Africa’s stall at Copenhagen

A significant but little reported event occurred last Thursday. The Africa Partnership Forum held a Special Session on Climate Change on 3 September 2009 at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The purpose of the event was to agree a common negotiating platform for Africa focused on Africa’s concerns and expectations in the run up to the Copenhagen Climate Change to be held in December 2009.

The meeting was attended by ten African Heads of State and assorted ministers, regional institutions such as UNECA, the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the African Union. The Joint Statement is worth reading. It will be transmitted to the UN High Level event on 22 September, the G20 Summit at Pittsburgh and other processes.

This meeting laid out the key elements of Africa’s negotiating positions at Copenhagen. They are as follows:

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Glenn Beck’s next targets

Former White House chief of staff John Podesta (now at the Center for American Progress) is far from happy about the ejection from the White House of Van Jones, Obama’s adviser on clean energy.  He had this to say about Jones’s persecutors:

Clearly, Van was the subject of a right-wing smear campaign shrouded in hypocrisy. Van’s chief tormentor Glenn Beck, who spent weeks engaged in vicious name-calling, retains his perch at Fox News after calling the president a racist who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.” Van has set a standard that Beck would never impose upon himself.

Over on Glenn Beck’s twitter feed, the next targets are already being lined up:


US military’s new resilience course

Just watched a rather depressing Dispatches programme about post-traumatic stress disorder in UK troops – guys coming home and expecting to be attacked at any moment. One guy slept with a machete next to his bed and could still only get to sleep after drinking a bottle of vodka. Apparently the UK military will only give PTSD counselling if the soldiers ask for it. And none of them ask for it.

Meanwhile, the US military has just launched something called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme, which has been developed by Penn University’s psychology department. Every two years, each US soldier will take some questionnaire to test their aptitudes in five areas: physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual. If they are not doing well in a particular area, they’re encouraged to take courses to up their score in that area (I don’t know what this involves…’your homework today: go out and find God’).

Anyway, supposedly it teaches the soldiers resilience, making them less likely to develop PTSD in the first place. As Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum (one tough old soldier, who was captured and abused during the first Iraq War, and said her abuse was “discomforting, nothing more”) puts it:

“It was developed because we recognized that we really did not have a good preventive and strengthening model for psychological health. It’s just a recognition that we spend an enormous amount of energy and resources on people after they’ve had some negative outcome, but we’re not doing anything deliberately as a preventive measure.”

This means more kudos for Martin Seligman of Penn Uni, who invented the resilience training programme and has already persuaded the UK government to try it in our state schools (hey if it can work there, it can work in Afghanistan). He was the pioneer of the idea of ‘learned optimism’, having previously pioneered the idea of ‘learned helplessness’, when he showed that if you electrocute a dog for long enough, they will be unhappy.

The US military liked that idea too – they used it to develop interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay, much to Seligman’s annoyance.

Anyway, I’m all for this Comprehesive Soldier Fitness course, but I bet you one thing – nowhere in the course do they mention Stoicism. And that’s what it is – it’s teaching you to change your perspective on things, to get a ‘philosophical angle’ on traumatic events. Seligman took his ideas from another Penn psychologist, Aaron Beck, who took them directly from Stoicism – as he’s said to me in an interview.

But then, I guess if you admitted your ideas were directly lifted from a 2,000-year-old philosophy, you wouldn’t get such a fat cheque from the Pentagon…

The Lisbon Treaty – why the Irish should vote ‘yes’

Over at Slugger O Toole, I have an essay in a series on the Irish Lisbon referendum. My conclusion: we need a ‘yes’ vote so that the EU can begin the process of turning itself into a platform for managing global risks. There’ll be further contributions every day between now and the vote next month. Continue reading

Let the dialogue commence…

I take it all back. Within moments of publishing the post below about the naked protestors at Edelman, not one but two Edelman employees were in touch via Twitter, pointing me to a blog post by their CEO. Full marks for new media nimbleness. So what do they actually say?  Well, their main point is that

As with last time, we offered the protestors the chance to sit down (preferably, fully clothed) and engage in a constructive dialogue with us. We are happy to hear their concerns and discuss their issues. Sadly, they seem more intent on going for the headline, picture story and the sound-bite, rather than for a constructive and engaged conversation.

Now of course, it’s an entirely sensible comms strategy for Edelman to let everyone know that they tried to have a dialogue, but were snubbed by the protestors.  It positions them as the magnanimous, reasonable, centrist party, while the protestors are made to appear rather fringe by comparison.  The point is reinforced in the post’s last paragraph, which talks of the need for ”engaged dialogue among multiple stakeholders, including the NGO community”, while accusing the protestors of “cheap stunts”.

But wanting to be seen to be open to dialogue isn’t the same as being open to dialogue.

The protestors would doubtless reply to Edelman’s entreaties by pointing out that Edelman work with E.On – the power company that owns Kingsnorth – not (as their CEO’s blog post implies) because Edelman is impressed with E.On’s arguments that “in order to reduce our carbon emissions, keep energy affordable and keep the lights on, we need a balanced energy policy that includes renewables, nuclear and cleaner fossil fuels”, but instead for the rather more earthy reason that E.On pay them a healthy monthly retainer.

Now, I’m willing to give Edelman the benefit of the doubt here (they are after all involved in the admirable Citizen Renaissance project), but presumably not everyone will be so generous.  So how can Edelman win over the sceptics?

Quite easily, actually.  For Edelman to prove beyond dispute that they are themselves genuinely open to “engaged dialogue” –  in their own right, rather than just as a mouthpiece for E.On – all they need do, surely, is point to an example of an area in which they have a substantive disagreement on climate policy with E.On.

Perhaps in the comments section below?

Public relations fail


Public relations firm Edelman is very proud of its crisis management practice.  As its website says:

Companies must address parallel challenges which must be addressed head on: the actual issues or crisis situation and the potential reputational fall-out of not being perceived to handle the related problems in a timely and effective manner. Edelman’s specialist Crisis and Issues Management & Communications team is organised and equipped to ensure that both angles are covered through an integrated management and communications approach which anticipates and addresses both underlying risks and surface realities.

All the more amusing, then, that the News section of Edelman’s website makes no mention of the fact that a number of naked demonstrators from the Climate Camp are currently occupying their London office in protest at their PR campaign for a new coal power station at Kingsnorth…

Update: Edelman have been in touch to reply to this post

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