Cross-post on Barbara Kingsolver, Professor Kevin Anderson and #Manchester City Council

Below, cross-posted with permission, is Manchester artist Jane Lawson’s latest blog post…

I’ve just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Prodigal Summer (available at all good bookshops) and it got me thinking about home. One of the characters, Lusa, inherits her husband’s family farm after his death barely a year into their marriage. Part of the book deals with her coming to terms with what it means to inherit another family’s farm, their “homeplace“; can she, as an incomer, take possession of their family’s history?

It made me wonder where is home to me. The place I still think of most as “home” is the house where I lived as a child, on the side of a hill in South London, in a 60s estate full of teachers and solicitors and their young families. Because the hill was so steep it wasn’t completely covered in houses, so there was space to run about outside, build dens, and a wood full of ruins to explore. And I think the sense of “home” came from having outside space, land that felt ours, trees that were friends – a place beyond the four walls of the house.

One thing that strikes me when people refer to the environment as a fringe subject only of interest to self-righteous fun police yoghurt weavers is that the environment is nothing less than our collective home; when we damage it, we destroy the home and systems that we all depend on. And yet most people still seem to see a disconnection between “us” and “the environment” – if not in their thinking, then in their behaviour. Maybe this is partly because humans have evolved to respond quickly to immediate threats, and not yet learned to respond to threats at a distance. The effects of chucking out a few tons of carbon by flying somewhere are not right in front of our face; even with the recent increase in extreme weather events, the media consistently fails to mention the link with human-caused global warming, and business continues pretty much as usual.

Manchester City Council gets to grips with climate change?
A year ago, Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in Manchester addressed a full meeting of Manchester City Council on the likely impacts of climate change in the years to come. You can see his presentation here and a report on the event here. The councillors appeared suitably moved and alarmed, but so far this has not translated into significant action, either to reduce local emissions or to prepare for changes in the future, and the council still clings to Manchester Airport as the driver of the all-important economic growth.

Anderson-underdrawing   Anderson-underdrawing-3

As part of my attempt to imagine different ways of social organisation, I have started a painting of Professor Anderson in that meeting – treating as if it were a starting point for radical change in Manchester which then spreads outwards, in the way that the changes brought about during the Industrial Revolution did. It’s my first non-small painting, and I’m constructing it in the old way, with gridding out and underdrawing. As ever, once started, it takes on a life of its own, presenting visual possibilities that may undermine my conceptual and political intentions. If it ends up in pastel shades of pink and turquoise, will this distract from the possibilities I’m trying to suggest? Where does my responsibility lie – with the idea, or with the will of the paint? In any case, it’s starting to become interesting…


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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6 Responses to Cross-post on Barbara Kingsolver, Professor Kevin Anderson and #Manchester City Council

  1. Dave Bishop says:

    Wise words on our species’ attitude to our environment/home from Ms. Lawson there. The truth of those words have been brought home to me in two ways just this month.

    The first was a trip, on Metrolink, from Manchester Piccadilly to Ashton-u-Lyne. The view from the tram window, for much of the way, must be of one of the depoiled and depressing urban landscapes anywhere in Europe (apologies to anyone who lives in that region and takes offence at my words). But looking at that horrible prospect, from that tram window, I reflected that it is the result of 200 years of laissez-faire development – and it could be the way that the whole world is heading. What is most striking is how horrible much of the more recent development is because it too appears to be unplanned and of the ‘do-as-you-like-as-long-as-it-makes-a-profit’ type.

    The second has been observing the effects of the floods in the Somerset Levels through the media. The locals, and the gleeful media, have all blamed the Environment Agency for not dredging the rivers – but the reality appears to be much more complex. For a start, we are definitely messing with the climate and the weather is definitely becoming more extreme (ask me in a century if the two are definitely connected – but I’m taking bets now!). Second, methods of land management have probably also played a major role. A correspondent in the ‘Independent’newspaper recently pointed out that the area of land that drains into the Levels is four times that of the Levels themselves. Formerly, this land consisted of unimproved grass pasture which had a high capacity for holding water. But since the 2nd World War, much of this pasture has been ploughed up and agriculturally ‘improved’; now it holds much less water (up to 5 times less, I believe) than the unimproved type.

    By insisting that the environment is only there to be ruthlessly exploited for short-term gain we are sealing the fate of our own species (the world will recover after we’re gone). But now the present government is planning to cut environmental ‘red-tape’ … To quote a recently deceased song-writer: “When will they ever learn?” Not in the time that I’ve got left, I wouldn’t imagine.

  2. I must of been at a different meeting, because I witnessed a number of councillors talking amongst themselves and giggling, during Kevin Anderson’s talk. They were not taking him seriously, and these were some of the younger Labour councillors.

  3. Sam Gunsch says:

    re: ” the environment is nothing less than our collective home; when we damage it, we destroy the home and systems that we all depend on.”

    What you write here sounds like you’re proselytizing from Stan Rowe’s take/ideology on homo sapiens’ status on this rock. Good stuff.

    According to Stan Rowe:[2]

    I mean you sound like you may be a hardcore “ecocentric” sort of “earthling” as per Rowe’s perspective on respecting the reality we humans have only one home that generated and cradles our existence.

    Lead on. I’m with you. And I think we’re with Rowe.

    According to Stan Rowe:[2]

    “ The ecocentric argument is grounded in the belief that, compared to the undoubted importance of the human part, the whole ecosphere is even more significant and consequential: more inclusive, more complex, more integrated, more creative, more beautiful, more mysterious, and older than time. The “environment” that anthropocentrism misperceives as materials designed to be used exclusively by humans, to serve the needs of humanity, is in the profoundest sense humanity’s source and support: its ingenious, inventive life-giving matrix. Ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism with its fixation on organisms, for in the ecocentric view people are inseparable from the inorganic/organic nature that encapsulates them. They are particles and waves, body and spirit, in the context of Earth’s ambient energy.[3]

    His (Stan Rowe) writings clearly show that, first and foremost, he would describe himself as an “earthling” – part of Mother Earth – with a quite radical ecocentric vision. His is not an anti-human position, but ecospheric health does come before human welfare.

    Exploring Human Ecology with J. Stan Rowe
    Putting the role of human beings in the biosphere back into proper perspective.
    Inside-Outside – Replaces the human-centered concept of environment with ecosystems.\

    Sam Gunsch

  4. janethehat says:

    Thanks for posting this Marc!

    Hope it goes well on the 12th, I’ll be away so can’t come.


    You can follow me on Twitter: @msjanelawson


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