Rant: “Deeds not words”? My fat arse… #Manchester #climate farces continue

As I cycled up towards the Central Library I could see the road blocked off because of protesters brandishing placards.  For a quarter of a second I thought “great, at last, the climate revolution is upon us.”  It was, of course, a bunch of people there to commemorate the unveiling of a statue to the one of the more Conservative and war-mongery of the suffragettes.   Amid the cops (there, presumably, to make sure that nobody from Extinction Rebellion er, rebelled) there were thousands with their sashes that said “Deeds not words”.

Ah, once the rebels are safely dead (fifty years minimum), then they can be commemorated, such is the condescension of posterity.  In America now you’ll hear Republicans wax lyrical about Martin Luther King. At the time, they would have wanted him lynched.  It’s very convenient, this condescension of history: people who would never go within a million miles of dissent, let alone active resistance themselves, can bask in the dimly reflected glory while enjoying the benefits of others’ sacrifice.  And walk right past people trying to do social change now, without batting an eyelid.  Four hundred miles from Darwin and all that…

In the library cafe I saw an horrifically neo-liberal and incompetent former City Council official, who’d been at the event.  Thank goodness grotesquely mediocre women can now go as far as grotesquely mediocre men. That’s progress, isn’t it? Then, out in St Peter’s Square, with Police “Liaison” Officers and police horses strolling around minding their own everybody else’s business, a councillor who I explained the latest undemocratic farce that the Council is perpetrating waves away concerns by saying “look, new trams” and “these things take time”.  I kid you not.

“Deeds not words.” Yeah, right.  What has this council actually served up on climate change? Other than ever more words, in more glossy booklets, more unaccountable quangos.  And its core promises around elections, around annual stakeholder conferences, around transparency, are all broken. And people who call themselves activists, who think that they have some stunning political analysis, or understand how social change is made, well, they accept it all, never say boo to a goose. And then wring their hands a little once ten years have passed about how the council might not have the “capacity” to act.  Because… well, you’d have to ask them I guess.  If you could be bothered.  It’s many things, but activism it ain’t.

 

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The danger of “Activist Vuvuzela”. Interview on #climate, #ExtinctionRebellion and much else

Calum is a 40 year old husband, father to two boys who lives in Stockport.  He kindly agreed to answer questions put to him by email.  The answers are thoughtful, provocative and useful.  Comments welcome, but nowt ad hominem please!

1. In an email you described yourself as “someone with no experience of activism or protest (other than 38 Degrees stuff, mithering the snot out of my MP and signing many petitions”.  Two questions from this
a) what do your friends and acquaintances think of this activity – do they regard it as a strange hobby, ignore it, something else?
The 38 Degrees campaigning is mostly ignored, with a few being appreciative of issues they regard as close to home in one way or another.
b) what’s your take on the difference between those forms of activity and – say – going on a protest march, or attending a meeting.  Do you have a sense of hierarchy between the two, as if the latter is somehow more ‘real’, more ‘authentic’?
What matters is results. That’s why people campaign about things – they are trying to bring about some form of change (or prevent it). 38 Degrees (to take an example) does not set out to change the world – it focuses on what might be called “achievable goals”, eg allowing certain chronic conditions to be treated with “medical” marijuana. Ultimately, it was a campaign to change one politician’s mind about the topic. Conversely, they also get involved in trying to influence very “consumer visible” brands like Walkers crisps to make their packets recyclable. Worthy, but ultimately not “world changing”.
Even bigger topics like getting the UK government to stick by promises of funding for the NHS in the face of Brexit basically come down to getting people to influence an MP to vote a particular way, once. But they do get some results, sometimes.
Contrast this with the kinds of issues people are marching about at the moment -eg the anti-Brexit march that attracted a significant turnout in London – hard to call a specific outcome, but you could probably argue that it galvanised the “Remain” contingent at a time when this mattered, and that the discussion of second referenda, etc etc is now happening as an indirect result. I’d say it definitely had more impact than a letter writing campaign or similar in moving public (and political) opinion.
Now consider marches and civil disobedience as we see from XR just now. It takes more commitment on a personal level to turn up to physical event, particularly if either is physically distant, or if you have other responsibilities. So in that they require greater personal commitment (particularly for those involved in XR or anti-fracking campaigns and willing to be arrested etc) – there is a level of hierarchy there, yes.
HOWEVER – where I might draw the distinction between eg 38 Degrees and XR, is that 38 Degrees tackle much more focused, specific problems, where declaring “victory” is relatively straightforward, and the stakes are (relatively) low.
In the case of climate breakdown, the stakes could not be higher, but the “how” could not be less obvious. Similar actions have yielded minimal results in the past. Notwithstanding actual ratification of laws and treaties by multiple governments around the world, we are still basically proceeding as if there is no problem (and that’s not even considering that we will hit peak oil and peak gas before long – even on its own terms, FF powered society is living on borrowed time).  The thing is, how do you up the stakes from here? Where are the metaphorical testicles by which you can grab the problem and squeeze? What levers can be pulled, and what cracks could be opened?
2. How have your views/concerns about climate change shifted over time?  When were you first aware of it? Has the recent events (hot summer, IPCC 1.5 report) shifted things/

I first learned about the idea of climate change (then usually referred to as Global Warming, or AGW) in 2004 when I stumbled on on line discussions about Peak Oil – in those days the fear was more that the end of cheap energy would bring down industrial civilisation imminently and we would all be sent back to the Victorian era  / Iron Age / choose your preferred historical parallel. As it became apparent that Peak Oil was a thing, but that it was simply prompting the pursuit of dirtier forms of energy (see: Tar Sands) my awareness swung back to “how far will we take this?” I think I really started to become worried after Copenhagen, but somewhere in my mind was the idea that all the governments of the world couldn’t simply ignore a problem as big as this.  However, I became more and more aware of the disquiet among climate scientists, and that despite warm words from politicians, the big policy announcements and radical changes I was somehow expecting simply weren’t happening. During this time I met my wife, got married and we had our first son in 2013. Not long after he was born, I discovered Guy McPherson’s “Nature Bats Last” site, which was more than my ‘new father’ psyche could handle and to be honest I blocked the issue out for a year or so, although it lingered in the back of my mind, prodding me that I could not and should not ignore it.
Our second son was born in 2015, the same year as I lost my father. (I’d discussed with my wife that we are living in uncertain times and it was actually this, indirectly that prompted our decision to have a second – we did not want the first to grow up an only child and be burdened with two aged parents to care for – we knew that pension provision for our generation would be quite different from what our parents have experienced, for one thing. I am one of three children, my wife is an only child; the experience of having siblings as life allies also played a part here).
After the Paris meeting there was huge fanfare, but the message outside of the mainstream media was that this was a deal that didn’t do enough, and in any event wasn’t likely to produce real results, particularly given the US political situation. I was also becoming more and more painfully aware that our problems are not limited to CO2 emissions; I’d been aware of the global fisheries collapse for some time, but then the reality hit – it was birds, and forests, and insects, and well, everything.
I’ve had an allotment garden for six years and although it’s not very productive (mostly due to the limited amount of time I have to tend it), it is very instructive on how basic human endeavours like growing food can fail when there is no rain for months at a time. So an abiding sense of unease that things were Not Right (more so than usual) was affirmed by the IPCC 1.5 report – I knew that the uncertain future I was concerned about was much closer than I had feared.
3. You mentioned you have children – what have you told them, so far? What sorts of conversations are you expecting to have with them, and how are you preparing for those (if you are).

They are three and five years old, so their ability to understand is limited. The psychological and neurological evidence is that fear and trauma early in life simply damage people’s ability to cope with stress later on. Given the future that faces them, for now, I concentrate on simple things – appreciating wildlife wherever we can see it, the value of keeping our local environment clean and tidy (took them litter picking the other weekend which taught them how much waste the local McDonald’s generates), of conserving all resources (food, energy, water, soap, clothing) – principles which will hopefully lay the right foundations (in as much as anything can be “right” given what we face).
As time goes on, and most likely the news worsens, I have resolved to tell them as much as I can, in an age-appropriate way. My concern is that at some point, given that I am generally honest about things to a fault, is that I will have to spell out how bad things are / could get, and that there is no realistic chance they will improve in the long run. My feeling it is ultimately better that they understand the world around them, rather than have the world view that everything is OK, only for that to be shattered either by news from elsewhere, or events in our own lives. Honestly though – I do not know how to tell my own children that their parents and grandparents generation ****ed up their future, and their world
4. What would it take – what would groups like Extinction Rebellion have to do – to make you think that being an “activist” (see question 1b above!) would be a good/necessary/obligatory thing?
I want to know a bit about what “winning” looks like. Demanding a zero carbon Britain in seven years time is a fine and noble goal, but how do we get there? Why do they think that the campaigns they are staging will eventually force anyone to listen? If we had a completely willing government with a sizeable majority (ha), what policies would be enacted first?
“Matthew Bolton writes that the first principle of making change is that ‘you only get the justice that you have the power to make happen’, the justice that you have ‘the power to compel’. The point of campaigning is to make a difference. It’s not to live in an activist bubble where we can comfort ourselves that we have the right ideas and everyone else has the wrong ideas. “
Who could they ally with to achieve this? Mass letter writing to MPs from 38 degrees? Crowd sourcing local ideas? Asking experts (whoever experts are) for skunkworks ideas ie what will have the most impact the quickest? Working with artists such as the one recently featured on MCM to try go gain some public engagement via a different route?  My fear is that XR may turn out to be something of an ‘activism vuvuzela’ – at first interesting, difficult to ignore, but ultimately will people just get bored of them and want them to go away – notwithstanding the utterly compelling nature of the predicament we are in, many people are already struggling to keep their heads above water. For them, collapse is already their reality. What hope can they be offered – a sense of worth, of being valued, listened to?
5. Anything else you’d like to say
All of the previous answers notwithstanding, I find myself increasingly afraid that humanity will bequeath the current and next generations not only a degraded world, but a lack of hope that anything can ever be better, that there is any point to trying. I hope to find the courage in myself to do the best I can, for as long as I can, for my family, my community, and our planet.
(Sounds trite as I read it back, but there it is).

 

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Home responds to questions (without really answering) #Manchester #climate

The arts organisation Home has responded to questions put to it, without clarifying if they intend to have a ‘no-fossil fuels’ policy that would be in keeping with their vaunted “Carbon Literacy” status.

Having posted this story, MCFly then sent this:

Dear Mr Barnett,

statement for publication requested:
last night I attended a screening of “Sorry to Bother You” at Home. One of the adverts declared that Home’s staff are carbon literate and that Home takes its environmental obligations seriously.  (or words to that effect).
This was followed, about a minute later, by an long advert for… Emirates Airlines.
So, I have the following questions
a) have there been ANY discussions within Home’s decision-makers about refusing to accept advertising from fossil-fuel intensive industries (oil companies, airlines)?
b) if so, what was the outcome of the discussion.
c) if not, are such discussions planned for the near future?
Thanks so much!

Here’s the reply, received a few minutes ago

Hi Marc

Thank you for your email.

This is our response to your questions:

“We meet regularly to discuss from which organisations we accept advertising. There are organisations whose adverts we would not be comfortable screening, and therefore don’t. Advertising in our cinemas provides us with income without which we would not be able to screen the range of films we do.”

Thank you…

Mike

 

MCFly says:  While Home gets points for a quick response (unlike, say, the Labour members of the Neighbourhoods and Environment “Scrutiny” Committee), it is a response, not a reply.   It’s bland boilerplate, designed to close down a conversation.

But it can’t help but reveal that “carbon literacy” isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit, and that outfits like Home will continue to preen about their environmental credentials while taking the fossil fuel shilling, until the waters close over our heads.

People get well-trained and well-paid to deliver this sort of thing, which reveals nothing at all about the future plans (or LACK of future plans) of the organisation.  The final paragraph of the story linked to above applies….

 

 

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Home may be where the heart is. But spine? Not so much… #Manchester #climate

Went to see Sorry to Bother You (highly recommended) at Home last night.

There were the usual advertisements.  One, with a green background, proudly said that Home had made sure all its staff had undertaken Carbon Literacy “training”, and that (therefore) everyone really Cared about the environment and stuff.

Literally a minute later, there was a long, elaborate advert for… Emirates Airlines.

I mean, it’s almost as if Carbon Literacy is a meaningless tickbox exercise that enables organisations to greenwash and then continue exactly as they were before/is convenient to them.   I know, I know, crazy talk.  I mean, look at the many magnificent and transformative successes of carbon literacy.  Who could forget that time that a former Executive Member for the Environment became an MP.  And did the Carbon Literacy training and got the certificate.  Then, when the vote about whether to expand Heathrow came along, this person – no names (okay, Jeff Smith) – voted… for expansion.

It would not surprise me in the least if the clowns at MOSI who decided it would be a good idea to let themselves be used by Shell to pump out pro-fossil fuel propaganda have undertaken carbon “literacy” training too.

In ten years time, when the shit is really hitting the fan, people will be saying that they were always hardcore, and had always made brave and principled decisions on the climate emergency, doing a Neil Young every single day.  We will have more on our plates to worry about than those lies and self-delusions, but the truth, now… well, we could see it, if we had the courage.

But courage, like common sense and a sense of urgency, is in very limited supply, and absent entirely in Manchester’s political and cultural “elite”.

 

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#Manchester Council’s extraordinary and humiliating failure of #climate scrutiny

Manchester City Council has refused to answer basic questions about when councillors became aware that quarterly climate reports had been unilaterally abolished.
Two weeks after all councillors on the Neighbourhood and Environment Scrutiny Committee (NESC) were sent a short specific list of questions, the chair of the committee has replied – with a prepared statement from the politician her committee is supposed to scrutinise!

Quarterly climate reports had been agreed by the ‘scrutiny’ committee (at the urging of activists)  in 2014 because a cycle of “annual promise but not much delivery” had been noted. The committee wanted to keep closer tabs on things, rather than let officers and Executive Members assure councillors that things would be on track soon at a single meeting every year.

The quarterly reports were unilaterally abolished earlier this year, by the Executive Member for the Environment. A series of questions were posed to the councillors about when they found out, what they thought about it. One  councillor (a member of the opposition Liberal Democrats) replied immediately.  All other (Labour) members of the NESC kept silent. On Wednesday, over a week after the questions were asked,  a reply was promised. Late on Thursday night it was received. It was not worth the wait, containing a prepared statement from… the Executive Member that the committee is nominally there to scrutinise. Such sock-puppetry!

The reply (see bottom of this post) answered none of the questions. Manchester Climate Monthly now replies with this open letter:

Dear Councillor Igbon,

thank you so much for your response (but not reply) to a set of simple questions from almost two weeks ago. Those were simple questions to each councillor of the NESC.

You have provided a statement from … the Executive Member for the Environment. I have already been in contact with Councillor Stogia, as you will have known from a cursory reading of my letter two weeks ago.

Let me say this very simply. I. Was. Not. Asking. Her. Questions. I. Was. Asking. You (all NESC councillors). Questions.

Let me repeat these questions.

1. When did you become aware of the Executive Member for the Environment’s intention to abolish quarterly climate reports?

2. Do you think that Executive Members should be able to unilaterally decide what reports are and are not available to scrutiny committees?

3. Do you agree with her assessment that abolishing quarterly reports was the right decision and sends the right message about climate action urgency?

a. If so, what does that mean for the ability of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee to do its job on climate change policy throughout the year?

b. If you do NOT agree with her assessment, how have you expressed your disagreement to her, and what – if anything – do you intend to do about it?

 

Your statement – or rather, the one you got Councillor Stogia to write, after an almost two week delay – does NOT answer ANY these questions. But it actually reveals even more (unintentionally) about what “scrutiny” means in Manchester Labour. Even questions about how scrutiny will be conducted will be answered by the people at the centre who are being “scrutinised”. The North Koreans could learn a thing or two, I think.

It also reveals that until I asked (repeatedly), you, as Chair, had not even questioned the absence of quarterly climate reports.

I find all this quite extraordinary (as well as laughable and repugnant). Kafka and Orwell would be rolling in the aisles.

I cannot “contact her direct” because my questions are to YOU and your fellow councillors. I do not understand how this is so hard to understand.
I still expect answers to these questions. They are straightforward, and important.

Yours, in disbelief at how democratically elected councillors refuse to answer very very simple and straightforward questions.

Marc Hudson

This is the reply MCFly received late on Thursday night:

Hi

I have asked for information from the executive member for the reasoning for the decision , there is additional item for scrutiny on air pollution. The committee will continue to scrutinise and make recommendations that are of benefit to the residents. Enclosed is the statement from the executive member Cllr Angeliki Stogia.

“Our Council’s Climate Change Action Plan covers the period 2016-2020. The Plan contains 20 actions which set out how we will deliver a 41% reduction in our CO2 emissions by 2020 (based on a 2009/10 baseline). Until recently, quarterly reports have been produced by officers and published on the Council’s website. These reports comprise a quantitative report on the CO2 emissions data which is available on a quarterly basis and also a qualitative update on progress against the 20 actions in the plan. Having reviewed the effectiveness of these reports, it has become clear that the data is lagged meaning that the reports do not give an accurate picture of quarterly progress. It has also been increasingly difficult to provide meaningful quarterly updates against the actions in the Plan. The number of unique hits to these reports on the Council’s website average between 10 and 15 per quarter. ”

I hope this answers you question if you need further information it would be best to contact her direct.

Kind Regards

Cllr Lee-Ann Igbon
Labour Member for Hulme Ward
Chair of Neighbourhoods & Envirnoment Scrutiny
Town Hall
Manchester
M60 2LA
0161 234 3235
07908759042
cllr.l.igbon@manchester.gov.uk

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Letter in MEN: Leadership by glossy brochure, not example. #Manchester #flyingcouncillors

So, I may be off Richard and Angeliki’s Christmas card lists.  #gutted.

This* appeared in yesterday’s Manchester Evening News:

2018 12 05 men letter

* I’ve tidied it up so it’s in one column

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#Tameside Council taking #carbon literacy super-seriously #climatebreakdown

So, someone had the bright idea to send Freedom of Information Act requests to councils in Greater Manchester, asking how many senior figures (politicians and bureaucrats) had undertaken the much-vaunted “Carbon Literacy” training, and how much money had been spent recently. Tameside’s answers are refreshingly clear, and free of the cant and equivocation of certain other councils which we won’t name (Manchester and Stockport).

tameside foia answer

And they had that nice event recently, so that’s alright then.

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