Last year the Steering Group refused to release its annual report before the agm. The year before that… but look, the Steering Group is a contemptible joke. Everybody except, it seems, themselves, knows this. Here is a blog post from an attendee at the latest farce.
Manchester: A Certain Future (of doom!)
It’s that time again, the Manchester A Certain Future (MACF) AGM, a gathering of the (eco) tribes from around the city to contemplate the abyss and gauge how far in to it we currently are.
This well attended soiree within Manchester Town Hall’s ‘Great Hall’ (amazing setting, poor acoustics) saw a series of set piece presentations from three middle aged, middle class white men in suits followed by a truncated Q&A (sadly the speakers overran) in which the men were joined by a woman (for balance?). In all there was a lot of sitting down and listening and as always the best bit was the mingling and chatting at the end.
First up Richard Leese outlined the council’s commitment. As is now compulsory at events taking place in the city region, devolution was heralded as a tool to enable greater local action. ‘Devo Manc’ is increasingly becoming the catch all panacea for all Greater Manchester’s problems. “Yes, things are really shit now, but wait until Devo Manc and it’ll all be better.” I sincerely do hope this is the case but previous failed government initiatives have set the tone of good policy ideas badly implemented due to (take your pick from) civil service incompetency/big business interference/because they were never meant to work (e.g. Big Society, Feed in Tariffs, the Green Deal etc. etc.).
After various pleasantries Richard handed over to MACF’s chair, Gavin Elliot who outlined the city’s progress to date. The headline figure was that though yes, the city had reduced carbon emissions by around 20% since the plan’s inception in 2009 we are headed for a 29% reduction by 2020 rather less than the 41% target we need to hit to avoid the unsafe effects of climate change. Gavin did a good job of contextualising complex data, making the point that though 29% and 41% might seem fairly close the real issue lies with cumulative carbon emissions i.e. with emissions too high for too long we have well and truly bust our carbon budget.
Further data posed the question, “How much of an affect, if any, has MACF had?” Wider infrastructural factors such as the (slow) decarbonisation of the electricity grid and wider societal changes seem to have been key to reducing emissions to this point. A telling graph showed carbon emissions from other core cities in the UK with Manchester perfectly matching the trend of other cities.
Though Gavin diligently highlighted excellent local projects making and impact on climate change the overall message was, as a city we will miss our climate change targets, further savings need to be made through behavioural changes or other means. It was a sobering but frank and honest presentation.
The speeches were rounded off by Craig Bennett, the new Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. In advance, Craig was billed as the keynote and was presumably chosen as a ‘big name’ green speaker to draw an audience. He rightly praised the work of Manchester Friends of the Earth activists and was the first person at the event to mention the ‘great unmentionable’ (Manchester Airport) but aside from that it was fairly basic uninspiring and overlong stuff. Yes, we do understand that energy efficiency is needed, that fracking is a bad thing and that they are doing great things in Germany, thanks for reminding us.
A keynote speaker needs to rabble rouse, provide a new, distinct perspective or share valuable knowledge the audience don’t already possess (preferably all three). Sadly Craig failed on all counts. Worse than this he played on familiar Manchester tropes of 19th century radicalism and the likes of Richard Cobden, I half expected a rendition of Love Will Tear Us Apart. London speakers please note – there is more to Manchester than the Peterloo Massacre and the Free Trade Hall!
Councillor Kate Chappell, executive member for planning and the environment [Ed; who promised to set up a blog and then broke that promise. Credibility vacuum, much?] , joined the three speakers for a Q&A from the audience featuring mostly fairly anodyne stuff. A hint of distention came with a (brief) discussion on the airport where Richard Leese argued that it was necessary to generate jobs and fight poverty before tackling climate change (this despite many arguing that both can and indeed must be tackled together) and an unchallenged assertion that the working class currently have access to air travel (when statistics show that is mainly the preserve of the rich).
The Q&A was followed by networking in the hall’s ante-chamber with the audience at last able to talk, argue and discuss freely (albeit within existing, pre-formed cliques).
The event provided a good opportunity for a large, engaged audience to better understand the challenges and complexities of implementing an ambitious city-wide climate change action plan. The evening made it clear that radical action is urgently needed and provided valuable data on the true scope and scale of the problem.
Sadly the format was tired and flat. In 2015, surely it is unacceptable for any kind of progressive (or indeed mainstream) event to feature three male, middle class, middle aged speakers? The audience were sat for a full 2.5 hours, 2 of those hours listening the words of these three men (many got up and left during this time, especially after the speeches ended). The Q&A featured voices from the floor and the opportunity to email questions in advance but if this is the most interactive we can get we’re in trouble. The huge gap in the Great Hall, between a seated panel and the audience, proved both physical and symbolic.
It speaks to a poverty of imagination and a lack of bravery from organisers. We need more breadth and more diversity from speakers if we are not to remain a niche minority – let’s hear inspiring, motivating and new voices from our city and beyond. And we need more discussion, interaction and participation between us if we are to tackle and overcome the challenges so eloquently outlined in Gavin’s presentations.
And, from a blog post from ‘Manchester Climate Fortnightly’ in July 2010-
Right now, Manchester City Council is working out how it is going to meet its obligations towards the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan <http://www.manchesterclimate.com/>, which was agreed last November. There’s a big meeting coming up on Tuesday November 30 where they will present what they are doing, and hear from the people of Manchester – charities, businesses, tenants and residents associations – what they think about it, and -crucially – what THEY themselves are doing.
Who knows, in twenty years time, we may look back on this meeting in November as the point at which we started to expect more of our local democratic elephant – and of ourselves in civil society, or should I say “Big Society.” It may be the point where we stop our procrastinating and posturing and instead engage with our friends and neighbours, our schools and places of worship, our places of work and of leisure. It may be the point at which we realise that there is no external saviour – no hand of god, no big international meeting or big disaster that “wakes everyone up.” It may be the moment when we realise we are the ones we have been waiting for, we are the people who must pay for the privileges of living in a free society by challenging anti-social behaviour like flying and wasting energy and food, and by keeping the pressure on our local elected leaders to take ‘courageous decisions.’ Or it can be another milestone on the road to hell, paved as it is, with good intentions.