44 Club Presents: Extinction Rebellion

"I feel awake."

This was the response given by a member of the audience after Extinction Rebellion came to speak at the IPA a few weeks ago. The audience was made up of the great and good of London’s advertising scene, all attending this event with the knowledge that we as a collective need to act now.

On Tuesday 2nd July I attended an IPA event called 44 Club presents: Extinction Rebellion. It was co-hosted by Will Skeaping and Ruth Wright, who delivered an eviscerating account of the climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and risk of social and ecological collapse. This was followed by an audience-led discussion on the advertising industry could do to take an active part in their socio-political movement.

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Will and Ruth opened the night by laying bare the devastation that ignoring the tipping point, a global temperature increase of 1.5, will deliver. ‘Denial’, Will continued, ‘is a defence mechanism. When it comes to climate deniers, it is harmful. We are facing a potential threat to our existence. This denial is a threat’. Psychologists have seen observed this reaction for years, recently attributing the symptoms to pre-traumatic distress disorder. The disorder is seen to be triggered by the existential threat we are now facing. Ruth continued, ‘We need courage, not hope. This is one of the ideas Extinction Rebellion was born from’. Extinction Rebellion has three demands central to its cause: declare the climate emergency, zero-carbon by 2025, and citizen’s assembly.

Ruth and Will identified how, in the past, positive revolutions can happen when decided necessary. This can be seen in the UK’s massive transformation within six years of WWII mobilisation, and the US’s mission to land on the moon completed in just seven years. As mediators between the public and brands, they continued, the advertising industry is capable of driving rapid behaviour change. Agencies should take the lead rather than be driven by the client.

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As the discussion opened to the floor Ian Tait, ECD at Wieden + Kennedy, spoke of a dream he had had recently which had played out similarly to a Black Mirror episode. He unconsciously provided a solution to agencies driving their own environmental agenda to their clients. The dream followed a client going from agency to agency trying to escape the climate conversation, but each agency keeps returning to the climate crisis as a topic that must be focused on. The client can’t escape it. ‘That’s what we need to do’ he concluded. Other members of the audience echoed this idea, stressing the importance of bringing agencies together in this conversation in a more collaborative way.

Yes, the advertising industry should consider some of the clients it currently champions and should have a hard think about jettisoning those who continue to pollute and destroy our planet.

It should also think about the wastefulness and excesses that it exhibits on an everyday basis.

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A spokesperson from Havas London offered this advice to other agencies, having recently joined a community of 185 certified B Corporations. Certified B Corporations meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. Havas London is the first major advertising agency in the world to achieve the certification, a huge step towards the industry taking some responsibility beyond simply maximising profit.

There were some very positive comments and declarations of solidarity to deliver results in the advertising community but, as in government and UN initiatives, words alone are not going to change the very real and immediate emergency we are faced with.

We are in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to change minds in a wholesale manner – and need to use this power in a positive way. The time to act is now.