Today the latest “we are all doomed” climate report comes out. It is the latest in a long long (see below) line of such reports. Climate activists will want to believe that this, at last will “wake up” everyone, from the sheeple to the world leaders who are supposed to be meeting in Glasgow in November. “Surely,” they think to themselves, “THIS time, the message will get through.”
Below are eleven theses on these sorts of reports, the state of the climate “movement” and a quarter-hearted attempt at addressing the ‘what is to be done’ question (perhaps best framed as ‘what was to be done?’ or ‘what could have been done?’.)
This rant stared out as a blog for Climate Emergency Manchester, but it gets a little ripe, a little beyond the “cynical but not TOO cynical” boundaries of what that small organisation is about, so even the usual disclaimer of “Marc Hudson, writing in a personal capacity” would probably not render it publishable there.
First Warning: contains hackneyed references to Groundhog Day, The Bourne Ultimatum and forced references to song lyrics, only some of which are linked.
Second warning: nothing you’ve not already read, if you’ve read much of me: I’m all outa love.
The Past (is always knocking incessant, trying to break through, into the present)
Thesis One: Groundhog Day again and again and again.
While there had been individual scientists speculating about carbon dioxide build-up, it wasn’t really until the mid-late 1950s that the topic got any sustained consideration. It then took until 1988 for the issue to properly break through onto the international agenda. Since the First Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental (that word matters) Panel on Climate Change, in August 1990, some things have been constant/sharpening
- The scientific judgement that putting enormous quantities of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere (as a by-product of burning oil, coal and gas) was going to … trap more heat. Nothing in any of the subsequent reports (2nd in 1995/6; 3rd in 2000/1, 4th in 2007, 5th in 2013) has changed this basic judgement
- The effort put in by those who are making loads of money/gaining loads of power from burning oil, coal and gas into confusing everyone, and slowing progress towards doing anything that would cut into their profits. The campaigns of delay, distraction, derailing, demoralisation have been PHENOMENALLY successful (I did a PhD on this, about Australia). But you don’t wanna read it. This short piece for the Conversation a while back may be enough for you though. IPCC: the dirty tricks climate scientists faced in three decades since first report
- The social movements, the one historical actor that might have been able to combat the capture of states, the capture of political parties, the capture of the media and the sclerosis of the unions, have failed fundamentally and comprehensively, for lack of imagination, courage, resources, and personnel. While they were always going to be outnumbered and outgunned, they’ve also shot themselves in the foot so many times, by pursuing a model of constant mobilisation instead of movement-building. They don’t have a leg to stand on.
Btw, it Phil Connors had NOT learnt from previous experience, well, the movie would have been a tragedy. Kinda like what we are living through.
Thesis two: You can learn from history but still be condemned to repeat it.
Santayana was right, as was Baldwin (“not everything that can be faced can be changed…”). However, that doesn’t mean the truth alone will set you free (2). This isn’t about tactics, it’s not even about strategy, it’s about logistics (see DeLanda, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, etc). And the good guys are getting their asses kicked.
Thesis three: The media will not tell you the truth
Not because George Soros has implanted everyone with COVID-y microchips, or because the Bill Gates’ 5G mind-control waves, or (personal favourite Jewish Space Lasers, or any such. Just read Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, and Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Also the MediaLens stuff. This is structural, institutional. Sure, there are bad faith actors, botnets, troll farms, (on this, Ben Elton’s Identity Crisis is not terrible, btw) etc. But this is not a “conspiracy”. It’s all relatively well-understood, and relatively easily understandable.
I listened to an entirely intelligent interviewer on Radio National this morning, interviewing an entirely intelligent, hard-working and sincere scientist. Maybe after I switched off near the end (my blood pressure couldn’t take it) they mentioned the thirty years of policy failure, of enacted inertia, but you know, somehow I kinda doubt it. We live in a perpetual present, where every morning the song on the radio is “I got you, babe.” Time to pay the fucking rent.
If you want to have any idea what is going on, you’re gonna have to do some work. Guardian articles don’t count as work. This work is… work. And many hands – the right hands – might make light(er) work. Study circles could be a thing, but won’t be, because they’re too much like hard work…
Thesis four: The Clues are in the names (3) and the numbers
Anyway, three things here.
InterGOVERNMENTAL Panel on Climate Change
In the mid-1980s the US Department of State, under George Schulz, felt it had been bounced into signing onto an international treaty around ozone-depleting chemicals (CFCs) because of the strength of independent scientific advice. They could see the same thing might play out with climate change and greenhouse gases, and took the right steps to make sure that instead of an international panel on climate change, we got an intergovernmental one. The summaries for policy-makers (the only things that get read, that “matter” are therefore subject to control, can be watered down.
This is NOT a critique of the countless scientists who work with diligence and professionalism to produce the best information. It’s simply to say, as they say in The Wire, “The Game is rigged, y’all.”
SIXTH Assessment Report
As above this is the IPCC’s SIXTH assessment report. Do you really think this matters? Do you really think that anyone is going to move from their position? They know which side their bread is buttered on. They would have to admit that they’d been wrong on the most important issue of all human time. Do you really think that any of our current political class (or any previous political class, for that matter) have the intellectual and emotional courage to do such a thing? Really? And that goes from the loftiest tosser striding the international stage down to the most “humble” councillor. Not gonna happen, old chap.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the clue is in the name, twice. The November festivities will be a grotesque farce, as were the ones in Paris, Copenhagen, Kyoto and Rio.
See CEM’s position here.
Thesis five: The climate models are right, the information deficit model is wrong.
The climate models have gotten better (they were not, despite what the denialists want you to believe, at all bad to begin with). They are getting better at regional stuff. They’re calibrated better. But they can still be wrong, still not ‘get’ so-called “non-linear” events (ask me another time about the bias hidden in the term ‘non-linear’).
Meanwhile, the “information deficit model” that dominates climate campaigning persists. Why? Because it offers those middle-class people who dominate climate campaigning the soothing sense of being in school (something they by and large liked) only, this time, now, they are the teacher, handing out demerits and detentions. They are the person who knows, filling the heads of others. Sure, it doesn’t “work” to build the movement that they keep flapping their jaws about, but that’s a minor consideration. What matters, right here, right now, is that they can turn attendees into an audience and then into ego-fodder. Nom nom nom.
[See here about the emotional dynamics of ego-fodder].
Thesis six: What two cartoonists and the Swedish dude said.
Lindqvist – “You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions” from “Exterminate All the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide”. We also lack the courage to innovate beyond the stale formats which give us sustenance and succour. So it goes.
The Future (I’ve seen the future baby, it is murder)
Thesis seven: Here comes the age of consequences
The atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide and methane will, pretty soon, accelerate. (This is just a hunch/educated guess. No, I’m not going all Guy fucking Macpherson on you. I am pointing out that human emissions of greenhouse gases have always been relatively minor as a part of the overall release (a fact pointed to with delight by the denialists) but that is not necessarily going to hold for much longer, because
- emissions will climb sharply in the economic growth to follow the COVID lockdowns and downturns (all that pent up demand)
- sinks will fail (oceans and stuff already at about as much as they can absorb – you can’t dry a floor with a soaking wet towel)
- some sinks (looking at you, Amazon) will become proper sources – you don’t need to disasturbate about clathrate triggers to see that as a thing.
All this means that, as far as the heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere go, you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet.
It means, I suspect, that matters will be taken out of our hands. The time to slam on the brakes was BEFORE the bus went off the cliff.
Thesis eight: Young ‘uns, “You have no idea what you are into here.”
I think about my parents, and myself, and I think we’re all going to be dead before the shit properly properly hits the fan (while not denying that the shit IS hitting the fan, has been hitting the fan for many other species, and many other – mostly people of colour – members of our own species. It’s not as if everything was peachy-keen before 1988).
I think about young people, who want to believe they’ve got long rich lives ahead of them, with a stable climate system underneath it. And I think of that line near the beginning of the Bourne Ultimatum, where Bourne tells a journalist “you have no idea what you are into here.”
The intergenerational injustice (leaving aside intragenerational justice, and interspecies justice – as if that were ever a thing – is staggering).
Thesis nine: As other neoliberal cities fixated on the spatial fix, Manchester will continue on its merry way, at least in the short-term.
Manchester City Council will successfully create the impression of a rainbow coalition of concerned citizens and proactive council/councillors, with various motherhood and apple pie promises, some carefully chosen photogenic moppets and muppets-who-should-know-better (See previous rant about how this strategy will “work” here). Desperate terrified people will hold hands, sing kumbaya, get beyond Glasgow and then it will all just die off in the hands of fundamentally useless consultants who wouldn’t know a viable community programme if it bit them on their fat white asses. The Labour Group will continue to bow down before its gerontocratic leadership, conflating loyalty to party with loyalty to the city and its citizens present and future. At some point there will be a change in personnel, but not in what passes for “thought” at the top.
The activists will engage in various ritualistic behaviours that they have done so many many times before, rituals that have soothed them while/by signalling their virtue. Engaging in these rituals has never and will not on this occasion appreciably increase the capacity to act of either themselves and their own “organisations” or – worse – anyone else’s capacity to act. They will then proclaim themselves exhausted/burnout, but will resurrect themselves the next opportunity for virtue signalling. The emotacycle will continue, with its subroutines of ego-foddering. The smugosphere needs that sense of momentum. Get on the bus, or go under the wheels. Those are the choices…
Thesis ten: This rant will sink without trace, rather like the IPCC reports
Predictable responses to this will be threefold.
“Snooze. More disasturbation. It’s not that bad.”
My reply: Fine, whatever you need to tell yourself. Have a nice Anthropocene.
“You’re saying ‘give up’, and you should check your white male middle-class privilege.”
My reply: Yeah, whatevs. I am saying that if we keep doing what we have been doing, chances are we are going to get the same appalling ‘result.’ Rather than engage with that, you’re finding, as you so often do, the easy way out that renders you virtuous and everyone else wrong. Funny thing is, you and I both want a different outcome from what we’ve been getting for the last 33 years on climate campaigning, but I am the only one saying we have to think about doing things DIFFERENTLY. You’re just wanting more meetings of the mice at which they all agree the cat should wear a bell. One more push/rebellion/march/camp and we will be there, comrade! I can’t be bothered to hide my contempt for that, and now you’re all butt-hurt about it.
“You never say what else should be done.”
My reply: yes, I do. And I have also tried to DO what else should be done. But you choose not to see, not to engage, because it would threaten your cosy grift.
Thesis eleven: What
is was to be done? (“Scientists and activists have always complained about the world. The point is was to change it”.)
Tl:dr – Gee, maybe we could innovate. Still gonna lose, obvs, but at least then we could hold our heads up.
- Cocker Protocol and in the leftover time, auditing current skills, knowledge, relationships and situation
- Cocker Protocol and in the leftover time, developing/enacting a plan to build skills, knowledge and relationships of your group so it is fit for purpose (this includes emotional resilience)
- Cocker Protocol and in the leftover time, developing/enacting a plan to connect with and work with other groups that have built their skills, knowledge and relationships so that they have become fit for purpose
- Cocker Protocol and in the leftover time, refusing to collude in the broader bullshit of information deficit model, of ego-foddering and other pathologies (public meeting syndrome etc), the emotacycle, the smugosphere. Sadly, refusing to collude basically means having to demonstrate that things can be done differently and I am not sure I can be bothered anymore. So it goes.
- Cocker Protocol and… (checks notes)… that’s it. It’s turtles and the Cocker Protocol all the way down.
(1) Maybe not. Don’t know if can be particularly bothered.
(2) Fun fact – I remember the novelisation of Doctor Who and the Terror of the Zygons (the book was called Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster) which I read when I was, boff, eight or possibly nine). The Doctor learns of the “baddies’” plan and is happy, while his companion, Sarah then points out that there’s a gap between knowing what your opponent is planning and actually being able to stop them. I know, I know, I should get help. Shouldn’t we all.
(3) I remember being in the States in 1991 when Clarence Thomas was being nominated to the Supreme Court, and someone (I think not me, but it might have been) said that the clue was in the name.