Category Archives: activism

Here comes the “2050” bullshit. Be happy for it. #climate

The future is here, and we are avoiding it.
2020 used to be the target year, by which we had done x and y and z.
Sadly, we didn’t do those things. A mix of complacency, distraction, stupidity and incompetence mostly explains that. So it goes.

But this presents the happy shiny people (HSP) who want to pretend that they’re making the world a better place with a problem. If they talk about 2020 targets it quickly becomes apparent that

a) we are going to miss those targets. By a very very long way. (But it doesn’t matter, because the targets were inadequate, and we’re fucked)

which is bad enough, but

b) the people who are responsible for the missing of those of those 2020 targets are still in the room. Worse, they are probably the very people on whom the HSP relies for the next bit of grant funding, the next reference, the next desired job.

Awkward.

So, what is to be done? Well, if the HSPs had a shred of intellectual prowess, or moral courage, they’d move the goalposts as little as possible, to say 2025.

In Manchester, the new goalpost is… 2050. Obvs; that’s just how the HSPs of MCC, MACF, LCH, etc roll.

So, we’ve got a “major and substantive report, which will address the Council’s commitments on climate change between now and 2050, in light of agreements at the recent Paris talks“ coming to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee in July..

Meanwhile, there is an event on March 2nd

This half-day workshop for arts and cultural organisations will explore what leadership on environmental sustainability looks like amongst the creative community.
The workshop is a partnership between Julie’s Bicycle, Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) network and the Manchester Climate Change Agency. It will be the official launch of the Manchester Climate Lab – a year of events and engagement activities to develop a five year plan towards achieving the city’s vision for a zero carbon Manchester by 2050.

Will either the report or the event have any serious reflection on the scale and causes of the failure between 2009 and 2016? Don’t go holding your breath…

Cui bono?
The whole 2050 target thing is a total gift (courtesy of those muppets at Avaaz) to local power-brokers who very very occasionally need to deflect (statistically irrelevant) local concern about climate inaction. They are perfectly happy to make some long-term non-binding commitment, especially if it means that their feet are not held to the fire over the broken promises they made a few short years ago. They could not, in fact, be happier.
Meanwhile, those who need to cuddle up to these power-brokers – for financial, political or psychological reasons – are not forced to confront the brutal reality of everyone’s failure over the last ten years (well, almost 30 years if we’re honest with ourselves) to reduce our carbon emissions and start preparing for the unpreparable.

Be happy?
Basically, we should be grateful for this 2050 meme In the same way that certain individuals (hi, TB!) and organisations (hi MACF!), operate as useful warnings-for-those-who-choose-to-hear-them, then the “2050 target” flags up that the people running the event are HSPs.

  • You may or may not have a good time at their event.
  • You may or may not meet some interesting people.
  • You may or may not learn something.

All that depends. One thing is certain though – you’ll be unable to contribute anything meaningful , (for example, um, reality), because the maintenance of Happiness, Shininess and – most of all –the support of our current Lords and Masters – is the number one priority.

The game’s the game.

What a species. I’m glad I’m 45. I’m glad I didn’t have kids. Carpe the diems.

See also
literature on management of expectations
nature of bureaucracy (Peter Principle, Parkinson’s Law, Michel’s Oligarchical Law of Irony)
long-term targets as farcical ‘kick the can down the road’ mechanism

Indicator species.
Canaries in the coal mine
Litmus test
Red flags
Signals passed at danger
Hindsight is a beautiful thing

Anxiety Management
Siggie Freud
Terror Management Theory

 

Why the hype over Paris and #COP21? Politics, psychology and money

An essay on hype, history, denialism and the fossil fuel lobby.

I hope I am wrong, and that Paris is indeed the “turning point” it is being hyped as. It won’t take us long to find out – two or three years, I reckon. Personally, I think it will run into the sand in much the same way that the Kyoto Protocol did after 1997.* Let’s remember, the deal doesn’t include aviation and shipping, and people like James Hansen think it’s a ‘fraud‘…

Instead in this brief post I want to put out a provisional answer as to why the grossly inadequate deal received such overwhelmingly positive press with a couple of exceptions, e.g from Paris Climate Justice and Monbiot,  make some predictions about the “denialists”, the fossil-fuel lobby and, finally, the problems of movement-building/mobilising.

Why the hype, from people who ought to know better?

I think there are three reasons, that may well intersect and interact, but for now can be treated separately. They are psychological, financial and political.

Firstly, climate change is bloody depressing, and if you’ve chosen – or are paid – to think about it, it exacts a toll. You get grumpy, demoralised, angry, whatever. And mostly you get the hope kicked out of you year after year after year. The UNFCCC process has been one of repeated let-downs, since the first COP in Berlin in early 1995. You have to go all the way back to the Rio Conference to get any stirring words about large-scale ambition and equity. (e.g. article 2)

So, even though people were carefully managing their expectations downwards, they were STILL pleasantly surprised that the deal was better than many (including myself) thought it would be. There were more fine words in there than most would have predicted, even if
a) the 1.5 thing is a joke – there’s no way on Gaia’s no-longer-very-green Earth that we will stay within that, unless we repeal some laws (of physics). It was inserted as a sop to the Small Island States.
b) the words “fossil fuels” are, as Naomi Klein tweeted, distinctly absent from the agreement. Best trick the devil ever played and all that.

kleintweet

Within that bubble, if everyone around you is cheering and crying and hugging (literally or metaphorically) it’s pretty hard not to get pulled along in the slip-stream.

Secondly, financial – lots of the non-governmental organisations that are usually more critical of this have pretty delicate finances of late, and if you’re reliant on guilty middle-class people sending in direct debits, you have to frame your critiques ‘just so’. To quote (myself)

NGOs are in the business of monetising hope. They need to keep middle-class people signing the direct debits. Thus “world leaders just need to be held to account, and combined with some New Technology, everything will be okay” is an acceptable message to send out in the aftermath of COP21, whereas “this agreement is too little, too late – middle class lifestyles like yours have caused the problem and have to go for us to have any chance whatsoever of avoiding total apocalypse” is … not.  People on the receiving end of the second message are less likely to renew their direct debit donations.

Finally, there’s two kinds of political reasons.
One, people don’t want the process to lose momentum. They on some level know that there will be a counter-attack from the denialists and the fossil-lobby, so they want to talk the Paris agreement up, building its credibility. You saw a sliver of this when Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute chided climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Larkin Bows.
Two – faced with the near-certainty of a horrible future, we’re regressing into all kinds of wishful thinking disconnected from the political and ecological realities. As a very smart friend who I do not see nearly enough just observed

“Interesting to see even Swedish groups who are prepared to digger dive still welcoming Paris. I think we’re now sharply seeing the effect of how the green movement, in the west, is based on morality, feelings like “hope”; aesthetics of struggle. There’s no real concrete link that gives activists penalties or rewards based on what they win or fail to win, unlike a union negotiator who themselves goes home to face a pay cut after agreeing not to strike.”

Finally, on Paris, I thought this comment was pretty good

You also need to know the wording of the Paris Agreement.
I will summarize it for you. It is written with much use of the following words : –Urging, encouraging, striving, engaging, aiming, welcoming and should (take action eg).
It looks to me like the common goals 1.5 or 2 degrees are merely wishful thinking. There is no mechanism described or prescribed that I can see to achieve either of them.
It is supposedly legally binding but it seems to impose almost nothing on anyone except for a working committee or two.

What will the denialists do?
I doubt they will go away. In fact, I think their numbers will grow. Here’s why. There is a core of rusted on denialists (old white men for the most part). They aren’t going anywhere soon (well, some of the older ones are, clearly), and they’ve not got a way of climbing down without losing face. I suspect they will be joined by other people for whom the consequences of climate change interfere with their view of a ‘just world‘ (bad things can’t happen to good people like them, and good people like them would never have been silent during decades of an unfolding catastrophe, ergo climate change is a hoax).

There will be ‘new’ strands – rather than outright denial, we will see arguments on the costs of action, the ‘unfairness’ that other nations aren’t doing more.  Many of these arguments have been honed and refined over the last two decades. Climate denial is best thought of as the protean T-1000 Terminator, able to shift shape at will, rather than as the industrial T-800…

One very simple strategy might be to ramp up advocacy of things that they know the climate activists either hate or are divided on (nuclear, geo-engineering etc) and then say “well, if you’re unwilling to countenance these solutions, the problem isn’t as bad as you say.”

Of course, the newspapers and television MAY stop giving them oxygen, ‘balance’ may no longer be bias. Given the ownership of the papers and the fear among the state-owned media outlets I doubt it.. We will see. And anyway, the blogosphere etc has a claim to shaping the public mind these days, and there are, famously, fewer controls there.

The Fossil Fuel Lobby.
If we have learnt anything over the last almost-three decades, it’s surely that the fossil fuel lobby is very smart, very determined, and very cashed-up. It’s played a blinder in terms of delaying legislation, then watering it down, and even getting it repealed. It’s not going to go away. Even before Paris I am sure they were hiring smart people to make worst-case-scenario plans,  devise the behind-the-scenes political strategies to slow everything down, drain momentum, energy and attention, and to build fear, uncertainty and doubt.  And expect to see a massive effort now by oil and gas to throw coal under the bus (that already started in Paris – not at the COP, but back in June.

Socio-culturally, expect new memes soon.

Of course, they are not all-powerful now just because they were in the past. But just because they’re on the ropes doesn’t mean they are on the canvas. And to mix the metaphor, a cornered beast is the most dangerous.

Harder to mobilise
Finally, on social movements; in mid-2009, in the lead-up to another much-hyped conference (the Copenhagen one), an Aussie called Antony Kelly wrote a brilliant and ignored article warning that there could be a post-Copenhagen demobilisation effect if the talks were declared a success. He was right, but for the wrong reason.
Most people don’t pay much more than cursory attention to climate change (why would you?!). And what they’ll have picked up from the press and television coverage is that ‘everything’s sorted, leaders are on the case’.
So we will see it possible to mobilise around, say, fracking, but on the bigger and always-more-awkward issues like UK Energy Policy, no.
Meanwhile, there are always other competing issues, and if climate change has been “solved” in the eyes of many, they will take their energy elsewhere -the next war(s), austerity, etc.

What is to be done?
Let’s not lie to ourselves, eh? And let’s carpe the bloody diems.

 

Footnote

* The Americans walked away, having bogged it all down in technical details. The Australian’s then walked away. By the time the Russians ratified in 2005, much treasure had been wasted on what was already grossly inadequate.

“After sustainability” – good questions…

So, if there were a functioning climate movement in Manchester, it would, imho, be answering some of the questions in bold (scroll down if you want to see them). But there isn’t. Ho-hum, #gladtobe45andchildfree.

 

Global Discourse special issue: ‘After sustainability – what?’
Call for Papers

Guest editor:
John Foster (j.foster@lancaster.ac.uk)

It is no longer completely out of court among thinkers and scholars concerned with environmental issues to argue that the ‘sustainability’ discourse and policy paradigm have failed, and that we are moving into a new era of much bleaker prospects. A recent Policy Review paper in the journal Society and Natural Resources (Benson and Craig, 2014) is bluntly entitled ‘The End of Sustainability’. Authors as diverse as Clive Hamilton (2010), Tim Mulgan (2011), Dale Jamieson (2014) and John Foster (2015) write with the working assumption that climate change, on a scale lying unpredictably between the seriously disruptive and the catastrophic, is no longer something we must find ways of avoiding, but something we are going to have to live with. Parallel to this recognition is the rise to prominence of the ‘anthropocene’ trope (e.g. Hamilton et al, 2015) with its defining acceptance that human beings have decisively altered the atmosphere and set in motion a mass extinction as drastic and now inevitable as any produced by Earth-system changes over geological time.

Retrospectively, indeed, we can begin to see how impotent the sustainability model was always going to prove. Constraining immediate needs (or desires) to serve future needs, the anticipation, interpretation and measurement of which were all to be carried out under pressure of the immediate needs and desires supposedly to be constrained, could never have offered anything but a toolkit of lead spanners, capable only of bending helplessly when any serious force was applied. No wonder we continue to find the nuts and bolts of unsustainable living so stubbornly unshiftable.

What is then all the more striking is the complete lack of acknowledgement of this paradigm failure in mainstream political discourse. In the world of the United Nations and other international and national policy fora, less and less promising prospects are met only by a more and more firmly fixed grin of willed optimism. The latest Monitoring Report for the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy, for instance (Eurostat Press Office, 2015), claims that in respect of sustainable consumption and production, demographic changes and greenhouse gas emissions, changes in headline indicators mark changes that are ‘clearly favourable’, although only willed optimism could celebrate the last of these without a glance in the direction of China or India. Meanwhile the upcoming (November-December 2015) UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (the twenty-first of these jamborees since the UN started interesting itself in such matters) is touted, as all its predecessors since Copenhagen 2009 have been touted, as the really last last-chance saloon.

The nearest the official policy world comes to recognition that we actually won’t prevent (above all) unsustainable climate change, is in the increasing volume of talk about ‘mitigation’ rather than prevention. But even here, denial is plainly at work. How do you ‘mitigate’ the unavoidably tragic and disastrous? There is evidently some very serious cognitive disjuncture operating here.

This special issue of Global Discourse will seek to grapple with both the diagnosis and the prognosis of that disjuncture. We call for papers to explore a range of related questions, including:

*Where does widespread denial come from? How will it be overcome?

*What options for political and personal action will remain open in a radically degraded world? What are the conditions of habitability of such a world?

*How will economic and community life, political and social leadership and education be different in such a world?

*What will the geopolitics be? (What might what we now call a refugee ‘crisis’ look like when sub-Saharan Africa becomes uninhabitable? How could we deal with that? What is the role of defence and armaments – including nuclear armaments – in such a world?)

*Are there any grounds for hope that don’t rest on denial?

References
Benson, M. and Craig, R. (2014) ‘The End of Sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources 27; 777-782 Eurostat Press Office (2015) ‘Is the European Union moving towards sustainable development?’ (News Release 148/2015, 1st September 2015) Foster, J. (2015) After Sustainability (Abingdon: Earthscan from Routledge) Hamilton, C. (2010) Requiem for a Species (London: Earthscan) Hamilton, C. et al. (eds.) (2015) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis (Abingdon: Routledge) Jamieson, D. (2014) Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press) Mulgan, T. (2011) Ethics for a Broken World (Durham: Acumen)

Submission instructions and deadlines
Abstracts of 400 words: 31st December 2015 Articles (solicited on the basis of review of abstracts): 1st May 2016
Publication: Early 2017

Instructions for authors
http://www.tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?journalCode=rgld20&page=instructions#.UX-WG8qSJHo
Please submit all abstracts and articles to the Guest Editor Further details:
http://www.tandfonline.com/rgld

Editor contact details: John Foster
(j.foster@lancaster.ac.uk)

Journal Aims and Scope
Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The journal’s scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues. The journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, shorter essays, rapid replies, discussion pieces and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author/s. With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse welcomes submissions from and on any region. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work. With a mix of themed and general issues, symposia are periodically deployed to examine topics as they emerge.

Climate change and World War 2 analogy

Someone who went on the climate march didn’t see the organisers taking the coffins away from protesters and calling for police support.

He did however comment “that there were more young faces in the crowd than usual“.

Memories are funny things.  I remembered at that moment my grandfather and one of the recollections he shared with me of his time in the war.  He’d joined the British Army as a ‘boy soldier’ in 1925, then found himself in China in 1929, and Palestine in the mid-late 30s.  He went to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1939.  Then in 1940, as everyone fled to Dunkirk, he missed the boat, literally.  The next two weeks involved getting to ports just after the Germans.  He finally managed, by this time having gathered other soldiers with him, to commandeer a French fishing boat and sail to the UK.  Otherwise he’d have spent five years as a Prisoner of War.

Anyway, the particular thing he told me was that during that two weeks, at one point they encountered a whole bunch of troops sent over from Britain, bright-eyed and eager to engage the enemy.  By this time he’d been a soldier for almost 15 years, and he knew which way was up.  He was dismayed, sad for them and angry with the politicians who could send troops on a pointless exercise that could at very best end with their capture, simply as a gesture to a defeated ally.

And this is the icky bit. I’m not comparing us climate change veterans to soldiers who’ve been shot at (and done some shooting too, of course).  But the dynamic – of the young ones who know no better being keen, while everyone else is weary, seems to apply.

On existentialism, guilt, Godard and … Shell’s corporate framing strategy

Shell has a new advert – another clever and slick one extolling the virtues of burning gas, which, by pure coincidence, they happen to sell. Why now with this? Well, a mere three decades after the scientists started saying “we’re gonna fry ourselves if we don’t get off the fossil fuel habit” we rich white people are finally thinking about talking about at some point in the middle future perhaps getting rid of one of the three fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). And Shell sold its coal assets a while back, so would, along with the gas industry more generally, like to throw coal under the bus. It all came out in the open in June at a gas conference in Paris, the city of lights.

Fwiw, I’ve written here (“Simians, Cyborgs and Shell: Corporate Propaganda and Fall-back positions”) about Shell and its adverts. Slick stuff. This advert is a homage/pastiche/rip-off (take your pick) of Jean-Luc Godard’s stunning 1960 film “A Bout de Souffle” (or “Breathless”).

Shot in black and white (but curiously flat and expertly amateurish – probably another bid to seem quirky and authentic), it shows a pretty young woman and her French Bogart-y/Belmondo-y boyfriend in conversation, ostensibly about love, but actually about energy policy. She wants constancy, not intermittency, and he offers that he’ll always be around . It’s a parable, don’t you see – renewables can’t provide base-load electricity generation (says Shell), only natural gas can. It’s all done with subtitled dialogue and sub-Godardian camera angles.

This is presumably part one of a cunning two-part dog-whistling strategy. First they get you used to the idea that sophisticated people, who ‘get’ the (mis)appropriation of French cinema history, are willing to keep tipping enormous quantities of carbon into the atmosphere to maintain their tres debonair lives, (some other schmucks, without the distinction and cultural capital to have heard of Nouvelle Vague, pay; but they tend to be people in far off countries about which we know little. Like the Ogoni, to pick an example at random.)

The second part involves some meat-puppet politician telling you that natural gas is a transition fuel, and you nod along sagely, not even dimly aware that you’ve been primed.

Shell is in a spot of bother. On the question of carbon capture and storage (the only technology that might have given the fossil fuel industry a breathing space)  its boss had this to say

Van Beurden insisted that he had his hands tied from investing more heavily in CCS because they would not produce the high financial returns that investors had been used to from oil and gas. “I would lose my job over it if I just threw a few billions away [on CCS] … CCS is essential for society and … is ultimately important for our company, but listen, I have great difficulty to have shareholders focus on the quarter after next.”

More recently it got its Arctic arse handed to it by Greenpeace.

So at times of trouble, you fall back on what you are good at. And Shell is very very good indeed at distinguishing its indistinguishable-from-its-competitors’ product by appeals to identity, authenticity and naturalness. As the Australian cultural commentator Ross Gibson wrote two decades ago, back when climate change was possibly still manageable;

In 1953, John Heyer produced, co-wrote and directed a documentary film, The Back of Beyond, for the Shell Film Unit of Australia. For forty years in Europe, Shell had been engaged in advertising campaigns designed to “naturalize” their products in economies around the industrial world. The general strategy entailed representing Shell as innate to the good life available to the citizens of the twentieth century. “You can be sure of Shell” – the famous slogan is serene and solid like a landmass. Emphasising that Shell was part of Britain’s second nature, the company’s public relations exercises often functioned with the assurance and cunning of a myth of origin.
(Gibson, 1993; 135)

For my money (and as a PhD student, I don’t have a lot), Shell is trying to create another halo effect here. Rather than nature, female-ness and creativity, as per the ‘hybrid world’ advert, this time it’s about implying existentialism, passion and meaning. Which is a bit of a contrast to the lives of desperation, relentless banality and triviality that most of us are forced to live most of the time, but there you have it.  We’ll keep burning the fuels, so pretty soon our lives will still be full of desperation and banality. The mindless consumerism of trinkets may tail off a bit though.

Finally, there’s a couple of implications here that they presumably hope viewers are vague enough to miss. Casting itself as the Gallic gangster has the implication that it, like Belmondo’s character in Breathless, natural gas is a nihilistic narcissist/sociopath who uses up beautiful things and throws them to one side when they’re used up.

Also, I seem to recall it not ending well for the lad. One can only hope that there is a cop (or perhaps a “COP”?) to do the decent thing sometime rather soon.

So, Shell, I have two things to say – Go ahead, steal a great film, use it up, spit it out. That’s fine, that’s just what you do, who you are.

Oh, and Shell? Je dis que vous êtes vraiment “une dégueulasse”.

Reference

Gibson, R. 1993. “Yarning,”  pp 135-157 in South of the West: Post-colonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Professor Kevin Anderson on #Paris #Climate #hope and much more

This post originally appeared on Manchester Climate Monthly.

Climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson spoke to Manchester Climate Monthly on Monday 23rd November. In the two separate videos that follow, you can see him outlining what is at stake in the upcoming Paris climate conference – the nature of the individual nations’ pledges (INDCs) and how they actually add up to 3 or 4 degrees of warming, not the 2.7 that’s being widely quoted. He believes there is still a (very) slender chance that we can keep warming below two degrees, but it will require a much larger effort than anything currently on the table, and within months the option will be gone.

He looks at the heroic assumptions involved in “Bio-energy Carbon Capture and Storage” before turning to the history of the “two degrees” claim and what it means, the question of ‘what is to be done’, of hope, responsibility and much else.

As ever, Kevin’s answers are comprehensive, carefully modulated around what is fact and what is interpretation, and compelling.

First video

0 minutes What are INDCs? And why should the claim that the INDCs add up to roughly 2.7 degrees of warming very questionable?

INDCs are the “voluntary contributions” (pledges), only go out to 2030, hard to quantify because being submitted in different forms. LOTS of assumptions in this. UNEP Emissions gap report released recently suggests 3 to 4 degrees.
And all the assessments assume that we will develop techniques to suck carbon out of the atmosphere – “BECSS” – Bio-energy Carbon Capture and Storage, and roll them out. Lots of very heroic assumptions in all this

7 minutes and 30 seconds – “It’s the responsibility of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth”

Must be careful ascribing intentionality to deceive – it’s an “emerging conspiracy”, of iterative failure, making it harder and harder to do anything.

10 mins. You live in hope?

“We are incredibly unlikely to succeed on two degrees. We are unlikely to hold to three.” Paris is probably the end-game for two degrees C. We’ve lost all the our carbon budgets for that…”

13 mins Explain what two degrees means and why it matters?

Second video

O mins – what did we agree at Copenhagen?

We agreed at Copenhagen to take action to stay below two degrees, consistent with science and on the basis of equity. And didn’t do it- the INDCS are not two degrees, not consistent with science, and massively inequitable.

1 mins 40 Why are you going to Paris?

2 mins 30 What should we as citizens be doing in 2016?

5 mins 40 Who do we push then?

7 mins 30 There seem to be no levers that people of good faith can pull on to even slow down the acceleration of the juggernaut.

“We’ve come to a consensus of apathy” … we have all been co-opted…

9 mins 50 “But then you become a voice in the wilderness”?

10 mins 50 What changes do we expect – food prices, wetter winters?

If only it were that. And who for? People living near the sea level in Bangladesh, or rich people in the Northern Hemisphere? We think we can get by, build big enough walls to cope with 2 or 3 degrees warmer.

“We need imagination, clarity and courage.”

14 mins 10 Is there a country or a region that is doing things in the right direction, even if not at the right speed or scale?

16 mins 35 Anything else you’d like to say?

On optimism, pessimism, personal carbon allowances

Coping with Copenhagen, Parrying Paris etc

So, the climate activists are a bit stuck, now that the French state has said ‘non’ to their planned “manifestations” at the next climate talks.

“We respect the decision of the state, but we are trying to find ways to keep on mobilizing and taking the streets in one way or another during the COP in Paris, in order to make sure that we have an impact on the negotiations and contributing to our movement,” Nicolas Haeringer, campaigner for 350.org in France, told ThinkProgress.

While it’s currently unclear what form those activities might take — Haeringer suggested something as simple as banging pots at a particular time each day during the talks — organizers expect to release concrete details within the day. (emphasis added) source

I am not making this up.

Is it really only six years since the Copenhagen debacle?  It feels simultaneously like the day before yesterday and a thousand years ago. Have we learnt so little? Or do we just have so few tools in our tool box?

We COULD have “mobilised” for Copenhagen differently.  We could have organised rolling actions at a national level on key themes (adaptation, agriculture, aviation) with creative non-violent direct actions and less-arrestable stuff for others, throughout the two weeks of that horror-show.  But instead all the NGOs spent all year trying to get people to go on the most epically stupid march of all time. And the so-called radicals, who had been heard as recently as three years before that abjuring the hopping of summits? They went summit hopping, biensur.

And in the intervening six years, we’ve learnt nothing, it seems.  Looking for something else on my hard drive, I stumbled across something I wrote a couple of months before Copenhagen, after I’d spent months being told that it was wrong to treat adults like adults (telling them that Copenhagen would be inadequate/a failure) because this would discourage them from going on the march, and the march was The Most Important Thing Ever.  This came from people who think they should be listened to on the subject of strategy and movement-building.  But who are STILL encouraging people to go on this march in November, and had NOTHING to say in their 10 minute nonsense recently about the failures of the movement and what could be learned.  FFS.

Here it is.

Copen-bloody-hagen and the Rorschach test

Climate Change is the easiest and hardest thing in the world to campaign about.

On the easy side; what greater motivation than the ‘end of the world’ and the destruction of the current wealth and future prospects of every man woman and child on the planet?

At first glance, there’s all you need for a successful campaign;

  • global fairness poverty/development/injustice, check
  • animals and rainforests threatened, check
  • human rights threatened, check
  • jobs threatened, check
  • prospect of increasing militarisation and war, check

But if it were that simple, there’d be marches of 500,000 every single month, not an annual march that will be considered a massive success if it gets 50,000 this year.

Climate change is the hardest damn thing to campaign on because (and this list is not complete);

  • it is happening slowly (picking up speed nicely, but still distant),

  • it’s happening in far-off countries of which we know little,

  • it’s all a bit too scientifical

  • it’s hard to square the ‘save the planet’ and ‘keep growing the pie, only distribute it more fairly’ rhetoric of most of capitalism’s opponents.

  • Potential campaigners feel guilty over the impacts of their lifestyles, and reluctant to give up some of the things they have come to enjoy (meat every day, flying, the treadmill of consumption that gives them part of their identity)

So it gets thrown – by both individuals and campaigning groups – into the “too big” basket, and people hide behind (mostly manufactured) uncertainty or other forms of denial.1

This year, 21 years after the birth of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (www.ipcc.ch), climaxes with the spectacle of a huge international conference in Copenhagen, running from December 7 to December 18. The idea is that the world leaders who attend will sign a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally-binding international Climate Change agreement.

In order to pressure the UK Government and to Show We Care, a march has been called for Saturday December 5th in London, with another march taking place in Copenhagen on December 12th.

This article tries to sketch some recent history, look at the motivations of the participants and the likely outcomes, and suggest other ways forward and beyond. It’ll probably fail in most people’s eyes to do these things adequately, but as the liberals always say, ‘if it Sparks a Debate, then that’s a Good Thing.’

History lessens

Cast your minds all the way back to the distant days of 2006. North Korea exploded its first nuke, Google bought Youtube and Leona Lewis had a Christmas number one with “A Moment like this.”

August saw was the very first Climate Camp, at Drax power station.(www.climatecamp.org.uk)

The end of the year saw march of ten thousand or so from the US Embassy (back when you could use the US Prez as a pantomime hate figure) to meet a similar number of people rallying in Trafalgar Square, under the joint auspices of Campaign against Climate Change (www.campaigncc.org, hereafter “CaCC” and the “Stop Climate Chaos” coalition. (www.stopclimatechaos.org)

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, as did the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. The following February the IPCC’s fourth assessment report announced what anyone with a brain knew already- we were in deep shit. (And that report, was, within a year, widely acknowledged as an underestimate of the precise depth of the shit2).

Suddenly, you could barely move but for climate change stories in the paper and on the idiot box, conferences and gatherings and everyone was green. Salvation was surely at hand.

Then what?
CaCC seems to have thought you could grow a movement by having the usual petitions, marches and an annual conference in London.

SCC basically disappeared off the national radar for two years

Climate Camp just kept on doing what it wanted- an annual camp at Heathrow and then Kingsnorth, never (it seems) pausing to think if it was achieving its stated goals, or merely providing opportunities for people to sit in a field surrounded by cops, take drugs, fuck strangers and proclaim that this was the eco-revolution.

And here we are in 2009.

Campaign against Climate Change, despite saying this was the Big Year for climate change (the author’s capitals, but CaCC’s sentiments) did not hold its annual conference this year, and is devoting more/most of its energy to its trades union activity.

Climate Camp, wrong-footed by the government over clean coal/carbon capture and storage, has not done its promised rolling campaign against new power stations. Instead it is having its fourth annual Climate Camp, this time in London. Given the Campers’ tactical nous, and the fact that the Metropolitan police are severely on the back foot after their thuggery was exposed at the G20 protests, it would be a foolish punter who bet against them pulling off something audacious. (What’s the rent on some marquees in Pall Mall; ‘Pass go, collect 200 campers and go nowhere near jail’?) Climate Camp is also talking about going off to Copenhagen to protest/demonstrate/shut down/meet new fuck-buddies.

Stop Climate Chaos, now a much wider (but no deeper?) coalition than it was in 2006, is organising a London march on Saturday December 5th, where everyone is to wear blue and therefore be part of “The Wave.” (www.stopclimatechaos.org/the-wave)

I doubt, if you talked to “key individuals” in each of these groups, that any of them is very happy with the slow slow progress – or actual regress- there has been since 2006. [Then again, I also doubt there has been soul-searching and effective post-morteming of why things haven’t gone according to hopes, but that’s another story.]

So much spilled ink!

The Copenhagen conference looms before everyone and is a useful “Rorschach test,” (those ink-blot tests that psychiatrists use, in which everyone allegedly sees what their underlying ‘personality’ wants/needs them to see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test)

For the liberals (most of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition)

The march will be a measure of success, a useful focus of “lowest common denominator” action to get the coalition moving again. Some members of the coalition, believe it or not, are uncomfortable even with something as dangerous and activist-y as a march. So, for SCC, this is a brand relaunch after a couple of years in the doldrums.

The revolutionary socialists (primarily Campaign against Climate Change, now a tattered front for the SWP, with various lip-biting socialists from other sects)

They love marches. For some reason the author has never fathomed, marches give them goose-bumps. Perhaps they squint really hard and see it as a prelude to them storming the Winter Palace. And of course, it’s in their comfort zone, they can spend energy and time booking coaches, selling tickets. Once folks are on the bus and at the march, it’s a chance to sell papers, and for their leaders to make rousing speeches. Job’s a good ‘un…

There will also be, presumably, some (well-hidden?) residual resentment that the liberals are coming in and hijacking ‘their’ march, and so they’ll throw themselves into it in order to keep/claim the moral high-ground afterwards

The NVDA /non-hierarchical crowd

Some will go on the march, but for those who also go to Copenhagen, they get to relive (or live for the first time) the glory days of June 1999 to August 2001, when each summit hop was bigger than the last, when we thought we were everywhere, and we could even plausibly claim that we were winning.

And for the author of this piece? Well, obviously he gets to indulge his intellectual arrogance and patented exasperation, before rolling over a few times in fragrant pool of doom and gloom.

naive.jpg

How “it” will probably play out

Numbers

It’s not clear if the standard guesstimate technique of numbers will be accurate (find out the police estimate and double it, find out the organisers estimate and halve it- there’s your likely range), because the police have recently started giving high estimates, presumably to justify their overtime claims. But frankly, who cares? I don’t give a monkey’s if it is 10 thousand or 60,000 (the outlying numbers in both directions, I’d say) because marches – the organising of and participating in- are horrendous ways of building a mass movement. If they worked, we wouldn’t be in this horrible mess. There is a basic confusion – among liberals, socialists and the nvda crowd – over the difference between mobilising and movement building.)

This march will have big numbers only if Londoners come out to support it. If it rains on the day, then all the free/cheap coaches from the provinces will not make a difference. Those coming from Brizzle, Sheffield, Manchester will largely come regardless- they’ve “invested” already. It’s the Londoners looking out their window in Walthamstow on the Saturday, who only have to swipe an Oyster Card (or not), who’ll give the numbers or not.

The marches and protests

SCC

They’ll be spinning the numbers upwards, and blaming the weather if the turn out is lower than hoped for. They’ll make sure to get their best and most telegenic speakers giving upbeat soundbites to the Beeb and Channel 4, and they’ll be twittering and facebooking and flickring about what a great and inspiring thing it was for days afterwards.

CaCC

They’ll release an estimate of the numbers on the march even higher than the SCC estimate, and claim the credit for getting so many people out on the streets. Then they will, um… Denounce somebody for being the main blocker of a stronger deal. Probably the Americans (and probably rightly).

Climate Camp- some will make the trip to Copenhagen, on one or another form of zero clue caravan. They’ll meet up with old friends from various G8 and IMF/WB summits, and there’ll be a pitched battle or two with the EU’s finest. These will involve colour-coding, clever tactics and zero strategy. There will be ritual denunciations by the NGOs about the violence, and counter-denunciations about reformist sellouts.

There’ll be “lovely pictures” and war-stories, and websites will spring up, extolling the virtues of the Climate Resistance of Autonomous People. The author thinks its unlikely to be a replay of Prague or Genoa-

Firstly because the UK “movement” doesn’t seem as strong as it was all those years ago. The trees of Newbury etc are now a very distant memory, (and indeed a folk memory for many). In addition, the “are we actually wanting to shut this thing down?”question hasn’t been successfully grappled with, an answer merely fudged.

Secondly because the Danish police will have been role-playing a whole lot of scenarios, including Prague and Genoa. That said, given the experience, courage and tactical nous of the NVDA crowd, it would be a foolish punter who bet against them pulling off something audacious without getting good odds from the bookie.

The actual conference

There are, philosophically speaking, three possible outcomes;

A scientifically adequate deal to meet the challenges, an inadequate deal (on a sliding scale of shittiness) or no deal/delayed deal.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there’ll be a collective waking up, and the science will drive the conference, and we will get the 40% cuts by 2020 that are needed, peaking in the next 2 years or so, and the huge amounts of money needed for adaptation and resilience for both the minority and majority world will start flowing, and the developing countries will change their tune and come on board for imminent emissions reductions of their own. But that’s looking kinda unlikely. And the deal- whatever it is- is going to rely on huge amounts of carbon trading and dodgy accountancy about where emissions are consumed and produced (e.g. While the UK’s produced emissions have declined a bit, its consumed emissions have soared.3)

So what we will see instead is some variety of inadequate deal, ranging from fairly inadequate through to mind-numbingly, wrist-slashingly inadequate. (We’ll come to the “no deal at all” option later)

The inevitable spin cycle

But it won’t be in the interests of either those who sign it or those who urged them to sign it, to get too honest about the actual scale of inadequacy.

The governments are hardly going to turn around and slag the deal off, because their oppositions will just say “well why did you bloody sign it then? Why are we making sacrifices that aren’t worth it, eh? Why didn’t you hold out for the rich/poor/white/brown/yellow (delete as appropriate) so-and-sos to commit to more?”

The NGOs (I think here FOE, Oxfam etc) will not be too hard on the deal, beyond expressing understanding disappointment/ resigned realism because;

a) they don’t want to piss off the governments too much- there are long term relationships at stake here, after all.

b) they have to be able to sell Copenhagen – and their lobbying – to their constituents as a success. Never forget, these NGOs need direct debits and donations in order to survive, and keep doing the (largely good) work that they are doing. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact of life.

And of course, both governments and NGOs will be looking at the struggle for ratification through national parliaments. It took Kyoto, far less ambitious, 8 years to get signed off by enough countries….

The revolutionary socialists and the NVDA crowd are in the “happy” position of not really needing to paint the Copenhagen conference as a success. Their constituencies are already predisposed (and the author agrees with them) to see this as a giant stitch-up where the rich will screw the poor, the present will say “to hell with the future” and the ecosystems of the world will continue to get exploited in imaginative and suicidal ways. “Success” around Copenhagen for these groups, the author contends, is going to be more to do with maintaining their own oppositional ncihes and their view of themselves as the people not fooled, the pure outsiders who the world has ignored. And a chance to sell papers or screw strangers, naturally.
Taking the bis?

There is a chance, I can’t really say how big, of the whole thing NOT coming to a deal, and a Bali Action Plan with bells and whistles on it being announced, with a follow-up meeting (known as a “bis” meeting) happening 6 months down the line. Which would be curiously deflating…

The dangers

A vast proportion of energy will go into getting 10 to 60,000 people tramping through London

At which point everyone thinks, hmm, that’s about a 50th of the number that marched on February 15th 2003 and THAT didn’t work. Is this all the people who give a damn…Christ, I feel more alone than I did before… And at the same time, some/many participants will think “I’ve done my bit, I’ve shown I care, now it’s up to my elected representatives to do their bit.”

Then, when Copenhagen is not an unalloyed success, this sort of thing will be going through people’s heads;

Hmm, Copenhagen wasn’t a success. My organisation strongly implied that it could be. Either

a) they were unduly optimistic, in which case, I don’t trust their judgement as much as I used to or

b) they knew the likelihood of a good outcome was low, but chose to keep that information from me, so I would go on their march. That isn’t very honourable. In fact, it is bloody patronising, and I am not sure I trust them anymore…”

Eddy

In fluid dynamics, an eddy is the swirling of a fluid and the reverse current created when the fluid flows past an obstacle. The moving fluid creates a space devoid of downstream-flowing fluid on the downstream side of the object. Fluid behind the obstacle flows into the void creating a swirl of fluid on each edge of the obstacle, followed by a short reverse flow of fluid behind the obstacle flowing upstream, toward the back of the obstacle. This phenomenon is most visible behind large emergent rocks in swift-flowing rivers.

Another possible type of turbulence is the vortex. This notion is now applied to gases, which have the same properties as liquids. Here, no void is created, but only an area of lower pressure, but again, a backflow causes the gas to rotate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddy_(fluid_dynamics)

If the liberals don’t prepare people for the reality- that the likelihood is a weak deal or no deal – then they will have to spin whatever emerges as a “success” to justify their own stated optimism, so as not to demoralise their supporters. This spinning will take time and energy, and always comes at the cost of credibility.

The obvious questions, that (maybe) only an outsider without responsibilities and a wage reliant on one of the organisations can ask, are

  • Why not be radical and tell potential participants the truth?

  • Do we think people can’t handle the truth?

  • Won’t telling the truth leave us in a more credible position for dealing with the realities of 2010 and 2011?

    Why not say “this is too important to be left to politicians, whether they are local or national or global. There are things we can do, here and now, to prepare for climate change and help developing countries. These things are fun to do. They are happening before Copenhagen, and they’ll be happening after Copenhagen.”

What could (still) be done

To hell with the wave- we need a hundred thousand eddies. Rather than crashing against the wall-like indifference of the British public in one spasm of splashy showing blueness, we need constant, smaller eddies that disturb the regular flow, and turn things around and around and around. People making waves in their workplaces, places of worship, on their streets, in the chambers of commerce and the chambers of their local council. Eddies that are turbulent, mix things, creating connections and interactions that wouldn’t otherwise be happening.

If the planning for the Wave explicitly, persistently and imaginatively creates the conditions for these eddies to come into existence locally before December 5th, and works out how to celebrate and support them afterwards, then it won’t have been completely wasted time and energy.

Further reading

“Beyond Copenhagen” piece, June 2008

http://cattleprod.info/copenhagen.pdf

On the limits of NGOs, and Umbrella Groups

http://cattleprod.info/umbrellagroups.pdf

Alex Evans and David Steven

http://www.cic.nyu.edu/Lead%20Page%20PDF/DFID%20final%20version%20CIC.pdf

http://tinyurl.com/ohmhf9

Climate Activists in Denial

Financial Times Monday 27 July

Gideon Rachman

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/37c9c748-7adf-11de-8c34-00144feabdc0.html

http://tinyurl.com/nocz26

1On denial, check out George Marshall’s blog http://climatedenial.org/ and also the excellent World Bank-sponsored study Cognitive and Behavioural Challenges in Responding to Climate Change by Kari Marie Norgaard http://tinyurl.com/mp3vso

2Especially on ice-sheets and sea-level rise. For links, consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_IPCC_AR4#AR4_understates_the_danger_of_climate_change

3Dieter Helm’s Tanner lecture 2009 is worth a read. http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk/…/TANNER%20LECTURE%20Feb09.pdf See the Guardian’s report here- http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/23/china-carbon-emissions