The numbers tell the story, or a story.
The numbers attending the latest Extinction Rebellion rebellion were far lower than a) last years two efforts and b) their private hopes.
The emissions reductions are far higher than we would have thought this time last year, but that’s a) not enough to hit this year’s target and b) temporary – there will likely be a roaring return once Covid works its way through the world’s population.
Things are looking very very bleak, and a lot of pain and confusion is sloshing around in the collective brain of the “climate movement.”
Time for a song, therefore, or a whole bunch of them. Hopefully not adding to the pain, but shedding light rather than heat (the last thing we need is heat), and getting us all to think about “now what?”
The usual disclaimers (1) apply.
Theses 1 to 4 – We’ve known for a long time, and we’ve known what happens
Thesis one: We have known that we’ve had a problem for a very long time
The climate issue did not begin in 2018. There was a tendency to discount not just anything that happened in 2008 (“yeah, grandad, that’s irrelevant, you lost, step aside and let the cool kids show you how it’s done”). Or 1998, or 1988.
But we’ve known, in the immortal words of Tiny Tim , (1967)
“The ice caps are melting.”
On a slightly smoother groove, a few years later, during the Malthusian moment, Marvin Gaye asked “What’s Going On?” with his song “Mercy Mercy Me, the Ecology Song.”
Just because other people lost, didn’t mean they had no useful intel for the battles ahead.
Thesis two: Despite what we want to believe, we aren’t always the best judges of what is going on
In “Changes” David Bowie sings
“And these children that you spit on
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware what they’re going through.”
Yes and no, Davey, yes and no. Yes to the heard immunity. No to the “quite aware.”
A little cognitive humility was in order, and still is
Thesis three: (We have known that) things can come unstuck (or “songs for abeyance”)
We’ve had these waves of concern break against the rocks of real life.
In 19xx Gil-Scott Heron asked
“Whatever happened to the people who gave a damn? Was it just about not dying in the jungles of Vietnam?”
And in 1974 the Australian band the Skyhooks, best-known for its sensitive explorations of the dilemmas of women navigating the male gaze, asked
There are laws of gravity that you ignore at your peril. What goes up will probably come down…
Thesis 4: We know that we can double down instead of innovating
We know that there is a danger in repeating past battles, in trying to live your Glory Days over and over.
As Mr Frank Turner has it
“Well it was bad enough the feeling, on the first time it hit,
When you realised that your parents had let the world all go to shit,
And that the values and ideals for which many had fought and died
Had been killed off in the committees and left to die by the wayside.
But it was worse when we turned to the kids on the left,
And got let down again by some poor excuse for protest –
By idiot fucking hippies in fifty different factions
Who are locked inside some kind of Sixties battle re-enactment.
So I hung up my banner in disgust and I head for the door.”
Theses 5 to 7 – What to expect
Thesis 5: We know what is coming
We know what is coming. There is, as by Creedence Clearwater Revival, had it, a Bad Moon Rising.
Thesis 6: Messengers get shot and smeared
We know that we will be written down in history, with bitter twisted lies, as Ben Harper sings, putting Maya Angelou’s poem to music.
We know that while you should never harm the messenger, sometimes folks do. Expect to be blamed for having been right and unable to get real change.
Thesis 7: Species be deathwishing
We know that four degrees is, er, probably “baked in”. And we want to see those lemurs burn.
It seems like the species really does have a deathwish.
(NB the Marxists will go “typical bourgeois deviationist, implying that everything isn’t the fault of the capitalists. Mystic mambo jumbo half-baked anthropology and psychotherapy spreads around the blame when it all actually pertains to Standard Oil, Carnegie and Andrew Undershaft.” To which I say, “yeah, eat me.”)
Theses – 8 to 11 So what is to be done?
Thesis 9 : Realise where you are (spoiler – you are After the Gold rush)
There was a gold rush, a sudden flurry leaving behind a sinister slurry. Amid the toxic tailings and the toxic tales of the reasons for our failings will come little insight. The cops and the COPs will cop the blame, as will the media, everyone we can do little/nothing about.
“Look at mother nature on the run, in the 1970s”
Thesis 10: It matters though to stay keen, to try to stay in the game
Everybody’s changing, sure.
We should work on the assumption that Glasgow will come too late (in every sense), but particularly around the soi-disant non-hierarchical climate movement – if there is a set of protests and events, those will be run by the usual suspect NGOs, with the usual suspect repertoires.
We (you) should try to make a move just to stay in the game,
So little time
Try to understand that I’m
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same
hope that you can keep infrastructures of dissent intact so they have further usefulness if/when shit starts to a) hit fan b) get real.
While it doesn’t mean you have to listen people who force you to enunciate mea culpas as humilation and abnegation, it also means they are not obliged to take you seriously until you make a decent stab at saying the reasons behind the failure, till they hear the words “I was wrong and you were right” and think you might actually mean them.
In practice, some of the key skills that were lacking, still are as best I can tell are
Thesis 11: Do the work, pay the rent
Abeyance sucks, but it can also be a time to reflect and emerge stronger. The saving the world thing – well, the pressure is off, tbh – it was already irredeemably fucked before you tried to redeem it.
Last song not to make gender quota (though, um, sausagefestmuch?) but because it speaks so well to machismo and batshit-harmful notions of behaviours that use up and spit out other people, not caring for their needs (and to be clear, I have been in this ballpark, within spitting (at) distance of this kind of asshole. I claim no high moral ground)
There is so much to do, so little time. It is an emergency. We have to keep our heads. We have to share the loads. We have to stay in the game. We have to be as ready as we can be for whatever the future has in store, to make the moves, to play the cards that get dealt in this desperate not-a-game game.
I am writing in a personal capacity, not as a representative of any particular organisation that I might be a core group member of.
I have tried to bite down on the schadenfreude and the language of “up like a rocket, down like a stick” (look, I made it white!) . Probably failed. So it goes. If you’re a snowflake who can’t take the underlying tone of exasperation, you’re probably not really one of life’s rebels, now are you?