Category Archives: our doomedness

A year from now… aka The Glasgow Shitshow #COP26 #socialmovements

Right now there’s a lot of politicians flapping their meat in Madrid, at the 25th “Conference of the Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Late next year they will be flapping their meat in Glasgow. It will be the first COP to be held in the UK (though there was 1994’s “Global Forum – of that, more later).

And what will the build-up to the Glasgow COP allow (or “afford” if you do all that ANT hand-wavy stuff)?  It will allow groups to forget their differences (internal, external), their failures, their inability to do local capacity-building, their aimlessness.  It will allow them to put on a series of feeder events for the mother of all emotacycles – a big set-piece climate conference in the UK (I’m assuming indyref2 can’t happen by next November).

The whole thing is deja vu all over again, for those of us with memories stretching back to 2009.  Then – after 3 exhausting years – climate groups decided that a “big” march in London with some bumbling on to the COP in Copenhagen (“last chance to save the world, TM”)  would “build a mass movement… international this… solidarity that”  (my memory may be playing tricks, but I don’t think the words “decolonising” and “inter-sectional” were thrown around so much).

So, I have made a graphic, and there are other things afoot.

glasgow shitshow

 

Not because I expect to change a single soul’s mind, but so I can say “I told you so” in March 2021, when the fallout is at its most clearly radioactive.  Schadenfreude is a dish best served… in advance…

 

 

 

 

Excruciatingly obvious advice following excruciating event. Innovate4GodsSake

Tell your attendees what it is that they are going to be asked to solve.

Tell them that in a preliminary email Or two.

Tell them that when they arrive

In writing.  In big letters. Maybe with some cartoons/graphics. (Perhaps not in rubbish videos with awful sound quality. #justsaying)

Respect their intelligence and their time by keeping the self-serving, boring, pointless introductions to 15 seconds instead of 15 plus minutes.

When the pizzas arrive, let people eat them before they get cold and cardboardy

Have icebreakers that connect to the challenge(s) that are being set (“your favourite toy when you were 10″? Seriously?  FFS)

Give them time to chew over which challenge(s) they might like to try to tackle, and what skills  they might need.  So that they’re not being asked to pitch while ice-cold.

Run the meeting on decent facilitation principles (pro-tip, top-down talking at people is not facilitation. Nor is a horse’s arse. Sorry, “shoe”.)

Sorting  by birthday is fine if you’re trying to getpeopel to talk to someone they don’t already know, but not if it is just a pretext to re-arrange people who wil l then address the whole group.  FFS.

Still, G&Ts were liberated, so not all is lost.

Oh god, oh god, it was so diabolically bad. Heart-breakingly so, when the issue is so important.  People were defo voting with their feet before me, and by tmrw afternoon, fuggedaboudit – judges will outnumber punters.

 

(This was LA/Quango bad. For real appalling you need to get progressive social movement organisations from the smugosphere together. That, that shit is epic, and topic of next blog post.)

 

Sequential Consensual Autophagous Meetings

First I will treat you as ego-fodder.  You will sit in rows, or in a circle,and you will listen to me drone on and on about my hobby-horse du jour.

I don’t care what you know about the topic.

I don’t want to take time away from hearing my own voice to hear your perspectives.

I don’t care about you getting to know the other people in the room

I don’t want to take time away from hearing my own voice for you to build networks

Why do I want this?  Because I am Important, dammit.  I may not have had all the adulation and obedience that I should have had. But that is because I am a Dissident, and a Rebel.

But I have you all here now, and You. Will. Listen. To. Me.  In this “workshop.” That’s a new definition, by the way, of “workshop.” Do you like it? Say yes. If you don’t, well, I don’t care.

But I am not a monster. Of course I am not a monster.  Am I? I understand that having used you all, you – well, one or two of you perhaps – might then expect to use me and the rest of you in a similar way. Without my insight, my brilliance, it’s true. So the most of us, and even me-  because I am not a monster, am I – will sit in rows or in a circle and we will listen to one or two you drone on and on about your hobby-horse du jour. Fair is fair, after all.

Not all of you, that would be impossible. No, just perhaps three or five or so other people who are also FOTO-genic.   Friends Of The Organisers, that is. We will run the day as a series of sequential “consensual” autophagous meetings. Just don’t think too hard about the acronym there, okay?

You don’t know what autophagous means? Oh dear. Perhaps you didn’t go to a good school? Perhaps you did not take your own education in hand, as I have? Perhaps you could reflect on how this might mean that rather than being one of the important people, who talks, you are merely one of those who is allowed to listen. But fear not, they also serve who only sit and listen. But since you’re not very well-educated, you probably don’t even get that particular bon mot? I should not cast my pearls of wisdom before such swine.

You see, by sitting there, by OBEY-ing, provide proof to the important people, like me, that we are important, that our hobby-horses are not old nags, but thoroughbreds.


Where was I? Autophagous….  It means an entity that eats itself.  Self-cannibalism. It’s like that Stephen King short story – Survivor Type.

And in order to do the important things – namely for me to feel important – we have to perpetuate social movement failure. We have to keep doing meetings where new – or actually often old, half-baked –  ideas come from the front. From the FOTO-genics. And we will not do good meeting design. And we will not do facilitation in any meaningful way. For if that were to be done, well, it would detract from my opportunities to use you to boost, albeit fleetingly, my self-importance. 

That new people are bored, so what? That they don’t come back and they tell other potential members that at the meeting they went to they were bored, patronised, their input neither sought nor welcome? So what. That after a while the meetings, conferences get smaller and wink out of existence? That the campaign has in effect eaten itself, to meet the insatiable appetites for attention by the FOTO-genics?  That when the issue next exercises the public, new “organisations”, bereft of experience, competence, innovation, repeat the same ghastly repertoires? So so what?

For, you see, this is a balance, a difficult decision.  All of those minor, even trivial downsides, compared to me feeling important for 55 minutes. As Madeleine Albright said when asked about the sanctions on Iraq costing the lives of half a million children – “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

Oh god, how hard IS IT, really? Meetings that don’t suck. #oldfartclimateadvice

Hi everyone,

there’s a lot of us in this room, and the tables aren’t really helping. I know it is gonna take a minute, and the “Elf and Safety” types may be upset, but I want to spend one of our precious 57 remaining minutes stacking the tables against the wall and making a circle of the chairs for us to fit in.  While you are doing that

a) introduce yourself to someone

b) come up with a way we can build a densely linked, long-lasting movement for climate justice on this campus, and beyond this campus.

(Once in a circle)

Great, thanks, I am x (yes, introducing yourself by name is a good thing). I am from y, which is one of the organisations which called this meeting. It is fantastic to see so many people here on such short notice.  Hands up if you’re an undergrad? Hands up if you’re a Masters Student.  PhDs?  Academics? Staff? Other – you are all welcome.

We are here for two reasons. One is that there is a climate strike at the end of this month.  But if we only focus on building for that, we’re idiots, trapped in the emotacycle.  We have to have the longer vision of a real climate movement on campus. That’s the second reason we are here.  Every minute of speeches from the front is a minute less for those tasks. So, no speeches. Okay, that’s a lie. I want to say this:

What IS a climate movement on campus? It’s not a bunch of organisations, each small, secretly fighting over recruiting undergrads. It’s not a bunch of organisations doing that while occasionally co-ordinating over a date – a climate strike – or an issue – like divestment. It is this – it is dense webs of people who know each other a little bit at least, or maybe a lot. A dense web of people who can collaborate, who can support each other to learn new skills, new knowledge, put new and ever-more pressure on the decision-makers on campus and beyond. A dense and denser web of more and more people who win victories, find new things to improve.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  How does it start? It starts with me shutting up, and you – you, talking in groups of two or three – no more.

Find out the other person’s name, find out what course they study or teach. Find out what their idea for building a climate movement is.  Three minutes.

[three minutes]

Right.  We are going to do exactly that same thing later, but first, we have to make some progress to the climate strike that’s coming up.  It mustn’t be a damp squib, and it can be a great way for us to show ourselves, our allies and our opponents that we are serious and capable.

So, there are flipcharts and marker pens. As individuals, or ideally in the groups you just formed, I want you to add – legibly – the following

  • On these flipcharts, upcoming events between now and the strike where we might be able to publicise the strike
  • On these flipcharts, ideas for things that could be done on campus to publicise the strike
  • On these flip charts, ideas for things that could be done off-campus to publicise the strike
  • On these flipcharts, ideas for longer term action on campus.
  • On these flipcharts, the names of groups we should be talking with.

If you run out of ideas, that’s fine. PLEASE go and talk to someone new. Introduce your new acquaintance to them. This is how networks grow, and movements are stronger if the underlying network is stronger.

BUT, before we do that.  I want us to go round the room.  We want three things. Your name, the course you study or teach, and if you are a member of a group, the name of that group, or at most, two groups. No group, no problem! We WILL have time at the end for groups to advertise what they are doing – come speak to me about –  but for now, just those three things

(Name go round)

Right, ten minutes on the flipcharts, and discussing, then we reconvene!

[ten minutes]

Thanks everyone.  Before we close, I want you to get into new groups of three and do the same. Find out the other person’s name, find out what course they study or teach. Find out what their idea for building a climate movement is.  Three minutes.

[three mintues]

Thanks everyone, we now have a really long list of upcoming events before the strike. This will be typed up and circulated.

We also have a huge number of ideas and thoughts about the short term and, crucially, the longer-term. These too will be typed up.

There is an email list going around.  We promise not to spam you, or let the list get taken over by other issues.  Please write your email address on it, legibly.

 

Now, I’ve had six people want to advertise their groups and upcoming events. Any others?

So, the rule is this. You have forty-five seconds. At the end of that, I am going to start to applaud you, and everyone else will join in.

[Announcements from various groups.  If they do it badly, that teaches them a lesson for next time.  And they’ve only taken up 45 seconds. Meanwhile, each round of applause boosts spirits, even if some of the applauding is ironic].

Right, great. Thank you so much for coming. A final plea. These new people you’ve met – stay in touch with them. Swap e-mails, or Twitter, or Grindr or whatever.  A movement is built on a network, not on an event or even a series of events.

We will announce our next meeting with more notice. It will almost certainly be next week, venue to be confirmed, but probably in this building.

One last round of applause for all of you and your ideas, energy. We can win this – we must win this.

(Applause)

 

Probably time for the XR post I haven’t been writing, because…

I have an article coming out that has come out on The Conversation (yes Sarah, yes Matt, you are both right) that may cause some fur to fly.  This post is for readers of that who want/demand to know where I stand. I will keep it brief and try to keep the glibsnark to tolerable levels

Are you some kind of  climate denier/lukewarmis/eqivocator?

I had a vasectomy in 2004 (pre-breeding) because anthropogenic global warming is all-too real. I have thought since mid-1991 that the human response to its self-created problem would be too slow.  In that I was wrong – the response has been virtually non-existent, if like Greta you don’t count empty words and emissions trading schemes

But you aren’t a full-throated supporter of XR, so you presumably think there are technological fixes, or that we can adapt to temperature rises?

Technological fixes? Er, no. Even before I started studying the intricacies of how innovation works, how social and political change are in a waltz/tango/rumba with those, I didn’t believe in that particular soothing fairy tale (and remember, fairy tales don’t always have a happy ending, do they?). As for adapting. Yeah, right. Because we’re doing so well at 1 degree, the 4 degrees we are probably gonna get this century will be a doddle. Er, no. My hunch is that the second half of the twenty first century is going to make the first half of the twentieth look like a golden age of peace, love and understanding.

So in that case, why aren’t you involved in XR, with all your obvious talents – well, opinions?  After all, it’s the only show in town.

If I were glibsnarking, I’d say because I am a Marxist- a Groucho Marxist – “never be the member of any club that would have you as a member.” But I am not, so I won’t.
There are two ways of looking at this…

But first an important disclaimer – nothing below is aimed at the brave and committed individuals who have been putting their bodies on the line, who have been treated shamefully most of the media, by the Met etc.

One on the basis of what XR’s demands are, and whether I could explain them to an interested potential ally with a straight face and two, my thoughts on XR’s likely success and longevity. Then I will address your Thatcherite ‘there is no alternative’ line.

One.  XR’s demands are both necessary but also simultaneously bat-shit crazy.

Zero-carbon by 2025.  Yeah, I say to people, I can deliver that. Just give me a week and a phial of smallpox and we will all be on our way.  Twelve Monkeys redux (fun fact – that is based on a great short story by a ,gasp, female author. #butIdigress). I have yet to meet a single XRer who thinks this is doable. I totes get the need for stretch targets, but there has to be a modicum of plausibility. The group I am in, we’ve put 2030 as our target for Manchester, which is that-bit-less unimaginable. And don’t even start me on zero carbon.

Tell the truth. Look, there are two people in the UK who are trusted. Queenie, principally for longevity and keeping her mouth shut, and David Attenborough.  Well, Dave, at long long last, finally told the truth about climate change.  And yeah, that has meant (checks notes), everyone has stopped flying, reduced their meat intake, stopped buying gas-guzzling tanks, sneering at the eco-freaks. No, wait.  The ‘tell the truth’ thing is again one of those propositional demands, non-reformist reforms  (yes I’ve read my social movement theory stuff), but wtaf, it also betrays this hypodermic informational-deficit model nonsense that the greenies have been doing for (checks notes again) like, foreva.

Citizens Assembly.  Yeah, because it absolutely would not be captured by elite interests who, and would absolutely not produce a shopping list of wouldn’t it  be nice claims that would then absolutely not be watered down and not implemented by – God, Bless the Civil Service, the nation’s saving grace   Because that’s what’s been lacking all these years. We just needed a bunch of good ideas so our leaders could implement them.  Just like Australia with its Ecologically Sustainable Development process in … 1991…

And don’t even start me on this “capital S science proves – proves I tell you! – that 3.5 percent means the government falls”. FFS.

But, of course, maybe we should take XR seriously if not literally?  Which brings us to two.

I have seen this movie before, I know how it ends. I was involved (very heavily) in Climate Camp in 2006, and for the first half of 2007.  I saw the same psycho-social dynamics at play. I have even read Jo Freeman’s ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ and knew that it applied.  Sure, this is a sequel, so the body count is higher, the protests are more elaborate. But, I saw this movie before y’all.

XR, at least what I have seen, lacks the skills in meeting design, meeting facilitation, absorptive capacity, you name it.  It has oodles of bonding capital, which is doubtless strengthened by the latest rebellion, but as for it’s bridging capital is, yeah, well.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating – I am not dismissing the energy, concern, intelligence and courage – physical, emotional you name it – of participants in XR. I just doubt their prospects for success, and wish they would use their energy, concern, intelligence and courage to take a close look at what they are doing, how they are doing , and do some innovating (maybe this is happening, but I do not see it where I live).

Holy crap you can waffle.  So what you are saying is XR is irredeemably shit and we should all dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do. Thanks, I will do that.

Er, you interrupted before I got to your Thatcheshite ‘TINA’ argument.  XR is not the only part of the ecosystem, it’s just the gaudiest…

So we should join Friends of the Earth?!

Stop interrupting. And god no. GOD no. Why waste the few good years before nemesis kisses us on the apocalypse getting people to sign colourful postcards.  No, I am saying that as well as the School Strikes (I am a bit long in tooth) there ARE other groups, or at least the possibility of them.  Smaller groups, trying to keep it radical, keep it local, and keep it long-term, for after this moment- and it is a moment- passes.  Groups like Climate Emergency Manchester (full disclosure, I co-founded it) which are trying to take a movement-building rather than mobilising approach, building up skills, knowledge, relationships, confidence, in as structured but simultaneously urgent and radical (that word again) as possible.  See the blog post “The January 4th 2023 problem“.

Yawn

Yeah, it’s getting late, I should be at the gym, and then be doing some of that research and thinking they are paying me for.  And if you want to hear about the why and how of Climate Emergency Manchester, well, for now you can look at this. I may come back to the gritty details later. And you can point out the racism, colonialism, sexism and classism (tube blocking, much?) of environmental social movements.  I will not argue with you about those critiques- they are almost always entirely valid. The more interesting question is how to make things less awful. But that sound you hear is the gym saying ‘where the hell are you, fat arse?”  I’m off…

 

 

Sucking on the hopium pipe

In 2002 I got some weird-ass bug, probably from having been in Cambodia. I ended up in a lot of pain (probably as much as in my life) and on a hospital gurney.   And then they gave me some morphine.

Holy mother of God that stuff is the shit.  You just… the pain just… you float away on this soft warm cloud of bliss.

I TOTALLY see how people get addicted to that. You’d be mad not to, if you had serious pain (and I did not – it was acute, but not chronic, not omfg ‘shoot me now’ pain).

Anyone with a brain who looks at what our species (1) has done to this planet – the genocides, the ecocides, the wanton destruction driven by fear, greed, will to power etc – is in a lot of pain.  That would be the case even if we were not quite clearly a long way down a suicidal path that will turn this planet into a largely uninhabitable overcooked slag-and-plastic heap.

Pain is not fun.

So, we want to suck on the hopium pipe.

“New group X will save us” (for x, insert Climate Camp, Occupy, Corbymentum or some extremely new and depoliticised rendition).

And if anyone has the rudeness to question why the same tactics and rhetoric should be expected to come to a different result, oh my.

“Look has anything else got this big this quickly? We must be winning. If you’re not with us you’re against us!  Don’t be so demoralising. You must be unwell/jealous” etc

I will say it again, (though I am staggered and appalled that I have to). We. Have. A. Moral. Obligation. Not. Just. To. Act. But. To. Learn. From. Past. Mistakes.

Everything is just riding an emotacycle off a cliff. Again. Why should people who ought to know better be applauded for that?

 

 

Footnotes

(1)  Yep, there is common but differentiated responsibility. Most of that responsibility lies with people who look like me – white, male, middle-class, who either actively did stuff or were unwilling to speak up against it, out of fear-greed-complicity-etc.  Anyhows, parsing the anthropocene versus the racialised capitolocene etc is a blog post for another day, ‘kay?

What next for XR? Gazing dimly into my crystal balls #oldfartclimateadvice

Tl:dr  Hard to see radical granular climate action in the UK continuing beyond early 2021 at the latest. But I could be wrong.

Firstly the disclaimers:

  • Disclaimer the first: Who the hell knows?  Who the hell knows anything anymore?
  • Disclaimer the second: In cosmic scheme of things it doesn’t matter- we are a dead species stumbling, about to spaff all the achievements of the Enlightenment against the wall. So it goes.
  • Stories like these, scenarios, give a crumb of comfort, the illusion/delusion of control.

We are not quite a year in to the public face of XR (I went to my first – awful – meeting last September).  The whole climate ‘thing’ (including XR, Thunbergmania, FfF etc) seems to be happening at twice the speed of the last wave (2006-2009), for whatever reasons.   On Monday the next ‘International Rebellion’ is to begin in London, after the events of April.  So, rather than be overtaken by events again, I am putting this long-brewing post (where long = n+ 14 days, for values of n 0-14 days) so that I have to own my predictions and can’t fall to the retrospective smoothing fallacy (fwiw, I don’t think I ever meant XR in toto would be over by end of 2018, just that the idea of maintaining blockades for weeks on end in Nov/Dec was, well, ambitious. But maybe I did)

As far as XR is concerned (the school strikes are different, but not that different), I think we’re coming to a crunch point. Much depends on Monday onwards.  The April evens had a few things going for them

a)  weather (it was warm – can’t think why) and not too rainy
b)  novelty ‘hippies take over London, complete with ‘normal’ people among them’ was a good news story
c)  a gap in the news cycle from the Other Thing Of Which We Will Not Speak
d)  The Metropolitan Police were playing it softly softly (possibly because it helped them in budget negotiations to look outnumbered/overwhelmed? Who can say.)

For this next orgasm in the emotacycle to ‘work’, all of those need to be in favour again, and the novelty factor has to include LOTS more people (if numbers aren’t much much higher,  where is the novelty?) It’s not clear to me the numbers will be that much higher. Lots of people got to tick the I Did My Bit box by turning out in their lunch hour for the Global Climate ‘Strike’ on Sept 20.

It’s not clear at all that the OTOWWWNS window will be there.

It’s also reasonably clear that the  Metropolitan police attitude is different.  Clock this display of pre-emptive we-da-boss-ery. Seems odd to do this and then be all touchy-feely-dancy-yes-we-are-your-friends from Monday on. We shall see.  (Of course, just because the Met may want to change its tactics does not guarantee they they will succeed in changing their tactics/those tactics will succeed.)

But for the sake of argument, let’s say  all the stars align and this next rebellion is a ‘win’ for XR, then what? As far as I can see, then the pressure to do an ‘even bigger’ Rebellion next April will be almost irresistible (and it is not clear to me many participants would WANT to resist).

Okay, so say the event is a damp/ignored/plodded squib. In that case, I suspect that there will be some decruitment, some soul-searching and the splits emerging (the drones-at-Heathrow as XR’s ‘Brexit Moment’, as an insider said not long back) will open.  BUT if I had to bet, I’d say the cracks will be papered over, morale sort of maintained and the caravan will be kept on the road because, you know, momentum (lower case), it’s an emergency, and there is a summit to be hopped in Glasgow next November/December.  And given that the dreary mainstream NGOs (Hello Faux, hello Greenpieces) are busy playing catch-up and will be wanting to mobilise for the COP, then the XR will stagger on.

Meanwhile, in both these extreme cases, the calls  for granular, local, low-adrenaline-radical action will be ignored or wilfully misunderstood by most folks.

But I could be wrong. Time will tell, as she so often does.  In the meantime, will keep pushing on with the granular local, low-adrenaline radical stuff, as best I can, with people I trust.