- We’ve got clipboards with big “Climate Emergency Manchester” on the back of them (which means people don’t think you’re trying to convert them to a religion, or part of a national group chugging).
- We’ve got t-shirts
- We got a 10 minute (at most) briefing that will explain what to do, how to do it.
Last Friday (17th May) we took to Levenshulme market, clipboards in hand, gathering signatures for the petition calling for Manchester City Council to declare a Climate Emergency. An unexpectedly balmy evening for Manchester drew crowds to the stalls selling street food, plants, and local produce. As people thronged the square tucking into delicious smelling veggie dinners we were initially worried about that we would be disrupting their evenings.
On the contrary, however, we were met with genuine enthusiasm. From students, to art teachers, to local young families, people were not just eager to sign but had a lot to say to us. Commuters raised concerns about how they felt forced to use their cars for journeys which should otherwise be taken on public transport if it were more affordable. Young people spoke to use about their disillusionment with their lack of education on climate change.
Most movingly, however, was the Mancunion pride which wanted to see this vibrant city once again leading way in social change. There was no squeamishness about holding the council to account. As vegetarian pad thai and samosas and amber pints were passed around to free up hands to sign, we saw the real progress of the idea of the ‘climate emergency’. It was a given for nearly everyone we met that immediate action was really needed. That sacrifices and serious changes were coming. We had expected to be able to persuade a few sympathetic ears on leaving the market, however people beckoned us over, marching up to us hand outstretched for a pen. Then passing the petition down the queue of waiting customers. There was a cheerful recognition that our goal was not a distraction but a part of their evening; something essential which could not be ignored.
Sophie and Lauren…
(Climate Emergency Manchester would like to thank Jen, Sophie and Lauren – obvs, Paul and all the people who signed the petition on the night. It was a fab evening!).
This Thursday evening (23rd May) there is a free public meeting at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St, Central Manchester (behind the Central Library). The meeting is called “What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” Come to mingle from 7pm, the meeting starts at 7.30 sharp. There will be five panellists, from Extinction Rebellion Manchester, Youth Strike for Climate, Unite the Union Community Branch climate group and Climate Emergency Manchester. Already Climate Emergency Manchester and Rising Up! Manchester Families have produced responses
Below are both a video kindly made by Claire Stocks of Extinction Rebellion Manchester (she will be their panellist on the evening), and also written answers to the questions we put to her.
Claire is a campaigner and writer working with a number of groups in Manchester. Here she writes in a personal capacity about her involvement in Extinction Rebellion Manchester.
When was your group founded? What does it do/how does it do it?
Extinction Rebellion (XR) in Manchester was set up last September after a public talk given by three XR speakers called ‘Climate Change: Heading for Extinction and what to do about it’ .
About 45 people went along – and a handful of people stuck together afterwards and decided to set up a group here in Manchester which grew slowly over the following months. There are now about 2,000 members on the mailing list and about 100 people – never the same – come along to our meetings every Monday. They come from all walks of life – I’ve met people I never would have done through any other circumstances. A number of new local groups are also forming as a result of a big upsurge in interest since April.
The group supports XR’s 3 core demands and wider aims – and how they relate to local issues.
I see our main purpose here in Manchester to be to move what is deemed as possible/doable to more ‘appropriate’ albeit ‘radical’ place – a place from where we enact the bold and systemic changes required to address the climate and environmental emergency we face in this city region and grow the kinds of communities we will need to cope with the challenges ahead.
What have been the group’s major successes and failures over the last year or so?
In the seven or eight months since XR MCR started, it’s played a key role providing ‘people power’ to protests in London which seem – finally, after decades of hard work by many, and along with a variety of other things – to be changing the public discourse about this existential issue (hundreds of people from here travelled to take action on the streets of London in April).
We’ve created a community of people who support each other in Manchester and who enjoy being together – I think both are key to any group that’s asking people to give up their free time to take bold action. XR has a big focus on regenerative culture and wellbeing and so that’s something we are constantly working on – there’s no point working to change a system unless you change it to something better and one way to do that is to make sure that the way you operate as groups is true to the new values you want to see across all of society. We’re learning all the time about that.
The group has experimented with different types of actions – all have taught us stuff – eg what works and what doesn’t – as well as giving people confidence.
Standing up to ‘the system’ can take guts – it can be so ingrained to do what we’re told – so giving people ways to take small steps and feel what it is like to stand in a street to stop a car, march with a placard, or grab a megaphone, for the first time are all useful.
Many of us want to make sure XR is representative of wider society – I think XR acknowledges it has been driven by those who’ve felt able to get involved/felt included – and that’s not everyone, which is in part due to the same system I believe has got us into this mess.
Climate breakdown and wildlife devastation are consequences of the capitalist, economic growth-driven system we’ve let rule the roost for too long – one where forests are valued for their economic contribution only once they are cut down, fish only once they are caught to be eaten. But so is social inequality within the UK and between the global south and ‘wealthy’ north.
That is what I think is meant when people chant ‘system change not climate change’
Speaking personally, the climate and environmental crisis is what woke me up – but it’s my desire for a just and equitable society that values living in harmony with earth and each other above all else, that keeps me going – because it not only solves our current problems but it creates a world of which I’d no longer feel ashamed, but proud.
If people got involved in your group, what sorts of things would they find themselves doing?
XR is fundamentally about taking action – to be a catalyst for change by showing that people want more significant change than has been so far proposed.
Anyone can take action in the name of XR – you just need to be in support of it’s 3 core demands and operate in accordance with the principles the most important of which is non-violence/peaceful protest.
However – there are a myriad of ways of getting involved – including on protests when everyone is free to decide how much risk (if any) they are personally ready to take.
There are working groups based on what people like doing – for instance there are the creative arts team who like making banners or block prints, or playing in a samba band; a media group making content whether it’s video or blog posts or helping manage and moderate our social media accounts; we’ve got people with technical skills helping develop our website or messaging systems; people who reach out to other groups and are good at talking to people, those who are good at admin stuff like finance and organising meetings and people who like the political side – researching the hot topics and how we can hold authority to account.
These groups are still really just getting going – so now is a time when people who come along and get stuck in can really shape how this movement grows in Manchester.
The thing that will determine the success of what happens here – are the people who come forward.
What has your group got planned between now and the end of September (and how might it contribute to maintaining morale and momentum in the climate movement in Manchester)
As a group, XR MCR is in a phase of reviewing, planning and growing.
April took a lot out of individuals and the group – some people are moving house, moving city, moving country; some people have been in court; some have exams; most have day jobs and families. And then there are hundreds of new people eager to get involved, which is brilliant.
So watch this space…
What would you like to see the “climate movement in Manchester” do more generally, both to maintain morale and momentum, but also to increase its effectiveness?
I’m told that before Andy Burnham became mayor he asked various groups what they wanted in terms of walking and cycling policy and they came back with a single set of clear asks – which is how we ended up with Chris Boardman as walking cycling commissioner and £200m for better infrastructure.
I know there have been lots of very committed people here acting on climate issues for a long time – we’ve kept out fracking for instance and despite the flaws in the Manchester Environmental Plan (that commits us to carbon zero by 2038, except it doesn’t really) it is in advance of many places in the UK. Those people deserve credit for those good things that have happened.
I think it is also fair to say the climate movement hasn’t had a united front – so perhaps it’s been too easy for politicians, policy-makers and corporations to dodge the real issue and focus on other things.
We have to make it harder for anyone to ignore this – or looked at in a more positive way, easier for them act – with a clear set of ‘asks’ that we all get behind as a ‘movement’ and don’t let go til change is forthcoming, like a dog with a bone.
However it’s crucial these asks start from the position of what’s needed to get out of the emergency we’re in – not what is ‘doable’ according to the status quo; as XR puts it – to tell the truth – and then act like it is real.
Because, it is all too easy for well-meaning people to become part of the system they once sought to change and end up going along with moderate, incremental change even though they know it’s far from what is needed. I know I’ve done that in the past in other fields.
XR seeks to blame or shame no-one but to acknowledge this is the fault of our system – and to give people a way to discard the incremental approach for the bolder measures and systemic overhaul that we all know is required.
How can the colourful disruption of XR help with the nitty gritty work of not just declaring a climate emergency, but also making sure policies are implemented?
XR MCR is formulating its future strategy and this is my personal opinion.
Firstly, I believe the way to get policies that we need on all of this is to acknowledge the politicians need help.
We need to take the issue out of their hands for a bit – and put it back in the hands of everyday people.
(It is hard for them: they rely on popular votes they can’t predict so why would they take a risk on a public opinion they aren’t sure of? Indeed, research from Lancaster Uni has shown that to date many MPs thought climate change massively important but simply didn’t believe people had any appetite for significant change).
And besides, it’s business who wield the real power, whether it is wealthy fossil fuel companies lobbying for subsidies (how else would we have 5% VAT on petrol and 20% on solar) or wealthy housebuilders persuading the government to drop plans in 2015 to make them build carbon zero homes, or wealthy landowners enabling peatland destruction in favour of grouse shooting.
So – many of us think our politicians should commission a Citizens Assembly – one here in Greater Manchester – one that asks 100 citizens to plot the way the city region can become a truly carbon neutral city region, and far sooner than 2038 – as Ireland did with great effect to solve the political deadlock on abortion and other issues.
The recommendations that the Assembly came up with would give politicians the mandate they need for bolder action – as well as creating a mass conversation about what climate change means for this city region; panel sessions could be streamed, submissions from the public sought, mini votes held, experts called to make their case.
It could be the central focus of a huge campaign to help the region’s 2.7m inhabitants understand the challenges we face and engage in discussion about the changes we need to make.
Secondly – the people who come to XR MCR all have different views but one thing that unites them is a desire to see greater action here.
Some of the key issues that come up time and time again are air pollution; transport including the airport, roads and buses; renewable energy; greenbelt; wildlife; construction and housing.
Thousands of people do not think we are doing enough, nor is it happening quickly enough.
XR MCR is in a phase of renewal and reflection now but that won’t always be the case.
It’s growing, as are other groups; and people are no longer going to settle for the status quo.
This Thursday evening (23rd May) there is a free public meeting at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St, Central Manchester (behind the Central Library). The meeting is called “What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” Come to mingle from 7pm, the meeting starts at 7.30 sharp. There will be five panellists, from Extinction Rebellion Manchester, Youth Strike for Climate, Unite the Union Community Branch climate group and Climate Emergency Manchester.
The fifth speaker will not be there in person, because evening meetings are very difficult for parents of young children. Instead, Rose Arnold has kindly produced a video, which will be played. It’s a brilliant piece of communication – heartfelt, clear, honest and positive without ignoring the scale of the challenge we face.
Please share a) the details of the meeting and b) this video.
Lillia Adetoro is nine years old. Already in her short life she has done more for a habitable planet than people with five times her age.
She’s an irrepressible public speaker, and has been at the “Fridays for Future” gatherings outside the Central Library for many weeks, talking to people and gathering signatures on the climate emergency petition.If ever you think about giving up on climate change activism, take a look at this video and remind yourself who and what you’re giving up on.
You can see the video here
There are (at least) two big dangers in pressing political incumbents (calling them leaders seems too generous) to declare a climate emergency.
The first is that they declare a climate emergency and then continue very much with business as usual (hello Leeds, Bristol and – most recently – Stockport). That is, they dress up what they are already doing as somehow adequate to the scale of the crisis we face. Manchester City Council is doing this, and we fully expect them to do it more in the coming months. It is entirely likely that they will in fact declare a “climate emergency” while sticking to their grossly inadequate current “plan.”
The second danger is not so much at a local authority level (though if you’ve seen The War Game, Punishment Park or Threads you may disagree). It’s more at the national and international level. Say it’s a climate emergency. Well, in that case, game on for geo-engineering, surveillance/rationing and more of the sort of eugenics/racism/victim-blaming that has been the norm for the last however many centuries, only on steroids. As Arundhati Roy recently noted
And now, irony of ironies, a consensus is building that climate change is the world’s single largest security challenge. Increasingly the vocabulary around it is being militarised. And no doubt very soon its victims will become the “enemies” in the new war without end.
Calls for a climate “emergency”, although well meaning, could hasten the process that has already begun. The pressure is already on to move the debate from the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to the United Nations Security Council, in other words, to exclude most of the world and place decision making straight back into the den of the same old suspects. Once again, the Global North, the creators of the problem, will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose. A solution whose genius will, no doubt, lie deep in the heart of the “Market” and involve more selling and buying, more consuming, and more profiteering by fewer and fewer people. In other words, more capitalism.
So, are campaigns like ours an exercise in being useful dupes for Evil Overlords plans for Domination.
Well, no, but then as dupes, we wouldn’t know,now would we? And if we did, we wouldn’t tell you.
Is this, “objectively” an emergency for our species? Are we shooting through the Holocene into the “Anthropocene”?
is there a real danger that the language of emergency elides the responsibility for the mess we are in and stampedes “us” towards really stupid things that will make things much worse?
Does the reality of this danger mean we should be paralysed, defeated and defeatist?
Well, duh, no.
It means we have to make the case for socially just, sensible (as opposed to “smart” – with all the technchauvinistic baggage that comes with) patches and manoeuvres for the coming shit storm.
Finally, if we are worried about geo-engineering and other idiotic proposals, let’s dump/resist all the talk of solutions and fixes, okay? Let’s grow up and know that there are no pain-free options,. The key questions are whose pain, and how much? We here in Manchester need to think about who should be cutting back and who has room to ‘grow’ locally, nationally and internationally.
Marc Hudson (personal capacity)
Next Thursday, 23rd May there’s an exciting and potentially extremely useful meeting in Manchester. Held at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St (behind the Central Library) it’s called “What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” and will have five panellists (from Youth Strike for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, Rising Up! Manchester Families, the GM Unite the Union Community Branch climate group and Climate Emergency Manchester (the host organisation).
All five groups have been approached to do interviews before the event that will be posted here (and hopefully re-posted elsewhere!). This is so that people attending the meeting can have a chance to know a bit more about the groups on stage. We post the CEM answers (written by Calum McFarlane for the most part) in the hope of getting the ball rolling
1. When was your group founded? What does it do/how does it do it?
CEM was started in April 2019. The campaign aims to help climate aware people in Manchester get involved in forms of activism that can fit around other commitments, help “join the dots” between different groups and facilitate sharing of skills and knowledge, and to push to get 4000 signatures on a petition to Manchester City Council, to debate a declaration of climate emergency. This is done through a combination of online and offline engagement, being physically present at relevant events and collecting signatures, raising awareness via posting interviews and videos on our website and on Twitter.
2. What have been the group’s major successes and failures over the last year or so?
We’ve barely been going a month so a bit hard to say! We had a relatively slow start but we’re finding that what we’re doing is well received amongst members of the public outside of the “climate activist” bubble, which is heartening to see. We need to put more efforts into widening our reach here.
3. If people got involved in your group, what sorts of things would they find themselves doing?
Hopefully collecting signatures on paper from people they know in their networks (work colleagues, places of worship, sports clubs, PTAs, drama groups, allotment associations, residents groups, etc) but also using the petition to raise awareness of the issues and the need to force local government to take concrete action. Could also be helping to maintain the website, do video interviews, share any other skills they might have, and hopefully learn some new ones.
4.What has your group got planned between now and the end of September (and how might it contribute to maintaining morale and momentum in the climate movement in Manchester)
Our next big event is the public meeting at the Friend’s Meeting House in Manchester on 23rd May. We have speakers from a number of groups involved in climate activism in Manchester, but the main focus is on creating and strengthening connections between concerned citizens, rather than talking at people. The aim is to really boost awareness of the campaign, recruit some more folks to gather signatures, and with a bit of luck, find some people who are looking to do some workshops or talks.
5.What would you like to see the “climate movement in Manchester” do more generally, both to maintain morale and momentum, but also to increase its effectiveness?
I’d like to see more efforts to reach people outside of the activist bubble. This means actively seeking out opportunities to talk to people on their terms, not expecting them to attend “our” meetings or talks. We also need to somewhat de-centre the “big events” like the recent actions in London by XR. Not that these are not important, not that they don’t move the conversation on, but I feel that local politicians need to hear that their constituents, ward by ward, are concerned about climate, about wildlife, about air quality, about food security &c. This only happens by local, person-to-person mobilisation.
6. So, you get your 4000 signatures, and a debate in Manchester City Council. So what? Then what?
While our petition doesn’t close until 29 September, we many other things people can do alongside collecting signatures. For example, we are start scrutinising the existing plans of the Council more closely, and suggesting radical but doable improvements. So we will have a presence at the June, July, August and September meetings of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committees. These are on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of each month, at the Town Hall. We will meet before for lunch, at 1pm. If you want to help us scrutinise but can’t come then, that’s fine, we have jobs from policy analysis to tweeting and everything in between. We also are working with other groups to come up with detailed proposals for the Council, the business sector and the rest of us about how to get close to zero carbon by 2030. Again, all skills and experience will be needed.
And after September, well, the work will continue. This is not about dumping a problem in the Council’s lap and saying “there, you sort it out.” They won’t, they can’t. We know this from the last ten years. We have to stay active, stay positive, to help grow the capacity of citizens to be heavily and radically involved.
Mostly this: “activism” tends to involve able-bodied, middle-class, well-educated people. There’s nothing wrong with those people being involved, but what about the skint single mum who cares deeply about her future, and that of her children? She can’t come to most meetings, she has little spare time, spare energy or spare cash. But if we’re not involving her – I don’t mean “engaging” I mean involving – then we’re doing activism wrong.