What might allyship with young #climate activists look like? #YouthStrike4Climate #oldfartclimateadvice

What does it mean to stand in solidarity with youth who are on strike for their futures? How do old farts who have been failing (or doing nothing) on climate change behave usefully in the coming months and years? What to do about the POG problem? I don’t exactly know (or rather, I don’t know AT ALL). But this essay, drawing on how white people can be allies in BLM struggles or, men in feminist struggles might be a useful starting point for some people, besides the author. If you disagree with what is below, or you have something to add, your constructive criticisms will be very welcome (pure ad hominem will get deleted because signal-to-noise ratio).

I’ve recently written two pieces, one on this website, one on the Conversation. In both I tried to get existing/ex-activists to reflect on how we might usefully support new-to-climate change activists. The silence was relatively deafening. Perhaps because folks don’t think I’m the right person to kick this off (though I’ve not seen/been told about useful conversations anywhere else), or perhaps – worse, because people feel they have nothing to say? (That’s a fairly damning indictment of their ability to reflect, to make sure we come back and do it better next time. But reflexivity is hard, and not rewarded within activism (or, frankly, any society).


So, first question to ask is “is this a New Thing, or are there similar situations we can draw provisional lessons from?” I think we can learn from the enormous amount of hard work that people of colour (poc) have done trying to get white people to understand what solidarity means (there are other people – e.g. those living under the Soviet Union – who did the same [e.g. Vaclav Havel] but fwiw, the poc writing is newer, and imo smarter.
There are heaps of great writing on this.

See here – Kristina Wong 2018. Six ways to be a better ally. New Internationalist, 15 March.
Paul Kivel – Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies Adapted from Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice
Kesieno Boom. 2018. 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating For People of Color. Broadly, 19 April.
Anon. White Anti-Racism: Living the Legacy
[Let me know your favourites, I’ll add them to the list]

I’m going to draw on five key (for me) pieces of advice.
a) Put aside any notions of being a white saviour.
b) Sort your own subcultures shit out
c) Signal boost poc thinkers
d) Make sure you’re not centering yourselves
e) Actually use the privileges you have

So, what does that mean in practice, for interacting with young people?

a) Put aside any notions of being an “adult” saviour.
If we had been behaving like adults, the kids wouldn’t have to be going on strike to sort this out, as many of the placards have noted. I call this the “Piss Off Grandad/Gramdma” problem – what credibility do we ‘established’ activists actually have? What successes, victories can we point to? That’s not to say we disappear into convenient self-recrimination (see b and e below.) If we have experience about how the youth movement is being gaslighted, we should say it.

This, from @bridgetmck is good –

I’ll add another bit of #oldfartclimateadvice to new activists: Find out what others know before taking up a lot of conversation time lecturing with new-found knowledge. Climate is complex and can take up hours of talk time. Find codes to simplify shared understanding.

b) Sort your own subculture’s shit out
When it comes to being a white ally, that means that white people are in a better position to confront each other’s unconscious/casual/actually meant racism (everything from asides to ‘jokes’ to advocated bigotry) than black people. Ditto for men and sexism. I think it’s a slightly different thing for climate activism. I think it means that one of the best ways older climate activists can support the youth is by having actual functioning groups, not little desperate cliques of rusted on activists who haven’t innovated in years (decades), who run dreadful dreary meetings and ‘campaigns’, who can’t even, after several months, sort out having their own websites, for example (I can think of two outfits here in Manchester that are guilty of that of late). Older people, with experience, ought to be demonstrating better ways of doing things, not repeating egregious half-assed ‘activism’ (of not even being able to book a room in the building of their own organisation, of perpetrating endless sage-on-the-stage ego-foddering and emotacycles and so on).

c) Signal boost young climate thinkers
We don’t do this enough. And so we stay trapped inside extremely Northern, technocratic thinking that imagines the climate catastrophe isn’t already here (pro-tip it is).

So, some PoC thinkers I like on climate and signal boost.
Mary Annaise Heglar  see her blistering Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat
Jerome Foster
see also here and here.
[Let me know your favourites, I’ll add them to the list]

In terms of young people. When they put speeches online, publicise them. Ask them if they are up for interviews. If they are gracious enough to say yes, ask them questions, then publicise their answers. I’ve done that with Emma Greenwood and Green-fingered George, but could/should have done it more.

d) Make sure you’re not centering yourselves
That’s kinda obvious I guess? But can be tricky in the moment. Sometimes, if people are doing something that could have serious consequences for themselves, then well, there are circumstances in which the whole loco parentis thing might kick in.

e) Actually use the privileges you have
So, for example, if you’re a student at a university, you have access to information (stuff behind paywalls, your lecturers’ time and expertise), the training to do research. So do research that young people tell you would be useful, and then deliver it in a timely fashion, in formats that are digestible and transmissible (videos, graphics, animations etc). That’s a research collective right there (even if it only lasts a couple of years).
If you have experience of stuff that young people feel might be useful, flag that, and make yourself available (that might be getting arrested/charged, it might be experience of previous rounds of co-optation by our lords and masters, it might be of being a media darling. Whatever).
Here are some additional things that I think, then, that

So ultimately, the things that I think we old farts need to do

  • we need to share what we “know” freely, while not pretending that our experiences are the same as what will happen in the future, in our home countries or in others
  • we need to do this in formats likely to be shared
    and most of all,
  • we need to admit that our complicity in the system, by taking the elite bullshit seriously, is actually awful. We need to admit that we have been either willing fig-leaves or unwitting fig-leaves. Spatial Framework this, Green Summit that. It’s all frankly worse than delusional, it is complicity with fatal delay, in exchange for feeling good or important. It’s at best contemptible, at worst criminal.

Fwiw, I think I have something useful to say about the UN climate process’ history (will get help to make a video) and also about social movement dynamics.  So things I am going to do today
Write and post about ego-fodder and its consequences
Write and post about the emotacycle
(will come back and add links)

UPDATE- these comments from Twitter

Signal boost, yes & we need to bridge worlds – I need to know what’s happening in insta so my insights are put through a teen filter to become useful. I need to have a discussion about what adults need to know and help with the messaging that might work with the over 40s crowd.

Teach at the Parliament House weekly climate strikes? R-12 carbon maths, climate science, critical thinking, whatever strikers think would be worth learning. I don’t know if that’s useful but there’s a heap of knowledge and skills- including activism done well- that might help.

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Upcoming event: Australia’s #climate policy debacle & wider lessons. #Manchester Thurs 28 March #Tyndall

Another Tyndall Centre seminar!

2019 03 28 enact inertTyndall Manchester invite you to attend the next talk in our seminar series “Enacting inertia”: The Australian climate policy debacle and its global relevance by Marc Hudson, on Thursday 28th March (room C21, Pariser Building, Sackville Street) at 1.00pm.

“Enacting inertia”: The Australian climate policy debacle and its global relevance

Marc Hudson, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester


The global policy response to the threat of climate change has been extremely weak.  Since 1988 much ink has been spilt, but emissions continue to climb.  In this session I will discuss the particular case of Australia. It has enormous renewable energy potential and vulnerability to climate impacts. However, the responses to climate change from political and economic elites have been characterised by lack of ambition and extreme resistance to even mild instruments such as carbon pricing. Drawing on the findings of research conducted for my recently completed PhD, I explain the historical roots of the current impasse, and suggest what the lessons to be drawn from such stark failure might be for policymakers, academics and activists.

Speaker bio

Marc Hudson recently completed a PhD at the University of Manchester, where he is currently teaching and researching.  He has been an aid worker in Southern Africa, a telephone operator and a physiotherapist specialising in amputee rehabilitation.  Since 2008 he has edited Manchester Climate Fortnightly/Manchester Climate Monthly.  His academic work has appeared in Environmental Politics, Technology in Society and Energy Research & Social Science. He has written extensively for The Conversation and other publications.

The seminar will take place in room C21, in the Pariser Building on Sackville Street– number 12 on the map herehttp://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/maps/interactive-map/?id=9

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£5k “projects that matter” crowd funding campaign launched

From email:

To celebrate the Mayor’s Green Summit, Crowdfunder has teamed up with M&S Energy to award £5,000 to two crowdfunding projects in Greater Manchester.

The ‘Projects that matter: Greater Manchester’ campaign is being launched to find meaningful projects across the region making a difference to the areas carbon footprint… And, based on the campaign criteria, I thought it may be of interest to Manchester Climate Monthly!?

The competition opened for entries on Monday but closes midday this Friday 15th March.

For more information and to apply head to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/projects-that-matter-greater-manchester


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“The best support us kids could have from adults is to be taken seriously.” George Hassall on #YouthStrike4Climate #climate #Manchester

Thirteen year old George Hassall kindly agreed to an email interview about the February 15th Climate Strike, the upcoming (bigger) strike on March 15th, and what support adults could give. (See here for answers to the same questions from Emma Greenwood).

hassall1JPGWas today bigger than you thought? What was your favourite thing about it?
The event was defo bigger than I expected; having watched the event build momentum on social media, I thought at best we would get a couple of hundred kids striking, but I think the reality was probably 1000+, which was incredible. I was there from early on and I really enjoyed that sense of anticipation as more and more people arrived. I described the Uni protesters as like The Cavalry arriving, when they marched in to St Peter’s Sq. There was this amazing atmosphere and when they led the crowd in chanting, what do we want, climate justice, when do we want it, now”, I just thought WOW, this is brilliant!

My favourite thing about the protest, was just being with other like-minded young people, who were all as passionate as me about saving our precious planet. I felt like I was part of something monumental, that I could look back and think, ‘I was there!’

When did you first start learning about climate change – was it in school, from your parents? Did Greta Thunberg have a part to play?
I think we touched on climate change at Primary School, which was where I joined a gardening group; here we learnt how to be resourceful in the garden. Now I’m in Year 9 at High School we’ve studied it in science and geography and I’m part of the eco-group there. I was also lucky to attend an RHS Science Lecture about ‘Gardening in a changing climate’, where the lecturer, Professor David Wolfe, said, Climate change will forever alter the fabric of our gardens, farms and natural landscapes with implications for our eco-systems  – I blogged about it at the time – you can read it here

I’ve loved nature and wildlife all my life and that’s definitely come from my mum & dad; we grow a lot of fruit, vegetables and herbs in our wildlife inspired garden and that’s one of the small steps we could all do, to lead a greener life. I was inspired to strike by the climate activist, Greta Thunberg. My Mum showed me a clip of her speech on the news and I was blown away; I was like, ‘I want to be a part of that’ and strike in solidarity with other young people.

hassall2What next – there’s the next Climate Strike on March 15, and then…?
Whilst there’s the Global Strike on 15th March, for me, it’s about how we can all make small changes to our lifestyles. I want to keep on raising awareness about growing your own food, wasting less food, and planting more trees for example. This contributes to a greener lifestyle, helps wildlife and makes you feel happy and healthy.

What sort of help/advice/support would you like from your parents, existing activists, adults? How is that best offered (I call it the POG problem – “Piss Off Grandpa/Grandma”).
The best support us kids could have from adults is to be taken seriously. There was a lot of negative comments on social media about kids striking so they could blag a day off school, that many of the kids who attended arrived in their parent’s SUV or that we wouldn’t swap our Ariana Grande gig for a climate change protest, well that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are kids who care, kids with compassion and kids who want to do something to protect our planet

Anything else you’d like to say?
I’d like to thank the organisers for doing such a great job of bringing such a monumental event together – it was totally epic and one I’ll never forget.

Mini bio 

In May 2014, aged 8, George was crowned RHS Young School Gardener of the Year, a year later he was made the first RHS Young Ambassador in order to inspire other children to share his love of gardening and the natural world. Late December 2018George became an RSPB Nature Star in the RSPB’s Big Garden BirdWatch campaign.

George keeps a regularly updated blog visit greenfingeredgeorge.com

Twitter – @GreenFGeorge Facebook – greenfingeredgeorge Instagram – @greenfingeredgeorge

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When is a boycott not a boycott? Renewables Conference to happen at Shell-sponsored MOSI… #Manchester #climate

shelloutLast September the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry took sponsorship money from the oil giant Shell, and got accused of hypocrisy for its troubles.  Partners in its “science festival withdrew in protest.  Manchester’s Carbon Coop has set up a “Shell Out” campaign.

Meanwhile Community Energy UK is having its next big meeting, on March 1st, on the important subject  Community Energy in Greater Manchester: The Next 5 Years  at… MOSI.  Oops, “awkward” as the young people used to say.

We reached out to Shell Out for a comment. Here is their statement in full

The Shell Out campaign continues to pressure the Manchester Science Museum to end its association with Shell and the Electricity exhibition – funding from fossil fuel companies has no place in modern science communication, in particular exhibitions in which young people are invited to learn about the current and future energy system.

However, we have always been supportive of the Science Museum as an institution and whilst the museum is free of institutional funding from  Shell, we welcome the involvement of Community Energy groups at events  at the museum – these are exactly the sorts of groups pioneering a new,  decarbonsised and localised energy system that MSI should be associated  with, rather than dinosaurs of the past like Shell.

We would encourage all the Community Energy groups participating in the  event to sign up Oil Sponsorship Free  pledge(http://oilsponsorshipfree.org) and make their views on Shell’s  sponsorship of the Electricity exhibition clear to MSI whilst in the  building.

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Interview with Rebecca Willis about politicians and #climate change

On Thursday 28 February, Dr Rebecca Willis of Lancaster University is presenting her recent research at a Tyndall Manchester seminar. (details here). She has kindly agreed to an email interview – here it is, unedited.

1. In a nutshell, please recap the research you’ve done, including
what was the initial impetus for the research (from Lancaster? Green
Alliance?) and what was novel in both the methodology and the
presentation (e.g. the synthesised interviews, but other stuff).

My research investigates how politicians, as individuals, understand and respond to climate change. Back in 2009, I set up Green Alliance’s Climate Leadership Programme, a personalised programme for politicians, where they learned from climate scientists and policy experts, and thought through how climate change affects their work as a politician. We worked with over 100 MPs, and the response was enthusiastic – but the programme left me with a big question. What do the politicians do with the knowledge once they walk out the door, and back into their working lives? I had a look at the research out there, and discovered that there is lots of work about climate politics, in the abstract; and lots of work on public attitudes to climate, but almost nothing about how politicians, as important individuals within the system, handle climate change. So I thought I should do the work myself.

The research uses different methods to reach a fine-grained, qualitative picture of how politicians understand a complex issue like climate change, in the context of their life and work. I used an academic technique called corpus analysis to analyse public speeches on climate in the House of Commons; then I did a focus group with NGO representatives who lobby politicians; and finally, a set of 23 interviews with current and former MPs. This was the first study of its kind, to my knowledge (which surprised me).

2. What reception has the research had so far (where have you
presented it etc) and what impact do you hope it might have?  (Which
audiences would it be good to reach/engage with).

Everyone’s interested in how politicians think – and so lots of people have wanted to hear about my work, which is a nice change for me, especially compared to my rather arcane work on energy governance which tends to send people to sleep. I have done talks and workshops for young climate activists in Scotland, Royal Society scientists, local residents in my home town of Kendal, and many others. It’s had so much interest that I have been persuaded to write it up as a simple, chatty book, due out early next year – watch this space. Many people are frustrated by politicians’ lack of action on climate, and while I am careful not to make excuses for them, my work does help to explain why it isn’t currently the political priority it should be. I hope that it also points the way to a better sort of climate politics – like the Green New Deal that is hitting the headlines in the US, for example. I would love to repeat the work over there.

3. Has anyone done this kind of work – about politicians’ awareness
of/concerns/action about climate change
a) in other countries
b) on local government politicians?

There have been a few studies, using standard quantitative interview techniques, with other politicians – particularly in Australia and the US, both known for complex and confrontational climate politics. But nothing like the detailed understanding that I have developed, setting politicians’ understandings of climate change within the framework of their lives, identities and careers. Since I started, I’ve had quite a few conversations with people wanting to do similar work, particularly with local councillors, so I’m hoping those results will be published soon, which will give us a more rounded account.

4.  You mention a series of things that could happen (feel free to
recap them)!  My question is – who do you see making this so – what
constellation(s) of actors (trades unions, community groups,
environment groups etc etc)

The difficult thing about my research is that it sends a clear message that the science alone is not enough to compel politicians to act. The hopeful thing is that it does open up a whole range of ways in which we can engage politicians in climate action, and that things can happen quickly. The incredible success of the Green New Deal in the US in bringing climate change to the centre of the political agenda is a case in point. I would particularly like to see broad alliances working together and putting their case to politicians – so Trade Unions, Churches, health alliances, and so on. Politicians don’t feel under much pressure to act on climate change – yet – but there’s lots that can be done to change that. And lastly, every time I talk about this work, I ask people to go and see their own Member of Parliament – it’s easy enough to go along to a surgery, and it sends a really clear signal that people want to see change. If you don’t know how to do this, have a look at the brilliant resources on Hope For The Future’s website.

5. Anything else you’d like to say

My research is summarised in this briefing for Green Alliance.

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Youth participation in international #climate negotiations – interview with Harriet Thew

harriet thew for mcflyHarriet Thew is a PhD Researcher at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on youth participation in climate change governance. She kindly agreed to an interview (for the perspectives of young people – see this interview with Emma Greenwood, and an imminent one with George Hassall.

1, Okay – so a) describe your research interest on children’s participation in (international) climate politics – what sparked it, what have you done on it?

My research is on youth participation in climate change governance, particularly at the UN climate negotiations (UNFCCC). From 2015-2018 I conducted an ethnography of the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), an entirely youth-led group of young volunteers who attend the negotiations, amongst other things. I’m currently in the process of writing up my findings for my PhD.

I have been interested in the role of children and youth in climate action throughout my career. I previously worked at the Climate Change Schools Project, training teachers on climate change education and engaging schools in climate change adaptation projects across North East England. I then managed the Global Environment Programme for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, empowering young women around the world to start their own environmental projects, reach out to get their local communities involved, and advocate for women’s and youth rights at the UN. Through this job I became familiar with the youth constituency of the UNFCCC, an inspiring and fascinating, yet under-researched, civil society network in the climate change negotiations.

2.  What kind of children from developed world “get involved” – is it the rich white middle-class liberal-parents ones? Or is there decent provision for other less-well-resourced types of children to be involved?

The UNFCCC recently lowered the age of participation from 18 to 16 years after a concerted effort from the youth constituency (YOUNGO). Because of this, it is mostly young adults rather than children who attend, aged between 16 and 30. There are some exceptions to this, such as Greta Thunberg being permitted access in the recent COP when she was 15, and one day a year during the UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties (COPs) when younger children can attend with chaperones.

There is very little provision for youth to attend the negotiations, so youth participants must self-fund their travel, accommodation and subsistence. This often means taking (unpaid) leave from school/university/work. As a result, it is difficult for young people with less financial resource to attend, due to financial barriers and work commitments. Some require support (or permission) from their parents, so in the main their parents are interested in climate change and usually fairly liberal. Youth from all around the world attend the negotiations though the majority come from the Global North (because of the aforementioned financial difficulties and also because of visa issues). There is some diversity in race and gender, less so in other aspects.

3.  What types of activities do they undertake (attending COPs, what else?) and what impact does that have on them – does it build their confidence, demoralise them?

Throughout the year, youth participants engage in school talks to share their experiences with other children and youth, seek to engage with government and decision-makers, run social media campaigns both nationally and internationally, and get involved in local projects and protests.

Every individual is different but the vast majority report feeling demoralised after attending the climate negotiations with reports of burn-out, depression and frustration occurring after each COP. I intend to write an academic paper on this at some point because I have so much data on the tremendous emotional toll it takes on youth participants and their commitment to keep trying in the face of unrelenting disrespect, disillusionment and defeat. I really admire their tenacity, commitment and dignity in continuing to engage.

4, What kind of things does children’s participation enable at the international level (a kind of moral ‘radical flank’ effect?) and in their home towns/cities – do the children have moral authority they can then use more locally?

Prior to the Paris Agreement being signed in 2015, I saw more attempts by youth to use moral authority to demand ambitious action in global climate governance. However, after governments reached agreement in Paris at COP 21 the negotiations shifted into a new phase which focuses more on implementation and prioritises technical input over moral concerns. This is quite difficult for youth participants to navigate as, even those who have technical expertise from their undergraduate/masters degrees and professional roles, are not recognised as expert contributors on account of their age. Outside of the UNFCCC, a “youth participant” may be an environmental consultant in their late 20s who spends their days overseeing major infrastructure projects, but none of it matters once they are given that youth label. As a result, many youth participants in the UNFCCC have adopted a more professional approach in the way they dress and have become more technical in the arguments they articulate. However, their age still acts as a barrier to the recognition they receive. What has happened as a result of this is that the moral voice of the next generation has been subdued. In the most recent negotiations in Poland there was much more of a focus on process than on progress. In part that may be because there is less of a visible youth presence demanding urgent, ambitious action and holding politicians to account. Greta Thunberg has helped to revitalise this moral argument, and I think this has given other young people courage to say “yes, climate change does affect me, and I’m going to stand up and make my voice heard”.

At local level there may be more opportunity for youth to be heard as, at global level, they have to compete with diverse narratives of vulnerability and injustice around the world. However, I think the difficulties that young people face in climate change governance are symptomatic of wider societal ageism as seen in some of the patronising responses to the SchoolStrikes4Climate. There’s a perception that young people’s fears are silly and that they will grow out of them. This is particularly problematic when dealing with climate change which will significantly impact the next generation over the course of their lifetimes. Their concerns aren’t silly and they are likely to deepen rather than lessen with time.

5. Anything else you want to say.

Following the school strikes I have repeatedly heard the criticism that children are better off spending three hours in school than engaging in political debate and making their voices heard on climate change. To this, I would like to echo the sentiments of original school striker, Greta Thunberg, in asking: What is the point in children learning facts in school if governments ignore the facts that have been presented by climate scientists? Why should children focus on their studies in the hope of becoming the green technology pioneers of the future when the problem is not a lack of technological solutions but a lack of political will to use the solutions we already have? Some schools have threatened their students with detention for attending the strikes. I see this as a misinterpretation of the purpose of education. I attended the most recent strike with several colleagues from the University of Leeds where I had very interesting discussions with young attendees. They asked insightful questions about climate science in the IPCC report, social science on how to create behavioural change and how best to communicate the urgency of the problem, as well as more general questions about university study. At university we teach students to think critically about the world around them. It is never too early to start, and spending an afternoon chatting to academics rather than to your teachers should be encouraged rather than being grounds for punishment.

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