They’ve innovated. And made things even worse. Was it possible? I didn’t think so. But the so-called Manchester Climate Change Agency (it’s not an agency, for important reasons that will become clear), managed to make the launch of its Climate Change “Plan” an even more disvisioning and dispiriting debacle than the last one (see account of that here).
Manchester is a diverse place,and it is a real achievement to gather 70 ‘random’ people and have at most 4 non-white faces, but they managed it – not through their incompetence and complacency over the last few months, but by their inaction, staggering ineptitude and anti-democratic behaviour (cancelled elections, cancelled conferences, secret meetings, rubber-stamp “consultations”) stretching back over seven painful years.
The tl:dr is this. A potentially effective, potentially fresh process, has, since 2009, been throttled and is now a shambling won’t-die putrid corpse that serves as a stab vest for Manchester City Council and its hangers-on, and as an anxiety-management ritual for people who know we’re doomed but don’t know what to do about that. If you want to know the gory details about this overwhelmingly offensive event, read on.
So, we milled around in the foyer of the Manchester Museum before being decanted across and upwards into the room with the giant fossils [insert tired analogy here]. We were not given name badges which might have helped people ‘break the ice’, because building connections between those present was not on the agenda. This was about being talked at. Of course.
The event started with an inaudible mumble, until the microphone was turned up (nice to show they’d done their tech work beforehand). There were NO answers to the specific questions posed in the open letter last week (which had been received, but was ignored). There was some self-excusing/justifying nonsense about how because they’d had 700 people say something about their document (or was this just attending ‘climatelab’ events this was somehow twice as good as the 2009 process. So, let’s get this straight; Having 5 months of workshops and drafts during 2009 etc is supplanted by getting people to clicktervate on a pre-written pile of mush that is only happening to a) replace the now-to-difficult 2009 commitments and b) be a last desperate advert to funders for the so-called “Manchester Climate Change Agency” . The fact that alongside the ‘draft’ climate plan there had also been a ‘draft’ implementation plan tells you how little they were expecting/intending to change their actions in response to the consultation…
There was an admission that feedback on the last AGM (see hilarious account of awful event here) was negative and that they’d ‘learnt’ and weren’t going to do death by powerpoint but instead have ‘interaction. You know what’s coming, don’t you, reader?
We then had a powerpoint presentation. Full of unintelligible slides and nonsense. After about half an hour of this I looked at my watch. Five minutes had passed.
There were to be ‘robust governance’ structures for the Steering Group. You know, that one that was supposed to have elections (never happened). That was supposed to hold day long conferences (cancelled in 2014). That Steering Group that holds its meetings in private – stakeholders not allowed. That Steering Group which held a meeting earlier this year where 8 people sent apologies and only two were present. Yes, THAT steering group.
An hour later I looked at my watch. Another five minutes had in fact passed. Something about ‘scope three emission’, but no mention of how in the 2009 plan the Council had in fact promised that it would be switching to scope three emissions reporting by 2013. They never actually did it of course. Maybe the speaker could quiz the relevant council bureaucrat on this? If he can find that bureaucrat, that is.
“Climate change critical role every organisation”. Yes, the 2009 plan called for 1000 organisations to endorse the plan and write their own plans, with the Council’s support. 220 organisations endorsed it. Two wrote plans.
Another hour or two. Another five minutes. Clear opportunity for business, economic success and health: This is bureaucracy speak for for ‘nobody gives grants to anything with ‘climate’ in the title, so we will stick to inward investment and throw in ‘social effects of austerity. PLEASE SOMEBODY GIVE US SOME MONEY.’
Blah blah. The final sentences were – inadvertently, the most revealing If we fail to engage.. “the other 99.5% of the city we need to tell a story to.” Nothing about listening to stories, sharing stories, writing stories together. No. Our story that we the enlightened white middle class bureaucrats will TELL to other people. Genius. What could possibly go wrong?
Then, this is hilarious – there was a justification of why there were no interim targets between now and 2050. It is… because… wait for it… because Manchester is so far ahead of other cities (sic) in making a 2050 commitment, that wasn’t needed! The level of audacity and vacuity is impressive, even by this city’s standards.
BTW. The event was not filmed or audio-recorded. I mean, if you can’t come out at 5.30 on a week night, you clearly don’t care about the issues and don’t deserve to be involved? Child-care? Shift-work? Caring responsibilities? No, you just don’t care about climate change. But if you wait around, we will eventually tell you our story….
Reader. It Got Worse. No, seriously.
It was then (by now about 1830) supposed to be ‘over to us’ for the ‘innovative’ ‘participatory’ bit. But wait, first there were four ‘pre-arranged’ contributions. You see, after the AGM debacle they’d taken out the keynote speech, but still felt the need to slip in more speeches. They just didn’t have the basic courtesy to call them that. Meanwhile, a slide called ‘Call to Action’ was flashed up. Readers of sufficient vintage will know why that is fricking hilarious.
First up we had Councillor Rosa Battle, currently Executive Member for the Environment. It will be her signature that agrees to any further extension of funding for the ‘Manchester Climate Change Agency’, which is actually a Community-Interest-Company that is wholly funded by Manchester City Council. The Council has been throwing money and staff at the Steering Group for years, to no visible impact. It refuses to say how much. Will that end in 2017-18? Who can tell?
Rosa Battle, by the way once told a scrutiny committee of Manchester City Council that hundreds of people had been consulted on the Green and Blue Spaces Strategy, the writing of which was outsourced to BDP for £30k. I challenged that, and eventually the actual number was revealed? Generously counted, the actual number was fewer than 50.
As the good councillor spoke, people started to leave – starting with several young women. They looked glum/uninterested.
Battle was followed by someone from Jacobs, who gave a mercifully inaudible spiel for her company. That was followed about five minutes later by another pre-booked spiel. And then a fourth.
In the Q and A (which wasn’t) I stuck up my hand and observed the crushing white/middle-classness of the room, seven years after this so-called process was launched. I asked about elections, conferences, and open-ness of Steering Group meetings – can ‘stakeholders’ attend the meetings of the ‘Stakeholder Steering Group’? I pointed out that the so-called Manchester Climate Change Agency isn’t what most people would understand as a government agency but in fact a community interest company that changed its name to try to impress funders. As such, it is immune to Freedom of Information Act requests. How convenient. There were no answers to me, or to the later question from someone else about the need for a Plan B.
Because crucially, this was NOT an opportunity to hold the steering group to account! This was just a space for people to promote their own pet projects and neuroses. The Steering Group provided the wine and nibbles, but was resolutely not going to be held to account. #stayclassy.
By now (1850) even more people were leaving. I asked one woman why and she said “I’m tired and my feet hurt.”
Rather than have any answers to questions, the organisers foisted a poet (the less said the better) on us, who stood there, in lieu of those answers, in front of a slide that said ‘ongoing conversation’. I kid you not.
Ten minutes later and the official evening was over, half an hour before its scheduled end. About a quarter of the 70 or so people had left by then, but the others got to fill in feedback forms (no selection bias there then).
One long-term adviser of climate shenanigans in Manchester described it to me as “a farce”. That person is wrong. This is a tragedy, with no end in sight, other than the collapse of western civilisation, which may not be as far off as you think.
So, to recap. The steering group has now held an event which was the standard sage on the stage, except a) four of their sages were shoved into the so-called “interactive” slot. b) no chairs were provided and c) no answers were provided. This seems to be a new and special kind of devious/stupid (I am always reluctant to ascribe a guiding intelligence to these cock-ups, and that’s especially true in the current case).
Was the event a ‘success’?
Well, obviously that depends on your criteria, motivations and needs. From a purely bureaucratic/funding point of view, you could argue (and I would) that this “plan” is only happening because every three years the Steering Group realises they have achieved feck-all and other people are noticing. So there was a ‘refresh’ in 2013, [I would commend that post, btw] which sank without trace. On that perspective this ‘plan’ is two thing. Firstly, it is a way of superseding the 2009 plan, which would soon have become awkward (all that talk of ‘creating a low carbon culture’ for example). And secondly, and more important – as an advert – to the City Council and potential funders – “Give us some money.”
For the people attending, well, it sort of worked for some, especially those who got to speak (invited or otherwise) – they got to feel important or engaged, even if only for a minute or three. For those attending in the hope of learning something about how to get involved, or having a sense of hope, then I suspect the event was a crushing failure. Why else would so many people (20?) have left before the end?
How did it get to this, from the possibilities of 2009?
Well, as someone once said, a body in motion will continue in the same direction blah blah. The direction for Manchester is for ‘technocratic’ (or at least bureaucratic) control and secrecy, not just on climate, but on everything. That could have changed if the promises of 2009 had been kept. But it was never going to be the Council and its toadies who kept the promise. It was going to be the social movement organisations. But Friends of the Earth decided it liked being lapdog more than it liked being watchdog. The Green Party imploded (no posts on its website between April and October, nobody at this event to write a blog post about it – I think). There’s another so-called policy outfit out there, but I will spare its blushes; suffice to say you’d have to be “seriously sado-masochistic” to get involved. The ‘anarchists’ have two comical failures to their names – Manchester Climate Action collapsed because one key individual left the city; that’s how ‘non-hierarchical organising’ works, apparently. More recently, ‘Reclaim the Power’ cancelled a meeting but forgot to tell the punters, and seems to have died. Meanwhile, the Transition Towns stuff died twice, and the socialists spend their time walking backwards around Albert Square. All these groups hold events every bit as sterile and top-down as what the Steering Group perpetrated tonight. Meanwhile, nobody tries to keep the City Council honest, not even MCFly so much these days.
I’m tired and my heart hurts.
“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.
“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty…