“How long have we got” – an attempt at an answer

So this appeared on a facebook thread –

I feel cheated.
I adapted my lifestyle to make it as low carbon as I could. I voted for parties who would take action on climate change. I even directly campaigned against polluters.
And now the methane gas fields in Serbia are thawing. I was told this is the point of no return.
Does anyone know how quickly we will see things go catastrophically bad? And what does that look like?

and I replied

There are multiple overlapping points of no return – the Arctic death spiral (with albedo loss as a positive feedback loop), the loss of the Amazon etc. Anyone who tells you when it will go catastrophically bad is mistaken. There are better scenarios for HOW (agricultural collapse, war, pandemics etc). In terms of how quickly – it could slowly ratchet out over 20 to 50 years, or it could all go tits up in the space of one to four, with overlapping and mutually reinforcing crap. Remember, it’s not the biophysical processes on their own that matter, but the impact they have on human physical and psychological/economic/military/political infrastructures.
If you’d told someone in Vienna in early 1914 that 5 years on the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires would be gone and the commies in charge of formerly-Tsarist Russia, they would have had trouble believing you. In terms of speed. Well, also think Western Europe in 1346 and 1351. About a third of the population dead.
Most of all, remember that what matters is not just the physical processes, but the sense of hopelessness and despair that will soon be upon us, when the scientists shrug their shoulders and say “defo 4 degrees by 2050″. Who will save for a pension? Who will slog for years to become a neurosurgeon etc?

Posted in capacity building, education | 2 Comments

Upcoming Event: Education for Sustainability Forum/Networking event, Fri 27th Feb

“Just to remind folk that the Greater Manchester ESD Forum is holding a hustings on education for sustainability this Friday 27th Feb, 2.30 – 5pm at Bridge 5 Mill. The Conservatives, Labour and the Greens are coming, so bring your questions, ideas, a Lib Dem maybe, some patience and a sprinkling of good humour to sooth the tensions of political debate! The session is also a big networking opportunity so be prepared to inform everyone of you and your organisation’s plans for the new financial year. Looking forward to seeing you there.”

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Steady State #Manchester on that “Future Cities Farce… sorry FORUM”

There was a truly diabolical wrist-slasher of an event at the beginning of last week called a “Future Cities Forum”. It was the kind of forum where seven white people (six men and one woman) stand at the front and tell you their ‘wisdom’, followed by ‘questions’ from the floor. Nobody was so rude as to mention Manchester’s utter failure to hit any of its self-proclaimed targets on emissions reductions or the creation of a ‘low carbon culture.’ That kind of forum. MCFly blogged it, for the lulz. Here below is a blog about the same (non-)event by Steady State Manchester.

A new approach for our cities?


I attended a two hour seminar on Future Climate organised by the North West Climate Change Partnership It was a rather depressing affair since it seems quite clear that we are rushing headlong towards a climate catastrophe and all the speakers could really do was map the dimensions of our collective global failure to avert it, with an excess of giant powerpoint data slides.

Perhaps the most coherent of the presentations was from Jon Lovell who (rather surprisingly?) works for Deloitte, one of the big accountancy/consultancy firms. I’m going to pick up from his last point which was that a “new paradigm” is needed for the “urban-globalisation nexus”.

What Jon was referring to was the well documented urban trend towards living in cities, and the growth of the population of those cities, many of them truly enormous. The map of the growth to come (much of it in Asia) was but one of the alarming pictures presented.

In the last week it has again become clear that a 2 degree rise in global temperature is pretty much a certainty, and something that will be upon us within 20 years. The trend will continue because the predatory economy continues to snatch hydrocarbons from the ground and pump out polluting greenhouse gases. The optimism of the renewables lobby, the circular economy people, and the green growth Mafia is belied by a sober analysis of the dematerialisation problem: the only solution is to reduce energy use radically, and quickly. Renewables and recycling have their part to play, but the need for a complete paradigm shift is inescapable. Meanwhile, the allegedly 14th most sustainable city, Manchester (yes we are in trouble globally!), continues with its aviation dependency, and its obsession with China’s growth, as if that will secure a liveable future for our citizens, or respond to the massive social deprivation of the city’s neighbourhoods. The contradiction was noted in passing by Jon.

But what would a paradigm shift look like?

We have set that out in some detail in our interventions In Place of Growth and The Viable Economy. We are not alone, and groups like Localise West Midlands, and the more strategic Transition Towns groups, are presenting similar arguments. But are we tinkering at the edges when what’s needed is a massive shift in the way we live, and with little time to make it? With each day that passes, carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, and they’ll be there for very many years to come.

Some of the best thinking on the paradigm shift is coming from the Degrowth movement and their recent book Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era explains this in a series of short essays, a kind of keywords for ecological, social and economic justice. Degrowth rejects the illusion of growth – effectively changing the conversation , while at the same time (unlike North American Steady State Economics, which which it has an affinity) re-politicising the public debate that has been captured, colonised by economic rationalism (efficiency, productivity, growth….). It is both a scholarly discipline with its academic economists and social scientists, but it is also a social movement that connects to people’s grass-roots responses to the economic and ecological crisis.

Degrowth looks very much like the new paradigm that we need to respond to the urban-globalisation nexus. It doesn’t have all the answers, but then what approach does? It is our best bet, as a dynamic and evolving approach to finding a path through the increasingly stony terrain ahead of us.

Mark H Burton

Steady State Manchester collective

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#Manchester Council gives MMU £13k for carbon literacy training – with no contract!

Manchester City Council has given a “contract” worth £12,900 for carbon literacy training … without going to the bother of a written contract!!  Against a target of 60 councillors ‘carbon literate’ by the end of 2014, the actual number was… 23.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from Manchester Climate Monthly, the council stated

In your request you asked for the following information:

 “I am requesting a copy of the contract between MMU and the Council  for the delivery of carbon literacy training.”

I can confirm that the Council do not hold the information you have requested.  We followed our standard procurement procedures. Our contract procurement rules do not require the Council to have formal a written contract for services procured under £30,000.
(emphasis added, word order jumble in original)

MCFly has sent the following Freedom of Information Act Request.

Thank you for the reply to Request for Information – Reference Number: NBH/9T9FEE (contract with MMU for delivery of carbon literacy training)

I find myself mildly surprised that the Council has spent £13,000 pounds without agreeing precisely what it will get for its (as in the public’s) money. Perhaps the confusion lies in the term ‘contract’ which may have some specific legal standing of which I was previously unaware.

Consulting my mental Roget’s, I’ve come up with the phrase ‘agreement to deliver services’. This would include performance parameters, dates by which time services would be delivered, ‘break clauses’ for what would happen if performance were not satisfactory. That sort of thing.

On that basis, please regard the following questions as under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

  • Was there a formal tender process for the carbon literacy training ‘agreement to deliver services’?
  • If so, when was this process undertaken, and which other organisations bid for the ‘agreement to deliver services’ besides the “contracted” organisation, MMU.
  • If there was not a formal tender process, who (which officers and members) decided that the Council would award almost 13 thousand pounds to MMU?
  • I am requesting the internal correspondence relating to this matter, and the correspondence between the Council and MMU related to the awarding of the ‘agreement to deliver services’.
  • I am requesting the communications (including but not limited to the minutes of meetings and emails) between the Council and MMU with relation to the delivery of the actions related to this 13 thousand pound ‘agreement to deliver services’ from the 1st December 2014 to the present.

MCFly says:

Wow. After all these years, I continue to be surprised by the behaviour and ‘performance’ of this Council.  Given the hard times the Council has fallen upon, it’s willing to dish out £13,000 without anything in writing? For real?

Posted in Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council | Tagged | 3 Comments

#Manchester Council’s feeble spin machine splutters and coughs on #climate

Manchester City Council set a target (after being prodded by activists) of 60 of its 96 Councillors being “carbon literate” by the end of 2014. They awarded a £13k contract to Manchester Metropolitan University to deliver this training (which was also aimed at council employees)

And the outcome?  Do I hear 60?  50?  40?  Going once, going twice… 23. Fifty of the 96 councillors had by December 31st done neither the online nor the face-to-face component.  We asked for names, and were ignored.  That’s “democracy.”

And the report about the successes and failures of carbon literacy?  Didn’t happen.

So, we asked the Press team for a statement about the missed targets.  It’s printed below in full. It’s the sort of thing that would make the North Korean Propagandists Association blush and squirm with shame.

Cllr Kate Chappell, Manchester City Council’s executive member for the environment, said: “This is a unique and high quality package which has been developed specifically for the City Council, and I’m glad that so many members have taken time out of their busy schedules to complete the full day’s training required and to learn more about how they can work with residents and partners to help people live more environmentally friendly, low carbon lifestyles.

“Many of those members who have completed the training will now begin working in their communities to pass on the lessons they have learned to residents.”

Two things

a) this is why MCFly rarely bothers to seek comment from the Council.  It always takes weeks, and it is never worth the wait

b) why do they persist in shredding the shreds of their credibility?  Who do they think they are fooling?  Really?

Posted in Climate Change Action Plan, Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Interview with Professor Matthew Paterson, ahead of “cultural politics of #climate”, Thurs 19th Feb

On Thursday 19th February, from 2pm, Professor Matthew Paterson is giving a seminar at University of Manchester on the Cultural Politics of Climate Change. It is open to members of the public.  It will be held in Room 10.05 Harold Hankins building  (above the Precinct).  Ahead of that, Professor Paterson has kindly answered some questions from MCFly.
patersonCould you tell us a little about your PhD research, which looked at the events and manoeuvres surrounding the early days of the international negotiations on climate change action
I was interested in exploring the different ways we might explain these negotiations, from classical approaches to international politics “realism vs liberal institutionalism” to political economy approaches based on Marxism, to newer approaches (within IR) based on poststructuralism in particular. I’ve always been a “theory as toolkit” person, not really convinced that in the social sciences we can arrive at the “one true” theoretical approach, or strictly “test” theories, so the aim was really to see what each approach might tell us about the dynamics of the negotiations. That said, I did end up arguing that we need to understand them in terms of (a) the political economic forces (corporate power, globalisation, neoliberalism, etc) and (b) the processes of constructing identities and thus interests that are ongoing and in many ways radically called into question by climate change, which produce novel and sometimes surprising forms of identity and political alliances. In the early FCCC negotiations, and I think in many ways still today, many state decision-makers don’t really know what their “interests” are in relation to climate change – they are a complex mix of pressure from vested energy interests, senses of what voters will punish them for (which could be high energy prices, but could be repeated floods or storms if they are connected to climate change in the popular imagination), desire to create new sources of economic growth (carbon markets, renewable energy, etc), confusion about how to think about the relationship between short-term action and its long term effects, and so on.
What are your thoughts/expectations for the Paris negotiations at the end of this year – do you think it will be some sort of lowest common denominator deal?
Yes, is the short answer. Perhaps a qualified yes. In Kyoto, we effectively started with a lowest common denominator where industrialised countries said what their target would be, and then there was a bit of looking each other in the face late in the day, which produced in effect some countries (the US, Canada, for example) making their targets more ambitious than they had been, in return for other countries (the EU, notably) accepting the carbon markets that the US had led the push for. I think we’ll get something similar to this out of the “intended nationally determined contributions” process that is underway at the moment in the run-up to Paris. Some countries will make their targets a little stronger as they’re forced to look others in the face. Who will blink is not clear – but for example Canada has an election scheduled for 6 weeks prior to Paris – so a shift in that country, currently competing with Australia for the dubious distinction of worst performing industrialised country, could be interesting in terms of shifting the dynamic a little.
To me the key thing is how successfully negotiators manage to do joined-up thinking about how the FCCC relates to a whole host of ‘transnational climate change governance’ initiatives that we explored in our book on the subject (http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/earth-and-environmental-science/environmental-policy-economics-and-law/transnational-climate-change-governance). If they could work out how FCCC rules or initiatives would stimulate better activity in this field there could be all sorts of interesting developments I think. They have already started to realise the potential, and have a database now on what they call “international cooperative initiatives”, but they could be more strategic in how they attempt to use them to stimulate investment and innovation in various contexts.
You’re giving a talk about the “cultural politics” of climate change on Thursday.  What do you mean by that phrase, and (as briefly as you like!) what will you be saying on Thursday?
I use the term principally to refer to (a) the governance and (b) the contestation over the subjectivities associated with daily practices that produce carbon emissions. So two parts of the meaning of politics are involved – the question of authority and governing, and the question of conflict. The main idea is to use this to explore sites at which either people or organisations are attempting self-consciously to govern subjectivities in a low-carbon direction, or where pre-existing affective attachments to particular practices generate political conflict and resistance against attempts to shift to low-carbon practices. A good example of the former is the attempt to frame people’s relationship to climate change via a dieting metaphor, as in the notion of ‘carbon dieting’. A good example of the latter is when cities, especially but not only in the north american context where sprawl is a key part of the problem, attempt to increase urban density to generate shifts to public transport, cycling, etc., which generates lots of micro-conflicts over infill development. I’ll talk about both of these examples on Thursday.
Are there things that academics could do to make their (climate change) work more accessible/directly relevant to “civil society” and social movements. What are the barriers?
I admit I don’t think I’ve been as good at this as I’d like to be. So I hesitate to pronounce on the subject. It seems to me the people who do it best are those who do it ‘from the inside’ – being involved in campaigns, etc., doing participant observation, etc. This gives them the ability to talk more effectively across the two languages of academia and activism.
Anything else you’d like to say
Looking forward to meeting you and the talk on Thursday!
Posted in academia, Upcoming Events | Tagged | 1 Comment

What #Manchester could learn from Cape Town on #climate action (but won’t)

MCFly reader Jon Silver on what Manchester – its people and government – could learn from “the South.” But given the wilfully blindness and deafness of the Council’s elected members and bureaucrats, don’t hold your breath…

Learning from Cape Town’s climate change actions

Cape Town is not a city without it’s own problems but the work on climate change over the last decade by the municipality and a growing network of university, NGO, business and civil society partners has helped it to at least begin to create a co-ordinated response to these issues. Whilst Manchester is keen on claiming to be the best city EVER it is clear that the Council could learn a lot from this African city in terms of creating momentum, knowledge and partnership in addressing climate change issues. In what follows I set out some of the things I’ve learned over the last few years in Cape Town that might help MCC to actually take climate change seriously.

Use the universities better

This work to create a knowledge base does not need to be done just by MCC but through close partnership with our academic institutions and the wealth of talent and energy they possess on climate change dynamics. Creating a dedicated Climate Change Think Tank at the African Centre for Cities in partnership with the City of Cape Town led to conversations between municipal and university partners, to a scientific approach to climate change being adopted by the municipality and ongoing support. The work culminated in the publishing of a book that brings together the various strands of debate and knowledge about climate change in the city. In Manchester such a partnership might be a useful way to mobilise new individuals and groups, bring science into the centre of decision making processes at MCC and of course the passionate, extra resources of those at the universities.

Producing a state of energy and climate change report

The release of the State of Energy and Energy Futures produced in Cape Town over the last decade provided both an important understanding of the challenges being faced by the city and a detailed, data anchored analysis that has acted as the basis for the municipality to not just create objectives but assess its progress over the years. Whilst we have the Certain Future strategy, and promises of updates each quarter producing such a publication would show a real commitment by MCC to take this energy and GreenHouse Gas stuff seriously and allow us as residents to hold them to account

Create a dedicated council team working on climate change

Even in an era of austerity and unprecedented cuts having a dedicated team within the council to drive forward the city’s response to climate change is a no brainier if MCC are actually going to take these issues seriously (or at least put up some pretense). The establishment of the Energy and Climate Change branch within the ‘Environmental Resource Management Department’ at the City of Cape Town has meant dedicated and expert staff building up knowledges and momentum and more importantly having some passionate and clever champions within the organisation. This work alongside civil society and keep the pressure up on elected officials . And this does not need to be just municipal staff. Cape Town have drawn in human resources from the university and the NGO sector to help, guide, challenge and support the team as it grows and develops. This dedicated team in Cape Town is in direct contrast to the disbanding of the Environmental Strategy team at MCC.

Innovate using local regulation

Now that Manchester has gained some degree of devolution, however messy and undemocratic it provides a great time to start using local regulation to instigate low carbon pathways. In Cape Town the municipality spent much time developing a solar water heater by-law that sought to improve energy security, reduce electricity use based on carbon heavy production, improve the quality of life for residents and stimulate local economies around solar technology. The bylaw has meant up to 10,000 units being installed each year saving up to 20,000 tonnes of carbon. This bold leadership on solar technology led to its implementation at a national level showing how innovation in cities can influence national policymakers. And its not like Manchester has not helped to shape legislation at a national level through lobbying and devoting its time and resources. Perhaps it is time to do something at a local level with the potential to upscale across the UK that is more worthwhile than restricting the rights of peddlers.

A low carbon city centre

In Cape Town the central economic area is responsible for generating 40% of the city’s carbon output. The City of Cape Town decided to do something about this and has developed a strategy that has provided some important data that has provide a way to engage some of the big landlords and buildings owners to think about retrofitting green roofs, solar technologies and such like. Now we know that Manchester has already engaged the big landlords of the city to fund research around adaptation but it is not clear exactly whether any of the property owners have done anything since.

Take back the power

Whilst a very different context to the UK the role of the City of Cape Town as the main electricity distributor shows the potentials of municipal control over energy. Imagine MCC became the distributor of electricity in the city with all the benefits of keeping our energy money in the city for investment in retrofitting buildings, developing a renewable only purchasing policy and of course being able to better address fuel poverty through subsidisation. Recent calls to nationalise energy, including from within the Party suggest this is not as far fetched as it sounds. Put alongside recent developments in places such as Berlin in which the fight for the re-municipalisation of energy is slowly being won. It’s time to shift our gaze, in this new era of devolution talk beyond the squalid neoliberal present and even the (re) nationalisation of energy to think about models that can equip our city with the tools and resources needed to shape a low carbon future. If elected officials can espouse the benefits of municipal control of the airport then surely it’s time for them to wake up from there carbon slumber and use these skills of persuasion to articulate the need to take back the power.


Posted in Adaptation, Democratic deficit | Tagged , | 2 Comments