Editorial: The changing role of campaigners

Two sets of research this week highlighted the dilemma facing environmental pressure groups The first, an exclusive poll conducted by NOP for PR Week on the effectiveness of the protests against the building of the A30 at Fairmile in Devon. The second, research commissioned by Greenpeace into attitudes towards the environment and environmental pressure groups among the public and opinion leaders.

Two sets of research this week highlighted the dilemma facing

environmental pressure groups The first, an exclusive poll conducted by

NOP for PR Week on the effectiveness of the protests against the

building of the A30 at Fairmile in Devon. The second, research

commissioned by Greenpeace into attitudes towards the environment and

environmental pressure groups among the public and opinion leaders.



Both have important lessons. From PR Week’s own survey, it is clear that

the anti-road protesters have been very effective in gaining

publicity.



Fifty nine per cent of those familiar with the road protesters’

activities at Fairmile said they thought the protesters were doing a

good job in raising awareness of the environmental arguments against

more roads. Particularly telling is that 45 per cent thought this kind

of protest was a legitimate tactic for pressure groups, compared to 50

per cent who disagreed. It suggests that while many are uncomfortable

with direct action, a surprisingly large minority support its use - a

worrying result for traditional politicians.



Where the road protesters have scored is in making an abstract issue

real to many people by tackling it at a local level. It is a point that

came out very clearly from Opinion Leader Research’s report for

Greenpeace, which states: ’Opinion leaders, like the public as a whole,

are intimidated by abstract, global issues, often refocusing on more

manageable local concerns’. The problem is how to turn that concern into

a genuine political force.



When it comes to actually shaping opinion the results of our poll

suggest this is where Swampy and his pals have so far failed: 71 per

cent said their views on new roads were unchanged. The poll also

suggests that protesters are failing to influence the wider debate about

transport. When citing what they remembered as the reasons behind the

protest, few chose the more complex issues such as the argument that new

roads encourage more traffic and add to pollution compared to the more

’touchy, feely’ destruction of the environment line (99 per cent).



Perhaps the real problem is that while Swampy and co have been very good

at raising awareness of the problems they have so far offered little in

the way of solutions to the wider problem of how to deal with the

congestion on our roads, satisfy the demands of the increasing numbers

of drivers, and at the same time protect the environment.



As the Greenpeace report states the role of the campaigning group ’is no

longer about simply raising public awareness as in the 1980s. It is also

about offering solutions ... Brent Spar highlighted the need for well

researched solutions’.



Good PR should be about both.



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