The tl:dr – At a recent “Strategy” event for Manchester’s climate-y future, there’s lots of chest-beating and hand-wringing about Engagement. Nothing substantive will be done. Post ends with loads of implementable ideas about youth engagement; which won’t happen.
Engagement? It’s not difficult. You start by … keeping your promises. From there, you have credibility, and there is an infrastructure that can bring in more people. Especially if the promises you made centred on having an annual conference, and holding elections to the ‘Steering Group’, (as well as on lowering your own emissions, and reporting consistently on your progress. ) (1)
In 2009 Manchester City Council worked together with stakeholders to create the “Manchester Climate Change Action Plan”. For no good reason, this was also known as “Manchester: A Certain Future”. The plan was supposed to be endorsed by a thousand organisations (in the end, 220ish did). The endorsing organisations were then were to write their own implementation plans on how they would achieve the plan’s headline goals (in the end, two of the 220 did – the City Council and its housing organisation). There was to be an elected “Steering Group” (the elections were promised, and then never held). There was to be an annual conference where progress was celebrated, connections made (the conference was cancelled).
All million people who live, work or study in Manchester were to receive a day’s “Carbon Literacy” training by the end of 2013. As of 2016 the number stands at… about 5,000. Of the 96 councillors, about 25 or so of them have done the training (60 was the target for the end of 2014).
Manchester City Council made … So. Many. Promises. And activists had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get basic information about those promises, which were, of course, not kept. (And we’re still having to FOIA for basic stuff)
So here we are in 2016, most of the way to the 2020 target year. Manchester’s emissions “reduction” are simply in line with cities like Birmingham and Sheffield – telling you all you need to know about the impact of the Steering Group and the Plan. The number of people who are carbon literate (a dubious term anyway) is in the statistical error bar.
And it’s all too awkward to talk about that failure, so instead we kick the ball down the road and talk about Young People. And Engagement. And the year 2050….
After a scrumptious lunch (not free, because I had to stay) the afternoon opened with a “COPtimistic” talk about hitting 1.5 Celsius warming-above-pre-industrial-levels. Um, no. And about a “sea-change” in opinion. Um, only acidification, warming and rise.
We then had a presentation or five. The trick with presentations is to know enough to be able to hear the silences.
So, from the first one – Apparently the Council decided all on its own to open up the policy-writing in 2009. Nothing to do with the fact that it had tried and failed already, and had been embarrassed into action by “Call to Real Action.” Nothing about those promised-and-cancelled elections, or that useless-then-cancelled annual conference, or all those missed concrete targets (switching to consumption based metrics? Holding an annual youth conference? Etc etc etc)
We then had a chance to hear from the young people about what they had discussed in the morning. This was the highlight of the day. We were supposed to ask questions to them. There were some questions. But it’s a funny thing with white middle-class men. They’re not so good at questions. But they are very good at talking about themselves and their own pet projects. So they did.
More presentations, and more silences.
- We heard nothing about Manchester International Festival’s Scope Three Emissions
- Or the BBC’s failure to perform its watchdog role at either the local or national level.
Look, ultimately, these events are there for Concerned People to Gather To Show Each Other How Much They Care. But we resile from the implications of our past (and future) failures. This is just LocalAgenda21 2: Die Harder. And with all sequels, the body count will be higher, the deaths more elaborate.
What could be done.
- Film making contest (short and long)
- Photography contest
- Graphic Design contest
- Short Story contest (with winning entries and best others collected into a book)
- Novel Writing (with best novel published)
- Essay writing (with winning entries and best others collected into a book)
- And for the prize ceremonies to be about creating denser networks of civil society rather than a photo-op for the sponsors.
- Live-streamed debates about “what is to be done” a) between young people, and also b) between young people and today’s political “elites” (god help us all)
- Film festivals with discussions afterwards that aren’t dominated by middle-class white men (here’s how).
- Poetry slams
- Art Exhibitions (multimedia, sculpture, painting, whatever)
- Play performances/readings – esp “An Enemy of the People”, but heaps of other stuff
- Get Saci Lloyd to rewrite “The Carbon Diaries” for Manchester 2025 and 2027.
- An ombudsperson for the future – an 18-25 year old who attends Council, Executive etc and speaks for the implications of council policy on the future.
- Presentations by young people to all six of the Scrutiny Committees of Manchester City Council about climate change’s impacts (on reflection, this is a silly idea. I mean, Climate Change clearly has nothing to do about Health, or Economy, or Finance, or Young People and Children, or even Communities. )
- A “Young Climate Activist” column in the Manchester Evening News
- A young climate activist doing the “read the papers” on that crappy BBC Radio breakfast program.
- A-level teachers (General Studies, whatever) getting together and creating a curriculum around climate change and Manchester, about responsible citizenship and leadership by young people.
Very little of this will actually happen. The people in charge are poster-children for the Dunning-Kruger effect. So it goes. Carpe the Diems.
(1) But noooooooooooo, instead there’s been five long years of escalating failure and incompetence. Which then leads to shifting the target from 2020 to 2050 (which is written about here), and to just sitting around going “gosh, it’s so difficult, what do we doooooo.” Keep. Your. Promises.