Writing in a personal-ish capacity, Marc Hudson of Climate Emergency Manchester repeats himself. Again.
So, great, we’ve got a “climate emergency” declaration in Manchester. Besides the strikers and the campaigners, this is thanks in part to some gutsy councillors who were able to overcome internal opposition and attempts to water it down. And that declaration, in-and-of itself. has already caused an emission reduction of … 0.0kgs.
This blog post (which is quite long – make a coffee and get comfy – or skip to part four) opens with a thanks, then turns to a few observations about Climate Emergency declarations in general, and Manchester’s in particular before crystal-balling what is likely to happen in the coming weeks and months. Thirdly it does what it says on the tin – it tries to answer the ‘what is to be done?’ question(s) for individuals and then groups. You may not like the answers, or the tone that they are delivered in. I have tried to de-snark, but sometimes I’m like that scorpion hitching a ride on the frog. Finally, it promotes actions Climate Emergency Manchester will/could/should undertake. And here is where I shout: THESE ACTIONS CAN ONLY HAPPEN IF MORE PEOPLE GET INVOLVED. Involved does not mean coming to terrible meetings, or being emotionally blackmailed into taking on more than you actually can, or signing away all your spare time. Involved means looking at our jobs list, looking at our roles list and seeing what you could do. Involved can right now, mean that you simply fill in the ‘get involved’ form.
Part the First Thanks
Thanks to all the various citizens of Manchester who contacted their councillors. In the end, just before the debate, we had confirmation from over 70 councillors that they would be supporting the motion. We made some new contacts in various parts of the city, and learned some useful lessons about how to run lobbying campaigns. Btw, if you didn’t contact your councillor, it’s NOT TOO LATE. You can find out who they are by entering your postcode here and then find their web pages and email addresses. You could just drop them a line and say “thanks for voting for the motion. Now, what do you think needs to happen in this ward, sooner rather than later?” Trust us, councillors rarely get any thanks – it’s mostly “why isn’t that pot hole/street light/dogshit sorted?” Let us know what reply you do/don’t get. Our email is email@example.com.
Part the Second. Of climate kumbaya
It cannot be repeated enough that this is not the first time that Manchester City Council has held hands, sung council kumbaya (every bit as irritating as activist vuvuzela) and made big promises about climate change. We. Really. Have. Been. Here. Before. If you buy me drinks I’ll tell you the whole sorry tale of 2009’s Call to Real Action. History is not doomed to repeat; it’s just that in the absence of social movement innovation, she probably will… #1stTimeTragedy2ndTimeFarce)
As per an earlier post, there are two dangers from the declaration of a Climate Emergency. Firstly, after the declaration those in power use the magic words as an excuse to just keep on with Business as Usual and offer soothing blandishments – “well, we’ve declared an emergency… you have to be patient… these things take time…come be on our advisory panel and tell us what we need to do….” Meanwhile, busy and stressed people take the declaration as a signal that matters are in hand, and that they can step back from campaigning/being involved, rather than stepping up.
The second danger, which need not detain us in thinking about Manchester, is that dictatorship and destruction of democracy get a leg up – “If this is an emergency, then no more protest is allowed, nor debate.” Couldn’t happen here…
Finally, before we get too carried away with Manchester’s declaration, let’s remember the following
- Manchester City Council was sort of forced into this, because almost every other one of the ten ‘core cities’ had declared an emergency earlier this year, and CEM is collecting signatures on its own motion. Holding out much longer was going to leave the Council in an very awkward PR position.
- There are councillors who have signalled their support of the July motion who have, over the last 10 years, proved themselves to be at best disdainful, at worst obstructive of the ‘climate’ agenda (but who knows, maybe they have had a change of heart?)
- The target for even hitting a 2038 zero carbon target (already full of get outs) was 13.5% year on year reductions. And last year, Manchester managed… 2.5%. And that’s an optimistic view on it all.
- The national level political gridlock is unlikely to end any time soon.
So, after a brief honeymoon period, reality will reassert itself. Obvious flashpoints will include Ryebank Fields, the Hulme trees situation, the skyscraper in the Northern Quarter, the (missing) cycle lanes of Great Ancoats St. Campaigners will be quick to shout betrayal and hypocrisy, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not, at various councillors. Morale will take a hit all around, and as economic shit hits the fan, priorities and attention may shift. However, climate will not drop off the radar, not least because the 2020 COP is being held in London, and there are now a whole lot of people convinced (hopefully wrongly) that we only have 14 hoursweeks/months to save the earth.
Part the Third. What is to be done?
Let’s get the “Einstein” quote out of the way early. “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”
If we leave it to the councillors, if we go on annual (or more regular) feel-good marches, if we get stuck in a cycle of always-building-up-to-the-next-Big-Protest (the emotacycle) we will lose (1) We. will. lose.
Those who want a better world are forever insisting that governments and businesses innovate. Well, here’s the thing; “we” have to innovate if we want to lose more slowly, and less totally.
In the coming weeks, months and years – yes – years, we have to do things differently. That means learning new skills, stepping outside our comfort zones, abandoning or scaling back zombie repertoires (2) which make us feel good but are useless or worse than useless. We have to steal good ideas from other groups and use them consistently, persistently. We have to assess whether the new ways are working, modify them further as required. We are going to have to keep innovating. This will be exhausting, frustrating, painful. Welcome to the 21st century.
So, if you’re still reading after all that exhausting exhortation, let’s get down to what you can do.
- The absolute minimum thing would be to sign the climate emergency petition which we set up in March (either online here or download a petition sheet, print it off, sign it and get others to sign it and take it to the Sandbar (Grosvenor St) or Patagonia (King St). (Why are we still collecting signatures after a climate emergency declaration has been made? Here’s why!)
- Find other people who live near you, and start thinking about how you can work together on local projects and lobbying. A little Googling / Facebook and Twitter searching will probably give you some leads.
- Form / strengthen relationships with the three councillors who represent your ward. Go to meet them, in person. Take other people with you. Explain that while you are happy the councillors voted for the climate emergency motion, you have your doubts about what is going to be achieved. When is the ward going to start ACTING on all the fine words? What do the councillors want to see happen? How are they planning to work with individuals and groups in the ward to achieve this? You can find out who your councillors are here. They also have ‘surgeries’ – specific times and places where they meet constituents. But when you go to see them, go for the end of the surgery – the worst thing would be to taking up time while the councillor was trying to help someone about to be evicted/deported etc.
But that’s not enough, obviously.
Look, sorry, but you’re gonna have to demand more of yourself, especially if you don’t have young kids or caring commitments. Take a look at your life and see if there are some things which you cut that you won’t miss (Game of Thrones, much?) Skill yourself up on something(s) – then you could use the time you have freed up, to become good at something – public speaking, project management, whatever that groups you are involved in or want to be involved in need as a skill (and FWIW, meeting design is a HUGE gap right now).
Wait, I didn’t tell you to change your light bulbs and reducing your meat eating and your flying. Okay, consider yourself told, because, you know, personal change, not system change, right? (3)
Finally, please understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Put another way, over-committing yourself / plugging the holes in your self-worth with ostentatious displays of activity, will be followed by burnout as sure as melting ice follows fossil fuel combustion. Self-induced burnout is a self-indulgence that ‘the movement’ cannot afford, could never afford. Burnout affects other activists, and after people fry themselves, groups go into death spirals of lower numbers, lower ambition, frustration… and more burnout. Meanwhile stories of burnout circulate more broadly, making activism even LESS attractive as an option for concerned citizens. To repeat: marathon, not sprint. Self-care without lapsing into the lazy. Tricky balance…
Groups facing citizens
Innovate. Start holding meetings that are planned, organised, motivating. Make sure that you have ways for people to be involved that don’t involve physically turning up, because most of them won’t come to meetings. They’ve been to too many terrible ones, they can’t afford the time / energy, whatever. If your group can’t keep people involved without them coming endlessly to endless meetings, then it is toast. Your group will inevitably shrink to a hard-core of meeting addicts who are either students or retired. Cue hand-wringing about diversity. And burnout. I talked about burnout already, right?
If the group you are part of is dysfunctional, it is probably going to alienate people who come along looking to get involved. Those people will rarely if ever shop around for a different group, but instead will be ‘lost’ to activism, and will tell their friends, who will be lost to activism before they are even found. Result!
So you have, IMHO, a responsibility to:
- make all reasonable efforts to fix the dysfunctionality in any group(s) that you are part of. That means not public battles – they usually end in blood and tears – but making sure the leaders (and there are always leaders) are supported but also held to account, that lessons are learned from debacles and that – for example – meetings are actively designed around the needs of new participants rather than to meet the emotional/status needs of the old hands
Now the controversial bit
- you ALSO have a responsibility to LEAVE dysfunctional groups. You don’t have to flounce, you don’t have to do it publicly, but you do have to leave because the dysfunctionality will eat your soul, and your warm body still being there is tacit support for a group that is worse than useless. Now, your leaving may well accelerate its decline, but how is that a bad thing? It also means that you are free to..
- Take your time, energy, passion, commitment, intelligence, humour, fear, hope, etc and find another group to be part of. Or, worst case scenario, to found a group. But Climate Emergency Manchester, well, we’re right here. We won’t bore you, underuse you, overuse you, blackmail you, turn you into a drudge or a droid. We’re right here.
Btw, in terms of dysfunctionality, I really – and I am deadly serious in this – think a film showing Life of Brian and having a discussion about the People’s Front of Judea and how it came to be and to persist for 2000 years in different guises and be alive and well and living in Manchester – is worth organising.
Groups facing council
Manchester City Council doesn’t know it, but it desperately needs citizens who are critical but supportive. Supportive, but critical. So refuse to be drawn in to pal-y relationships where it becomes awkward/impossible to tell the truth. (4)
So, keeping them honest. Hmm, tricky. Be aware of the temptation to believe that you are changing the system from within, when you are in fact being changed by it, becoming a fig leaf that never speaks the truth for fear of banishment.
Groups must build up their understanding of how the council works – how policy is made / unmade, how it is implemented (if in fact it is), and how it is scrutinised (if in fact it is). Learn all the tricks that are used to obfuscate, to hide, to distract, and develop counter-measures, while being aware that the Council cares little for climate adaptation but will be very good at adapting to your counter-measures. You will have to keep… innovating.
One obvious practical red line would be taking part in “advisory panels” which meet in private. If we’re going to have openness and transparency, then groups that meet regularly with council outfits need to know that the bureaucracy is keen to divide the sheep from the goats, to create an appearance of consultation while all along intending to continue with a greenwashed business as usual. Do. Not. Be. A. Friend. To. This. Sort. Of. Shit.
Part the Fourth. Climate Emergency Manchester (CEM)
Hello if you are coming here straight from the introduction. You’ve missed some Zeus-level ranting, and one or two bits of sententious advice. It’s still there if you want after you’ve read the following. First off, a bit about CEM and what it wants to do, what it pledges. Then some specific suggestions for things that you can do that help the climate movement generally, and some short term jobs we’d like people to take on. Then dates for your diary. There really is more to say, but this blog post is already running at 3k…
Climate Emergency Manchester is new, small and with a reach further than its grasp. We want to get Manchester City Council to adopt policies that are right for the climate emergency, and then we want to work with councillors, community groups, individuals, trades unions, religious groups etc to make sure that the policies are IMPLEMENTED. And improved. And those improvements implemented. And so on, until the waters close over our heads, or 4 January 2023, whichever comes first.
We know that people are busy and / or terrified and / or defeated. We know that they are (rightly!) suspicious and cynical about groups that promise the world and deliver nowt, that go up like a rocket and down like a stick, that hold awful meetings where they are ego-fodder for the insatiable appetites of a few. We know that suspicion and cynicism are perfectly sensible responses to past experience (“once bitten, twice shy” after all).
So, in that context, we make the following pledges:
- We will use your talents at the level you want them to be used, publicly or anonymously as suits you best
- We will offer – where we can – opportunities to learn new skills, knowledge, and form new links with people local to you
- We will keep an up-to-date ‘jobs’ list, divided into jobs that are simple and quick, simple and long, complex and quick, complex and long. For each job we will explain what needs doing, by when, and how it contributes to our aims.
- We will not bore you with unnecessary meetings that you feel guilty for not attending or exasperated for having attended. If/when we hold meetings, there will be time for you to properly meet other people (the clue is in the name, after all)
- We will remain independent and radical. We will not allow ourselves or our organisation to be co-opted by the Council or anyone else, or slide into “technology will save us” nonsense. This is an emergency (the clue is in our name).
In the short term, things you can do:
- Sign the petition here, share the petition online on social media. Download a petition sheet, print off copies and get folks to fill in their details (they need to give a full address – house number, street, suburb, postcode).
- Help us get to 1000 online signatures (details to follow on how to help with this!)
- Identify other people in your neighbourhood who give a small or large damn about the issue. Talk with them. Try to form mutually supportive relationships for the marathon that lies ahead. If you don’t know anyone, contact us, we may (but obviously we’d be giving YOUR details to those people, not the other way around). We will happily publicise your name and whatever contact details you want to share (mobile, Twitter, email) on the ward page (we’ve got pages for all 32 wards – our dream is that by the end of 2019, all 32 pages will include contact details for folks, links to groups active in those wards).
Repeating what was said earlier –
- Reach out to your councillors; ideally meet them face-to-face. Find out what they think can be done in their wards in the short/medium term. If they have questions/uncertainties about climate science, find out what they are and go away and do the research (ask us too, we may be able to help).
- “Adopt” one of the elements of the July 10 Climate Emergency Declaration. You can see the elements here, and an adoption page. Simply put, adopting will mean finding out who is going to be responsible for implementing it, how and when. Get regular updates (hopefully without having to resort to the Freedom of Information Act, but we will help you with that if it comes to that). NB Adopting an element of the motion does NOT mean that you have to turn up to any meetings – either CEM or Council. Life is too short. It means that you send emails, keep track of response (or lack of them) and then share with us.
CEM will produce quarterly reports (the working title is ‘Hung, Drawn and Quarterly’) on the Council’s progress against the motions. We need researchers, writers, layout people, cartoonists, tweeters etc These will be released on or close to 10th of October, January, April and July. A launch event will accompany each of these reports, providing opportunities for people to exercise their meeting design and facilitation skills.
CEM wants to produce proactive reports about what COULD be done in Manchester. In a perfect world, with enough people, we would produce one of these a month. The questions would always be around a) what is happening in Manchester that’s good b) how can this be amplified (and what can the Council do to help that amplification) and c) what are other cities doing that Manchester could/should be doing?
Obvious topics to be starting with (other suggestions sought) –
- environmental education in Manchester,
- the psychological impacts on children, parents and adults of climate breakdown
- what is a low carbon culture and how do “we” create it?
- What does practical solidarity with countries and peoples already being affected by climate change look like?
- What can environmental groups in Manchester do better to attract and keep new members, co-ordinate among themselves, and be critical friends of the Council and other bodies.
CEM want to do workshops, discussions and so on, beyond the green bubble. So, invite us to come do a workshop etc in your ward (especially if it’s not Chorlton, Levenshulme and Rusholme. Of COURSE we will come there if invited, and gladly, but we’re especially interested in getting beyond the usual south Manchester suspects…)
Dates for your diary
Wednesday 17th July, 1pm. CEM meeting at Waterhouse Pub, Princess St, and then going to the 2pm meeting of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee, with a couple of suggestions to make…
Wednesday 4th September, 1pm. CEM meeting at Waterhouse Pub, Princess St, and then going to the 2pm meeting of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee, with a couple of suggestions to make…
Thursday 10th October (ish) The first “Hung Drawn and Quarterly” progress report is launched. In the three months since the Climate Emergency declaration, what has been accomplished? What hasn’t? Fun, frolics and #climatebreakdown hi-jinks to be had at a city centre location (venue tbc)
Thank you for reading to the end of this ridiculously long blog post.
(1) Take it as given that the author knows we have already lost almost everything that makes human civilisation fun, we just don’t know it yet.
(2) A repertoire is the habitual behaviours of an individual or group. So, petitions, reports, arrestable stunts, public order situations, dreary meetings, drearier marches, rallies. That kind of thing. Mostly these say hooray for our side. See the Onion’s take here.
(3) Okay, that’s a bit glib. But as Mary Annaise Heglar recently wrote “I don’t care if you recycle.” We do not need people to have completed lousy ‘carbon literacy’ that means nowt. We need people to be carbon citizens… You should reduce your carbon footprint as best you can, if only to reduce the size of target you are for the ‘green hypocrites’ crowd. Of course, if you go full ‘off the grid’ etc, they will call you a zealot. The hypocrite/zealot trap is an old and effective one, which is largely best ignored…
(4) We have had quite enough softly-softly. It. Has. Not. Worked. It really hasn’t.