Where does the #climate “movement” Gogh from here? Of sunflowers, dandelions and strategy

My two cents /fifty pence on the Van Gogh/Sunflowers Just Stop Oil Painting Action, the commentary and what next for people who give a damn.

tl;dr: everyone is missing the point except me (obvs) and if everyone listened to me, had listened to me, all the world’s problems would have been solved ages ago and we could all just kick back and chill, oh yes. (sarcasm).

Yesterday two (painfully) young activists from the Hallam-ite group “Just Stop Oil” threw soup (Heinz, not Campbell’s) onto the glass in front of Vinnie Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”

The video has been watched several gazillion times, and the bits of Twitter that were not popcorning Truss lit up, naturally.

It broke down into the usual responses

  • “It’s counterproductive” (shading over from genuine frustration through to pure concern troll), often drawing the response “what’s your better way of doing things then, eh?”
  • “Well, at least it has got you talking about climate change

If I could be bothered, I would do an algorithm.

Update – here is a quick version-

And there were the usual lukewarm takes and performative support/opposition, handwringing and chest-beating. Various natural scientists weighed in, on various “sides”, each interpreting events and responses through their own lenses (as we all do, but aren’t natural scientists supposed to be more aware of this?) and adducing “evidence” (ranging from anecdote through to dubious/irrelevant “social science research”) to support their position (much as a drunken man uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination).

The action was deemed a “success” or a “failure” on the basis of unarticulated criteria (always a sign of motivated reasoning).

The action was not situated in the short or long history of climate activism, or activism full stop.

The action was not considered or its medium-or long-term effects.

So, just another day on Groundhog Day Twitter, where we swim around like a goldfish with amnesia.

Here’s a few thoughts.

  1. To those deriding the protestors for being young,”privileged” etc: grow up. These children that you spit on, as they try to stop the planet frying, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what is happening.” If you are older than them – and most of us are – and you want to criticise them, it then raises the interesting question of what YOU did when you were their age, about the climate crisis. What have you tried? What have you risked? What did you learn? Why did you quit? Otherwise – and in any case – “piss off Grandpa/ma”.
  2. That said, for god’s sake, it is not 2018, or 2006, or even 1990 anymore. THE. PROBLEM. IS. NOT. “AWARENESS.” You are not going to “wake up the sheeple” by doing ever more strange/disconnected stunts. This is a kind of absurd “information deficit model” – based campaigning that amounts to little (nothing?) more than the scraped knee model of activism.
From here.

3. The problem is not what people think, or even what politicians/organisations/corporations are forced to address/promise. We have been trapped in a cycle of “alarm, promise, promise not kept, sleep” for 35 years on “the greenhouse effect.” See my letter in the FT a while back about this. The problem is building movement organisations and movements that are able to force states, corporations etc to KEEP those promises. And that, surely, is the criterion by which actions should be judged? Well, I tweeted this-

4. That means we have to think about the difference between one-offs (and to be clear, Just Stop Oil have been doing these sorts of things – at infrastructure, on sporting fields, at Formula One, on the streets) – and a sustained campaign. And we have to think about the difference between mobilising and movement-building. Which would bring in the dandelion thing – whether if what you are doing “makes sense” and is replicated elsewhere (in the way the school strikes, briefly, in 2018 and 2019 did).

5. Understand that any tactic has a shelf-life. This is something XR have been frankly terrible at (for well-understood reasons) and that there is a law of diminishing returns.

Look, we’re probably doomed. That’s a whole other Twitter debate, full of similar sterile entrenched positions. Sunflowers or not, doomed or not, we have to ask ourselves

a) what have people been DOING about climate change? What can we learn? What went well, what went badly?

b) what are the identifiable patterns (boom and bust, emotacycle) and what are the underlying causes of those patterns (see my “Cher, incentive structures and our inevitable doom” post).

c) what do we have to do DIFFERENTLY to avoid falling into those patterns and to give ourselves a snowball’s chance in hell of avoiding doom.

And I haven’t seen anybody on Twitter talking about that. Because Twitter is a hell-site.

But then, I haven’t seen these discussions anywhere else, and when I asked smart people recently about where these discussions were happening, I got pointed to books 20 plus years old, or a website that hasn’t updated in 8 months. Which leads me to think that these conversations are not happening, because they are too challenging and painful and it’s more fun to sneer/jeer/cheer (delete as applicable) a bunch of kids who should never have had to be putting their liberty on the line.

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