Identity vs Sustainability
For an outsider, the battle for the leadership of the UK’s opposition Labour Party is gripping. Old school socialist and pacifist Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory last year after a number of Labour MPs naively overrode the party’s safety catch, which requires any candidate to have the support of a suitable proportion of Labour MPs, in the name of “broadening the debate”. Now 80% of Corbyn’s MPs want rid of him, citing dismal polls and chaotic party management, but with huge support amongst the rank-and-file party membership, he’s not going anywhere fast. Who knows how it will end – or when.
“Why don’t the MPs just set up their own party – or join the Lib Dems?” asked Mrs K one morning.
“Identity.” I answered “For the vast majority of Labour MPs, leaving the Labour Party would be like cutting off their right arm – it’s part of who they are.”
Politics is largely about identity – which is why elections are generally determined by a relatively small number of ‘swing voters’ who do not vote on gut instinct but weigh up the pros and cons of each. Sustainability isn’t any different. At one end of the spectrum you have the hardcore greens, whose sometimes superior attitude puts off many who sit in the middle. At the other end of the spectrum you have the climate denialists, like Corbyn’s brother Piers, a self appointed weather expert, who despite making doomed predictions, such as the one in 2008 that “the world is cooling and will continue to do so”, refuses to accept he might have got it wrong.
I’ve found that understanding the power of identity is key to engaging people in sustainability. Most green campaigning tries to get people to take on the identity of an eco-warrior. Some might convert, but most will be left cold. But if you translate sustainability to match the identity of your audience, you will find them much more receptive. Or as I call it, Green Jujitsu.
Photo by Garry Knight, used under the creative commons license.