Saturday 23rd offered Mancunians two interesting opportunities to learn about Climate Change and “What is to be done?”
The first was organised by Green Left and Socialist Resistance. It was a one-day conference entitled “Climate and Capitalism.” MCFly’s co-editor was only there for the opening and closing sessions (though we heard good things about the workshops) so comments will limited to those.
The meeting opened with an introduction by Gayle O’Donovan, who will be the Green Party’s candidate both for Hulme (local elections) and Manchester Central (General election). She was followed by comments by Joel Kovel of the US Green Party and Terry Conway of Socialist Resistance [This is a correction of earlier inaccuracies; thanks due to “mjt”]. The latter’s contributions, which seemed fairly uncontroversial to MCFly insofar as they went, provoked consternation among some that she was – through pointing out that women generally have a smaller carbon footprint than men – advocating individualist approaches to climate change mitigation. An aside here In all the years (too too many) that the current writer has attended meetings hosted by leftist parties, any hint that there might be any complicity of the working classes in benefitting from the exploitation of the “third world” or the planet’s ecosystems [which Conway was not doing] is met with a vigorous and shall we say “determined” response.
Your correspondent raised the point that of the seventy or so people in the room, at most 25 were women, and pretty much everyone was white, and (he suspected) pretty much everyone had a university degree or was studying for one. Hastening NOT to blame the organisers, and pointing out this is pretty standard for any meeting labelled ‘climate’, he pointed out that there were more factors than just gender at play. Many of the other contributions in this initial session were focussed on who is who and where in the hierarchy of oppression. Some suggested reading on this would be the short and punchy essay “No-one ever is to blame”, which looks at our tendency to Blame Somebody Else for all the world’s sins.
The other meeting was essentially a Labour Party shindig at Holy Innocents Church in Fallowfield (of course, when it comes to climate change, despite what some at Climate and Capitalism meeting, none of us is wholly innocent).
Veteran MP Gerald Kaufman (standing again this yearin Gorton), Councillor Mike Amesbury (Exec Member for Culture and Leisure) and Mike Franks of SERA were invited to talk on “After Copenhagen: saving the planet”.
There were about 20 or so in the audience, including other councillors, more men than women and a distinctly older demographic than the “Climate and Capitalism” meeting.
Mike Franks spoke first, on a broad variety of topics, including local renewable energy and also Victoria Baths. Cllr Mike Amesbury followed, extolling the ambitious targets set out in the “Manchester. A Certain Future” document, and conceding that there had been “justifiably a lot of criticism” of the Council’s Call to Action document of January 2009. He pointed to Labour’s investments in social housing and plans for retrofit and refurbishment, and the green-ness of the Council’s libraries (a subject MCFly will tackle him on soon-ish).
He also spoke of the “15,000 green jobs” being created through the city region, a topic several in the audience tried to pin him down on later.
Finally Gerald Kaufman spoke at perhaps greater length than was strictly needed about the various achievements of the Labour Government since 1997 on the issues of environment (while always highlighting that the record was imperfect and there was no room for complacency). Interestingly, he also touched on inter-species justice, not something members of parliament usually speak to (given that the monkeys and bugs can’t vote).
Questions from the floor came around the notorious TIF (see MCFly 1 etc), the green jobs (one audience member was justifiably confused as to how employing people in cemeteries was in any way ‘green’) and the poor performance of the government and council in assisting companies that wanted to have green roofs.
Thanks to good chairing from theHoly Innocents vicar we finished on time, with all who wanted to speak having spoken… It was an interesting event, and certainly the sort of thing that should be continued.
Back to the Climate and Capitalism meeting, I arrived after the final plenary speakers had given what I’m told were inspiring speeches. Unfortunately, the Q and A was anything but inspiring. I have lost count of the number of times good days have been spoilt by overlong and unfocussed Q&As where people (well, mostly men) with limitless needs for attention, approbation, controversy and more attention hold forth at horrible length with unstructured comments, deliberately(?) arcane questions (a form of dick-swinging; you rarely see it from women) and self-serving announcements. Not all of the contributions were like that, not even a majority, but enough of them were to needlessly deflate what seemed to have been a high-energy day. I do not understand why any organiser would plump for such a masochistic and self-defeating structure, except out of unconsidered habit. But there you are.
Both meetings could have benefitted enormously from a couple of simple techniques- give everyone (who is willing) a name badge and another sticker for them to say what they’re particularly interested in or are campaigning on, or where they live.
Also, even in a tiered lecture theatre (as the Climate and Capitalism event’s opening session was) it is possible to ask people to turn to the person behind them (they probably know the person they are sat next to) and have a chat for a couple of minutes about what they’re doing/what they’re expecting from the day.
These simple techniques help break down the invisible barriers to mingling (British reservedness) and can help nurture a wider set of loose ties between interested people from different social circles. If these things aren’t done, there tends to be a significant clustering into groups (cliques!) of people who know each other well.