Duelling biomass videos does not an energy transition make
Two new biomass energy videos hit the airwaves late last November* and I was instantly reminded of a lesson I’d had with a dog trainer not long after we learned that our new puppy was stone deaf.
“He can’t hear a word you’re saying” she explained, “but he’ll know when you’re talking to him and he’ll read you like a book”.
She elaborated that Finn would read our body language, most particularly the expression on our face, the tone in our voice. Depending on how we engaged with him, he’d either feel safe and loved or quite the opposite.
“Talk to him” she said. “It’ll make for a great relationship.”
She was right. Though he’s deaf as a post, Finn and I have sensational conversations. Sometimes folk wonder, raised eyebrow, that I’m chatting so much to a deaf dog – “He can’t hear you, you know?” they worryingly remind. “I know” I tell them, “but he knows we’re good and with that, we get along. Life unfolds.”
The videos reminded me of my situation with Finn – two very different creatures linked together, striving to communicate despite challenges. In watching the videos, it was apparent to me that Fern and Drax seem deaf to the reactions they create in the other, either through the way they speak or, more particularly, by virtue of the fact that they don’t speak at all.
This really hit me when twice during Drax’s video it was pointedly noted that neither the NGOs nor their expert would agree to appear - queue a long silence where the gap was filled, unspokenly, with “shame on them”.
Shame is one of the most powerful weapons deployed in NGO campaigns and it surprised and disturbed me to see it being used against them by Drax. “That’ll bring them to the table” I thought….not.
While a “tit-for-tat” strategy can be powerful in eliciting cooperation from uncooperative “partners”, it can backfire too and so often I’ve seen shame-bombing campaigns just push people away. Bringing them back together, as we must, to find a way forward just takes longer. Shame polarizes discussions. It harms emotions, it’s designed to hurt and it does.
The videos’ diametrically opposing messages gave me a strong impression of soldiers bunkered down in deep trenches, behind barriers, each with their own allies and experts (some recruited from the other side to gain cred it seems), firing rockets at each other across a vast no-man’s wasteland where never the twain shall meet.
I was sad. “Why can’t these people speak to each other?” I wondered.
“We’ve tried!” I hear Drax and the overall biomass industry cry, ‘but they refuse to engage with us.”
I thought of Finn.
They might not engage but I suspect they watch your videos, they “read” your behaviour. Shouldn’t you at least speak to them in a way that helps them read willingness, openness, a readiness to engage?
“You might not be ready yet to speak to us, but we’re ready to speak to you.” The door remains open.
"He'll read you like a book"
This video exchange seemed like a new low to me. I wondered at the expense and effort poured into the productions and pondered how that might have been more productively spent. How about a trip down a motorway or, better still, a train ride to actually meet and speak together?
I think they owe us that. The wasteland between them and the very ground each has erected their barricades on and dug their trenches into is our beautiful, precious planet Earth and we live on it with them.
The path to progress and the resolution of wicked problems – like how best to transition energy generation away from fossil fuels - lies through dialogue, person to person. It cannot be achieved any other way. Dialogue via video just avoids the painful discussions that one day must be had. I learned a few things from the duelling videos but mostly I learned that two of the most important players in our much needed energy transition discussion aren’t yet ready to look into each others’ eyes and have the other read their truthful willingness to find solutions, to build a relationship. No, duelling videos does not an energy transition make. They’re still communicating to the watching crowd. Hopefully soon they will start speaking to each other.
* On November 27th 2017, Drax published "The biomass sustainability story"
The very next day, FERN published "Playing with Fire: Europe's Bioenergy future"