From the latest Manchester Climate Monthly, October 2012.
As part of our “re-imaging activism” work, we have been looking at the ways issues such as race, gender and age play out in the climate change movement in Manchester. We’ve had some interesting insights from various campaigners about the distinct advantages of getting older, the lack of mothers in the movement ,and why climate change meetings are still so white. In this issue we tackle class.
The questions: Does class still matter? Are climate change movements doing enough to engage with the working class – who, after all, will be worst hit by the impacts of climate change and the least able/prepared to deal with it? Can we really expect poorer people to make the drastic changes to their lifestyles? Should we be trying to learn from those with smaller carbon footprint (i.e the working class)? Do middle-class campaigners really represent the ideal green lifestyle? What about the richest in our society – what role do that have to play?
Catrina Pickering, Afsl:
I think that the low carbon movement often consists of fairly privileged people simply because we are lucky enough to have the luxury of being able to stop and think about the issues and then feel empowered enough to act. Although people on lower incomes by and large have lower carbon footprints, they also have less power to act and because of their relative lack of power are more likely to suffer worst from the impacts of climate change as the years roll on. The reasons why they might have less power to act could be that they feel less comfortable in more formal surroundings, have less formal education so feel less skilled or simply that they’re running so hard to just exist that there isn’t any time for anything else. All of these things are generalisations of course but I believe hold truth nonetheless.
Dave Bishop, Biodiversity campaigner:
I wonder if the labels “working class” and “middle class” are now somewhat obsolete and in need of revision? So many of my contemporaries (I’m 64) were born into conventional “working class” families and took advantage of the educational opportunities available in the 1960s and 70s and ended up in conventional “middle class” jobs (teaching, middle management etc.)… I suspect that, for sometime now, the dichotomy has not been between “middle class” and “working class” but between “skilled” and “unskilled” and in the very near future will be between “waged” and “unwaged”. I’ll end by asking the following question: Why do so many, mainly middle class people, use the term “middle class” as a pejorative?
Robbie, MCFly reader:
My impression is that where activism receives public funding, this most often involves projects in less affluent areas. It is easier for councils or other agencies to justify spending public money in those areas. In that sense, activism is engaging more working class people. If what you want to do is tackle carbon emissions, this is a bit odd, because people on low incomes have lower emissions. It’s difficult to get public money for a project that will lower the emissions of the rich, even though, from a mitigation perspective, this is where the largest carbon reductions could be achieved.
There is a similar tension where climate change funding is spent overseas. In DFID especially, low carbon development money ought to be pro-poor, so it benefits poor people more than it does others. But obviously the poorest people abroad have extremely low carbon footprints in the first place. I witnessed an agricultural development project in rural Tanzania, where new techniques were being introduced because they were low carbon. It was truly absurd. There were practically zero carbon reductions to be made there, but it still sounds good to those with money to spend, because you are supposedly tackling poverty and climate change in one go.
Phil Dodd, Moss Side Community Allotments:
The diffulculty of reaching working class, may be due a lack of knowledge of what is going on around them. As working class tend to have more family and money issues than most, climate change ranks low on their priorty lists. There’s also a need to localise meetings so the working class are more inclined to attend… I Hhve found Growing projects attract locals from all backgrounds, though a lot of effort has to be put in – contact through local residents groups helps. I’ve often found people involved in these groups are more inclined to be involved in issues related to environment.
Thanks to those who responded to the questions we put on our website for helping to make this article happen!
Arwa Aburawa email@example.com