12 years a slave to the rhetoric

It’s twelve years since the first climate camp, in the UK. Twelve years since that outfit decided to camp its way into a trap of its own devising. This year, the IPCC released a report saying we’ve got 12 years to have completed a transformation of our energy systems/economies, or else you can kiss goodbye to the Holocene (and of course, the IPCC is a small-c conservative body: the reality is far worse).

Anyway, we’ve also seen, this year, in the last 12 weeks or so, the giddy rise of “Extinction Rebellion” (hereafter ER). The people I’ve spoken to, who have memories going back to 2011 or 2006, compare it to Occupy or to Transition Towns respectively. The words “flash in the pan” get used by others; me, I prefer “Up like a rocket, down like a stick.” But we’re so short on hope these days, that people are willing to suspend their critical faculties, and chide anyone who keeps them. So it goes.

Fwiw, I think there are huge dangers to the millenarian rhetoric (see Jonathan Atkinson’s points in this), the naivete about the British state and the work that would be needed to keep it vaguely honest and,  besides the clunky Overton window, ignorance about the basics of social movements literature (though much of that is worth ignoring, of course).

So what will happen? Well, prediction is a mug’s game of course. Call me a mug.

On the way up, ER will – I suspect – effectively be inadvertently chugging for Friends of the Earth and other culpable/complicit/comedic organisations. These beneficiaries of ER’s work will get invited onto the airwaves to give the “reasonable” (i.e. craven eco-modernist) viewpoint, while being asked to distance themselves from the “irresponsible” “eco-loons” of ER (who understand – and are willing to say – just how much trouble we are in).

er trajectory-page001

If (I think when) ER peaks/implodes, then on its way down, some erstwhile ERors will pass through those very groups, on their way “out” of activism. Some may stick around, but not many – their mindset, experiences etc will simply not a good fit for those organisations, that eschew millenarian thinking. Others will try to create new organisations, some of which will survive.

This time it’s different

Of course, as investors will tell you, the four most expensive words in the English language are “this time it’s different”. It may be that the words of the scientists cut through, and that the “12 years” meme gets more traction with Jane Public. If the UK hosts the 2020 COP, that will sustain the wave for a bit (the opportunity for a good emote on home turf), and the Met will be grateful for all the overtime. But

a) fear sends people into inaction more easily than action. Or into religious salvation narratives.

b) ER will need to play a blinder, and from the (limited) evidence I’ve seen, I don’t think it has the capacity to do that, or even the awareness that it lacks the capacity. It has a few repertoires, that it is imprinting on (it’s early days of course, things may change!). Most organisations stick to those initial repertoires, and if people want to use others, they have to form different organisations, with all the costs that that entails (exit, voice and loyalty and all that).  Meanwhile, the effectiveness (both internal and external) of the small set of repertoires, well, it has a half-life, a shelf-life.  Externally, opponents learn how to counter it, internally, it stops giving the same ‘buzz’ and effervescent/bonding affect/effect.

Of course, I hope I’m wrong, and there are things that could be done to make this trajectory less likely , but probably won’t be.

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Event report: PIECES of advice about (energy) policy engagement #EnergyPIECES

On Monday 10th December about 60 PhD students and ECRs (early career researchers) gathered in Cambridge for an interesting event, with the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title “Engaging with energy policy: a masterclass for Social Sciences & Humanities PhD and early-career researchers.

Hosted by the Centre for Science and Policy (Cambridge University) and the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, this was an event of two halves.  In the first we heard sat in a tiered lecture theatre hearing from various people with perspectives and advice that could/would be useful to a career in energy policy engagement (aka green confucianism). In the second we got to pick each others’ brains, primarily for the benefit of some people who will be doing secondments with outfits such as the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Energy Saving Trust and Practical Action.

Chris Foulds of the GSI and Robert Doubleday of CSaP opened with a defence of the importance of the Social Sciences and Humanities in offering broader perspectives on energy policy and the rationale of the “PIECES” project (I do sometimes wonder if there could be an annual prize for the best retronym). This was followed by Neil Simcock of Liverpool John Moores talking about the Energy Geographies Research Group and, well, energy geographies and Kate Jones, speaking on Vitae, which has developed several handy tools for personal and career development.

In the Q and A the good point was made that focus on an individual (female researcher’s) ‘resilience and need to be ‘more assertive’ can simply be compensatory for bad systems (nobody, though, dropped the P b-bomb – Patriarchy).

After a refreshments break, a panel discussion on “what makes the Social Sciences & Humanities unique when engaging with energy policy(makers)?”  There were four panellists

  • Alena Fielding, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • Liz Hooper, Practical Action
  • Amber Sharick, UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC)
  • Tom Hargreaves, Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) Research Group, UEA

Since it was never made clear if the meeting was happening under the Chatham House Rule, I’ll not ascribe any specific advice to any individual.

  • Think of the three Rs –  Rigour – (sine qua non); Relevance – timing, and luck, Opportunities may pass and not come back; Relationships
  • Be aware that there are specific individuals – who will be very busy and have their own mental frames of reference – who you need to convince
  • Engineers do clever things that don’t resonate with policymakers…(question of politics priorities/personalities, resource constraints/time constraints, context/consensus)
  • Be clear, structured, let go of being pure.
  • Don’t take people who support you (more senior, less senior) for granted.
  • There was a reference to work around four key questions; where are we going with energy transition?, who wins loses and how?, is this desirable?,  what should be done?  STEM avoids asking these questions, ESS doesn’t
  • Policy space has existing momentum
  • SSH provides answers/evidence that don’t fit with existing assumptions/patterns etc
  • As an academic you may produce things that policymakers actively don’t want to engage with
  • Engaging with policymakers can be very disruptive of work patterns, and throw a lot of stress into a group, as other people end up picking up slack at short notice while you go off to (interminable and short-notice) meetings.
  • Stand up for the value of SSH
  • Don’t bow to pressure to simplify or reduce complexity to realise short term impact
  • Don’t focus only on policy decisions, but look across and  engage across multiple actors in the energy system
  • Don’t just focus on decision-moments, seek longer-term learning
  • Consider using “Trojan Horses” – approaches which get you into closed cultures and then stimulate reflection
  • Provide constructive alternatives
  • Don’t just sling mud and criticise – provide additive alternatives
  • Be diverse
  • Engage multiple audiences, play multiple roles, experiment with different techniques
  • Don’t just shout louder, but also know when to dig your heels in and kick off
  • Get experience on the ground
  • Work in partnership
  • Enhance your skillset (e.g. excel, GIS): Think about the things you can’t get away with not knowing.

The afternoon was given over to small group work about policy engagement (who, how, when, why etc) and brainstorming for the upcoming internships. I blathered about sustainability socio-technical transitions, the multilevel perspective and a few other things. This was apparently useful.

So, a good day – exposed to some new ideas, met some new people…. Finally,  thanks to the organisers for the travel bursary and the enough-detail-but-not-too-much emails beforehand

Sorry to Bother You, but you should defo see Sorry to Bother You

This is a film where, with some reservations, you should believe the hype.  From the bravura opening scene, where we see the desperate hero’s job interview lies get ruthlessly exposed, through to the deeply weird and unsettling climax, this socialist parable is a scabrous and strange attack on, well, almost everything.  Your jaw will be on the floor, your sides will ache. Meanwhile, you’ll learn some new shorthand for the way capitalism makes stooges and cowards of us all.   Oh, and there is eye-candy for whatever your tastes might be.

The basic plot: a young black guy needs a job.  He gets one with a dodgy telemarketing company.  Told (by Danny Glover, no less) to use his white voice, he quickly climbs the ranks.  But the “How to succeed in business without really trying” goes deeply awry, not because of his colleagues’ striking for better conditions but because… ah, that would be telling.  Suffice to say, shit gets weird, with allegory made flesh…  There’s an excruciating ‘rapping’ sequence, an animation film within a film that is Sesame Street on acid and… oh, I could go on.  It’s at least fifteen minutes too long, but you forgive it for its energy, its cynicism, its beauty.  Do not miss this film, which sits somewhere within all of the following:

Horror, bodies Get Out and The Fly

(Reality) television Series 7: The Contenders and They Live

Politics Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, In Time, Elysium,

How on earth did this get made- Bulworth

Black politics/representations of blackness Soul Man, (and others, just can’t think of them right now).

Ehre heads. On the (f)utility of theory

Short post but hopefully not a shitpost.

Went to a thing recently.  There was a good ‘sweeping overview’ history of the twentieth century around Keynesianism/neoliberalism (though it undersold the importance of ICT and containerisation for my taste).

Halfway through I scrawled to a colleague “Five quid says he says nothing/has nothing to say about ‘what is to be done?’. ” I later added ‘hundred’ and then ‘thousand’ between the five and the quid.

Safe bets.

Yes, Paris is dead/worthless. Apparently small nations might be able to do something by appealing to local ‘patriotism’  and ‘honour’  (in German, that’s Ehre) around carbon emissions reductions.

(They haven’t, and, um, free-rider, but never mind).

My actual question would be – How can you give a forty five minute lecture about the future – and specifically ‘the breakdown of systems’ – without mentioning environmental degradation and pressures even once?  Why is that a good and productive thing to sit through.

Answers on a postcard to the usual place

#Climate delay and consequences in a simple metaphor

So recently I was having to explain the delay in doing anything about climate change since 1988, when it became a public policy issue, to a bunch of young women.

One of my go-to metaphors is if you’re dieting to get into a wedding dress, then if start six months before the wedding, losing a pound or two a week, it’s no problem.  Leave it later, and it’s starvation.  Leave it later still, and you’re looking at liposuction, bruising, pain and general horribleness.

Young women have enough crap going on with being body-shamed and all the rest of it that I decided, before opening my big fat patriarchal mouth, to come up with a different analogy.

This is what I came up with.

Imagine you’re invited to a party with y our friend.  You could walk – that’ll take about 60 minutes.  You could catch the bus, that’d take about 30 minutes. Or you could drive.

  • If you keep playing on your X-box, until 50 minutes before you’re supposed to be at the party, then you’d have to run at least some of the way.
  • If you stay on the X-box until 25 minutes, the only choice left is driving.
  • If you leave it to five minutes to the party starts, you MIGHT still make it, by driving both illegally and like a maniac, but there is a good-to-excellent chance that you will kill innocent pedestrians and/or yourself.

I didn’t tell them that the party’s over and that they’re gonna be left with the clean-up.  Why spoil their day, eh?