub-Committee I

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    Eco2 – We don’t preach, well let’s see …

    Thought I’d make my first attempt at live blogging a conference at Eco2 so apologies for any typos, inacuracies or brevity … …

    First up is supposed to be Norman Baker, Transport Minister. He’s the first ever transport minister to have responsibility for alternatives to travel!

    Low Carbon future must happen at the same time as creating jobs.

    Govt is committed. Transport fared well in CSR as it is investment for the future.

    Stimulation at consumer and supplier end of a new market eg new bus fund.

    Carsharing, cycling and walking all still get investment.

    Focus is on behavioural changes for journeys of 5 miles or less. Cycling and walking have a good return, by any form of economic analysis. Plus, evidence suggests that shoppers actually buy more, when they travel in by sustainable transport. (minister quipped about “I’m not sure but perhaps they spend what they saved on their parking fee?”).

    £560M for local sustainable transport fund in urban areas.

    Reducing the need to travel by virtual working. Exciting agenda. As per my intro.

    Walking to the polling booth today?

    Following the mini-theme of what might the election do to transport policy, other than simply shrinking government budgets, please find attached a nice extract from Jamie’s blog at

    What do the party manifestos have to say about walking?

    We’ve done an analysis of a number of party political manifestos to see what they have to say about walking.

    First off, we haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down and reading every page of each one. We’ve carried out a slightly more simplistic exercise in which we downloaded PDFs of the documents and then did a search for “walk”, “walking”, “pedestrian”, “on foot” etc.

    So with that caveat, here are the results (in strict alphabetical order):
    BNP – nothing
    Conservatives – nothing
    Greens – 6 mentions
    Labour – nothing
    Liberal Democrats – 1 mention
    Plaid Cymru – nothing
    SNP – nothing
    UKIP – nothing
    So what do we make of this?
    OK, in comparison to issues such as the economy, immigration and schools, you may not expect political parties to devote much space in their manifestos to walking. But then again, you’d have hoped that it may at least get a look in – the Conservative and Labour manifestos, for instance, manage to find space to talk about pubs and football…

    Does this prove that we were right to be sceptical about the government’s plans “to put walking and cycling at the heart of our transport and health strategies”?

    With the notable exception of the Greens, it looks as though walking remains a bit of a Cinderella issue, not warranting discussion compared to more ‘muscular’ projects.

    Mentions of walking in the Green Party manifesto
    “Services must be accessible. This means they must be easy and affordable to reach by public transport – and within walking distance in urban areas.”
    “Support local shops through planning policies including business conservation areas, ensuring basic shops are available within walking distance in all urban areas and restricting the power of supermarkets.”
    “We would prioritise transport modes according to the following hierarchy:
    Walking and cycling
    Public transport (trains, trams and buses) and rail freight
    Heavy goods vehicles
    “To encourage walking and cycling for shorter journeys and improve road safety we would:
    Reduce speed limits (e.g. to 20mph in built-up areas, including villages).
    Make streets safe; make them public spaces again. Plan for mixed-use developments where shops, housing and businesses are closely located and connected by pavements and cycleways.
    Introduce a maximum speed limit of 55mph on motorways and trunk roads, and 40mph on rural roads, to make them safer for all road users.
    Introduce schemes such as Home Zones, Safe Routes to School and pedestrianisation.
    Ensure that at least 10% of transport spending is on securing a shift to more active travel like walking and cycling.”
    “Expansion of public transport (and walking and cycling) is critically important to decarbonising our transport infrastructure, which is the only sector in which climate-altering carbon emissions are currently growing. We would divert money currently being wasted on huge road projects and put more of the UK’s transport budget into public transport, and especially into local schemes for walking, cycling and bus travel.”
    “Increase the tranquillity of our urban environments, with less litter, less noise, reduced light pollution and more green spaces. Everyone should live within walking distance of natural green space.”
    Mention of walking in the Liberal Democrat manifesto
    “Include the promotion of safer cycling and pedestrian routes in all local transport plans.”

    Make things fun to get things done

    Volkswagen’s fun theory is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

    I loved their prize winning entry on a possible future for speeds cameras. Why are they seen as such a negative thing ? Imagine a world where … …

    Can we get more people to obey the speed limit by making it fun to do? The idea here is capture on camera the people who keep to the speed limit. They would have their photos taken and registration numbers recorded and entered into a lottery. Winners would recieve cash prizes and be notified by post. Better still, the winning pot would come from the people who were caught speeding.

    One step (or stone) at a time

    Part of the Operation Noah day activities on the 5th July included a taize service (what’s that, I hear you ask) which was very moving and turned out to be very symbolic of the challenge that we will face in trying to address our carbon foot-print as a community.

    As one element of the service, we worked together to move a pile of pebbles from the larger x10 footprint (which Ruth and Josh had used at the school assemblies with the children) to the smaller x1 footprint; but there weren’t really any “rules” and all of this whilst singing the taize as well.

    – The first hurdle was “who to start ?”. Well, at least that wasn’t too hard with having Ruth within our community.

    – The biggest hurdle was “who to go second ?”; where we all metaphorically looked at each other (and wondered if we were going round in the circle or not). I have forgotten who “broke the mould” but then we fairly easily got into a pattern of moving one stone each from the big footprint to the little one.

    – The next hurdle was “well actually, an individual can move more than one stone at a time” and we fairly easily got into a pattern of people moving two or three stones at a time.

    – However, the collective realisation dawned, now that we had started the task, that the pile of stones really wasn’t getting moved very quickly (and that we would be singing the taize forever!) and that actually we needed some rather big actions if we were going to finish at a reasonable time. So, the second biggest hurdle was for someone to take a really big handful of stones from one pile to the other.

    – Finally, there was one stone left and then one of the younger members of the congregation taking part stepped forward and moved the final stone.

    The symbolism here was strong at each stage in the process to the task that we face in Hartley Wintney about thinking about and doing something about our carbon footprint, as we have so clearly been asked to by the children of the village.

    – The first steps are always hard. It will be hard to get our community moving and taking action. Breaking the barrier of “why should I go first” is actually pretty strong. There is always something else to be doing in our busy lives. However, a momentum builds up, once you can get things started.

    – We are bound to find that the first steps were good to get us going and build up our confidence, but not sufficient to achieve our ends. Again, we will need to work together and it will seem strange “breaking the mould” again and doing things that will really make a difference. At this stage people will need lots of support and encouragement, but these really big actions will also be required for the enormity of the challenge that we face.

    – I felt it was significant that the youngest member of the congregation moved the final stone, because our actions today will effect the world that we leave behind for our children and their children.

    All in all, it was very thought-provoking … … …

    Meeting my MP for the first time

    Children of Hartley Wintney present their fabric petition on climate change to their MP

    Children of Hartley Wintney present their fabric petition on climate change to their MP

    Friday was the first time that I’ve met my own MP ! The occasion was that the primary school children of the Hampshire village, Hartley Wintney, were unfurling a giant petition for their local MP James Arbuthnot, calling on the Government to protect their future. The petition calls on the Government to cut the UK’s carbon footprints by 90%. This was the start of a community climate change weekend event called Operation Noah Day and I’ll try and post more about how it went soon ….

    The petition – made of recycled bed sheets – was taken by Ruth Jarman, chair of the Hartley Wintney Operation Noah Group, to all four primary schools in the area and collected hundreds of brightly coloured signatures. Children also received an Operation Noah Day leaflet with five suggestions for all village parents to “Change the way you live because of who you love”. Supporting her was St. John’s Church Careforce volunteer, Josh Parmar.

    The wording of the children’s giant petition is “To the UK Government from the community of Hartley Wintney and Dogmersfield. We want to cut our carbon footprint from this (large footprint) to this (10x smaller footprint). We will do our part. We need you to do yours”.

    Charity begins at home

    Within the transport community, when it comes to “behavioural change” (oh don’t we use some strange terms), we all know that nothing beats “feet on the street”. Gillian Merron heralded the early results from the three Sustainable Transport Towns (Worcester, Peterborough and Darlington) as “astounding”. Surveys all point to the fact that people want better transport. However there is a huge gap between what we say we want and what we do. In the lingo, the approach taken in the three towns was called “Individualised Travel Marketing” – where information is sent to every household, followed by a visit to establish a personalised travel plan to suit them. All the evidence seems to suggest it works. People can’t change their behaviour if they don’t know the options available to them. It is too easy to stay stuck in a rut and stick to your old habits. However, the “personal touch” seems to make all of the difference and I’m not really at all surprised.

    Well I thought I’d have a go too and they say that “charity begins at home”, so I have been working with a national charity and a local church to pull together some travel options for my local community of Hartley Wintney, all as part of an event called Operation Noah Day, which is on Saturday 5th July. I hope to keep you posted on the blog on how it goes.

    Style of communication really does matter and I’ve just had one of the sweetest messages from one of my fellow volunteers to say that “I love the really local and practical approach and gentle, non nagging style, it will really make people think. Yes please and more – if you have time to produce it!”.