Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kids Enlisted as 'Climate Cops' by Company

A campaign by a British energy company, NPower, has targeted schoolchildren with adverts this summer encouraging them to patrol their parent's bad environmental, global-warming-inducing habits. The children are supposed to take detailed notes about each of their parents' offenses in free journals, and leave Post-It notes at the sites of these infractions. So for example, if a parent leaves a car idling in a parking lot too long, the children could stick a Post-It on the dash indicating such a crime.

The project is a scheme to educate children about the causes of global warming and inspire them to provoke solutions around the home, where they can actually make a difference. However, the company encourages youth to report their parents' crimes to their classrooms and calls it's young respondents the "Climate Cops." Others are just calling them "Greenshirts" and comparing them to the children of George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four and the Hitler Youth.

The satire, on the Anorak website, goes a little like this:

"NPower, the electricity people, want you, the Britisher Jungvolk, to inform on your mums and your dads if they disobey the rules on climate change."
All these comparisons are obviously absurd. This campaign seems to be a promising way to educate and entice children to take initiative on this important issue, although there are of course doubts as to how seriously kids or adults will take it. The argument that it raises awareness is true, and it does seem to promote "a feeling of youth empowerment they might not otherwise have," but once again, this is simple marketing; exploiting the child's illusion of power for PR and investment. It has less to do with empowering "kids" and more to do with turning children into business promotion tools.

One only has to look as far as the website to see the ways they market to kids these days at the expense of their own individual autonomy.

"The company's kid-friendly Web pages use games, posters and vivid cartoons to draw fresh recruits, who are typically between the ages of seven and 11. Once connected, children can download "Climate Crime" cards to monitor their family's misdeeds.

"Report back to your family to make sure they don't commit those crimes again (or else!)," instructs the site page, which features a polar bear giving the thumbs-up and three children wearing baggy trousers and "Academy Cadet" T-shirts.

"You can spread your search even wider by adding even more Case Files to your notes," it suggests. "What about the homes of your uncles, aunts or friends from school?"

The article above goes into detail about an energy saving ad in Canada from David Suzuki which exploits a very similar "children against adults" theme. The article doesn't mention a very similar campaign in India that encourages kids to "think of ways that the impact of climate change can be reduced, and encouraged to pass the message on to their friends and neighbours."

The National Post article brilliantly states the conundrum of the private sector "recruiting" children for some "light-hearted exercise" that isn't expected to make an impact outside individual families. This is in response to the absurd comparisons with the Hitler Youth, but Orwell still manages to make a good point:

"The idea of home-energy suppliers that encouraged conservation also smacks of Orwellian irony: Why would utilities companies deliberately want to lose revenue?"
That's what we really ought to be empowering and educating our children about, as far as climate change is concerned. Just what this whole "light-hearted exercise" really boils down to in the end.

"You don't have this whiny, hectoring, eat-your-peas approach," he observed. "Kids want to be smarter than their parents, and they love catching them doing things they don't want to do."
That's the angle they exploit, and that's how they get the kids and parents behind their corporate manifesto. It's got little to do with kids, and a whole lot to do with getting a movement going under their tent. Which is fine...because that's how Capitalism works. Private ambition can sometimes fuel the common good, but what these children should learn from all this, besides the environmental issues and bad habits, is that all too often it isn't really for the common good.

"There is a saying that 'he who gains youth gains the future,'" she said. "I think Hitler said that."
The future should be gained by the youth themselves. Some entity shouldn't be out there gaining them for it's own purposes. So if kids want to go out and play "Climate Cop" for their own sake, for the sake of their future, on their own initiative, utilizing their own autonomy (rather than because some company told them to), all the power to them!

But for now, this isn't really any more empowering for kids than "extra homework."

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