Bristol is less rubbish than #Manchester at activism? Discuss…

Below find an interesting interview with a Bristol activist, originally published here, by an academic who has interviewed a whole bunch of activists (including me) about activism in Bristol and in Manchester. Fwiw, Manchester never really recovered from the loss of the Basement in 2007. That said, we’d have found other way(s) to screw it up, even if that hadn’t happened…

Why some cities are ‘rebel cities’ – interview with Yaz Brien about Bristol’s resistance scene

“It’s a movement that shuts shit down but it really isn’t hypermasculine. And I think, in many ways, that is a factor in its sustainability.”

open Movements
The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

lead Mural in Bristol.

Grassroots activism is widely considered a vital element in society’s shift to becoming more just and ecologically balanced. However, it is clear that in some places, movements are more active than in others. What is it about certain places/cities that makes them more conducive to the emergence and sustainability of environmental activism?

To address this question, our research at Keele University for the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) project compared two British cities: Manchester and Bristol. Both have a long tradition of environmental activism and still provide fertile grounds for the development of grassroots solutions to environmental crises, such as projects around food and energy.

But while Manchester has in recent years seen a sharp decline in resistance-oriented environmental activism (protest, civil disobedience, direct action), Bristol has, despite some decline, maintained a more vibrant resistance scene. To understand why activism can develop so differently in two cities with comparable histories and challenges, we spoke to 43 activists in both cities.

One of them was Yaz Brien, an experienced Bristol-based activist who, since 2006, has seen activism develop in Bristol through her involvement in groups like No Borders, Rising Tide, Camp for Climate Action, Bristol Queercaf, and the Kebele social centre (now BASE).

In late 2017 and early 2018, I travelled to Bristol several times to get a feeling of its famous alternative scene and to interview environmental activists. Unfortunately, I never managed to meet up with Yaz, so we arranged an interview through Skype. I began by explaining that, in order to make sense of the seeming disappearance of environmental resistance in Manchester, we wanted to know about environmental activism in Bristol.

Her insightful account of events clearly depicts some of the differences between Bristol and Manchester that we found to be most decisive. Moreover, her account revealed not only the societal pressures that currently make (environmental) activism in the UK that much harder, but also the coping mechanisms and urban qualities most decisive in allowing the Bristolian social movement scene to keep going.

Joost de Moore (JM):  According to many activists we have spoken to, Bristol has remained an important hub for environmental resistance in the UK. Why do you think that is?

Yaz Brien (YB): I sometimes think that Bristol’s reputation of “if anywhere is having it, then Bristol is having it” is bigger than the reality. Some of what you’ve described about Manchester we’ve seen happen here in this city as well.

My relationship to being almost daily in struggle shifted a few years ago and I think that was around the same time that a lot of things shifted for people here in Bristol. There’s a direct connection and correlation with the state repression that was happening here in the city, and a lot of us were quite directly affected by that.

I haven’t gone into food growing or the land-based movements but a lot of my peers have. The fact that I haven’t is partly located in my identity as a working-class person, a person of colour, queer. That white hippie end of things was never really my interest. My interest was in relating to those bigger, wider structural issues around climate justice, talking about environmental racism for example, not simply talking about how can we do our energy better.

These days, I guess I’ve reached an age where you’re an elder, a kind of Anarchist Yellow Pages – a connector of younger folk with older folk. A lot of young newcomers or activists get in touch wanting advice or to bounce ideas.

JM: So, on the one hand, there is a decline in radical action in Bristol just like in Manchester, but on the other hand, there are still exceptions?

YB: Yeah. For instance, Rising Tide has stayed consistently in the city for many years, continuing to do direct action. They still go and shut shit down like pretty regularly and are really involved in a lot of anti-coal, anti-fracking stuff, walking that line between very accessible movement building and “we will shut down the means of this production.”

And it’s really nice that some of those people are also involved in local community projects and food and land projects, but have very much maintained the idea that we have to shut stuff down and talk about what the alternatives are.

I sometimes think talking about the alternatives is about how you then deal with the media and how you do mass mobilisation. Normal people need to know that we’re looking at the future and not just saying that what we’ve got right now is bad. We’re building towards something, to inspire people into action. But that’s also why environmental activism can end up becoming quite liberal because people with more liberal ideas become inspired, and then just go down the route of ‘Well, maybe nuclear isn’t so bad after all, you know?’ We’ve seen climate camps where there have been debates with people saying, “Well maybe nuclear is better than coal”. That position doesn’t have a decolonisation angle. People don’t ask, “Where’s the extraction happening that enables us to have uranium?”

Still, we’ve seen a struggle around really rare Grade 1 arable land on the outskirts of the city. The  council tore it up to put in an extra road for a bus service that isn’t actually going to have any environmentally positive impact on the city. There was an interesting eruption of liberals involved in growing projects and people occupying that space, occupying those trees and doing much more forceful resistance. And I guess that was a beautiful Bristol moment. These two communities are kind of distinct but they will work together for a struggle like this.

JM: So, are groups like Rising Tide still active because people who’ve been involved in it for a long time have managed to sustain their activism, or are they also good at attracting new younger participants?

YB: It’s a bit of both really. There are definitely people within Rising Tide and within Reclaim the Power who’ve been in this struggle for a really long time. It does test them and it does sometimes have an impact on them. It’s very hard to sustain activism generally, because we’re all still trying to pay our rent and pay our bills at the same time, and you know, the economic situation around us makes it even harder to invest the amount of time and energy that we would want into our actions. But I do think they have also been able to bring new people in and sustain groups. If I look at some of the political and activist groups that have existed in Bristol, they are maybe less dysfunctional than some groups I’ve seen elsewhere. They do communication well. It’s not just lots of very macho men that are involved. It’s a movement that shuts shit down but it really isn’t kind of hypermasculine. And I think, in many ways, that is a factor in its sustainability.

JM: Why do you think sustaining activism in Bristol seems to work better than in some other places?

YB: Bristol has got a long history and tradition of activism, longer than I’ve been in the city. I’ve been here maybe 12 years now and I knew of Bristol in the late ‘90s as a city that was on my radar because people were doing the kind of politics that I was interested in.

So, I think it’s always drawn a disproportionate number of actively engaged people compared to a lot of cities. We have an anarchist social centre here that has been going since the mid to late ‘90s and hasn’t been under the same pressures as in some other cities. The community owns that building, so we have a constant space that we can use to do things. It takes effort to do that, but it has acted over the years as a hub and it is still a hub that attracts people. People go there for Sunday dinner and a community meal and then that’s the kind of space where films and talks and events can happen.

In other cities, they’ve not necessarily had those permanent hubs that people would be drawn. Either that or they need to be constantly defended. You know, we’ve never had to pay a lease. We’ve never had to sell alcohol to each other to fund it. We now own the building outright. And so, the energy isn’t being taken away. We’ve got good infrastructure in place and we have good key people who know how that infrastructure works and who’ve also been involved nationally and internationally and have an interest not only in the doing, but in the processes behind that – you know – good facilitation skills, good consensus decision-making skills, good security skills. They’re key. I think infrastructure is really key and that’s also about knowledge, sharing that knowledge, and spaces that things can happen in.

Moreover, the city itself is bigger, but the city that a lot of activists dwell in is tiny. Everyone is less than six degrees of separation to everyone. You think you’ve met somebody completely new and then you realise that they’re already connected to you.

It’s easy to get around, you can cycle everywhere. So, if something’s happening over here or an event over there, we can get there. And we see each other physically on a day-to-day basis even if we don’t intend to, so there’s a lot of informal spaces where stuff happens.

It means that you don’t always have to be at the meeting or go to the event. And I just think there’s something about the physicality of this city, its shape, its size and the fact that it’s a nice city to live in, that creates that energy.

I really like Manchester as a city, but it’s big. I grew up in Birmingham. They’re just like heavier, harsher, industrial cities. We can take care of ourselves maybe a little bit better than we would in some places and we can maintain connection informally a lot easier.

I feel like I’m out of the game in lots of ways, but I still know everyone and I still know what’s going on, and I still connect people up because there are spaces for that. Your socialising is political here. You just go to the pub and you bump into loads of people and inadvertently shit happens.

JM: Because of this, it seems, Bristol has come to attract a lot of activists from across the UK. Is that a good or a bad thing?

YB: I used to criticise everyone wanting to come to Bristol because Bristol was de-skilling other parts of the UK. We had infrastructure in place and active groups and a ‘do it’ attitude. And I was always concerned that eventually Bristol would kind of implode, you know – something just gets bigger and stronger and more powerful. Could we even sustain that as a city? And I felt that it was having an impact across the country. I wanted there instead to be these levels of energy and infrastructure and connection and networking happening nationally, so that we networked and supported each other nationally, but that people didn’t just keep showing up here.

Now, I think there’s other factors at play that mean that Bristol isn’t doing what it was doing, say, eight years ago. If you compare what’s going on nationally, we probably are still pretty active. But I also see that when the Tories came into government and the policies of austerity really started to hit, that threw up questions that maybe we couldn’t answer.

It required a kind of politics and an organisation that maybe we couldn’t rise to, and that left a lot of individual people really questioning, what is it that we’re doing, what is important? We’re definitely seeing around us a city that’s increasingly unaffordable for people to live in. The impact of squatting legislation has really changed this city and meant that younger people wanting to get involved in activism are struggling to do so because, as I mentioned before, we’ve all got bills and rent to pay. So it’s getting harder and harder, especially when we had such a climate of repression as well and state surveillance and infiltration – all of that. It’s a hard life to encourage people to take on.

JM: To the extent that there is still radical activism, are there specific coping mechanisms that make this possible?

YB: That’s often about the energy of a small group of individuals who can be consistent and who at some point in their lives decided that they’ll really hold on to prioritizing activism. And that includes not settling down into quite heteronormative lifestyles. They might be in relationships and they might even have got married, but they’re not just living in couples. There’s a lot of people still living collectively or in housing co-ops. I think not having children keeps a generation involved in politics. So, it’s about the choices some individuals have made. And environmental and animal-right activism has really long historical traditions that have helped keep that foundation in place.

Currently there’s new growth and new roots that are definitely coming through. But we went from having all of the things in place to very little happening. Because when people are first drawn to the city, there’s this excitement and this kind of youth rebellion which is amazing. But people don’t always recognise the hard, boring work that goes on in sustaining community, networks and infrastructure.

I used to say to people: “my activism now is like an anarchist infrastructure”. And I think there’s a lot in that, if we’re talking about this overarching theme of sustainability. I tried to set up a local kind of activist trauma support group because there was a lot of fucking trauma going on: when people are in very frontline positions, when you know that you are under surveillance, when you know that you have been infiltrated and probably are still being infiltrated, when you have been hurt by the police or when you haven’t managed your adrenaline comedown after an action that went excitingly well. I see younger folks in Bristol right now who have organised a space in a local community café for activists to come together once a week and talk about how that feels and how that’s impacting on them. So, I can see that the younger folks are really recognising that that’s something really key to the work that we’re all doing.

JM: Given some of the challenges and strengths you’ve described, how do you see the future for activism in Bristol?

YB: I have always been really aware of the role of queers, artists, and anarchists in gentrification. Like we’ll come into spaces, we’ll squat them, we’ll make stuff happen and we make them cool and then they’re marketable. Bristol very much has a brand that it trades off and that brand was developed by the countercultures that exist here, not just politically but through music, the arts and culture. It’s like massively gentrified now. Because we made the city exciting, it made people want to be here.

Now, people in a lower socioeconomic bracket are increasingly moving out. The neighbourhood I live in, where the Kebele Social Centre is, will become increasingly hard to use as a space, because people don’t live in this neighbourhood any more. We all used to live within a few streets of each other. The new housing co-ops that were forming to try and create sustainable housing can’t afford to be in this neighbourhood: they’re moving out.

So, if people can’t afford to be here, then we’re going to lose that energy. I’ve always wanted there to be other hubs across the country. I thought as a UK movement we would be more sustainable if we could nurture other hubs. And so, I think this city has been a good testing ground. If that energy were to move elsewhere, that wouldn’t be bad for UK politics. I’d just be kind of sad, because I like being in that hub and I like the community that I developed, but that’s just a very personal thing. Still, I think there’s something very particular to here that, if it were gone, would be a loss.

How to cite:
de Moor J.(2018) Why some cities are ‘rebel cities’ – interview with Yaz Brien about Bristol’s resistance scene Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 17 October. https://opendemocracy.net/yaz-brien-joost-de-moore/why-some-cities-are-rebel-cities-interview-with-yaz-brien-about-bristol-s-r
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#Manchester City Council stops quarterly reports on its #carbon reduction farce.

One of the few victories Manchester Climate Monthly could point to was forcing the Council to produce quarterly climate reports  (they promised it, under pressure, didn’t deliver it, and then following more pressure, did).  And now they’ve stopped, following a ‘decision made verbally by the Executive Member for the Environment’.

This is how we drive a low carbon culture, of course.

Are the supine Labour Councillors going to fight back?  Ha ha ha.  And what does Friends of the Earth, that doughty watchdog think?  Well, presumably, whatever the Executive wants to do is fine with them.  And this is how we do democracy and transparency in Manchester.

Below is a Freedom of Information Request (not by MCFly) submitted in July, September [MCFly editor’s error] and the answer, given on 4th October.

Please can I have a copy of the following documents: “Carbon Reduction Monitoring Report Quarter One 2018/19” which may alternatively be entitled “Q1 Carbon Reduction Report 18/19” and “Climate Change Action Plan 2016-20 Quarter 1 2018/19 Progress Report” which may alternatively be entitled “Climate Change Action Plan Q1 2018/19 report” and any document which would explain why the above two documents haven’t been put on the councils website yet.

 

Quarterly carbon emissions and progress against actions reports are no longer published by the Council. A decision was made verbally by the Executive Member for Environment. Previously, the Council collated some buildings and transport related emissions data on a quarterly basis. However, these reports were unable to represent finalised and complete energy data for all of our operations as not all records of our operations are fully updated immediately after the end of the quarter (e.g. energy billing and staff business mileage claims). The most accurate and complete picture of the Council’s full direct CO2 emissions can be found in the annual carbon emissions report. This report is produced each summer, once the data from the previous year has been collated and verified and can be found here https://secure.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/3266/neighbourhoods_and_environment_scrutiny_committee

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Today’s (semi-) awful #climate event #2: the activists have their turn #Manchester

300px-Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statueSometimes the universe throws up (in every sense) a compare and contrast.  At lunchtime I went to an event where one of our lords and masters explained his plan for dealing with climate change.  It was, of course, dreadful.  Then, in the evening I went to an event where activists explained their plans for dealing with climate change (and fracking). It was less dreadful, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent.

This blog post is in four parts. The first is a factual-ish (I wasn’t always paying super close attention) about the meeting yesterday. There doesn’t appear to have been any filming of it (perhaps we could ask GCHQ to share their footage?), and going on previous experience, nobody else is going to do a blow-by-blow blog. Next up, I score myself against 13 predictions I made about how it would play out (spoiler – I am Nostra-bloody-damus, me). Third, how – with the same space, budget and time –  it could have been done differently (better, against criteria of ‘how do we help networks form, engage people, make it less easy for them to go ‘nah, not for me’).  Yeah, then I editorialise: skip that.

First – What each speaker said

The entire panel was made up of women. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a climate event like that (excluding ones that were specifically about gender) before. So, progress of a kind…

There were about 65 people present, mostly old (over 55) but about 10 or 15 student types. Not much in between. A smattering of BMEs (i.e. a bit better than usual for a climate meeting).

PCS union person spoke for 12/3 minutes, recapitulating recent events (three activists jailed, IPCC report on 1.5 degrees), the lost injunction on fracking, the starting of fracking during ‘Green Great Britain Week’, with Tory Government akin to Trump.  Says there was an ‘astonishing’ amount of NVDA during COP21 (perhaps, but to what effect?).  IEA report shows emissions rising again. “Capitalism has to be brought down, at least in some sectors.” Trade unions not united – e.g. some unions supporting nukes, airport expansion etc.

Tina from the anti-fracking campaign (spoke for 9 minutes).  An excellent public speaker she talked about NOT being disheartened on the day that Fracking started, looking around at the faces of intelligent, articulate, dedicated people by the roadside.  It had taken 22 months for fracking to get going, whereas the average in the US was five months.  Shareholders in the company were getting antsy, while the CEOs and banks were happy.  System change needed.  Tina then acknowledged that ‘becoming an activist’ can be intimidating and difficult, but (imo) glossed over how we might make that less difficult  She argued that ‘once you go through the door market activist, it’s a sheer drop’ (as in, you can’t go back – but many do in fact drop out, burn out etc). The government thinks it will ‘solve us’ by fining us, scaring us, imprisoning us, but no – what choice do we have? our children’s futures are at risk…   She closed with a plea for people to attend the demo on Saturday 20th, even if only for an hour.

Fossil Free Greater Manchester (spoke for 12 minutes) about the investments of Greater Manchester Pension Fund in all sorts of nefarious activities – including investments in a company (Schellenbuger Schlumberger ) doing the fracking. Had submitted a petition to the Fund, got a 14 page reply full of obfuscations.  Demo on Friday in Tameside.

Shell Out (spoke for 6 minutes) campaign set up to contest the Manchester Science and Industry Museum’s acceptance of sponsorship by Shell – initial setting up organised by Carbon Coop, which had been part of the Museum’s Science Festival.  (fwiw, I don’t think that Shell has been actually funding climate denial per se, since it left the Global Climate Coalition in about 1997. But I could be wrong.)   Several partners have pulled out of the festival, a petition with 57 thousand signatures has been presented.  Upcoming meetings at Partisan etc.

“Extinction Rebellion” (spoke for 5 minutes). This speaker was the only one to get a feel for ‘who was in the room’ – she asked who had taken any form of civil disobedience – about a quarter of the room stuck up their hands (going on a march didn’t count). So, ER was set up in July, aims at peaceful civil disobedience, inspired by other successful efforts (three cited – US Civil Rights in 1960s, India (Gandhi) and Right to roam/kinder scout).  On 31st October there’ll be a ‘declaration of rebellion’ in Parliament Square, addressed by George Monbiot.  Then two weeks of peaceful non-violent direct action (NVDA) and on 17 November a ‘high profile’ event. Meanwhile, ER groups are spreading around the country. On Monday 22nd (venue was not mentioned, presumably Partisan) there’ll be a talk  (please god let it be less soul-destroying than the last one, a few weeks back), and on Monday 29 NVDA training.

Then there were a series of questions (aka speeches), more from men than women. Mostly about nuclear power.  People left at the start and during the Q and A, which was unstructured and uninspiring for the most part (some nuggets during, but needed to be actually facilitated and concise so not to be soul-destroying).

So, I made a series of 13 predictions. Last time I did this I made 11 and only got 8. This time I scored a solid 12 out of 13. So, that’s progress.

“It will be based on the information and hope deficit models – the assumption that what is stopping people from being active/more active is information about the state of the world, or hope that it can change (therefore) those who attend will be ego-foddered by sages on the stage. The primary exhortation will be to support the prisoners (obviously – though the meeting was arranged before they were sentenced) and to attend the demonstration in Preston on 20th October”  (for the most part, yes, though the ego-foddering was not as bad as I’d feared).

A series of specific predictions

Prediction

Amirite or amirite?

1

There will be no initial ‘turn to the person next to you, find out their name/why they came

Correct

2

There will be no specific time limit for each speaker, of if there is, the chair will not keep them to it

Correct – None stated, and the first speaker was given a ‘2 minutes’ bit of paper and then spoke for a further 3…

3

Between each speech, we will not be invited to discuss among ourselves what we’ve just heard

Correct

4

The speeches will highlight that capitalism is unfair, wrecking the planet, that the British state is corrupt and violent

Correct

5

The speeches will not address in any meaningful way the failures of the climate movement over the last 10 (let alone 30) years, the failures of movements to recruit and retain ever-larger numbers of people

Correct

6

The total time of the speeches will run to at least 45 minutes (of a 90 minute meeting)

Correct The final speech finished at 8pm, so we had an intro, a song and then solid speeches for an hour.

7

There will be no ‘turn to the person next to you, get help in honing/forming your question’

Correct

8

Three of the first five questions will be by men

Correct

9

Three of the first five questions will be speeches (i.e. more than 4 sentences)

Correct – tended to be details of nuclear nefariousness. (I asked question number 6)

10

The organisers will not ask for more than names and emails – e.g. won’t ask for skills and knowledge people might have

Correct

11

The organisers will not lay out means by which people can engage in ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (being involved in campaign without coming to meetings/marches

Correct, but a couple of the speakers said there were roles for everyone, so half points

12

The organisers will not provide a handout which explains the basics of climate science, climate policy and fracking, and what people can do along a spectrum from tweeting to prison

Correct (though if you went to the table there was stuff about fracking, so half points.

13

By 8.30 at least 10% of those present at the outset will have left

Correct

How it COULD have been done, and what the rationale for each bit is. (just for the record. I don’t expect that to actually happen, of course.  Social movement organisations are fantastically and peculiarly resistant to innovation, in my experience.)

Before the meeting

Have the powerpoint slide above the speakers actually working, and saying something like “You’ll hear great inspiring speeches, but a network is built by people turning strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into allies – please introduce yourself to the people around you while you’re waiting for the event to start! Thanks!”

At the very start of the event say

“We need bigger networks and movements. Information won’t deliver that on its own. Please turn to someone you haven’t spoken to and introduce yourself. Just your name and why you’ve come. We won’t feed this back, it’s not some horrible corporate icebreaker. Who knows, in a week’s time, you may bump into that person on the tram, or in the street, and be able to say hello.”

“I know some of you can’t stay to the end – we’re going to have a proper break at 8.10 so people can speak to the speakers or other people they want to catch up with. Then after that we will do some more small group work.  Please try to stick around till then. “

“Each speech is being filmed and will be put up online soon after this event.”   [or even, gasp, live streamed]

“The twitter hashtags for this meeting are #climatebreakdown and #climatevictories”

“”Between each speech, we’ll get you to compare thoughts with the person next to you, and will have time for two super-short questions, with more time at the end. Halfway through the six speeches, because your brains will be filling up, we’re going to have a song interlude! We’ve got 6 speakers. Therefore, each has agreed to keep to six minutes at absolute most. I’ve asked each to keep their talk to things that you probably don’t know, or to make concrete suggestions about what we need to do differently than we have been doing. I’m going to give them each a one minute warning, and then exactly at six minutes, I will start to applaud and you join in. Let’s practice that now. I’ll start applauding, you join in, and when that applause dies down, our first speaker’s clock starts ticking…”

First speaker – applause at six minutes. One minute for people to share thoughts.
Do we have any factual questions, in one sentence, to the speaker?

Second and third speaker, ditto, asking people to turn to someone else where possible.

Song (but 4 mins)

Fourth, fifth and sixth speakers, with discussion and poss short questions…

“Right, before we go into questions, which can be dominated by the most opinionated, please  just spend two minutes with the person next to you, honing your question or growing it. There’ll be a prize for the best question. The shorter the question, the more likely it is to be the best! I’ve also asked the speakers to keep their answers as short as possible, as much for our energy levels as for time.”

[Note to chair – if you do it like this you will then be able to say ‘we will have that woman, that man, that woman’ and just change the dynamic, rather than be presented with a sea of hands of the usual suspects (usually mostly male)].

Make sure the questions are short and the answers short to.. The point is to get a conversation going and share ideas.

“Right, it’s now 8.10pm.  I know some people have to go.  Thank you so much for coming. If there’s something you wanted to ask the speakers or other people you wanted to say hello to, now’s the time.  We’re going to start again in five minutes, with the second, shorter,  half of the evening.  We’re going to ask people first to get into groups around issues they care about –  divestment, fracking, nuclear, local government, international solidarity, so people can share news, experiences, ideas.  Then we’ll try to get into geographical groupings too…”

[And then you need to facilitate that so groups are not dominated…]

Ideally you’d also have someone writing a blog post, making a ‘vox pop’ film etc etc… so that people who weren’t there get a sense of what happened, the energy and momentum.  And the blog post would of course include ‘ten ways to be involved without coming to marches/demos/meetings;’…

MCFly says:

At the beginning of the meeting the chair of the meeting said that we need ‘hundreds of thousands of people demanding action on climate change’ and that the meeting (70ish people) was ‘a good start’.  Near the end of the Q and A (I did not stay for the bitter end) the chair added that the best way of dealing with police infiltration/violence was to have huge numbers of people.

Okay.  But over ten years ago I heard socialists in the same room (the main hall of the Friends Meeting House) saying they’d have a quarter of a million people demonstrating at Copenhagen.  There was going to be a ‘mass movement’…  So as per Ganotis’ speech which said his summit had ‘started the debate’, there seems to be this (wilful?) denial of the past failures (policy and activism) around climate change.  “I’m here to talk about the future.” Indeed.  And that means we don’t look at why our methods haven’t worked. We just double down on them…  In another blog post I’ll explore the reasons behind this further, and what we might, in the precious few years left to us, do about this.

 

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Today’s awful event#1: Greater #Manchester more #climate summitry

Here’s the short version.  A politician who proclaims he cares about the engagement of Manchester’s population in tackling climate change had over 30 young, bright, concerned and enthused citizens for an hour.  And he talked at them and basically treated them as ego-fodder.  He brought nothing that would explain what he was doing, and collected no information from them. So far, so very very normal.  It’s just how (Greater) Manchester operates, has operated, will operate. Until the (quite imminent) apocalypse. …. And tonight, the activists, no doubt, will do something quite similar. Meanwhile – 25th March 2019 for the next round of ‘Mayor’s Green Summit’ nonsense.

 

Today at University of Manchester  Councillor Alex Ganotis, who is boss of Stockport Council and also Andy Burnham’s person on the  “Greater Manchester Green Summit” gave a talk, at the invitation of the Student  “Energy and Environment Society…” There were 34 normal people there, and me (almost 30 years older than the average age), sat in a tiered lecture theatre watching a glossy powerpoint production full of colourful flowcharts and organograms (this, after all, is the chief output of the ‘Low Carbon Hub’ these last 10 years or so, and the ‘Environment Commission before it’.)

Ganotis spoke at quite a clip, covering the existence of the Green Summit (21st March 2018), the current work programme and “how you can get involved.”

It was all exactly as you would expect, and somebody really ought to do a bingo card – Carbon neutral, Environmental vision, Position city as global leader for smart energy innovation – “if you only take away one point – climate change and environmental agenda is as much about our future economic well-being as it is about avoiding flooding and extreme weather conditions…. ”. Increasing insulation will raise people’ incomes (no mention of them then and spending more on flights…)

I sat at the back, because then you can a) get out early if you want to b) see how many people are checking their facebook etc. And a couple were of course, so didn’t get the full benefit of the usual technocratic stuff, with impressive sounding numbers (pilot projects mostly), jargon, work programs, SCATTER graphs, The Natural Capital Agenda, “innovative delivery and finance” [The same dreadful thinking that got us in this mess] Scale up, accelerate energy efficiency Spatial Framework.

There was a time when I would have dutifully written all this down, reported it, asked you to take it seriously.  But these words ARE the action, and there will be a new set of words and wordsmiths along (with new powerpoints) in a few years time… The wheel keeps on turning, as the window of possibility shuts… In the meantime, we have people still gamely talking about ‘growth’  and ‘opportunity’. Because, you know, growth is so compatible with the young people in the audience having any sort of old age. Oh yes.

After just over forty minutes of smacking us over the head with statistics and numbers, Ganotis concluded, leaving a few minutes for a q and a.  Drinking from a plastic water bottle, Ganotis answered them.

I started (of course)
“You said the Green Summit “started the debate”.  Actually, Manchester’s leaders have been promising climate action since the 1993 ‘Global Forum’.   You had 2000 responses to the Summit survey.  That sounds impressive, until you realise that the population of Greater Manchester is what, 3 million?
My question is this – is the ‘carbon neutrality’ you talk about by 2038 based on the same mentality that Manchester Airport has, because the Airport claims to be ‘carbon neutral’… Is your carbon neutrality going to be merely on production-based metrics, or the far more challenging – and meaningful – consumption-based metrics?”

Ganotis conceded that yes indeed, there had been previous efforts.  Basically he said (I paraphrase) ‘trust me – this time it’s different’.  Readers can judge for themselves… There was the usual tactic about when it is pointed out that we are trapped in a pitiful policy paralysis –  “I’m here talking about the future.” Ganotis then conceded that  the plan he laid out for ‘carbon neutrality ‘”does not include emissions from aircraft….”  (He hadn’t mentioned that in his forty minutes. No time perhaps) But it’s okay everyone, “Our plan will be revised every five years.” And anyway “The market for air travel highly competitive… [if Manchester Airport took action]  they’ll go to Liverpool” (the drug dealers’ defence)

As for whether the carbon neutrality was production or consumption based- well, he claimed that “Tyndall is leading on this…”  (surely though, if the politicians asked for a consumption based approach the scientists would deliver. Seems a bit hiding-behind-the-science. Is Tyndall happy being a stabvest?!)

There were two more questions
Is the 2038 target being revised light of IPCC report about 1.5 degrees?
“We need to have a conversation about that”  “Bringing it forward will be an incredible challenge”.

How will normal people find out about it?
“Currently discussing how to promote/inc engagement for next green summit….”

(I spoke to the person who asked this afterwards, who didn’t feel the question had been answered). Also, it’s now mid-October.  Unless your ‘engagement’ plan for the next Summit starts in early November, it will get caught up in Christmas, then the January slump, and suddenly it will be February  – all you will end up with is the usual suspects.
For, gentle reader, there will be another Green Summit (leaders gotta get their ego fodder), on 25th March 2019, at the Lowry, with capacity for 1,500 people (maybe the MCFly editor will get a ticket this time?!  Maybe there will be some explicit criteria). It will “officially set out target policies and a five year plan…”

MCFly says.
You have to have a little compassion for these technocrats.  Trained in the arts of mission statements, PR, work programmes, powerpoint, they are coming up against a super-wicked problem far in excess of their capacities.  As with the activists, they’re scared, and retreating into stock responses (either info dumps or moral exhortation).  Nobody knows how to get a fundamental societal transformation going (though some of us are at least thinking about it).

But also this – there were a ton of things Ganotis COULD have done to engage with the students, rather than talk at them.

  • He could have talked for less time (40 minutes of powerpoint is not conducive to, you know, engaging)
  • He could have asked questions of the students
  • He could have collected their emails (at the very least for the Summit mailing list)
  • He could have asked them to write to him with ideas
  • He could have provided some basic written material for people to take away, about the last summit and the next one.

Finally-   has anyone who was on the Summit mailing list, who either got to go or didn’t, heard ANYTHING from the organisers since then?  I have not had a SINGLE email from them.  Is it that I am a special case, or is it that they just haven’t bothered to keep in touch with anyone?

 

Posted in Greater Manchester | 6 Comments

Upcoming Events: Meeting on #fracking and #climate, #Manchester Tues 16th Oct

… and a solidarity demo/protest in Preston.

2018 10 16 meetingClimate Emergency Public Meeting (jointly organised with Fossil Free GM & Manchester Campaign Against Climate Change next Tuesday 16th October, 7pm, at Friends Meeting House, near Manchester Town Hall, M2 5NS .

NB Additional speakers from Shell Out Campaign and Extinction Rebellion, have been invited.
And we will have a Lipspeaker with Sign, so meeting will be more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people (please arrive a little before 7 so we can seat you near the lipspeaker).
New event:
National demo at Preston New Rd  fracking site, Saturday 20th October: Free the Three and Protest the Start of Fracking!
We have booked a coach:leaves 9.15am from Chorlton St.,returning 4pm. Book your free place (donations on the day if you can) on this eventbrite site:
or text me on 07981495614
Other events:
Fridays for Future Protest / Vigil tomorrow, Friday 12th outside Manchester Town Hall-11.30-1.30
Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school student, has started a climate campaign called Fridays for Future, standing outside the Swedish Parliament every Friday. People all over the world are doing similar protests and we have started one in Manchester.
Look for  Allan Challenger  outside Town Hall main entrance , or at rear entrance in Peace Garden behind (on St Peter’s Square) – see detail in Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2186562534955868/
Protest/lobby of Greater Manchester Pension Fund AGM, Friday 19th October
GMPF is the biggest investing Pension Fund in England in Fracking industries. Protest from 12 noon at Guardsman Tony Downes House, Manchester Rd, Droylsden  (near Droylsden metrolink): get pension money out of fossil fuels!
In planning: Free the 3 Fundraiser gig Saturday 3rd November from 7.00pm
A fundraiser for the four surfers, one who is now out of prison and the three others who are just begining their sentences.
Let’s show them and the four surfers that they have 100% support from all of us, we have a night of fantastic live music lined up, Venue details to follow it is going to be in Manchester.
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Protest abt #climate in #Manchester, this Friday, 12th October, #AlbertSquare

Gessen-GretaThunbergGreta Thunberg (interview) is a 15 year old schoolgirl from Sweden who went on a 2 week school strike prior to the Swedish elections in protest at her Governments failure to take adequate measures to deal with the crisis that faces our climate. She is continuing her protest outside the Swedish Parliament every Friday until the Government takes acts in line with the Paris climate recommendations.
In Greta’s own words:

“I will go on with the school strike. Every Friday as from now I will sit outside Swedish parliament untill Sweden is in lline with the Paris agreement. 
I urge all of you to do the same – sit outside your parliament or local government wherever you are – until your country is on safe a pathway to a below 2 degree warming target. 
Time is much shorter than we think. 
Failure means disaster. 
The changes required are enormous and we must all contribute in every part of our daily life. Especially us in the rich countries where no nation is doing nearly enough. 
The grown ups have failed us. 
And since most of them, including the press and the politicians, keep ignoring the situation, we must take action in to our own hands. Starting today. 
Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. 
Please join in.”
#GretaThunberg #climatestrike #schoolstrike #fridaysforfuture #FFF

This action is one of many actions taking place across Europe in solidarity with Greta and makes the same demands on our own Government.

If you wish to support Greta’s initiative then I invite you to join me (Allan Challenger – contact allan.challenger@gmail.com )   in Manchester outside the Town Hall in Albert Square this coming Friday 12th October from 11.30 to 1.30 pm. (We can decide together then where we best should sit or stand)

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Upcoming Carbon Coop events and training #Manchester

carbon coop poster.pngGreen Open Homes Weekend – 29th + 30th Sept 2018
Visit Eco-Homes
Homes across Greater Manchester are opening their doors for one weekend for visitors to have a nosey!
Come and see: External & Internal Wall Insulation | MVHR | Solar PV & Thermal | Biomass boilers | Smart heating controls | Triple glazing | High levels of airtightness | LED and efficient appliances | various ventilation strategies | Loft and floor insulation + more…
—————–
Carbon Co-op Autumn Training Schedule
Practical training from trusted industry professionals, learn everything you need to know to improve your home, making it warmer, healthier and greener.
 
Upcoming trainings:

  • Routes to Retrofit – turning your plans into reality – Sat 6th & 13th Oct 2018 book now
  • Introduction to Off-Grid Power Sytems – Sat 20th Oct 2018 – book now
  • Draught-proofing for homeowners – Sat 27th Oct 2018 – book now
  • Ventilation for Retrofit – Weds 7th Nov 2018 – book now
  • Principles of Retrofit – Thurs 8th and 15th Nov 2018 – book now

Limited discounted tickets available for all course. First come, first served.

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