“This Changes Everything” changes nothing #smugosphere #emotathons #samemistakes #RoadtoParis

Here we go.  Here we go with the summit-hopping and the protestations that we have to Build a Mass Movement and the only/best/sensible (delete as appropriate) way to do that is to have a big march/ruck at (Prague/Genoa/Copenhagen and… Paris.  (Yeah, well – screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris.)

Here we go with the sages on the stage. Here we go with the ego-foddering,  the emotathons and all the pathologies of the smugosphere.

And, most unforgivable of all, here we go with the cynical or careless misuse of the language of liberation for a bunch of stale, unimaginative and exclusionary events that want to be sexy so wrap themselves in the cool lingo of the day, devaluing it. The lyrics change, but the song remains the same.

Example the first

Naomi Klein has written a new book (great review here) (some of us are old enough to remember the first biggie – “No Logo”).  It’s called “This Changes Everything”.

The facebook event says


“On 28th March, three weeks after the national climate demonstration, [you know, the one that got an attendance of 10,000 ish and caused the barest ripple imaginable in the mediaverse] we will be hosting a radical, participatory event called This Changes Everything. Inspired by Naomi Klein’s new book, the day will bring hundreds of people together in interactive workshops with leading campaigners and climate scientists….”

And to quote myself from an email I wrote to someone about whether I would go

“radical, participatory event” my fat arse. It will be same smug emotathon and egofoddering and sage on the stage tosh that they always do.

I’d just get too angry about it.

There will be denunciations of

a) the Conservatives
b) the Americans
c) Capitalism/Industrialism/Finance  (the three wil be conflated, elided etc)
d) “Big” green organisations that are, you know, totally complicit with the System, man.

And there will be precisely zero genuine searching critique of what the grassroots movements have been DOING WRONG.

And there will be ritual invocations that Paris Really Matters.
And there will be grandstanding and tussles for attention from various radicals who like to stand on soapboxes and lecture everyone about how participatory their movements are[redacted – we have libel laws in this country].
And loads of paper sellers and the hippy equivalent of paper sellers.
I refuse to be complicit.  To hell with the lot of them.

I am sure the organisers will survive my absence, just about.

Example the second; the  “Boom Bust Boom” conference happening in Manchester the following week. They have the brass bloody necks to call what they are doing an unconference, because unconferences sound ooh so sexy.


Oddly, my comment on their volunteer section about how it was perfectly okay and nothing to be ashamed of to be running a conference, but that you shouldn’t call it something IT ISN’T didn’t get approved.  How radical.

So one thing promises it will be radical and participatory but will be stuffed to the gills with “Celebrities” and experts talking at people.  The other claims to be an “un-conference” but simply isn’t.

Why do I care?  Because it debases the coinage.  Because I hate it when the corporations steal our dreams and sell them back, and I also hate it when Trotskyists –  be they liberal, anarchist, Trotskyist or whatever – do the same.  I hate being conned. To quote myself again –

“Throwing around terms like un-conference and “open space” and then perpetrating what Compass did seriously devalues the currency of innovation. If people who attended think “that’s what World Cafe is” or “that’s what open space is like” then they become cynical and dismissive about them. But these tools are are not – in the right hands – marketing ploys.

We laugh at  the economists when they present emissions reductions graphs that point downwards in a nice straight line to the chosen target but actually rely on fantasy technologies like carbon capture and storage and on nuclear-rolled-out-everywhere-tomorrow.  Ha ha ha.  That’s right. We should laugh.  Ha ha ha.

But apparently you’re not supposed to laugh when people use the words ‘social movements’ instead of CCS, as if those are any less a “fantasy technology” for achieving emissions reductions.  We. Will. Not. Mitigate. We haven’t in the last 25 years, and we won’t in the next 25. We will wrap our ickle opposable thumbs around every last lump of coal that we can. The savannah did not equip our brains or our political institutions to think about everyone’s long-term futures. Deal with it.

There is only one thing funnier than the magical use of the term ‘social movements’ and that’s when those proponents think that they are going to magic those social movements into existence using exactly the same formats and tools that haven’t worked the last 25 years.

That? That really cracks me up.

But try to change it?  Well, to steal from another email –

Good luck with your attempt to restructure.  Final unsolicited advice – “expect resistance“.  Folks have their comfort zones, and they largely perceive no problem with the existing set-up. They will not take very kindly to the implicit rebuke of their previous actions in your proposal to change things.

“Radicals” are some of the most conservative people I know….


The Law of Two Feet


Explaining #climate in a pub – of duvets, sailing ships and coal…

Last night I got to do a ten minute “what is my research about” spiel at “PhD in the Pub.” It was followed by a slightly-less-than-20-minute q and a session (because I ‘donated’ some time from that to having folks confer before we began asking questions).

My spiel covered –

“meet someone you don’t know”
“explaining climate change – of Keeling curves and duvets”
“sailing ships and sociotechnical transitions”
“it’s a howdunnit, not a whodunnit or a whydunnit”

The q and a covered technology transfer, polar bears, vasectomies, bureaucracies,  feminism and much more.

Would love to know what you all  think.  If you are reading this on facebook, please comment on the blog (as well).

We live in “Powdertown” #police #corruption – Cyril Smith coverup etc

The second verse goes like this;

Frankie looks like a nice young cop but he’s got an old cop’s face
He believed in truth and justice till they took him off the case
Now he’s walkin’ the beat on the wrong side of town, bustin’ drunks and shakin’ them down
Don’t ask him who he’s working for, all he says now is “the law’s the law
And it’ll be like this for evermore here in Powdertown, in Powdertown.”

It’s from an album track of the Australian band ‘the Skyhooks‘. In the course of a few verses we learn of enforced prostitution, police coverups, drug dealers. The motif of ‘powder’ – a white fluffy blanket that makes everything look clean and pure – runs throughout.

The Hillsborough stuff -96 dead because of police incompetence, followed by decades of smear, intimidation and cover-up, of course angers me, since I am a functioning human being. [For excellent coverage of Hillsborough, the undercover cops in the labour and environment movement and much else, see “Bristling Badger“.]

The Jimmy Savile stuff;  I have nothing to add.

cyrilSmith_2398434bBut this latest – that some brave (naive?) cops – thought that they could build a case against an MP, a secret service clown and some top cops,  and then  were swiftly disabused of the fantasy that they lived in a state with something within in spitting distance of the rule of law – just, well… I am scared, of what members of my species are capable of.

Powdertown ends with an advice lyric;

So if you’re driving through one day and you see that exit sign
You might slow down and take a look, maybe risk a parking fine
But if you’re smart you’ll pass on by, get where you’re goin’, kiss this place goodbye

Good advice. Anyone know if it’s too late to sign up for the Mars colonisation thing?

Human emissions level off – so, no need to worry about #climate change?

Marc Hudson tries to put the “global human-caused carbon emissions not going up” news into context.

I don’t know if there are people out there who, on hearing from the International Energy Agency that for the first time outside of a recession, the amount of carbon dioxide we’ve tipped into the atmosphere (from burning fossil fuels for transport, electricity, heating) has ‘stalled’ and thought “our climate worries are over!”

Probably there are. Humans have limited cognitive capacity, and are always looking for rationalisations to allow them to keep doing what they’ve been doing. And climate change leads itself both to rationalisations and misunderstanding of scales and speeds.

Great+Acceleration+2015+igbp+src+low+resLet’s take human emissions.  They’ve been growing dramatically over the last few decades, especially since the Great Acceleration of the 1950s, when everything started to grow dramatically.  In 1988 the scientific warnings of the previous 15 years or so burst onto the public stage. Since then our emissions have gone up and up pretty relentlessly, in a global perspective.  We built new infrastructure, we didn’t create and/or export the low carbon technologies for energy production, and that’s basically all that matters. Every year we pumped more carbon into the atmosphere than the previous year, unless there was a global recession (which means less economic activity, less energy use, less coal/oil/gas being burned).

But human emissions – a relatively small part of overall emissions from ‘natural’ causeskeelingcurvelions breathe out c02, trees die and decompose etc –  are only of interest, I would argue, because they increase the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide That is currently at the 400 parts per million (ppm) mark, up from 280 in 1780.  The possible ‘safe’ level is 350 ppm, thus the name for the organisation 350.org.

If you want to stop worrying about climate change, you can’t just look at human emissions, you have to look at concentrations.  And a ‘flat’ level of human emissions – especially at 2013-4 levels doesn’t lead to a stable amount of atmospheric C02. It leads to increases, because the amount we produce is higher than what the planet absorbs from the atmosphere into a) vegetation (plants draw C02 out of the atmosphere and use it as building blocks for their growth, which is a pretty neat trick) and b) the oceans (but the oceans can only absorb so much, and the act of absorbing C02 is making the water more acidic (actually, “less alkaline”), with devastating consequences for anything that makes shells out of calcium, and anything that eats anything that makes shells out of calcium, and anything that…. well, it’s a web. You get the picture, I hope. Btw, those “carbon sinks” are weakening.

Higher atmospheric concentrations of C02 leads to more energy being trapped in the atmosphere (if you’re in bed under two thick duvets, you are going to get warmer than under 1 thick duvet. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’ll do for now.)  And higher temperatures mean more extreme weather events, higher global temperatures (especially and sooner at the poles), and very probably more crop failures “etc”.

Look, if people want to grasp at straws, they will.  Death row inmates always hope for the last minute phone call from the governor granting clemency.  It usually doesn’t come.  People turn away from climate change not because those silly environmentalists have got their “messaging wrong” (If one more person says ‘MLK said “I have a dream” not “I have a nightmare’ I am going to explode).  People turn away because climate change is a terrifying and imminent nemesis about which we can no longer do very much. If we’d started properly in 1988 we’d have had some chance, perhaps even a quite good one.  Now?  Um….   If you need to believe that one year’s flat emissions is a harbinger of salvation, you go right ahead.

The metaphor:

The car has been accelerating towards the cliff for some time now. No matter what the pleas of the passengers, the driver has had his foot clamped down on the accelerator. Really the car should be slowing, giving itself time to turn. Faster and faster the car goes. But wait, “good news”!! For whatever reason (the fuel mix, the hand that a passenger has put out the window in order to change the car’s aerodynamics, something else), now the car isn’t going faster. It’s merely heading towards the cliff at the same fearsome speed it was going at a minute ago. So that’s much better…

E equals NC squared – of Global Change Science and the Responsibility of Intellectuals

Who knows what about how the world works (on a geophysical level?) How do they find it out and what should “we” do with that knowledge? These were some of the questions that Professor Noel Castree grappled with (successfully!) yesterday afternoon at a seminar entitled “Changing while standing still? Global change scientists and the politics of planetary stewardship.”

Here are the videos I took – first the lecture itself

Then the Q and A (the reason it blacks out when questioners are asking questions is that I wanted the best sound quality but I didn’t have permission to film folks – ergo lens cover as a kludge.)

He explained where terms like the “Anthropocene” (humans as accidental/deliberate planet-shapers [Which began in 1610, apparently]) have come from, and the rhetoric/reality of “tipping points.”  He name-checked the big academic collaborations (IGBP IHDP etc) that have been beavering away for 30 years)

He questioned the nature of the academic cultures and conventions that we labour within/under, and pointed to experiments with different ways of knowing and expressing (in genuine collaboration with peoples usually on the receiving and sharp end of the Western Gaze…)

Of course, by no means all academics are intellectuals (or vice versa) but another “NC” – Noam Chomsky -has an injunction that seems relevant; it is the responsibility of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth.

The lies exposed here would presumably (I am projecting/importing my own beliefs) be that
a) it is impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet
b) it is impossible (forget ‘immoral’) to make other people/species/generations continue to pay the price for our own actions

The thorny question is surely of the audience to which the academics wish to speak truth. Speaking truth to “power” doesn’t seem to have done much good. The politicians ‘know’ that we are at or ‘beyond the limits’ (after all, the very first climate conference in the series that will have its 21st meeting in Paris was chaired by… Angela Merkel COP 1, (Berlin, 1995)

So who should academics be giving the benefit of their analysis? Business? Well, okay…. Social movements? They haven’t got a great track record so far. They are not, I opine here, the historical actor, at least in the UK. Maybe it’s not possible to be a public intellectual in a country where the “public” has retreated, where civil society is so brittle and thin.

Maybe all that is left to us is keep our eyes open as the debris piles skyward?

What was particularly good
a) A highly organised and fluently delivered presentation with the right amount of supporting evidence
b) He said he was going to speak for 50 minutes and he spoke for… 46! Nobody needed to drag him off the stage with a comedy hook. This, for a high status male academic, should not be notable or praise-worthy, but is.

What could have been better
The gender balance of the questions (and for the record, the male writer of this blog post asked a question that was later described as ‘academic’). There’s a really simple way to create a higher likelihood of questions from women and ‘other minorities’ (cough cough) that is not,imho, patronising or tokenistic. This (from the end of here)

“This tendency – of the sharp-elbowed/(over)-confident men (such as the author of this post, who asked the first question) needs to be dealt with the level of structure and habit, rather than individual self-abnegation. I dream of a world where chairs routinely say “before we go straight into a q and a, which will be dominated by the usual suspects, please turn to the person next to you/behind you and spend two minutes swapping names and impressions of the event. If you have a question, seek affirmation of it, and help in honing it. We’ll then have a show of hands, and I am going to prioritise gender and racial equity.” It’s a little thing, but it might be part of making a difference. #justsaying”


Oh, and since Australian Prime Minister Tony “remote communities is a subsidised lifestyle choice”  Abbott was mentioned, this cartoon from the wonderful David Pope has to get a run –

Fairy tale endings or “best PhD distraction yet!!!”

What a brilliant afternoon/evening!! Cheap wine (monopolised), super-smart people who forgave (?) my failure to have read the Sleeping Beauty version and the Bettelheim exegesis. All lubricated with people’s digressions on consent and cups of tea, Jack Halberstam and much more.

This fun was at the second “Reading Folk” group meeting. Will I be at the third? Unless the pending ecological debacle intervenes, yes. And, dates willing, I’ll take the wife…. And will be better prepped (apols again…)

Things I have to read
Marina Warner “Once Upon a Time”

Things I should relook at
Tom Lehrer’s Ancient Oirish Ballad (written a few years ago)
Ariadne as a “womjep” archetype
An essay about pictures/objects of desire (Barthes inspired? More details needed!)
Van Gennep and liminal states
Charles Lyell and the age of t’planet
Neil Gaiman “Snow Glass Apples” (described as the creepiest thing ever written)
Angela Carter “The Bloody Chamber
2011 film “Hanna” that I loathed but was almost certainly reading incorrectly.
Elisabeth Harrower “The Watchtower”
More on Bettelheim
More on Primo Levi (natch)
More on Jorge Semprun (also natch)

How I will try to justify/shoe-horn in to my PhD

Fairy Tales are, in part, about the dangers of our desires, and how you should be really careful what you wish for/look the gift horse in the mouth with the help of a veterinarian dentist.

Climate Change – the way ahead?

Marc Hudson on the current state of play in the United Kingdom. From the march last Saturday, to a historical digression, to Industry and Government to Paris.

There was a climate march in London on the weekend, that the organisers said they were hoping would be the biggest ever in the UK. (For the record, it would therefore have to be bigger than the 50 to 60 thousand march in December 2009, before the Copenhagen climate talks. To get that number took all the big NGOs all year to the exclusion of pretty much everything else).

Their hopes were, predictably enough, dashed.

My rule of thumb is to double the police estimate and halve the organisers’ estimate.  This tends to leave a narrow (and accurate?) band.

So, for this march we have the Daily Mail (a proxy for the police) using Press Association info, as saying 5000 and “Socialist Resistance” (insert Voltaire-about-the-Holy-Roman-Empire gag here) saying 25,000. So, somewhere from 10,000 to 12,500, probably.


This tallies more or less with the “More than 15,000 protesters gathered in London on Saturday for a climate change march, which is to end with a rally outside Parliament.” (note the mixed tenses, which suggests the estimate is a very early – and perhaps exuberant – one)

Whoever wrote the headline “Tens of Thousands Take to the Streets of London Demanding Action on Climate Change” (Devlin, K. (2015) needs some remedial maths, basically.

Misplaced concreteness aside, the crucial thing is this – marches don’t build social movements. If they did, we would not be in this mess. We would have continued after December 2009 with a bigger and bigger social movement on climate change, wouldn’t we? We would have vibrant and threatening-to-the-powers-that-be social movements, bending the emissions curve down (and not just because we exported our factories).  We don’t.

Why? Because Marches. Don’t. Build. Social. Movements. But they do keep organisers busy and motivated, and the newspaper sellers happy. So that’s alright then.

Historical digression: Unstoppable green movements every 20 years

The first, mid-late 60s, upsurge, came thanks to raised awareness from books like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” local environmental concerns, (rivers catching fire, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill), and perhaps some folks getting sick of being lied to about Vietnam and beaten up by cops, and finding something less ‘hot’ to protest. Once legislation was passed (Clean Air Act), and institutions (like the Environmental Protection Agency) founded, the heat went out of the issue

The late 80s surge came on the back of Amazon deforestation and ozone hole discovery, and the novelty for most people (climate change had been a very specialist concern, but not completely unknown) of the climate threat as announced in period June – November 1988. Once the legislation (UNFCCC, 1992) was past, the heat went out of the issue

The latest surge came almost 20 years later. In the period 2006/7 there was a flurry of activity –the launch of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, The Stern Review, the Climate Camps started, the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the first climate change election (Australia 2007) the “Bali Roadmap” for a global deal in Copenhagen in 2009.” It all disappeared like a fist when you open your palm in 2010.

So, we have three fairly distinct surges, roughly twenty years apart (enough time for a new generation to come up, not cynical about the possibilities of change in situations of ‘agentic deadlock‘). Each ends with legislation/failed efforts that fix the problem. And is followed by a lull when only the (fool?)hardy continue to agitate.

My suspicion, hopefully totally wrong, is that we are in the early stages of another lull. Of course history doesn’t repeat (though she rhymes), and perhaps the next few years will see a huge upsurge in concern and activity. But disasters and rapid warming (as predicted by Michael Mann, who has had a look at the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and doesn’t like what he sees) don’t automatically lead to political upsurges.

And remember, so far social movements on environment have only “succeeded” in creating legislation and formal institutions. They have not caused the same cultural shifts that we have seen around black civil rights, women’s liberation, gay rights (of course, those movements are partial as well, with many adherents justifiably depressed about the speed and direction of change).

(On community energy and the barriers it faces, see recent blog “Distributing power: Can the UK transition to a 50% distributed, low carbon electricity system?” by my colleague, Dr Victoria Johnson.)

Social movements are probably not the historical actor…


I am not a close observer, but seems to me only the off shore wind industry is gaining much traction in the much vaunted ‘green economy’. For other sectors the low carbon agenda seems to have just been tossed in the ‘too hard/not currently relevant to our customers’ basket. I hope I am wrong and that someone points out vibrant R and D etc.

There doesn’t seem to be the sort of public (either social movement/reputational risk/regulatory) pressure on them to bring new products to market and to disrupt their existing supply chains. And in the absence of pressure, you get (very) incremental changes, not radical ones…

They are not the historical actor.


Not much to say here that isn’t obvious. Despite the (long forgotten and slightly embarrassing) promises of ‘greenest government ever’, it lacks motivation, momentum, credibility and capacity. This last one is crucial. Say we have Prime Minister Miliband in two months, governing with the support of three bolshy Green MPs. So what? The state – both national and even more obviously local – has been progressively hollowed out, its capacity to act strangled.

There is no trust in its constancy (Solar Feed-in-Tariffs), its ability to deliver without debacle (Green Deal and now Smart Meters.)

They are not the historical actor.

What is to be done?

At this point I’m supposed to mouth some pieties about Gramsci’s “optimism of the will”, or point to positive noises from Beijing ahead of Paris. Failing that, I’m supposed to say “batten down the hatches”. But that is a metaphor that works for storms which pass, not ones that grow and grow, propelling us irresistibly into the future to which our eyes are turned, while the pile of debris before us grows skyward.

Marc Hudson

See also

Of marches, emotathons and social movements

Screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris. A rant on #climate and the endtimes