Two and a half years ago – at what I suspected at the time was the height of the climate issue (1) – I wrote a piece called A bluffer’s guide to #Manchester environment & #climate organisations, old and new. Various people got in touch to say it was useful, and it did well (it’s all relative) on the stats. Now, at what is very likely the end of the “issue attention cycle” – or at least the mass public mobilisation around climate (2) it’s worth revisiting these organisations to see how they fared. I’ll follow it up with some observations on why it has turned out like it has (because, spoilers – many of the much-publicised and vaunted organisations turned out to be… um… “not quite as resilient as they thought” (3)), what needed to be done differently, what needs to be done differently from now (main thing – be honest about how shit our side is and take steps to make it less shit), why it almost certainly won’t be done differently (that’s where the shoddy “MASTABATE” retronym comes in), and what, therefore we can reasonably expect (4).
So, to recap the graphics from last time round, from 2018 and then 2019
And now? I’d say this.
|Campaign against Climate Change||Thinks that a few hundred people in the rain is “magnificent”. Can’t do anything that isn’t placards. No website (infamously it has a banner with an URL to a site it hasn’t had for a decade-ish [Update 19 Nov 2021- See third comment below- The URL now redirects to a Facebook page] ), no Twitter. No clue. God help us all|
|Fossil Free Greater Manchester||Still plugging away. No apparent innovations in campaigning though.|
|FrackFree Greater Manchester||Disbanded after helping to win the defeat (permanent?) of the anti-fracking activists|
|Friends of the Earth (Manchester branch)||As anyone would expect, saying nice things about Andy Burnham, despite GM’s utter failure to cut its emissions. That’s about it.|
|Green Drinks Manchester||Dead? Held a poorly attended event at Patagonia recently. No website or Twitter activity. Seems dead, but may stagger on. Was in deep shit before the pandemic, in any case|
|Green Party||Has had a councillor for six months, not that you’d know it particularly from their website. Councillor has not forced his way onto the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee that Labour kept him off, even though that would have been a winnable (or at least worth-fighting) fight. Or taken the fight to the Council on its bullshit. So it goes.|
|Greenpeace Manchester||Still doing things that national Greenpeace wants done (that’s the model).|
|Manchester Climate Monthly (aka MCFly, from when it was Manchester Climate Fortnightly, 2008-2010)||About to wrap up. Didn’t do terribly much during the pandemic because was busy with CEM stuff.|
|SERA||Dead, in Manchester at least – replaced by new outfits that think a Green New Deal is The Answer|
|Steady State Manchester||Plugging away|
|Carbon Coop||That’s the award-winning Carbon Coop to you…|
|Kindling Trust||Plugging Away|
|Bridge 5 Mill||Still there|
|Manchester Environmental Education Network||Hard to say from a website gander|
|The Salford Star||Sadly dead. Brilliant project|
|The Meteor||Still publishing. Extensive if uneven coverage on environmental issues – less so of Manchester City Council.|
|“New groups” (as they were in May 2019)|
|Climate Emergency Manchester||Doing okay. Had a good pandemic. Solid core group, recruiting more people to do stuff, holding the Council to account, learning new skills [Full disclosure – I was in the core group until a week ago]|
|Extinction Rebellion||Functionally extinct (clinging to a local campaign for mutual sustenance is not going to force the British State to decarbonise everything by 2025)|
|Fridays for Future||As good as dead- A small number of people stand outside the Central Library on a Friday, handing out flyers to passersby and holding a banner that has a website that hasn’t worked for about 10 years.|
|GM Climate Action Network||Dead.|
|GM Unite the Union Community Branch – climate group||Dead|
|Rising Up! Manchester Families||Dead|
|Youth Strike for Climate||Dead|
What needed to be done differently
- Better meetings
- Better strategy within groups
- A commitment to capacity building and retention within groups and between them. Required trust and imagination. Nope.
- Even an inkling of an understanding that repeated mobilisation is not the same thing as movement-building.
- Explaining the perils off the smugosphere and the emotacycle, and how they are feel-good dead ends. Finding out what people WANTED to do, and what skills and knowledge they had. Talking about the gaps, and coming up with ways of them developing skills, knowledge, relationships.
- Focussing on the importance of morale, and fake morale boosters versus real morale boosters.
What needs to be done differently
James Baldwin said it well – “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Until “we” as a “movement” in Manchester face the fact that there was a moment when hundreds of people (thousands?) could have been helped to be dedicated, skilled, long-term activists in holding local power to account (not just the Council, btw – there’s far far more to be done than just that), but that the opportunities in that moment were squandered, spaffed against the wall, then nothing can be done to take advantages of the (lesser?) opportunities to come.
But if we persist in wishful thinking, and vacuous out of date hopey-changey cheerleading of failed groups, and of the latest bunch of Labour leaders who have already shown that they are not interested in thinking or doing anything differently, then, well, we will continue to MASTABATE (see title of blog).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to MASTABATE – at least it’s sex with someone you love, right? But it’s not politics.
Why it almost certainly won’t be done differently
It would require painful reflection on past failure and a change in expectations, theories of change and possibly the end of some friendships. Easier to stay in the cosy smugosphere. So incumbents will. And there just isn’t the external pressure (from “the state” or the niches) to force the incumbents to behave differently.
Basically we lack numbers, we lack strategy and we lack emotional courage to face up to the fact that we are so deep in the smugosphere that we’re like goldfish in water who don’t even know that water exists. We allow ourselves to be tugged along in emotacycles. We are shit at recruiting and retaining people (not everyone can be retained of course, nor should be, but our numbers are lower than they could be, than they need to be).
What to expect
Trouble. And not in the generative, hopey-changey handwavium Donna Haraway sense. Trouble trouble. I will do a separate post on gazing into my crystal balls. Betcha can’t wait.
(1) It gives me no pleasure to say I was right. (Oh, bullshit, of course it gives me pleasure to say I was right. I love it when my guesstimates are right, they let me think I know what is going on. It’s a bit of an effort to forget all the (many more) times I’m wrong, but I pay myself for that effort with gloating when I’m right – amirite?)
(2) Issue attention cycles tend to last 3 years or so – or they have for climate, anyway. Within them, the media is interested in covering the issue. But when they’ve done all the stories they can, and editors and readers are bored, the caravan moves on. IACs in the past have ended with a big international conference (Rio, Copenhagen) and there’s a non-trivial chance Glasgow will be a similar punctuation. Back in 1992 and 2009 people said “oh, but it’s different this time, because everybody now knows, and corporations are taking it seriously, and governments have policies….” In a year or so we will know if it IS different. In any case, as this article has hopefully made clear, I’m more interested in the local than the national/international.
(3) They were shit, worse-than-useless shit. But if I put that in the main body, then somehow I’m a bad person. I don’t make the rules…
(4) This bit is probably not worth reading. I am no better a Nostradamus than anyone else. Spit-balling futures gives you the illusion of foreknowledge, the illusion of some control. So it goes.
What do we learn comparing “peak climate” and post-COP26?
- The wretched putrid culture of “activism” is strong. It expels many, “rewards” a tiny number.
- That if you don’t have a website, that you’re going to update, you should fuck off
- That if you’re not going to try to spread the skills beyond your own group, you should fuck off
- That if you stick to one repertoire (especially if it involves licking the genitalia of one party, then don’t expect applause)
- Lots of groups say they believe in learning, in networking, but when push comes to shove, they simply don’t do it.
- Groups die, and if we aren’t willing to say why, then the “movement” tanks with them.
- This was all entirely predictable, and, yes, predicted