Anything but the E word. Holdfast Bay council rejects #climate emergency motion

“The shit is hitting the fan,” but it’s not an emergency, according to Holdfast Bay Councillors

Holdfast Bay’s elected members have overwhelmingly rejected a bid for the council to declare a climate emergency. In front of a packed public gallery of young and old, councillors were at pains to display their environmental concerns and credentials, while simultaneously watering down a motion put forward by one of the newest members.

After hearing from a delegation of a 14 year old and an 80 year old, both articulate and compelling, the council had the chance to act on what they heard. A recently elected Councillor, Philip Chabrel, put forward a motion noting recent alarming scientific reports, and calling on the Council to join many others around the world in declaring a climate emergency.  However, it quickly became clear that almost all of his fellow councillors were not in agreement.  An amendment, which removed the offending  term climate emergency and replaced it with an anodyne statement that “ALL levels of government” needed to act, was immediately put forward by another councillor, of many years standing. As other councillors spoke up in favour of that amendment, it quickly became apparent that they were all more interested in declaring that they knew how dire the situation was than in, well, committing the Council to doing anything new about the situation.  An almost accidental and incoherent attempt by another councillor to re-insert the climate emergency term was brushed aside,  The final vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the amended- and weakened – motion.

Holdfast Bay is a sea-side council, and as such could be expected to be particularly concerned about climate change, which is already bringing sea-level rise.  Instead, the Councillors were more interested in blaming State and Federal government and highlighting the City’s purported credentials..  While there is a lot of truth to this, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Councillor Chabrel, who repeatedly argued that a climate emergency declaration would not cost the council inordinate sums of money, and would bring focus and urgency to the Council’s action, was palpably frustrated. His telling argument that previous Council goals (e.g. to be carbon neutral in its own operations by 2023) were not being implemented, was basically ignored.

After the motion was defeated, most of the 30 or so people present left the meeting and congregated outside the council chamber, amidst the displays that celebrate the city’s radical and pioneering past.  There was a distinct sense of confusion and despair, alongside déjà vu – recently two other metropolitan councils – Adelaide and Marion – have rejected calls for a climate emergency, with similar arguments used.

If this is a situation where, in the words of the Councillor who moved the watering-down amendment, ‘the shit is about to hit the fan’, then it IS an emergency, and talking about plastic bags and abandoned tyres is not discharging your responsibilities.

Eventually, as the impacts pile up,  these incoherent and irrelevant arguments will go away. However, the opportunity to prepare individuals, communities and society for the major challenges ahead will also have gone.  Future generations are unlikely to look kindly upon almost all of Holdfast Bay’s ‘leaders’.


Expect (lots) more magical thinking, from eco-types as well as reactionaries

Easy it is to see the dynamics playing out in people we don’t like.  Easy it is to see how the complexities, ambiguities and downright extra-messiness of Modern Life can lead people to reach for simple(minded) “solutions” and slogans like “Make America Great Again” and “Take Back Control.”

Not so easy to spot it, or admit it, in your own tribe or your tribe’s fellow travellers. but it IS there.  Look at all the Kool-Aid swigging folks getting on with hare-brained cult-like nonsense at the moment (you know who I am talking about).  As one particularly astute friend put it to me –

“Like talking to a bloody cult member now when I gently suggested trying to innovate and do some different tactics and try a little different marketing/publicity approach on Facebook to get more turnout. I knew he could be very close minded but my goodness. I guess sometimes you just don’t know how people will react when they get in a bit of mob/group think thing.”

It’s all magical thinking –

the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, wishes, or actions can influence the course of events in the physical world. It is something people all over the globe engage in, and many religious and folk rituals center around it. [source]

As I said in reply –

I think it’s a symptom of how scared and desperate people are now. People who are that freaking freaked out are not good at innovating. They want simple solutions to complex problems. It’s the mirror image of the Trump/MAGA thing…. magical thinking all the way.

And it’s going to get worse before it gets… worse.


My goodness we are toast.  What a species – a toxic brew of hormones, heuristics and hubris (h/t Toni Fish).

Look Sharp- underlying vectors and factors for the emotacycle?

My very smart Canadian friend (no, not you, Cameron – I have another very smart Canadian friend) just sent me an interview conducted with a researcher/activist called Marcie Smith, by a chap called Branko Marcetic.  It’s title is Gene Sharp, the Cold War Intellectual Whose Ideas Seduced the Left and it is brilliant (as in Smith is on the money, and the right questions were asked).

I think I may have to adjust/expand my thoughts around the emotacycle, which I am doing a presentation about at the end of the month.l.


I will deal with this more in the second part of the essay, which will come out soon — it’s about how Sharp’s ideas spread and migrated throughout the Left, how they show up. One of the things I began to see, and others have commented on — and this was not just in the climate movement but in the US protest scene more broadly — was a kind of instrumentalization of protests. By which I mean, elevating protest as an end in itself as opposed to recognizing it as a means to specific political outcomes. This idea that if we do protest, good things will happen. If we perform righteousness, power will notice and we will get the justice and freedom that we demand, whatever that means. Protest gets elevated way above other skills, like organizing, political education, intellectual labor, debate, the skills of alliance building, i.e. diplomacy, etc.

I myself am implicated in this. I was a college climate activist and it’s a very heady thing to get involved in protest movements, to connect and cathect in the street with others who are rightly outraged at the injustice of our current state of affairs. But always we need to be clear, what are we demanding? And who or what are we demanding it of? And is this the best, most strategic use of limited time and resources, is it informed by history and the dynamics of class struggle? And I think intergenerational movements are essential if we are going to answer these questions well. I don’t think it’s coincidental that many Sharpian movements have been driven by middle-class, urban university students, young people with lots of energy, so-called moral clarity, but who are still negotiating their relationship to authority, have few or no bills to pay, etc., and may be “cosmopolitan provincials” in their worldview.

and later

So, we are operating with these very moralistic categories that don’t offer much in the way of specifics about what kind of world we want, what kinds of productive relations we want, and what would it actually take to achieve them in the face of extremely powerful opposition.

That’s dangerous. It puts protest movements in a position where they can be easily co-opted, where they can serve as a kind of battering ram, and then the neoliberal experts with the “good ideas” come rolling out and with the content.