Constructive dissent or destructive consent? #howyoucansleep

How does any of us sleep? How do we sleep while the planet burns around us, while the chances for a tolerable old age for people now children (let alone unborn generations) a boiled away in a frenzy of apathy and bullshit as usual?  How do we tell our children – if we have them – that we are doing our best to make Manchester etc sustainable? How do we sleep during the sixth great extinction?

I don’t know. But I suppose, as Alice Walker said, activism is the rent you pay for living on this screwed-over planet. And activism worthy of the name is about ‘constructive dissenting.’ It is not about ‘destructive consenting’, about being a fig leaf for whatever the powerful want to do today. You know who you are.

“While at the individual level this involves changing attitudes, mental models and cognitive frames (see for example Kahneman and his colleagues suggestion about using ‘mental bias’ checklists before important decisions; Kahneman et al., 2011), at the social-psychological level this implies the formal or informal institutionalization of the norm of ‘constructive dissenting’ instead of the ‘destructive consenting’ (Grint, 2005b) characterizing many of our institutions today.
(Kiraly et al. 2017: 141)


Grint, K., 2005b. Leadership: Limits and Possibilities. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Kahneman, D., Lovallo, D., Sibony, O., 2011. Before you make that big decision. Harvard
Business. Review. 89, 50-60.

Kiraly, G. Koves, A. and Balazs, B. 2017. Contradictions between political leadership and systems thinking. Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 140, (1), pp.134-143.

Posted in Unsolicited advice | 3 Comments

Upcoming Event: Low Carbon Heat Infrastructure, 23 February #Manchester

Free seminar, no need to book.

Tyndall Manchester would like to invite you to attend the next talk in our seminar series on “Low Carbon Heat Infrastructure” by Dr. Mei Ren, on Thursday 23rd February (room C1, George Begg Building, Sackville Street) at 4.00pm. 

Low Carbon Heat Infrastructure

Dr. Mei Ren, BuroHappold and The University of Manchester (biography attached)

We have taken our energy supply for granted in the past. A step change is required to understand the challenges we are facing and to achieve the potentials of energy infrastructure which present a huge opportunity not only for unlocking growth but also in achieving environmental and social goals.

This talk will first set the context of why the low carbon heat infrastructure is needed, followed by the initiatives and policies that the government has currently put in place. Successful delivery of low carbon infrastructure needs strong leadership from local authorities and private and public partnership. Business models can be developed to suit individual cities and towns, embracing private sector investment with local authority leadership.

This talk will also describe available technologies and use a number of case studies (which are in varying stages of development) to explain the rationale for selection of appropriate technologies, business model and the lessons learnt.

The seminar will take place in room C1, in the George Begg Building on Sackville Street– number 17 on the map here-

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Having to FoIA #Manchester Council for minutes of #environment meetings…

So, the Council has (had?) a thing called the Environmental Strategy Programme Board. It was supposed to be chaired by Howard Bernstein, but they dropped that fiction after about a year (to my recollection, he never attended a single meeting).  The minutes used to be available on the website, though the council did have to be nudged on a few occasions.  Now this


So on 31 January I wrote to them, and cced in various councillors (the Executive Member for the Environment, the chair of the Neighbourhood and “Environment” “Scrutiny” Committee, et al.).

Dear all,

I do not know why the minutes of the Environmental Strategy Programme Board are only available upon request.
This seems extraordinarily untransparent

I request the minutes of its last 8 meetings  (please note, I am NOT using the FoIA, because then there will be a 20 working day delay.  This page does NOT say there will be a month’s delay in getting the minutes.

I also request that

a) they are posted on the Council’s website

b) they are forwarded as a matter of course to all members of the NESC.

Looking forward to all the leadership on climate change!!

Marc Hudson

PS If the ESPB has been disbanded I would like to know when this decision was taken, by whom, and on what rationale.  And I still request the minutes of its last 8 meetings.

Dear Sir Madam I am requesting copies of the last 10 meetings of the Environmental Strategy Programme Board (ESPB).

I got a reply from one of the other councillors, but not from the “leadership”.  Nowt from the bureaucrat.

A follow-up email sent on 6 February. No joy.  So, this went to on Tues 14 February.

Dear Sir Madam

I am requesting copies of the last 10 meetings of the Environmental Strategy Programme Board (ESPB).

Given that I originally requested these minutes on 31 January – and repeated the request on February 6 –  and that the website declares that they are “available on request”
I would also like to know;
a) how much this FOIA cost (in terms of hours and expense) to complete, given that I have repeatedly asked for the minutes WITHOUT invoking FoIA.
b) which officer has responsibility for responding to enquiries sent to the email account and why they have not responded to multiple emails about the minutes
c) when the decision was made NOT to post ESPB minutes on the council’s website, who made that decision and what the rationale was for not simply posting the minutes and being minimally transparent.
d) copies of all communications between councillors and officers about the ESPB minutes from January 1st 2016 to the present day (14 February)
Please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000


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10 years of Manchester Climate Forum/Fortnightly/Monthly. Reflections on #futility, “lessons learned”

2007-feb-15-posterToday marks exactly 10 years since the first meeting of “Manchester Climate Forum”. It was held to help explain the implications of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Professor Kevin Anderson, who has since become a good friend, gave a presentation and answered questions, at a well-attended (75 people or so) at the Friends Meeting House.

The Forum was set up for two reasons, one ‘personal’ and one ‘political’ (the two categories overlap, of course). Personally, I needed something to do locally, since it was clear to me that, via a facipulated decision to keep doing annual spectaculars, the “Camp for Climate Action” was going to chew up a lot of people’s energy and passion and spit out a failure. I didn’t want to be one of them. But I still wanted to Do Something on climate change, and local seemed one sensible way forward.

The political reason was that it was clear that the Socialist Worker’s Party would do with climate change what it had done with the ‘alter-globalisation’ movement of the late 90s and early naughties – that is, set up a boring and vampiric front group that would – by virtue of its loudness and organisation – divert people from (what I considered at the time to be) more effective and less Leninist/Stalinist/Trotskyist groups. And so Manchester Climate Forum was born as a way of blocking them from doing that, at least in Manchester, and ‘holding the ring’ so that mythical Concerned Citizens could come and hear about the problems, hear from the different groups active in Manchester and then make their choice of which group sounded most up their street.

That was the format of the early meetings – a speaker  and Q and A, then the second half each activist-y group (and there were many) saying what it was doing and how people could get involved. Manchester Climate Forum ran a bunch of meetings in 2007 and 2008 and some in 2009 and 2010 (including the only one to date (that I am aware of, or can remember)  on gender and climate activism). They also usually had a take-home booklet.  The pages of the booklet for the first meeting are inserted throughout the following text, for light relief…


In mid-2008 Manchester Climate Fortnightly was born, as a two page (and soon four page) newsletter of what was going on, what was coming up, what had been happening. That would have folded quickly, but for the totally amazing Arwa Aburawa who co-edited it for a long time. Our spirits were lifted and our pages brightened by the brilliant cartooning of Marc Roberts, who is a top bloke.

In 2009, disgusted with a useless Council-funded document (to the tune of at least 26k)  called the ‘Call to Action’ we launched the ‘Call to Real Action’ process, where we (about 15 or so) activists wrote a response document in 6 weeks, about what could and SHOULD be done.  The success of which caught everyone by surprise. That gave the Council the idea to make the production of the “Climate Change Action Plan” less undemocratic than it otherwise would have been. (They needed something for Richard Leese to brandish while at a world conference of mayors at the end of the year, and knew that business as usual could not deliver.  Buy me a beer and I will tell you my version of it.)


We tried to stop everyone obsessing over the 2009 Copenhagen conference, without success, and once the Council started breaking its promises in a serious way (they’d been breaking them since 2008) all we could really do was report it. Which we did. Manchester Climate Fortnightly, which came out every second Monday (Xmas breaks were taken) ran for 63 issues, until November 2010. We only missed one deadline (my fault – and only by a couple of hours).

Manchester Climate Monthly ran as a paper publication from January 2012 to October 2013, thanks again to Arwa Aburawa, who was demoted to working for Al Jazeera in June 2013. We covered the ongoing, escalating and contemptible  farce that was the ‘Stakeholder Steering Group’. We were so effective in this that we were banned from attending the 2013 ‘stakeholder conference’, which was then abolished by the next Stakeholder Steering Group chair.

I was a co-founder of Steady-State Manchester, but then legged it after a few other people did, and do not regret that decision in the slightest. Since November 2013, Manchester Climate Monthly has been web only. There isn’t enough real news going on in Manchester (as opposed to bullshit press releases and activist fantasies) to fill a monthly publication anyway. So it goes.


For the future? Well, who knows. The chances of anyone else taking on Manchester Climate Monthly when the current editor leaves town are low (i.e. zero). It’s been an interesting project. At least I’ve had my eyes open(ed) while staring into the abyss.

What I learnt about academics (and what I would do differently)

  • Academics can write articles that you think are Right Up Your Street but which are actually totally useless and riddled with turgid pointless jargon to disguise a central banality of crushing banality. And they get well-paid for this.


  • The lag time on academic production is two years – which may as well be a century when you’re engaged in close-quarters combat with an opponent.
  • There is very little useful writing – at least that I have found – about the micro-mechanics of activism by academics. One exception is the magnificent’ Democracy in the Making‘ by Kathleen Blee.

What I would do differently

  • Refuse most of the interviews. Waste of time and energy, unless you are being asked good questions by a smart researcher, which happens far less frequently than you’d think. And then they don’t send you a transcript for longer than they promised.
  • Make my own recordings (there was one horrific example when some PhD student interviewed me and then wouldn’t admit that her tape recorder hadn’t worked. That only came out when I complained to her supervisors).
  • I have written about all this here – me and your research


What I learnt about activist groups (and what I would do differently)

  • Everyone always really gets hung up on the Next Big Protest. I eventually came to call this ‘emotathons’. In mid-2009 Manchester Climate Forum held a public meeting where we tried to get people to think about where things would be in mid-2010, after the Copenhagen conference, which everyone wanted to summit hop to. People just couldn’t (wouldn’t?) do it.
  • Some groups are so desperate for affirmation, so desperate to feel like they are Making a Difference that they will overlook the most shameful and disgusting behaviour on the part of their bosses (hey, SWP) or the Council (Friends of the Earth). Some people are content to be fig leaves and call it activism.
  • Other groups are just totally disorganised and act in ways completely the opposite of their stated beliefs. E.g. an “anarchist” group collapsed when one key individual (yes, that should be a contradiction in terms) left town. I am not making this up.
  • Activists have no idea how to retain interested people, and no real interest in learning how.
  • Activist groups spring into existence like spring flowers when the media rains down stories and attention. And they fall over within months or at most a couple of years when the media caravan moves on, if not before..
  • Activist groups will applaud you when you analyse the enemy’s lies (be it the Council, Evil Multinationals), but get offended when you call bullshit on their bullshit.

What I would do differently

  • I wish I could have all that time I wasted going to various meetings back. The Wife did warn me, and actually eventually helped me break the habit.
  • I wish I could have passed on meeting design skills and facilitation skills (“etc”) but not only are groups not interested in getting it from someone they don’t like (i.e. me) but they aren’t really interested in it at all (‘the smugosphere’).

What I learnt about local authorities (and what I would do differently).

  • Local Authorities are elephants, and elephants don’t tap dance, especially on empty stomachs.
  • There are precious few people with both a brain and a spine, and these ones are usually (and rightly) perceived as threats by people higher up in the hierarchy, and so sidelined or sacked.
  • There is a culture of risk aversion and public relations horseshitting that will overcome any attempts at culture change.
  • They will break their promises as easily as look at you.
  • They lie, they lie they lie. And so do their hangers-on, toadies and camp followers.

What I would do differently/advice

  • Understand the Peter Principle, and John Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach
  • Always keep all the documents, and electronic copies of them, so you can refer to promises easily
  • Figure out the policy-making structures and the points at which it is possible to intervene
  • Become very good at using the Freedom of Information Act, it is your friend
  • Cultivate insiders (this is probably easier with the members than the officers), but do not become beholden to them, captured by them.

What I learnt about the species

We want to kill ourselves. And we will get our wish.

What I learnt about myself (and there is no need to do anything differently, because I always have been – and always will be – perfect)

  • I am a good meeting designer, a good facilitator on my day.
  • I have a tolerance for hard work, even for the boring slog of documents etc etc.
  • However, I have zero tolerance for shite meetings, especially those perpetrated by activists or academics who claim to ‘get’ non-hierarchy and non-hierarchical pedagogy. These meetings break my heart, because they are always a missed opportunity for genuine connection, genuine network- and movement-building.
  • I just don’t have the patience, tact and diplomacy to be a “leader”.
  • Other stuff too, but this is a public blog, so will keep schtum.
Posted in Campaign Update, capacity building, Unsolicited advice | 3 Comments

Upcoming Event: Andy Burnham et al on ‘Green Economy’, 6th March, MERCi

Oh Christ, here we go with the “Green Economy” guff all over again.  How many times is this now?  Perhaps someone would like to go along and remind them all of the 1994 “Global Forum” in Manchester, and all the “Local Agenda 21” stuff that got binned, and the Deloitte report back in 2008, and all the other Broken Promises around the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan.  The purpose of these reports/events is to make a certain class of middle-class apparatchik feel virtuous while the suicide machine escalates its assault on the biosphere.  Another year, another Low Carbon Hub organogram.  So it goes.  If anyone DOES go, would they care to write a report on who said what and if anyone admitted that we have been failing to build the green economy (let alone, you know, green society) for quite some time, and maybe we need to look. at. the. reasons. why. before we just repeat the same old smugospheric nonsense?). Still, at least there’s a gender balance, so that’s alright then.


6pm Monday, 6 March 2017

Bridge 5 Mill (formerly MERCi), Manchester

SERA – Labour’s Environment Campaign, with the support of the UK100 Cities Network, are hosting Labour’s Metro-Mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham MP, to discuss Manchester’s green economy.

Manchester is currently ranked inside the global top 25 cities for environmental sustainability, and won praise for its energy efficiency initiatives, saving local firms more the £100m. The low-carbon sector is a key driver for Greater Manchester’s economy, worth an estimated £5.5bn per year and providing over 36,000 jobs.

The evening will be a chance to ask Andy about his plans for Manchester’s green businesses, from clean energy to low-carbon transport, and to talk about the future role for Greater Manchester’s green economy, leading the UK’s low-carbon ambition.

Speakers include:

Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Metro-Mayoral Candidate for Greater Manchester

Paul Dennett, Elected Mayor of Salford and Chair, Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub Board

Raichael Lock, Manchester Environmental Education Network (MEEN)

Polly Billington, Director, UK100 Cities Network (Chair)

If you’re interested in attending please email Adam Dyster, SERA Organiser, at

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Upcoming Event: “From Paris to #Manchester” 23 Feb #climate

Personally, Paris, provokes/peeves.  (“Screw Paris” + “Why the hype over Paris and COp21: Politics, psychology and money .”)  Maybe many Mancunians mismatch my miserableness…- MMU!!


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Job Alert: Media specialist for ‘Project Dirt’

From here.

Are you a media specialist who can help us take our global campaign to the next level?

Project Dirt is working with Unilever’s Dirt is Good team to run and develop Outdoor Classroom Day; a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On Thursday 18th May 2017, thousands of schools around the world will take lessons outside and prioritise playtime.

Outdoor learning improves children’s health, engages them with learning and leads to a greater connection with nature. Play not only teaches critical life skills such as resilience, teamwork and creativity, but is central to children’s enjoyment of childhood.

In 2016, the campaign got almost half a million children playing and learning outdoors, but we need you to help make sure even more children experience the benefits of learning outside the classroom in 2017.

You will be an experienced and results-driven media specialist with experience of working internationally. Your excellent news sense will mean you can spot opportunities to reach the campaign’s target audiences where other’s may not. Your first-class communications skills will mean you can write compelling copy for a variety of audiences and build relationships with a wide range of stakeholders.

If you think you can help us take Outdoor Classroom Day to the next level, please download the job description here then get in touch with Claire and tell us why.

Deadline for applications: midnight on Sunday 19th February.

Interview dates: 23rd and 24th February (in London or via Skype)

Start date: Candidates need to be able to start on or around Monday 6th March.

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