Franny Armstrong and 10:10 - can this woman save humanity?
Time Out has signed up to 10:10, film director Franny Armstrong's inspired campaign for action against climate change. We caught up with her to find out why she's made it her mission to cut Britain's emissions
We want to be bold in Stoke-on-Trent. We want to sign up to the 10:10 campaign.’ Joan Walley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, is addressing a rammed, jeering House of Commons which is poised to vote on whether to sign up Britain’s entire public sector to a website. The site’s message is disarmingly simple: let’s all cut our carbon emissions by 10 per cent during 2010. Gordon Brown is already on board – he signed up personally within 48 hours of the campaign’s launch on September 1, and the following day so did David Cameron, both front benches and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. In fact, roughly half the MPs present are by now members of 10:10. In spite of which the vote goes against the atmosphere; the motion is overturned, 297 to 226.
‘But that’s a bloody brilliant turnout!’ chirps Franny Armstrong, the 37-year-old director of hit climate change documentary ‘The Age of Stupid’ and ludicrously upbeat instigator of 10:10, as she bobs about in her chair. It’s the day after the Parliamentary showdown and we’re outside the rundown Camden health centre that Franny’s team has colonised as its HQ. It’s late October and it’s an unseasonably warm day. ‘They were all talking away about 10:10 as if it was part of the landscape,’ she continues, ‘like Red Nose Day or Unicef – not something we’d started six weeks ago.’ Saying it, she surprises even herself. ‘Okay, so we didn’t win our first ever Commons vote… ’
Franny Armstrong is, in every sense, a force of nature. Right now she should be devoting all her energies to the DVD release of her film rather than masterminding a campaign to get the country carbon-aware. The jumbled, overspilling office space her team occupies is split between ‘The Age of Stupid’ (ground floor) and 10:10 (upstairs), and so, for the time being, is her life: ‘They’re like my two unruly children, but from different fathers – both teenagers, both extremely stroppy and both competing for attention.’ Franny insists she can cope with the two projects as they complement each other so neatly. ‘The Age of Stupid’ is a warning, a film that forcefully illustrates the dire calamities lying in wait for us in a hotter, inundated, war-torn world of 2055. And if it leaves audiences with a panic-stricken question – ‘Holy shit, what are we going to do?’ as she puts it – then 10:10 is Franny’s elegantly succinct answer.
What she and her team of 40 or so volunteers and secondees (‘All 18 year olds; it’s hilarious!’) have accomplished in a few weeks is impressive by any activist’s standards. Aside from half of Westminster, bodies as disparate as the Women’s Institute and Spurs have pledged to decimate their emissions, alongside leading figures from the arts including Anish Kapoor, Carol Ann Duffy and Thom Yorke; even fossil-fuel-chugging energy companies such as Eon, British Gas and EDF have joined in with the enthusiasm of reformed smokers. Scientists and established environmental groups have been battling to forge just this kind of coalition for decades – so why is everyone suddenly falling over themselves to join Franny’s gang?
‘One of the things about us is that we’ve got naive, puppy-dog enthusiasm,’ she suggests. ‘It’s not Labour’s or Greenpeace’s campaign; it’s connected to a film, which means it doesn’t have baggage. Also there’s no grown-ups involved.’ And, of course, it helps that it’s an absurdly simple, catchy idea. ‘It’s very scalable, meaning a child can be doing it at school, and their dad can do it in his business and their mum, who’s a nurse, can do it at the hospital… It’s quite clever, really,’ she chimes, sounding like Miranda Richardson’s Queenie from ‘Blackadder’, quick to puncture any eco-earnest overtones that might have crept into the conversation.
Much of 10:10’s success, though, is down to Franny herself and her filmmaker’s knack for alchemising knotty, convoluted subject matter into simple, vivid imagery with mass appeal. She had the idea back in March, almost by accident, while strolling through Regent’s Park and struggling to think up snappy ammunition for a debate with the climate change secretary, Ed Miliband. Numbers from a report she’d been reading fizzed into her head, congealed, and that night she found herself onstage at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre challenging the country to a 10 per cent emissions cut in 2010. ‘It’s the world’s worst tactic – you don’t think of it and immediately say it in public,’ she reflects. ‘I was a little bit foolish.’
So the sensible next step was…? ‘We bought a plane.’ Of course. ‘We rang up a blacksmith’s forgers and they knew of one that was going for scrap.’ Franny and co-organiser Dan Vockins wanted a fashionable emblem for their project, but agreed that ordering up thousands of plastic wristbands Make Poverty History-style would have undermined 10:10’s eco-cred. So instead they opted for metal tags cut from the fuselage of a recycled jumbo jet. (Not just any 747, it turns out: this one nearly came a cropper back in 1982 when it flew through an erupting volcano’s ash plume – so this is now its second brush with emissions activism.) Even going for scrap, a jumbo will set you back something like £250,000, and by her own admission Franny had launched 10:10 on a recklessly titchy budget. ‘We borrowed the money off a rich friend. So now we’ve got to somehow make it all back… ’
She’s clearly got a thing for self-indenture. Her strategy is to commit to an idea first – making sure she does it in public, to deny herself the option of backing out later – and only then figuring out how on earth she’s going to make it happen. Which is really what she’s asking all of us to do. ‘Every generation that came before us didn’t know the problem existed,’ she says, ‘and every generation that follows us will be too late to do anything. So it’s completely our responsibility. And that to me is exciting.’
For now she’s mustering all her persuasive powers for what she sees as ‘the most important moment in human history’: the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which starts on December 7 in Copenhagen. Here the British Government hopes to break the impasse preventing the world’s fossil-fuel-hungriest nations – crucially China, India and the USA – from reaching a deal on emissions reductions. Amid tactical downplaying from Barack Obama and widespread talk of deferring any target-setting to a further summit next year, Franny remains guardedly optimistic. ‘Politicians have completely failed for the last 20 years to tackle the biggest problem of all time,’ she says, ‘but let’s give them this one last chance. They could do it yet. If they don’t, we’re all dead.’
Naturally, 10:10 will be there too, dispersing the hot air. ‘We’re doing a daily internet show called “The Stupid Show”, and our mission is to make the talks comprehensible to ordinary people. We’re doing silly things like explaining complicated concepts with games of Pictionary, presenting certificates to the stupid and the not-stupid.’
If the National Grid could syphon even a portion of Franny’s energy it wouldn’t have to rely on coal and gas for power – but surely there’s a limit, even for her. ‘I haven’t really had a holiday in six years, since I’ve been doing “Age of Stupid”,’ she muses. ‘But I’m intending to have a year off.’ That’ll be 2011, then? She leans in. ‘Actually, I’m hoping 2010 – but don’t tell my friends.’
Time Out has signed up for 10:10 - but what about the rest of London? Find out who's stupid and who's not-so-stupid here.
Join 10:10, and find out how easy it is to reduce your carbon emissions, at www.1010uk.org.
‘The Stupid Show’ is online daily, Dec 7-18. See it at www.ageofstupid.net/stupid-show.
‘The Age of Stupid’ is out now on DVD.
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