Greenwashing and Gaslighting- the #Manchester #Climate “Agency” annual “conference” 2020

CEM core group member Marion Smith still can’t quite believe yesterday’s climate “conference”…

There’s so much I could say about the  ninety minute “conference” that took place yesterday morning, but to be honest, I’m not sure exactly how much of it is profanity-free and suitable for publication. Put it this way, unless you have a particular penchant for being greenwashed or gaslighted (1), you got far more out of this conference if you had a nice Wednesday morning lie-in.

When you think of the words “Annual Climate Change Conference”, put on by the Manchester Climate Change “Agency,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that the agenda might focus on, let’s say, the aspects of climate emergency most pressing to the region. Just for some context, against its 13% carbon reduction target, last year Manchester actually achieved…. 4%. And in two years, we burned through a solid One Quarter of the Entire Budget for the Twenty First Century– just take a moment to let that fully sink in. The logically-minded among you might be forgiven for thinking that this somewhat catastrophic failure might get some kind of look-in at an annual conference. But, as you’ve probably guessed from the less-than-laudatory tone of this blog post, somehow this particular topic didn’t make it anywhere near the top of the agenda. Or anywhere on the agenda in fact (3).

In actual fact, about 40 minutes into the conference, the rapt zoom audience were finally given confirmation from chair Steve Connor that carbon reduction targets weren’t going to be a focus of the agenda, in this direct quote that actually happened, “I’m not planning on bringing [the carbon budget] into the Q&A today, because our focus is on economic recovery this morning.” And there you have it- this wasn’t an annual conference with a focus on long-term action and climate justice. My mistake. This was a forum for greenwashing the council’s COVID-19 recovery, and an exercise in gaslighting Manchester citizens who were concerned enough to show up to the most disingenuous conference I’ve ever attended.

Throughout these 90 minutes (which felt like an eternity), the general public were consistently told that Manchester is “in the vanguard” of core cities tackling climate change in the UK; that we’re “pioneering” the way in this country for inter-generational climate justice. How are we doing this? Well, we’ve got beehives on the cathedral now. We’re creating more “green jobs” to “build back” on the economic damage of COVID-19. We’re “leading the way”, and we’ve made “extraordinary achievements”. They even had someone from Manchester Airport Group  (MAG) to tell us how there were going to be zero carbon planes in twenty years. Somehow he didn’t find time to mention that Manchester Airport Group (35.5 percent owned by Manchester City Council) is working hard to to overturn a democratic decision of Uttlesford District Council. In January, its Planning Committee decided 10 to 0 to refuse MAG’s application to expand Stansted Airport, which MAG owns.  Yeah, way to save the planet, guys.

I’m quite frequently told by individuals in CEM’s core group that I’m “surprisingly cynical” for “someone so young”, but even I had to catch myself every so often as we were fed this stream of purported praise over Manchester’s efforts to “do things differently”. Because the people in charge of our local government are supposed to have the interests of our home and environment at heart, right? And because ultimately, the alternate truth, that the sentiments of our local authority are comprised of all words and no deeds, is particularly horrifying to come to terms with again and again. This is just how insidious this gaslighting is, and there are honestly times where these empty gestures make me want to go and bury my head in the sand again- or at least, in my duvet where, as I may have mentioned, I could have very happily – and more usefully –  stayed at 9:30 this morning.

If you want more gory details, check out the Twitter feed on @ClimateEmergMcr – my colleague Marc Hudson was live-tweeting, and somehow didn’t drop any actual F-bombs, though the effort probably shortened his already dwindling years.

The fault is not with those well-meaning and concerned individuals who were asked to speak. The fault lies with those people who “organised” this (though we’ve been told it was cobbled together at the last minute).  These people have had ten years to show what they are capable of.  Everybody knows just what they are capable of now.

We can’t change climate change without a change in the intellectual and moral climate. We’ve got to stop this gaslighting. 

One way forward (and there are others) is for a seventh scrutiny committee, one that can actually ask the right questions not just of the Council, but also this climate change “Agency”, which is entirely funded – as far as anyone can tell – by the Council, and the broader partnership.  Without real scrutiny, the evasions and bright-siding will continue, as the last tiny window for meaningful action closes. Sign the petition for this here, and share it widely, please.

In the last two years, we have used over a quarter of the entire budget for the rest of this century.



(1) Gaslighting? As Urban Dictionary puts it –

 “A form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called Ambient Abuse where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and quite often, their sanity. The classic example of gaslighting is to switch something around on someone that you know they’re sure to notice, but then deny knowing anything about it, and to explain that they “must be imagining things” when they challenge these changes.”

So, publishing a report with terrible emissions reductions failures mentioned (albeit buried deep in the middle) and then pretending everything is basically fine, that’s gaslighting…

(2) The so-called “agency” is not a statutory body, with enforcement powers. It is a community interest company set up by Manchester City Council in 2015, and almost entirely funded by them to give the appearance of independent action.  As a CIC rather than a council department, it does not fall under the Freedom of Information Act (convenient, eh?).  We wrote to them on 30th June about the “open letter” they and their “partnership” had written. No reply. Ten days later we nudged them, and were assured there would be a reply. Nope. Oh, and they blocked us on Twitter! More importantly, they’re not hitting their important targets, and should be scrutinised rigorously.

Juan Villanueva wrote an excellent report about the afternoon’s Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee (see here).

(3) It’s not as if previous years were any better of course. See this account of the 2016 event (back when they were more honest, and simply called it an Annual General Meeting, or this blog which gives an account of the 2019 “conference.”

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