Well, back in mid-2019 I wrote this
Here’s an excerpt
January 4th 2023 is a Wednesday. There’s probably going to be a scrutiny committee meeting or two of Manchester City Council on that day. Back-bench councillors will gather to hear presentations from officers and Executive Members, and pick over reports. (In a perfect world Manchester City Council will have by then been convinced and forced to create a dedicated Environment Scrutiny Committee, but that is by-the-by).
At that meeting there will be policies that relate to climate change which need to be stronger, or policies that are strong enough but need to be properly implemented.
But it’s an early day in January. When the papers for that scrutiny committee meeting are released, a week before, the students will be away. Everyone will be in that between-Christmas-and-New-Years’ torpor.
So, who will be there to read the documents, to understand – in-depth – what they are saying, what they are not saying, what is being hidden and spun by the Executive Member and officers, keen to avoid embarrassment for work not done?
Who will be there to lobby the members of the scrutiny committee, explain to them what is being done. Who will have the background, the experience and the credibility to be heard? Who will be able to point to better policies, better implementation in other cities?
Who will reach out to other citizens and groups (religious groups, trade unions, community groups, tenants and residents associations you name it), and explain how a fast one is being attempted, and why they should care, and what they should do? Who will make the videos, write the blogs, to an ever-growing audience that cares and knows how to turn that concern into political pressure?
Who will brief journalists, via press releases and relationships already established?
Who will attend the meeting, and ask the questions too hot for any councillor to ask? Who will attend the meeting and make sure that the truth is told about where Manchester is up to, and what needs to be done?
Who will write up what happened? Who will explain afterwards to our allies and supporters what happened, why, and what they can do to be involved in the ongoing scrutinising and ‘chivvying’ of the Council? Who will strategise about how to increase the pressure?
Well, we have the answer now. Because the 4th January has come and gone. And there are indeed scrutiny committee meetings that need scrutinising just a couple of days away, and no indication that anyone is going to do anything.
And the answer we have is …
Nobody will do that work. It’s just too damn difficult for a voluntary group to sustain the ability. And a paid group devolves into being captured and irrelevant.
We’re screwed and I just don’t see a way out.
To be fair, I hadn’t for a long time, but for a while I lied to myself, and I liked the sounds of those lies.
I agree that this is beyond the capacity of voluntary groups and even governments. It’s just on such a scale and so deeply interconnected with what it means to have 8bn of us on the planet, most with upwardly mobile consumption ideas. Where you say “We’re screwed and I just don’t see a way out,” I appreciate the logic, but I suspect that even on a 3 degree planet towards the end of this century, or a 6 degree one later, there will still be life and human life on Earth. I don’t think extinction is in the least likely.
So, where does that leave us? I’d suggest we see it as a call to max out on a One World humanity. We need collectively to open hearts to looking out for one another, and globally so.
There lies the blessing enfolded in the curse. I can take it no further than that.
I don’t have that level of certainty about our prospects, but of course I don’t have anywhere near the breadth and depth of knowledge as you on this, and I may well be telling myself comforting things.
I just have a sense that all the pieces are there, and we lack the process for bringing it all together, but that process may emerge. As an example, you describe how there is a need for voluntary groups to do lots of boring work and the fact is they can’t maintain it. Obviously that’s not the extent of your argument, there are plenty other reasons to see no possibility of a form of organization developing which is competent on all the levels it needs to be. Nevertheless it’s an argument you are putting forth for why we are screwed, and despite being fairly cynical myself I don’t think that it’s a safe conclusion.
One counter argument of many I could put to you would be that there are a decent amount of people willing to do pretty boring work on a voluntary basis, it just happens to not be *this* work. So that is an issue of priorities.
I could put various other arguments, but ultimately nothing that can definitively prove that we are not going to see an effective organized movement, nor even a way to concretely gauge the probability. There are just too many factors. Intuitively, yes, experientially, yes, it feels unlikely to happen. It does seem like we are just going to burn everything down and let future generations and our own face unthinkable consequences so that we can continue in our shitty ways in the short term. That is just an intuition though, for me. It’s not a theory or proof of anything, it doesn’t provide me any certainty.
Keep saying it as you see it though, because even a certainty which turns out to have been in error, or was unknowable has some value in terms of social change I think.
There will be increasing numbers of people saying “we’re screwed”, and like you they will be *certain* of it. And that itself shifts the social mindset, not necessarily in a “good” way, but it is a change. We become a society with an increasing proportion of doomers… and out of that something unexpected might develop.
For instance, as you know, faith in politics is waning, in the systems that we are supposed to use to get change. We are increasingly recognizing that none of these systems and bureaucracies are a way to win change, rather they were often constituted so that they prevent real change. There is a growing understanding that “the system” doesn’t respond, it can’t, which used to be an attitude that was only really found on the left.
You might disagree, and point out that, at a local level people can still apply some sort of pressure, but the point is that few really believe that to be the case now. Or they don’t think that local pressure groups add up to systemic, global change. So for you this adds up to a no hope situation, but I always tend towards looking at extremes as potential points of inflection.
It is increasingly not seen as credible any more to say that we can vote our way or campaign our way to major climate victories, but the same people who understand that, also understand that to do nothing is not an option. The more the years roll on, with increasing awareness of how ineffective all these various simplistic approaches are, the more people are squeezed towards having to devote some time to actually thinking through what needs to happen. They might want to avoid it, by talking about who to vote for, what petitions to local councils to set up, what marches to go on, or speaking events to get tickets for, but none of this *feels* effective any more. Not to them or to their audience. More people are becoming certain that we’re screwed…
Does that add up to any kind of certainty for me that people will soon be ready to organize effectively, to think through what that really entails, or that they will definitely drop out / give up? No, but it is very fertile ground is all am saying. Many commentators and public intellectuals are getting backed into a corner by reality. They can’t keep telling themselves or any one else that protest marches or Greenpeace donations are enough. This means that if something genuinely new does come about.. a new way of organizing, it will be taken up. There will still be energy for it, even though people feel wiped out currently.
You did hit the nail on the head when you pointed towards money, and the effects it has on organizations as being important here. It just seems to me that this is an area which is massively under explored… Aye, money has tended to corrupt the purposes and goals of orgs with initially good intentions.. is that a law of nature though? Are these “ematocycles” etc the rule, or are they just what has happened in the absence of a working practice / lack of interest in how to do truly participatory budgeting etc? I don’t know, but it seems to me that there are lots of ideas which are just sitting there waiting to be picked up, about new ways to try and keep orgs honest.
In the same way that people tend not to want to do boring local organizing, the left has not been very interested in these boring issues about organizational processes and how to really do things in a non-hierarchal way without things turning into a chaotic shambles. Not recently. We have been too distracted, but there may be a growing acceptance that we have to crack these issues. There are a few who have been interested, and they have come up with various proposals which have not yet been taken up by the left…
All am saying is that there are still cards to be played, and people are increasingly fed up with playing losing hands… They might be more likely to reach for new cards.. ( I don’t play cards, but even I know that is a crap metaphor, but I can’t think of anything better right now)