About fifty people crammed into the Patagonia store on King Street (no, I didn’t know there was one there either), last night to hear a talk about solutions to the climate emergency. The event was organised by Green Drinks Manchester (twitter handle
@GreenDrinksMCR , which is the local application of an international ‘monthly meets for eco-professionals and others’. They’ve been holding meetings, of varying size and effectiveness over the past few years. This time they didn’t quite knock it out of the stadium, but it was either a one bounce and over the ropes 4, or a 6 (apologies to anyone who isn’t a cricket nut: translation – “it was a good event“).
Free beer, soft drinks and lentils were on offer as people mingled among the expensive-but-high-quality jackets, trousers etc that Patagonia sell (Patagonia is a wild company, privately owned still by its founder, who never met a business strategy book that he wasn’t willing to use as toilet paper. Very very interesting.)
We were then beckoned downstairs and, crammed among the backpacks, were treated to a half-hour or so presentation by Paul Allen, who has been at the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales for donkey’s years. He began with a quick explanation of planned obsolescence (light bulbs designed to die early so you buy new ones), then Edward Bernays and the (claimed) use of psychoanalysis to induce false needs, on through National City Lines (GM, Firestone and Standard Oil buying up streetcar companies to bankrupt them so people travelled on buses instead. And cars. Lots of cars). Allen then pivotted to the “Zero Carbon Britain” project of CAT. They have been producing plans and blueprints about how – well, the clue is in the name – since 2006. He rattled through energy, transport and food etc, before turning to the Climate Emergency (fwiw he didn’t talk about how climate emergency declarations could go very horribly wrong).
All the reports he mentioned (and hella lotta work has clearly gone into them) are available on the CAT website here.
There was time for some questions, and these were of better quality than at some previous Green Drinks events. How to fund the energy transition? Which levers to pull to make it all happen? And a couple of others. Reader, indulge me, here was my question (which I said after a short advert for Climate Emergency Manchester).
“You mentioned 2006 as the year Zero Carbon Britain started. It was also the year of the first Climate Camp, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and so on. If I close my eyes, the rhetoric I hear these days is exactly that of 2007, 2008. Yes, we now have Greta Thunberg, the school strikes, the IPCC 1.5 report. But the dynamics feel the same. The last wave ended in 2010. What do “we” need to do differently this time?”
Allen said, as many others have, “more pressure, build movements.” To his credit, he’s the first person I’ve asked this question to who said “what do you think?” Conscious of time (and I probably took up too much) I said something like this (or wish I had. I was probably far more verbose)
“We need to make sure meetings are welcoming to people who’ve never been to any before. We need to get out of the smugosphere of people who agree with us. We need to make sure that going to meetings, monthly or weekly, doesn’t become a substitute for action. We need to make sure that people can be involved meaningfully without ever coming to meetings, because many people can’t or won’t come to meetings- [see here]. We need to be pressuring week in, week out, not building up to big orgasmic events that leave us happy but knackered.”
The meeting then broke into discussion groups (a newish and encouraging trend). So, across the three floors of the store there were discussions about energy, buildings, transport, art and culture and so on. I floated between, earwigging.
- one group in particular seemed very dominated by one individual. The lack of self-facilitation processes and norms around introducing selves/each other, doing pair-work, who is holding the bloody conch and for how bloody long clearly needs addressing
- there was no group addressing the question of politics and power, the risks of co-optation and good ideas being killed off in the committees (as they have been these last ten years in Manchester), or thinking about how to avoid past mistakes (though of course this is difficult if, as many at the event seemed to be, you are ‘new’ to the game.)
- the final “report back” was quite lengthy and at points felt like a shopping list of all the nice things we’d like to have.
HOWEVER. Most people stuck around to keep chatting (the sign of a good event), and lots of people made a number of new connections. So, kudos to Green Drinks Manchester, and kudos to Patagonia for hosting the event.
The next green drinks is on Friday 21st June, from 7 to 9pm at
Old Bank Residency, Hanover Street, NOMA, Manchester, M4 4AH
Jordan Strong – Protect Our Winters UK
The evening will see Jordan introduce POW UK followed by a short film screening and discussion.
POW UK is a charity that inspires and equips UK based outdoor communities to take positive action to address the climate crisis.