Category Archives: events worth blogging

Waste is women’s work? #Adelaide #auspol

The question was designed to be difficult, and the answers were in equal parts cautious and revealing.  Rather than about recycling – the topic of a tightly run panel discussion put on at the King’s Head by Adelaide Sustainability Connect and the SA Young Professionals Group of Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) – the question was about the audience.  Noting that this – and another recycling meeting last week (link) – had an audience gender ratio of 3 or 4 to 1, the questioner asked the panellists if such a ratio was normal, if it mattered and if so, what could be done – or is it just that men don’t care about recycling?

The panel, made up of Linley Golat, Sustainability Educator at Cleanaway, Lynda Wedding, Waste & Recycling Education Officer at the City of Onkaparinga, and Tim Johnston, Logistics Officer from Veolia had been dealing with less sociologically-focussed issues. The emcee, Matt Allen, had drawn each of them out on their work, its challenges and not just the ‘easy’ items to recycle, but also paint, electronic waste and medical waste.

Ms Wedding said that the audience gender mix was about standard, but that this was not necessarily a problem, since the research showed that it was women (wives and mothers) who manage the household  (the sentence ‘keeping the men in line’ was uttered tongue-in-cheek), and that events such as the one tonight, standing room only, with about 60 people present, were important for getting the word out.

Ms Golat was able to sidestep the first question, by saying that this was her first ‘public’ event – most of her work takes her to kindergartens, schools and businesses. She did not that when, as part of her job, she goes door-to-door, invariably and regardless of gender, the person who answers the door always points the finger of blame at other occupants of the property for any environmental shortcomings.

Mr Johnstone argued that things were slowly improving in terms of awareness of waste issues and the need to recycle, and pointed to his own household, where he does the heavy-lifting on these issues.

Other questions also brought interesting responses. Mark Parnell, MLC, asked whether the panel supported legislation given that education was a very slow process and exhortation had its limits. The panel was again cautious, but Ms Golat celebrated the outlawing of e-waste into landfill, and Adelaide City Council’s impending ban on plastic straws at events and plastic at public events.

Responding to a question on where soft plastics (e.g. food wrapping) can be recycled, Ms Wedding pointed to the ‘redcycle’ programme initiated by Coles, which has now been taken up by Woolworths in the aftermath of a scandal in which ABC’s War on Waste had installed geotracking on two bins of plastic recycling waste which found one had gone to landfill and the other overseas.  Wedding pointed to 11.2 tonnes of soft plastic being recycled in South Australia every months, and the company Replay turning that into a range of products.

Ms Wedding pointed to demand outstripping supply for organic waste to turn into compost, and all panellists urged for a greater community and business effort to divert organic waste from landfill.

A question on whether the ratio of recycling to ‘normal’ waste collection could be altered (to further incentivise householders to think where they put what) came up against the statutory obligations on councils, which nonetheless are keen – if only for budget reasons – to optimise their collections.

Adelaide Sustainability Connect organises these monthly meetings – details can be found on their facebook page

Q and A next week is devoted to waste and recycling, and ABC’s influential War on Waste returns next week.

#climate justice or just us? Of learning, time machines and the “what should have been done”#AFoI2018

May as well put cards on the table. I think we’re fubarred. I think that we’ve now left it “too late” and a grim meathook future is all we have to look forward too.  There is probably still time to learn a bunch of new skills, use our technology specifically to soften the coming climate blows.  But we (and by we I mean entirely culpable middle-class people like me with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of information) seem more interested in diverting ourselves, and in believing the soothing bullshit about the Paris Agreement and shiny new technologies.

Right, that said, I went to a bunch of mostly excellent sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas today. (Saturday 14th)  One of them was on environmental justice (forms of justice – energy, climate, transitions, are a big topic with academics, btw).   With my “even though we’re fubarred we have to act as if we’re not blah blah Gramscian optimism blah blah” hat on, I asked the panellists my curly “if you had a time machine and could warn your younger self” question.  The answers were interesting, but imo incomplete.  So this blog post will take you through

  • the outline of who said what during the panel
  • my question and the gist of the panellists’ answers
  • the answer I would have given

oh, there’s also

  • how the panel could have been done differently
  • an appeal from GetUp! about the Federal Government trying to bully them into silence

The panel was chaired by Andrew P. Street, and the panellists were Peter Owen, (who heads up the South Australian Wilderness Society), Mark Diesendorf (who has been working on renewable energy – as a scientist, activist and policy wonk – for four decades), Professor Fiona Haines (a criminologist, has written The Paradox of Regulation) and Miriam Lyons (who has worked for various outfits, is now with GetUp! Of which more later).  The format was simple – questions from the chair to each of the speakers, and then the floor would be open for questions from the audience (which was very white, and very old – where are the young people?  Does a Festival of Ideas not appeal? Are they all working second and third jobs to pay for their smashed avocado toast?)

Street started with a very good question – “what got you involved in environmental action/activism?”

For Diesendorf  it was the realisation that his PhD thesis – on the physics of the centre of the sun – was being used by hydrogen bomb makers at Lawrence Livermore. That led him into activism with groups like Scientists for Social Responsibility.

Fiona Haines had started out looking at white colour crime – her PhD had looked at how companies responded to the deaths of workers, and she then looked at the impact on trade practices from mass She made the (entirely valid and frankly terrifying) point that we are at a tipping point, with the oceans emptying of fish while filling with plastic, heatwaves getting hotter… (see blog post about Wednesday’s event at the Adelaide Sustainability Centre).

Peter Owen told of playing on the (closed) mouth of the River Murray in 1981, and later realising birds and dolphins were disappearing.  His father getting sued over Hindmarsh Island bridge protesting led to an interest in law.   (This is the clearest case of the four of  how “significant life experiences affect environmental action”, i.e.  unstructured and unsupervised play in  ‘nature’ before the age of 11 may well lead to a life long passion for “the environment”).  He and the Wilderness Society are now trying to stop oil companies taking a great big and very unhealthy bite out of the Great Australian Bight

Miriam Lyons said that she was an environmental activist – taking examples of “pollushun” to school show and tell before she could spell, and sending a protest letter to Indonesian dictator Suharto about rainforest destruction when she was 6 or 7.  Contact with legendary public servant John Menadue and mutual frustration about the left being good at saying what it was against but not what it was for led to the creation of the Centre for Policy Development.  Frustration with the ALP’s ability to adopt progressive rhetoric without the policy follow through has led her to other work, including Get Up! She gave a shout out to its work on a policy blueprint to make the energy transition fairer. (Not sure if she was referring to the 2016 Homegrown Energy Plan, done with Solar Citizens, or something newer).

Street then mentioned that lots of things don’t work when trying to get change, and asked the panellists to talk things that DO work.

Lyons gave the example of what Get Up! did after the 2016 election when the Turnbull government tried to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (history lesson – it had been set up under the Gillard government as part of the Clean Energy Future package – both ALP and Greens claim credit for the idea. Crucially, the Greens insisted it not be under the control of the then-Energy minister Martin Ferguson, who now chairs the advisory board of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association).  GetUp! took a decision to make ARENA’s work tangible, putting up billboards in the marginal electorates where ARENA had funded projects, getting supporters to do emails, phone calls and the physical delivery of reports to the MP’s office.  She said “whenever you’re being told that you’re being counter-productive/you’d catch more flies with honey” it’s not true and you’re very close to winning if you go a bit harder.”

Owen mentioned that TV media matters for ‘maximum impct, with actions that are bright, colourful and positive.  Commercial TV coverage is worth far more than ABC. He pointed to the Wilderness Society commissioning its own oil spill impacts study when BP refused to release the work it had done, which was expensive but worth doing.  He argued that both the Coalition and the ALP have been captured by the fossil fuel industry.  He referenced a UN SDG report in the last week that shows Australia as the worst country in the world when it comes to climate action.

Fiona Haines said there were two things that make a difference. Firstly, understanding the importance of political risk. Government responses to disasters (not just environmental – could be a factory fire/collapse etc) is framed by political risk i.e. dealing with the political and economic fallout from the disaster. This they do in two ways (1) by reassuring people that they are safe and secure (or that they are the only party that can do so) and (2) by protecting their revenue and the conditions for capital investment. Dealing with the physical, technical and engineering elements is secondary to this and gets pushed aside.  We can’t expect governments not to do deal with political risk (it is part of a capitalist democracy’s DNA) .– but the challenge is making sure they see that they do so in a way that also deals with the physical aspects of the disaster. Understanding this can help direct public campaigns and outrage a little better. Secondly, Secondly she spoke on CSG protests and AGL’s divestment, saying that it’s a complex story, including the fact that AGL only had limited exposure in any case, and that investors guides to the market had made a difference. (See Haines et al. 2016.  Taming business? A critical analysis of AGL’s decision to divest from coal seam gas). For Haines, it’s not about individual pressures/tactics but how the pieces fit together (exactly.  It’s synergies and consistent/persistent pressure(s) not singular moments).

Mark Diesendorf related the story of Franklin Roosevelt telling a civil society pressure group “you’ve convinced me, now get out there and make me do it.”  He said that lobbying is useless without further pressure, with positive results coming from community groups (Solar Citizens, 100% renewables, ACF, Greenpeace, Get Up!)

So, that all took rather a long time.  There was only time for one question and I got lucky (i.e. I am a huge white middle-class male who put up his hand early and made eye contact with the chair).  What I said was something very similar to this:

Thanks to the panel.  In 1988 there was a Greenhouse 88 conference that many people in this room probably remember. We’ve known about this problem for thirty years, but it’s getting worse.  So, if the panellists had a time machine and could go back then, what advice would they give?  Do we need to do more of the same – more marches, more people dressed in penguin costumes, or do we need to do something ELSE, something different?

Here’s my best approximation of what the panellists said. It’s followed by my critique/attempt at an answer to that question.

Lyons: Be unafraid about how risky our situation is Don’t worry about frightening people into inaction if you have a proportionate action to suggest/help with.  “The world is burning – change your light bulbs” is no good, but “the world is burning we need to get the right promises from politicians and then hold them to account” is better. Honesty about the scale of the problems and the scale of the solutions is needed.  If we go through the lens of politicians and CEOs about ‘achievability’ we get nowhere. We need to drag the political opportunity structures over to the physical activity level.

Owen:  Incrementalism has been wrong. We’ve got to go flat out.  There’s no future in 20-30 years if not dealt with immediately.  We’ve been in a ‘transitions’ phase for three generations.  When war approaches, we down tools and act, collectively.

Haines: I was at a community event in NSW, where the town was split on the subject of fossil fuels excavation nearby and someone said “why is it wrong to care about the Great Barrier Reef?” The context was that they were getting grief from other people in town who thought caring about the environment meant not caring about human well-being. So, we have to have justice as part of  what we talk about.

Mark Diesendorf was cautious on the war mobilisation analogy (see his work on this, with a former PhD student, Laurence Delina– “Is wartime mobilisation a suitable policy model for rapid national climate mitigation?“), and pointed out that social change is slow and hard, that social movement activity is hard.

So, good answers in as far as the y go, but mostly addressed to ‘messaging’ and ‘mobilising’.  Here’s what I’d have (tried to) say.  Underneath are some hyperlinks to other things I’ve written.

Over the last thirty years we’ve made a series of what can be termed mistakes, but seemed like good ideas at the time.  We’ve spent time, credibility and energy within ‘consultative’ policy development processes which ended in minimal and tokenistic action or NO action, leaving us demoralised and discredited.

We’ve tried to build common cause with some unions – see the Green Jobs Unit, the Green Goldrush campaign – but have been naïve about the power of a few unions who see coal jobs as basically sacrosanct.

Above all else, we’ve confused mobilising with movement-building. It’s easier to get people out for a march or a protest.  These can invigorate, give hope. But they can also lead to people thinking ‘I’ve done my bit’, and they suck up enormous amounts of time and bandwidth. They can lead to a cycle of emotathons

It’s even more important to grow social movement organisation groups, so they can hold meetings that are welcoming, appealing to new people, that can absorb the energy and skills of people who can’t come to endless meetings and don’t necessarily want to be part of activist subcultures.  This panel is an example of this – a set of experts at the front of the room, telling the assembled rows of ‘ego-fodder’ the truth. We should have been more interested in creating links among you, and finding out what skills, knowledge and connections you have, and what skills, knowledge and  connections you need to become powerful active citizens. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.

We need to go to people – especially old people, poor people, minorities etc and listen, and work with not at or on.  And we are doing that – “powerful conversations” – but we needed to be doing it 30 years ago.

What could have been done differently?


Marc Hudson is finishing his PhD.  No, honestly. His writing on (on climate policy, renewables etc) has appeared in The and in various Australian newspapers He is researching an article on the “Greenhouse 88” conference (especially the Adelaide element). If you were at it, he would love to hear from you. Also, please pass this on to anyone who was at the event.
Phone: 04979 32031

That GetUp! Email.

We haven’t seen anything like this before.

The Turnbull Government recently passed new police state laws that threaten our movement’s ability to campaign for a fair, flourishing and just Australia.1,2

Actions that merely harm the government’s reputation on political or economic matters can now be prosecuted as serious national security offences. So peaceful blockades of Adani coal operations, or exposing the truth about child abuse on Nauru to the UN, could carry prison sentences of up to 25 years.3

Don’t think they’ll do it? Well, in what independent MP Andrew Wilkie has called “an act of bastardry”, the Turnbull Government just authorised the prosecution of ‘Witness K’ and their lawyer for exposing potentially illegal actions by the Howard Government.4,5

It’s all having a huge chilling effect on GetUp’s campaign plans. That’s why today all of us, as GetUp’s lead campaigners, are taking the unusual step of contacting you, together. 

We urgently need to build up our people-powered Civil Defence Fund to get the best, ongoing legal advice on how these new anti-democratic laws apply to our campaigns. But it doesn’t stop there, because if we can gather enough ongoing support we’re going to prepare for a potential constitutional challenge – that could see these laws struck down in the High Court. 

But in order to take on the power of a government hell bent on suppressing truth and dissent we need a fresh new tide of members to join our GetUp Crew, who make a weekly contribution to support our work.

Can you help fund this legal fight by joining the GetUp Crew with a regular, weekly donation to our Civil Defence Fund?

Last night we held frantic teleconferences with whistleblowers and activists who want to shine a light on the abuse of children in Australia’s detention camps on Nauru. The question we asked each other was: could we face a 25 year prison sentence for doing so?

And if Stop Adani activists blockade roads to coal ports or mines, Attorney-General Christian Porter may decide to prosecute this peaceful act of protest as “sabotage” – punishable by up to 7 years behind bars. He could do the same for protests against the secretive TPP trade deal, breaches of international law or even people protesting against Australia going to war.6

This is the same Christian Porter who authorised the prosecution of Witness K, and their lawyer, for exposing the Howard Government’s dodgy spying operation against East Timor, to swindle the impoverished nation out of billions in natural resources.

That’s why we need to build up a people-powered fund to give us access to the best legal firepower available, to ensure these laws don’t erode our ability to campaign, or indeed our democracy.

Can you join the GetUp Crew by making a weekly contribution to our Civil Defence Fund?

We urgently need to know how these new anti-democratic laws could impact our campaigns. And we have a legal brief ready to put into the hands of a high-powered law firm with a track record of beating back abuse of government power.

We’re also in this fight for the long haul. We’re ready to talk to some of the best barristers in the nation about a possible constitutional challenge. Can you imagine being part of a landmark High Court case to defend the freedom of political speech?

But we’re up against the full might of a Federal Government that’s on a mission to bully, silence and raze its political opponents to the ground. We can’t do any of this without a brave new tide of supporters joining our GetUp Crew.

Can you make a regular weekly contribution to defend everything we do together? 

Excellent environmental event on plastics and recycling #Adelaide #hope

Messages of practical action and causes for (cautious) hope abounded tonight at the Adelaide Sustainability, where a meeting on plastics and what to do about and with them was held.  Around fifty people (overwhelmingly female) got to eat scrumptious (potlatch) food, and then heard from four expert panellists, all before watching an interesting American documentary ‘Bag It’.

As part of Plastic Free July, an event – “Bag It! Plastic Free Film Night”  was held at the Adelaide Sustainability Centre tonight (Tuesday 11 July). This blog post tries to give a relatively complete account of who said what (but it’s not verbatim and if you think I got something wrong, please let me know via the comments).

People were asked to bring food to share, and all who came were treated to lovely and mostly vegan/vegetarian food and mingling before the formal event started. It was a good way to get to meet new folks.  Diane Salvi, who runs the ASC for the Conservation Council opened the event with a welcome to country. She noted as well that it is NAIDOC week and closed with a request that if people have ideas for events, to get in touch.[ diane.salvi at ].

Then Lynda Curtis who organised Plastic Free July took over and introduced four panellists, Luke Christiansen from Precious Plastics South Australia, AliRoush from KESAB, Jo Hendrikx, also from KESAB and Jarvis Webb from Rawtec.

2018 07 11 panel one
From left – Lynda, Jo, Jarvis, Ali, Luke

Jarvis was asked to talk on some developments in the reduction of waste since the ABC’s ‘War on Waste’ show last year. These include moves towards substantial (rather than tokenistic)  moves to phasing out single-use items, more compostable items (an interesting topic for the final Q and A), and the “circular economy”. Two Foodland supermarkets (in Brighton and Glenelg South) have been trialling compostable food bags. Government funding has been extended to February 2019, but since the bags are 4 to 7 times more expensive than standard bags, getting business on board is going to be quite a challenge… There was mention of a move in Milan where single-use bags have been legislated out, and food-waste diversion (a good thing) is very high (80%), (see here )  whereas in South Australia it is at only 6 to 15% (depending on which council is in charge). (However, South Australia is very good at doing its recycling within the state – very little ends up interstate or overseas).

Jo was asked what the biggest change in the last 20 years has been an increase in awareness of the need for recycling.  The increase in plastic use in the 70s and 80s meant the end for backyard incinerators (the author of this blog post doesn’t want to admit being able to remember that).  But then again, said the panellist, the problem is only 30-40 years old, and is therefore (perhaps) soluble…

There was also an important warning that the words ‘biodegradable’ and compostable are NOT the same thing, and that there is a lot of confusion (which benefits the status quo) about these, with people easily lulled into thinking that because something is biodegradable that it is somehow okay.

Luke explained that his organisation – Precious Plastic South Australia – has put in an order for five new shredders (to reduce plastics to small enough size that they can be remoulded), and this and other activity is helping to “build networks of back-shed recyclers”, with new connections and new networks  (Precious Plastics was born in the Netherlands but a few years ago by Dave Hakkens).

Ali, who among other things for KESAB does school engagement, was asked “what are the kids talking about.”  Ali spoke on how they’re open, have hope, believe they can change the world (unlike we jaded adults).

On the general question of what solutions are “out there”, Luke spoke of reading in Engineers Australia magazine (presumably create ) about a Western Austrailan chap, angered that no recycling facilities existed in WA (so it is all shipped overseas or interstate) has established “Green batch”, which is turning plastic bottles into 3-D printer filament

Eco Party Box people (“Australian-owned family-run business on the south coast of Adelaide in the beautiful fleurieu peninsula, offering eco party, catering and wedding supplies including biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery. Eco friendly decorations, party bag fillers, party stationery and party boxes“) turned up and got a shout out.

Lynda then asked what can/should governments and citizens be doing.. Answers came

  • Push in schools and workplaces, (even though it seems to take forever. Also, do it with a smile)
  •  push governments to legislate/mandate
  • make sure ‘recycled content’ is actually from within Australia
  • show others how easy it is to do stuff (be a role model)
  • make it easier for those who aren’t interested

There were time for three questions before the film

The first was on the finer details of compostable bags (sorry, didn’t catch the gist of this)

The second was on what incumbents might do to water down the moves of entrepreneurs/legislators.  One positive example was given – ten years ago SA Power Networks had almost 94% of their waste going to landfill.  They sought advice, then took that advice and now almost 90% of their office waste and 80% of their site-based waste avoids landfill.  Additionally, Woolworths are banning plastic straws etc.

A third observation came from someone suggesting that it is worth engaging with big supermarket chains etc, and praising them when they do the right thing.

Next up was the film (reviewed here)

The post-film Q and A was short, but very interesting. Although the panellists had had to leave, there were clearly some very knowledgeable people in the audience.

What about cutlery etc  that is labelled as compostable?  There are people who think that will contaminate compostable wastestreams and should go in recycling.    There’s a further set of educating to be done there (sidebar from an academic – this is an example of mimicry a la Edison and gas lighting being TOO successful).

Overall, the event was a really impressive piece of work.  Well-designed, well-executed.  It may be that because the audience was overwhelmingly (4:1) female that there was none of the dreadful speeches-thinly-disguised-as-questions from the floor which usually suck the energy out of the room.  How can I repay the hard work and skill of the organisers, besides by writing a blogpost?  Well, by making two suggestions.  One, try to get these events videoed for those who could not be there (and for those who want to refresh their memories).  Second, further improve the network-building by having a ‘turn to the person next to you’ thing, at the outset and immediately after the film, so people can compare notes, come up with questions (see previous blog posts about this here and here).  But seriously, this was a fantastic event, so congrats to the organisers, the panellists, those who brought food, asked questions etc.

Marc Hudson is finishing his PhD.  No, honestly. His writing on (on climate policy, renewables etc) has appeared in The Conversation, and in various Australian newspapers He is researching an article on the “Greenhouse 88” conference (especially the Adelaide element). If you were at it, he would love to hear from you. Also, please pass this on to anyone who was at the event.


Phone: 04979 32031

In other news: On Weds 18th July there’s an event at the King’s Head called ‘What Happens to My Waste?’. Organised by  Adelaide Sustainability Connect and Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) SA Young Professionals Group, it will look at not just the ‘easy’ items to recycle, but also paint, electronic waste and medical waste.  The panel includes Linley Golat, Sustainability Educator at Cleanaway, Lynda Wedding, Waste & Recycling Education Officer at the City of Onkaparinga, and Tim Johnston, Logistics Officer from Veolia. It’s free, and is happening at the King’s Head, 357 King William Street , on Wednesday 18th July from 6pm to 7.30

Community Energy conference in Manchester: Onshore wind competitive, but held back by regulatory resistance

What will incumbents do? According to Max Wakefield, the lead campaigner for British climate charity 10:10, “they’re there to protect their market share.” Wakefield, who has been running 10:10’ s Blown Away campaign – which seeks to overcome government hostility to onshore wind – said that incumbents can be expected to fight dirty, to buy up new technologies and companies, to appropriate the language of ‘community energy’ where they can and generally do all they can slow down the regulatory process.

He was speaking in Manchester on Saturday, as Community Energy held its latest large conference. Established in 2014, the Community Energy is a not-for-profit membership organisation which supports organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, engaging with policymakers and others. Around 150 people gathered to hear from practitioners, campaigners and academics. The event was sponsored by Cooperative Energy (part of the Coop Group) and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the meeting comes at a tricky time for the sector, which has stagnated of late, with ongoing hostility from central government to on-shore wind, despite widespread public support for the technology.

Chairing a panel discussion on the question of “what do we need next? Taking community energy from surviving to thriving”, Paul Monaghan of Coop Energy delivered both encouragement and a note of caution. Assessing the fragility of the May government’s numbers (the Conservatives hold power thanks to a coalition with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party), he pointed out that a small number of Conservative MPs rebelling could force the government to change policy. Citing a recent unexpected victory on tax havens, Monaghan said, given the fact that on-shore wind could now be competitive without subsidy, “this is a door and this is the time to push it.” However, he also cautioned that community groups who thought that all their economic difficulties would be solved upon getting grid access should think again – while “Big Six” energy companies had not just lost market share (from 995 to 80% over the last decade), the margins for generators were very small, and at least two (SSE and RWE) were looking to get out of generating altogether.

All was not however, gloom and doom. Thanks to persistent and effective lobbying by victories had been won at the European level on the question of rooftop solar (if not ambitious renewables targets).

The Manchester event also saw the launch of two new reports. The first was the “community and local energy strategy” of Electricity North West, setting out how they intend to go about “forging links with community and local energy groups”.

Based on extensive consultations with stakeholders, it lays out how ENW intends to offer community and local electricity projects access to the grid, financial support and an improved regulatory regime. ENW says that it intends to be “responsive to customers’ needs”, will “create new mechanisms for community and local energy groups to engage” and search for locations on their network “where community and local energy can be deployed for the benefit of the network.”

The second was Community Energy’s second “State of the Sector” report, looking at community energy in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland, for political reasons, is quite a different beast) (see other coverage here). The report is grim without being glum. Its authors conclude (in words that could be written of parts of Australia) that “what is immediately clear is that the impacts of regulatory and subsidy changes during 2015 and onwards have had a negative impact on the community energy sector, in line with changes seen in the wider energy sector. Ever decreasing project margins, alongside wider barriers relating to site availability, planning and grid constraints, are resulting in an inability for many groups to get projects off the ground. Evidenced by the low numbers of new community energy organisations, projects, funding and finance in 2017, this report confirms the sectoral slowdown predicted in the first State of the sector report.”

The authors go on to admit that despite “continued motivation and passion within the sector” the slowdown “will continue into 2018.”

Conspicuously absent at the conference was any organised union presence. Despite rhetoric for a ‘million climate jobs’, and approving noises from Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn on climate and industrial policy, it is fair to say that – if this conference is any indicator – that the endlessly predicted and hoped for ‘red-green’ coalition is still a distant hope.

So, while the technologies are maturing, the level of debate – and the attitudes of politicians supporting the incumbency – remains anything but mature. And the carbon dioxide continues to accumulate…

Chairing academic sessions for fun and… diversity #IST2018 #manels #academia

So, the International Sustainability Transitions conference has come and gone. A fine event, with a huge number of scholars delivering papers, speed talks, with plenty of time for schmoozing and boozing.  I wrote already about the problem of manels and ‘What is to be Done’, but that was before I had a) delivered my own talk and b) chaired a session unexpectedly.

So this post is to talk through how those went, what I learned, what I would do differently.  #reflexivity #narcissism

My presentation

  • I almost had a horrible powerpoint melt down.  So  always have the latest version on your email account (which I did) but ALSO have it on two (not one, but two) NEW memory sticks.
  • Having a countdown clock (my tablet) was hugely useful
  • I talked for too long explaining the multiple streams approach, but people seemed to appreciate it.
  • I didn’t talk about my methodology and nobody gave a damn.  In my opinion, if you aren’t trying to make a methodological contribution, then don’t waste limited time in a short session (ten mins) talking about it.
  • I asked the chair of the session for permission, and then I cut my session down by two minutes and used that time (as I’d previously advocated) to have people turn to the person next to them and try to come up with a question.



  • I am biased, and one is not a sample, but I think that there was extra energy in the room, and I got more, shorter, sharper questions than the following three speakers, who kept to the traditional format….


My chairing

The following morning I went to a session where the scheduled chair was not available.  The (good) advice from the conference organisers was that in such a situation, the speaker scheduled to be last should be the chair, since they are highly motivated to keep everyone to time.  I thought ‘sod it’, I’ll volunteer (I had been volunteering for the past two days, in my purple t-shirt).  So, I took the opportunity (not asking anyone’s permission, as I recall – perhaps I did ask the first speaker) to try out the “turn to the person next to you” innovation.

In my opinion there are four key roles that the chair has to accomplish in any papers-presentation session

In chronological and escalating order of difficulty

First, they have to make sure that everyone is welcomed to the session and at least mildly ‘energised’ (this can be as simple as a warm hello and a comment about lunch/the night before).
Second, they need to ensure that all powerpoints/prezis whatever are loaded onto the computer and ready to go.
Third, they have to keep schedule ticking over.  It is grossly unfair if the final speaker doesn’t get as much as the first simply because of the sequencing.  That means that speakers have to be kept to time, so that there can be some questions to them. Ask the speaker if they want –
A five minute warning as well as the mandatory “two minute warning”
questions one at a time or in batches
Fourth, they have to take all reasonable steps to ensure that everyone in the room has a realistic chance of participating, and that the discussion is not dominated/ controlled/ unduly shaped by a small coterie of the most confident/experienced/highest status actors.

So, less interesting is the fact that I was able to ensure that all four speakers got the same amount of time and we finished bang on time so people could get down for a cup of coffee and a schmooze (the most interesting bits of a conference are often the random encounters).  This was partly by giving the speakers warnings, but also, while they were answering questions, I brought up the next presentation on the computer. I also didn’t waste time introducing the speakers- they just started talking.

More usefully, though was the getting people to actually participate fully.  The first time I  I said “everyone, for two minutes, please speak with someone close to you- if you have question, get help honing it – a short question is a good question. If you have half a question, get help forming it”  there was confusion/mild bewilderment  but the ‘authority’ of the chair carried the day.  By the third speaker I could just say “you know what to do” with a wave of my hand, and they slipped into it.  (I did NOT explain the rationale)


So, that’s basically how it worked.  In the third Q and A and the fourth I gave priority to people who’d not asked questions before.
Again, this is one experiment, and I would hesitate to extrapolate or invoke without more efforts.  There were only about 20 people in the room, for example – might be harder with fewer or more.


  • there was a very good mix of gender with the questions
  • most people asked a question
  • some people came up to me and thanked me for the format, and were enthusiastic about it
  • one of the speakers was also very complimentary about it…


So, would I do this again?  Yes.  Would I have a single slide with the instructions on it?  Yes.  Would I ask people for feedback after the session? Yes.


The rationale

There are two purposes to this (though neither needs to be explained to the attendees unless you really want to be explicit)

Firstly, it means that people who are less confident, have been socialised into believing their question can’t be any good, are able to get help/reassurance/encouragement from others if they need it.

Secondly, it gives you options when you come to ask for questions, because there is now a sea of hands to pick from,not just the Quickdraw McGraws. This makes your job easier.

Of interesting questions and interesting times

How do you create collegiality?

How do you ensure that the emotional tone of an ongoing event is ‘right’, and that people aren’t intimidated from the outset?

How do you get peer-to-peer learning and interacting going at a higher-than-normal level?

How do you do those things and other important things?

How do you make sure they aren’t likely to be scuppered?
In my opinion, these are Interesting Questions.

Gig review: TV Smith in #Manchester 24 May

There are obvious signs that the species, far from being ‘sapiens‘ (wise) is as dumb as a bag of hammers.

Item the first: ignoring climate scientists and biologists for the last three decades (or more), and continuing to burn fossil fuels as if there were, um, no tomorrow.

Item the second: building up nuclear weapons that can never be ‘used’ (though they do of course run a nice line in intimidation and keeping the owners of the bomb making factories in hookers and cocaine) to the level where we could turn the planet to a crisp many many times over, and might do so if there’s a flock of geese or an asteroid shower or a hemorrhoid in power.

Item the third: the fact that a singer of the brilliance, wit, passion and literacy of TV Smith plays to relatively small crowds in small venues. What the actual fuck is wrong with you, humans? You have a man of extraordinary talent playing songs with killer lyrics (the verbal dexterity is extraordinary) about life, love, loss, despair, the depredations of capitalism and ‘the system’ and you don’t even turn up?! Srsly.

For the record: TV Smith, with a 40 year back catalogue (and all of it fresh) ripped out 25 or so of his brilliant tracks tonight at Aatma. He started with a request (from me) – March of the Giants, and rattled through old ones (Tomahawk Cruise), brand new ones (they’re good), fairly new ones (I Delete, On Replay) and everything in between (Expensive being poor, Gary Gilmour’s Eyes, New Church, The Lion and the Lamb, Atlantic Tunnel). The trademark competence, energy, verve, guts and humour were on display. A great night, basically.