The Glasgow thing is starting already.
COP26, the international climate meeting that was supposed to take place in November 2020 but will now – perhaps- happen in November 2021- has changed its meaning from “magnet that will get all the iron fillings pointing in the same direction” (see this December 2019 blog post) to a giant defibrillation paddle, which is supposedly going to shock the (dead and never actually really there) climate “movement” back to life.
It is going to be very tedious, having this conversation over and over again.
And although people (say they) can hear the criticisms, and accept that summit-hopping all builds up to a big “moment” and then in the aftermath everyone is sat around exhausted and saying (or thinking) ‘well, that was a waste of time’, here we go again, it seems. I guess disvisioned people they need to have that comfort, that kind of Potemkin-momentum.
And they need therefore to disparage the alternatives. And that disparagement comes through the standard ways.
First and best is to simply ignore that other things are happening, other things being done.: things that might involve you actually having to do activism that doesn’t consist of going to multiple meetings telling each one of them how busy you are (but never actually, you know, doing anything). That’s activity-ism, not activism.
Second is to acknowledge but disparage what other people are doing as futile, reformist, not worthy of their (oh-so precious) time. “The solutions aren’t local, Marc, they are international. Our movement has to be as international as capitalism.” After all, they’ve got so many meetings to go to at which they have to say how busy they are…
Third is to … actually, I think that may cover it.
Right now I am too knackered and disheartened to think straight, in any case.
It seems to be the vibe, in any case – everyone is knackered, dispirited. What if we are already in the aftermath, already in the period of abeyance, where Greta has aged out, where David Attenborough is making his pleas with diminishing returns, where Saint Roger is revealed to have been swimming naked, where the “we are totally screwed” messages have on some level been absorbed. What if we’re all already kinda just waiting for the big old cloud of radiation to hit, so their hair falls out and everything dies, whether the state-sanctioned suicide pills do the job or not.
We might have passed over into that moment, like (spoilers) Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense – going through the motions, unaware that (no, seriously, spoilers) WE HAVE BEEN DEAD ALL ALONG.
Of course, such fey, arch poses are the luxury of those with food in their belly and a sure roof over their heads tonight. For the precarious the precarity goes on, like it always had, only more so.
But those ordinary people (and thanks to ten months of covid, and ten years of austerity, and four decades of neoliberalism, there are more and more ordinary people around), cannot be used as a convenient get out clause – “only those who are on the pointiest bit of the pointiest end are allowed to complain”.
I reject the oppression Olympics Tolerably comfortable people (it’s contingent – that’s always contingent) are allowed to feel knackered, dispirited, fatalistic. Just because we aren’t currently starving or having our heads kicked in, we don’t have to be perpetually upbeat and optimistic. We can hug our inner doomer.
What we must not do is this – we must neither wallow in narcissism and solipsism, nor do things that we admit from the outset are futile. And that is what the Glasgowites – at least the ones I am encountering – are telling us. That’s how bankrupt they are. They aren’t even claiming“we can make a difference if we do this” (as it was with people pissing off to London for a march in December 2009, and then on to Copenhagen).
No, what we have now is an acknowledgement that Glasgow will be a shit show, but “well, it’s something (in our comfort zones). We know it is futile, but local action seems pointless.” or “people will be talking about climate change, so that’s good.”
And for some of them – those with enough self-awareness to grok what is going on – they have to contend with the knowledge that it isn’t just the futility of local action, but that local action means mostly, staying put, working in the same circles, with the same people you know all-too-well, and without much media attention or momentum. Because big international conferences (usually! In the pre-covid times during which norms and expectations were formed) involve opportunities to strut and fret upon a bigger stage (national and then international). These jamborees involve chances to meet people beyond the relatively small numbers in your own town or city, and to feel like you are an (important) activist in a growing organisation. All without having to do anything beyond your comfort zone of regurgitating the talking points from some article you’ve read, and talking about “global crisis” in general terms. What’s not to love?
The chap who was best man at my wedding is a Doctor (so am I, but I’m not the kind of Doctor who helps people). And back in the day, he and I would swap morbid stories (I used to be a health care professional). And the whole thing around CPR and resus was a constant source of gallows humour. And we kicked around the idea of – when the time is closer – getting “DNR” tattoo-ed in very big letters on our chests, with the sub-heading “stick those paddles where the sun don’t shine” so that the paramedic or quack knows to just let us go with a minimum of gore and fuss.
Maybe I will still do that. But as for us, collectively, I think the Paddles of Glasgow will be applied to the rotting body politic. It will be perceived (almost certainly wrongly) as a way that interest in/social mobilisation on climate change can be magically returned to the putative glory days of late 2018/early 2019.
Even if the operation is a success (and it is a long shot), the patient is going to die.