Coal train occupied by UK activists.

At least one of ‘em is Manchester-based. More to follow. (This has been done before, btw, but sequels can be better than the originals).

Hi Marc

I’m on top of a coal train right now with 49 ordinary people, who believe so passionately that we need to stop climate change, we’ve stopped a train reaching Cottam power station in Nottinghamshire. We flagged it down at 2.30pm and right now, we’re shovelling coal off the train.

It’s pretty dirty work but I’m here with good friends, and we know it’s the right thing to do.

At this same exact moment, thousands of miles away in New York, global leaders are coming together for a hugely important meeting about the climate.

But while world leaders like David Cameron talk, there’s a plan to give energy companies in the UK millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money to keep old coal power plants burning.

See what’s happening on top of the train:

I’m blocking this coal train today to show our leaders that it’s time for action. David Cameron is at the global leaders meeting. When he gets home, he needs to scrap the plan to give tax-payers’ money to keep coal power plants going.

And Ed Miliband needs to set out his plan to get us off coal. That could be enough to persuade energy companies to shut down coal plants instead of patching them up.

Click to see photos and video, and read stories:

There are 50 of us on this train in Nottinghamshire, but Greenpeace is millions of people around the world. Together we’re working for a green, peaceful future powered by renewable energy. We want a protected Arctic, and a world of oceans and forests teeming with life.

Back on the train, we’ll hold on for as long as we can – but to truly get our message out we need thousands more to support our call:
Thanks for all that you do,

Fran, from a coal train in Nottinghamshire
PS: You can see video clips rushed by bike from the stopped train, read the stories of the people on board, and sign the petition to end dirty coal here:

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Richard Leese says Manchester Council has monthly eco-dashboard. Does it? Er, no…

Council Leader Richard Leese told a committee of councillors that Manchester council collates monthly data on environmental performance.  MCFly asked to see it. After being forced to wait 20 working days, it emerges Manchester is NOT a monthly environmental dashboard.

At the August meeting of the Finance Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Leese was giving a verbal report about the “Manchester Strategy”. Starting at about 1 min 40 of the following video, he mentions three “dashboards” which monitor how things are going on the economy, social policy and the environment.  He says that these are updated monthly.

Intrigued, Manchester Climate Monthly editor Marc Hudson wrote to senior officers;

yesterday I attended Finance Scrutiny Committee. During the discussion of the Manchester Strategy, the Council Leader, Richard Leese, mentioned that there are three dashboards that are maintained, and that these are “an economic one, a social policy one and an environmental one” that are “updated on a monthly basis” and that these are “real-time” dashboards.

Where on the Manchester City Council website can I find the Environmental Dashboards for the months of May, June and July 2014?

I note that the Economy Scrutiny Committee receives Real Time Economy Dashboard in its Overview Reports.

I also wonder if the members of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee already receive the equivalent? From the discussions on Tuesday 26th and looking at the Overview Report for that committee, it seemed they do not.

Many thanks in advance for your reply

The Freedom of Information Act, not mentioned by MCFly, was invoked. So, it took 20 working days to get this answer;

In his response the Leader of the Council was referring to the   commitment to develop a set of indicators to monitor progress against the city’s environmental priorities. This commitment is set out in the  report titled ‘Environmental Sustainability Sub-group; work programme  for response to recommendations’ issued to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny on 10   June 2014 and Economy Scrutiny on 11 June 2014. Work is underway to  develop these indicators, as part of the development of the Manchester Strategy.

A set of environment and climate change indicators has also been  developed by the Council and the Manchester: A Certain Future (M:ACF)  Steering Group, as part of the M:ACF Annual Report 2014. The intention is for these indicators to be used to monitor progress against M:ACF on  an ongoing basis. A copy of the M:ACF Annual Report 2014 can be accessed  online at

A monthly environmental dashboard does not exist at the current time, but work is underway to develop this as part of the work described above  on the Manchester Strategy. Verbal clarification on this matter can be provided to the September meeting of the committee. All of the reports received by the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee relating to environmental issues are however informed by performance data.  [Emphasis added]

So, hands up if you heard Richard Leese use the future tense in that video.

If there were a functioning political opposition in this City, something would be made of this.  But there isn’t, so it won’t.


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Council buys four leaf-blowers, has no audit of impact, no provision for less usage. Low Carbon Culture?

In August MCFly asked a few questions about Manchester City Council’s ownership and analysis of its leaf-blowers.

Now, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we have the answers.

The Council has bought 4 more leaf-blowers in the last year, and operates 25 in total.

It has done precisely NO audit of their impact.

It has NO provision for external contractors to use leaf blowers less frequently.

Independently, a south Manchester resident called Dave Bishop (1) wrote to the Council and asked “Has the council done an assessment of the toxins emitted by leaf blowers and their effects on ambient noise levels? If such an assessment has been performed, may I see a copy, please?”

Came the answer – “In response to your request I can confirm that no assessment has been carried out on toxins emitted by leaf blowers.”

Let’s just quote Goal Two of the much-vaunted “Manchester Climate Change Action Plan” (2009).

“To engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city. To create a ‘low carbon culture’ we need to build a common understanding of the causes and implications of climate change, and to develop programmes of ‘carbon literacy’ and ‘carbon accounting’ so that new culture can become part of the daily lives of all individuals and organisations. Every one of the actions in our plan will contribute in some way to the development of ‘carbon literacy’ in the city. However, achieving a new low carbon culture – where thinking about counting carbon is embedded and routine – can only be delivered as a
result of all the actions together, in an overall co-ordinated manner. Enabling a low carbon culture in the city will be particularly important if the challenge of meeting even more demanding carbon reduction targets between 2020 and 2050 is to be met.”

My only remaining questions on this matter to the people in charge, which you can’t really use the Freedom of Information Act for, are these…

how do you sleep? and what will you tell your children?

FWIW, Here’s the full answer I got

Dear Mr Hudson,

Re: – Freedom of Information Request – Reference Number: GAN/9NKGCG

Thank you for your request for information, which was received by
Manchester City Council on 29 August 2014. The Council has considered the
information requested and is satisfied that it falls within the broad
definition of “environmental information” in the Environmental Information
Regulations 2004 (EIR). The Council has therefore considered your request
for information under the provisions of the EIR.

I set out below your request for information and the Council’s response to
your request:

How many leaf blowers does Manchester City Council own and operate,
as of August 29th 2014?
How many leaf blowers did Manchester City Council own and operate as
of August 29th 2013?
Has any audit been done on the carbon emissions impact of using leaf
blowers as opposed to some people using good old-fashioned rakes?
(if there has been, I would like a copy)
Is there any provision in contracts issued for parks maintenance to
encourage contractors not to use leaf-blowers?

In response to your request I can confirm the following:

Question 1

Leaf blowers owned as of August 29th 2014 No 5
Leaf blowers operated as of August 2014 No 25

Question 2

Leaf blowers owned as of August 29th 2014 [sic] No 1
Leaf blowers operated as of August 2014 [sic] No 25

Question 3

No review has been undertaken

Question 4

There is no provision for external operators undertaking parks maintenance not to use leaf blowers.

(1) Mr Bishop explains states “I was motivated to make my FOI request because I live between a school and a block of flats. The grounds of both establishments are maintained by contractors and I am plagued by the racket made by their leaf blowers!”

Posted in Low Carbon Culture, Manchester City Council | 1 Comment

Polar Bear Facepalm: Even the accountants think we’re doomed

Actually, it’s people like accountants, re-insurers and, um, scientists, who have been scared about this for the longest.  They are trained to see the world less “ideologically”* than your average arts-graduate Grauniad/Telegraph reader. (hat-tip to the super-cool Joe Blakey).





* Yes, I KNOW there is nothing more ideological than double-entry book-keeping and discount rates yadder yadder yadder.

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Book Review: The Politics of Airport Expansion in the United Kingdom: Hegemony, Policy and the Rhetoric of ‘sustainable Aviation’

Manchester-based academic Dr Damian O’Doherty reviews Manchester University Press’s “The Politics of Airport Expansion in the United Kingdom” for Manchester Climate Monthly.

polairportexpansionIn this study of airports and aviation Griggs and Howarth draw extensively from the corpus of work produced by the political scientist and philosopher Ernesto Laclau who in collaboration with Chantal Mouffe has written some of the most important contributions to contemporary Marxist and post-marxist political theory. From this body of work Griggs and Howarth deploy a whole series of concepts including ‘hegemony’, ‘floating signifiers’, ‘empty signifiers’, ‘nodal points’, ‘radical contingency’, ‘undecidability’, ‘constitutive outside’, ‘dislocation’, ‘antagonism’, and ‘fantasy’. With these tools, their thesis develops the argument that successive UK governments have sought to establish an equation between national economy, economic growth and social well-being, and the expansion of aviation. Liberalisation and deregulation in the 1980s helped increase passenger numbers and this led to infrastructural capacity constraints that a series of commissions (Roskill, and now Davies) and white papers have sought to address. Using the discursive apparatus developed by Laclau and Mouffe, Griggs and Howarth show how two antagonistic political blocs formed during the expansionist drive of the last Labour government (1997-2009): ‘Airport Watch’ and ‘Freedom to Fly’. Both are shown to have emerged out of a contingent alliance of cross-cutting differences and tensions that defined their respective patterns of membership and support.

As one makes progress through the book ‘sustainable aviation’ begins to appear as the critical and dominant rhetorical trope that aims to mediate and reconcile those who support and those who oppose airport expansion. Central to the development of this thesis is the role of the term ‘empty signifier’ within the theoretical master-narrative of the Essex school of political discourse theory. Borrowing heavily from Foucault (via Laclau and Mouffe) Griggs and Howarth posit that ‘sustainable aviation’ is a signifier within a ‘discursive regime’, or rather a signifieraround which a discursive formation comes into being – in other words a discursive consensus is built to enable the design and implementation of public policy. In the theory of Laclau and Mouffe, ‘empty signifiers’ operate as ‘points of fixation that hold together multiple and even contradictory demands in a precarious unity’ (Griggs and Howarth, p.21 citing Laclau, 1990, 1995; emphasis added). However, as we follow the narrative of Griggs and Howarth we discover that sustainable aviation cannot function as an empty signifier because it gets defined in so many different and contradictory ways; indeed for many it is an absurd oxymoron. It therefore becomes a ‘floating signifier’ subject to multiply contested constructions deployed to help forge and consolidate the political activities of various interest groups. This leads to paralysis and stand-off between the contending parties and is the essence of what the authors call a ‘wicked problem’ (drawing from the work of Donald Schon, and before him Horst Rittel and Melvin M. Webber)

The question we are inevitably drawn to ask is whether the investment in such theoretical sophistication is worth the pay-off? Does it just dress up the obvious in arcane academic theory? At times the nuance between floating signifiers, nodal points and empty signifiers struggles to retain much clarity as these terms are utilised to extract and analyse data culled from a range of archival sources. In the exhaustive collection and treatment of this empirical material the attentive reader may recall that nodal points are ‘privileged points of signification … that partially fix the meaning of practices’ (p.21) and empty signifiers provide the ‘symbolic means’ to ‘represent these essentially incomplete orders’ – these orders referring to the contingent and constructivist logic of ‘discursive formations’. However, it is easy to lose sight of these nuances and its overarching theoretical meta-narrative as the authors build their account drawing on cabinet office papers, parliamentary briefing papers, Department for Transport official reports, and House of Commons Library notes and Committee reports, an archive that when itemised in the reference section runs to 9 pages of primary sources (p.334-342). Whilst the wealth of empirical material is an impressive feat (pp.51-54),  it is precisely this quest for a totalising and exhaustive empirical description that is perhaps most problematic given the theoretical ambitions of the authors.

The most debilitating problem with this book is its quest for scholarly detachment, which is typically applauded as the very essence of good ‘scientific’ research. Laclau and Mouffe wanted to re-invigorate ‘strategies for the left’, to uncover and expose sites of articulation and politicisation for emancipatory struggle, something they call elsewhere in their oeuvre a recall of ‘radical democracy’. For many on the left, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy was exciting because it seemed to extend the terrain upon which political struggle had to be imagined and exercised. Science, as it is deployed in ‘scientific socialism’, with its quest for determination, dialectical laws of economy, the history of class struggle, etc. is precisely the target of their critique and their efforts to recreate and extend the scope for agency and contingency. This would of course prompt us to ask whether Griggs and Howarth produce a political analysis at all, or whether instead they produce a technical and scholarly value-free analysis. However, there is little effort to judge the respective claims of the various political disputants based, for example, on an assessment of the credibility or reliability of the evidence available. The paradox is, however, that this reluctance is precisely the product of the kind of value-commitment implied in the academic project. If on the other hand we ‘follow the money’ as Lester Freamon would counsel in The Wire, we would inevitably be drawn to the conclusion that this Manchester University Press publication will help promote Political Theory at the University of Essex and Local Governance at DeMontfort University, and no doubt draw in additional readership and subscription for the Critical Policy Studies journal. In other words it has political effects. No doubt these are both political projects that are likely to attract widespread support, but when one considers that the journal is published by Taylor and Francis – a none too reputable corporate conglomerate and according to some extracting extortionate rent and profit from the free labour of academic labour and supported by government underwritten student debt – the complexities, antagonisms and contradictions of the politics are revealed. More strictly then, this text is the product of an ‘undecidable’ value-commitment suggestive of the possibility that Griggs and Howarth themselves have become the phenomenon – products, ironically, of the very same discourse they wish to deploy. This is surely the most ‘wicked problem’ of them all.

This is an abbreviated and amended version of a paper forthcoming in Organization: The Critical Journal of Organization, Theory and Society (Sage)

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Old #Trafford Apple Day Sat 4th October


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TreeStation open day – Sat 27th September



Posted in Upcoming Events | 1 Comment