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Manchester and the ‘what to do’ question…

Manchester is famous the world over for its football, its music and now, sadly, for being the latest in an ever-lengthening list of European cities that have suffered terrrorist atrocities- Madrid, London, Oslo, Brussels, Berlin, Nice, Paris – in recent years. (And globally the list takes in Oklahoma City, Boston, Mumbai, Baghdad and so very many others).

Manchester has had terrorist incidents before, (such as the IRA bombing in 1996) but Monday night’s atrocity is on a different level of horror.

The pattern is familiar now – the attack, the rolling media coverage, the hashtags, the facebook ‘safe status’ search, the heartbreaking circulation of photographs of the missing – young, innocent people – the tales of heroism, the diligent professional work of the emergency services, the skill of the medical staff, followed by speculation about the perpetrators and their motives, the resolute sombre speeches of national leaders, and the solidarity expressed by other politicians, especially those from cities recently afflicted.

Also there are vigils. Last night thousands of us gathered in front of the Town Hall for a much needed vigil and show of solidarity, unity. The city had been on edge all day. Sirens and helicopters, people compulsively checking updates on social media and news feeds. The now all-too-familiar messages of solidarity from other cities that have been the subject of attack in the recent past. And when (not, sadly, if) the next attack happens, then Manchester’s leaders will themselves be signing condolence books and sending tweets.

I was with my wife and friends, and although we heard some of the poem, we heard little of the speeches of assorted political and religious leaders (it was a bit like that opening scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – blessed are the cheesemakers).

Of course, the words were not the point. The point was that Manchester rejects the idiocy of hate, divisions based on class, religion or race.  Manchester is cosmopolitian, and very determined to say that way.

What can we do?

The blood banks are full to overflowing – for now. But giving blood is a really good thing to do, part of the gift relationship. A work colleague wrote yesterday “Fear of needles not withstanding, I tried to give blood this morning because I am O-. However, they are a bit overwhelmed and can’t register me yet. I should have registered before. Anyway, if you are a registered, universal donor, you are exactly who they are looking for right now!”

Perhaps put a note in your diary for a fortnight, or a month’s time from now?

I personally don’t think the choice of target – where young women gather to hear about women’s power – was an accident. Neither do people like Australian commentator Greg Sheridan. So, continuing to support increased opportunities for everyone (while recognising the historical and systemic barriers that women have faced)

Contesting some of the ways that this atrocity will be used. I think there are two things here. Firstly, people outside the UK (and within it) have some very weird (by that I mean “wrong”) ideas about how things are. Remember the terrorism “expert” who claimed in 2015 that Birmingham was a ‘no-go’ zone?

To quote a wise friend

please push back against people with very transparent agendas who will use this event to talk about Manchester as some kind of “war zone”, or make references to “no-go zones” where lots of South Asian immigrants live. I’ve already seen people pushing that narrative, and it couldn’t be more wrong. Manchester is a beautiful city full of sports, music, and history, and it is made all the better by its diversity….. Muslim taxi drivers offered free rides to get people away from the arena. Muslim doctors worked overtime to help the victims…. And today, as the smoke is clearing, people are dusting themselves off, helping and comforting the victims, and getting on with their lives. Manchester is resilient and it will survive this.”

My wife, who speaks both Arabic and acerbic spent time yesterday doing precisely this kind of ‘push back’ work on Twitter and Facebook, against those who want to stir up hatred and stupidity.  It’s a Sisyphean challenge of course. Or perhaps, more like cleaning out the Augean stables.

Secondly, the attack may be used as part of the ongoing power grab by the State, for ever more control, surveillance. This is really tricky, because on the one hand there is a need for more frontline staff, but at the same time swelling budgets end up swelling the scope of the state’s reach into private lives. Troops on the streets is, at the very least, ‘unsettling.’  Those who try to exchange freedom for safety often end up with neither.

When you think climate change, think “dam”…. #3MT

Here’s me giving my spiel in the “Three Minute Thesis” heat at University of Manchester

Here’s the slide I used.

hoover dam3


And… I’m through to the Three Minute Thesis Final to be held on Wednesday June 7, between 2pm and 3:30pm in University Place Lecture Theatre A. You can register for a (free!) ticket



My first actual academic article?! On hostility to renewable energy…

This one started life as a “Conversation” article (never published) and was expanded into a perspectives piece for the journal Energy Research & Social Science.

Many thanks to the editor, the peer reviewer and to Sarah “The Wife” Irving and Joe Blakey for their careful proof-reading.

Wind beneath their contempt: Why Australian policymakers oppose solar and wind energy”

The following link is live until the end of May 2017.

PS To the person who said last year that  I lacked academic independence: “how you like them apples?”

The Hot Mess – How we are failing the ‘greatest moral challenge’

Ha, I now have a column at The Conversation, called “Hot Mess:  Unravelling the climate challenge paralysis”  (I wanted “unravelling climate (,) policy paralysis” but knew that it would look too tricksy).

Anyway, you can read it here.

Ten years ago today, Kevin Rudd spoke at the National Climate Summit at Parliament House, in Canberra, famously declaring climate change to be “the great moral challenge of our generation”.

One of Kevin Rudd’s most famous quotes.

Rudd, in alliance with Julia Gillard, had toppled Kim Beazley as Labor leader the previous December. This focus on climate change was part of Rudd’s brilliantly executed electoral assault on John Howard, who had spent his period in office kicking climate action into the long grass.

Malcolm Turnbull, then Howard’s newly minted environment minister, was underwhelmed by Rudd’s speech. “It’s all designed to promote Kevin Rudd. I mean, he doesn’t care what the summit says. He’s having his media conference at 10 o’clock. The conference delegates will have barely had their coffee and had the first session,” he sniffed.

On the same day Ross Gittins published a piece titled Carbon trading v taxes — a winner eases ahead in the Sydney Morning Herald. A decade on, it makes for painful, and eerily prescient, reading:

A key question – for advocates of action as well as politicians anxious to keep their jobs – is which instrument would be harder to introduce politically. This, I suspect, is the reason so many governments favour trading schemes. The trouble with a carbon tax is that everyone hates new taxes, whereas a trading scheme doesn’t sound as if it’s a tax.

The dizzying and stomach-churning backflips over the past ten years have been described as a “power failure” and a policy bonfire.

While hopes for bold and timely action in Australia may have bleached like the Great Barrier Reef, the question that Rudd raised – one of climate change ethics, of how we navigate “the perfect moral storm” – remains alive.

Debts to pay

From my point of view, the key questions are: what do we owe to future generations; what do we owe to other species; and how are we living up to those obligations?

The thinker and novelist Alice Walker once described activism as “my rent for living on the planet”.

The celebrated linguist and US dissident Noam Chomsky agrees. In September 1991, during an interview in which he was asked what motivated him in his tireless work decrying US foreign policy and the influence of the mass media on democratic societies, he replied: “Looking in the mirror in the morning and not being appalled.” For Chomsky, intellectuals have a responsibility, “to speak the truth and to expose lies”.

But of course some would say that this is not enough – the point is not to describe the world but to change it.

There are costs, however. Consider this passage from Marge Piercy’s extraordinary novel Vida, about a Vietnam War-era activist on the run from the FBI:

Yet she had no feeling of accomplishment, because every morning in the Times, every evening on television, the war was stronger, and she was closer to exhaustion. They had not done enough, they had not risked enough, they had not tried everything, they had not fought hard enough, they had not, because the proof was before her every morning and every evening the war went on. It was raining blood outside whether she looked out the window or not; the blood was splattering down, and the hot wind that blew across the city smelled of ashes, of burning flesh. Obviously they had not tried hard enough if the war still went on.

Personally, I have tried activism (and usually done it badly, if persistently). I found that if I stopped altogether I felt worse and “acted out” in silly ways, so now I do just enough to avoid that, but with zero expectation that anything will change

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht combined the Latin word solacium (comfort) with the Greek root –algia (pain) to create the word solastalgia, which he defined as:

The psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change, such as mining or climate change.

That grief and anxiety is catching up with many of us. For a psychoanalytic perspective, see this interview with Rosemary Randall.

What should we do?

So, reader, I’m interested in finding out your coping strategies, since mine are often inadequate and maladaptive. I’ve a few questions:

  • Where do you think your environmental concern came from?
  • How many of you spent significant time in unstructured play in natural environments before the age of 11 (so-called “significant life experiences”), as I did?
  • How do you who try to stay active on this mother of all issues cope with the seemingly uninterrupted flow of ever greater defeats?
  • How do you cope with the guilt of having failed (thus far) to have done enough?
  • How do you cope with the grief for the things we are definitely going to lose, no matter what (starting with coral on the Great Barrier Reef)?
  • And for the climatologists and climate writers out there, how do you cope with the anxiety of knowing that conveying the end of human civilisation is your day job?

Over to you – answers in the comments.

Motorcycle Emptiness and emotathons

Too tired (long story) to do any creative work on the Thesis, and having done enough grunt work on it too, for today, I am in the process of writing a paper for a conference here in Manchester about alternative futures and popular protest. It will not be a popular paper. It will slag off the social movements, who are apparently the ones we are relying on to lead us out of the slough of despond to the sunny uplands.

Yeah, right.

And one of the concepts I am deploying (one of my own) is ’emotathons’. I came up with it a few years ago.



I am process of changing this one  (which captures the dreary plodding longevity of it) with the term Emotacycle, which captures the circularity (but loses the drudgery aspect a bit).  Still, aesthetically, it allows cringeworthy “pop culture” references to two songs.

All Revved Up With No Place To Go (by Mr M. Loaf)


Motorcycle Emptiness by the Manic Street Preachers.

Which is extraordinary.

Culture sucks down words
Itemize loathing and feed yourself smiles
Organize your safe tribal war
Hurt, maim, kill and enslave the ghetto

Each day living out a lie
Life sold cheaply forever, ever, ever

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness
Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

Life lies a slow suicide
Orthodox dreams and symbolic myths
From feudal serf to spender
This wonderful world of purchase power

Just like lungs sucking on air
Survivals natural as sorrow, sorrow, sorrow

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness
Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us
All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

Drive away and it’s the same
Everywhere death row, everyone’s a victim
Your joys are counterfeit
This happiness corrupt political shit

Living life like a comatose
Ego loaded and swallow, swallow, swallow

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness
Under neon loneliness everlasting nothingness