Climate

‘Ten Billion’ from another side

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

Wallace Heim writes:

Michael Billington, in his nomination of Ten Billion as the best theatre event of 2012, claims that all the people he knows who saw the production found it life-changing. From my unscientific poll of the dozen people I know who saw the production, including myself, it’s possible we were in a different theatre. The lecture was well-crafted, the production tight, but the event was neither moving, informative or motivating. It was ‘old news’, a ‘first-year introductory lecture’, ‘Al Gore without the cherry picker’.

Billington’s lauding of the production is encouraging. That he, and others, were deeply affected is even more so, although one wonders what he has avoided reading or seeing for the past 20 years if the information presented was shocking. But Billington finds that it is not merely the accumulation of statistics, but the presence – the performance – of Stephen Emmott, the verifiable scientist, the speaker with a creditable reputation outside the theatre, that gave the production its urgency.

For this audience, the fluid realm of belief and disbelief that makes theatre work had to break down for the shock of climate instability to be heard. At the same time, the very theatrical occasion of sitting in that darkened room redolent of emotions of past productions, listening to another human speak, heightened any effect.

Asking again of those who found the production lacking, I found in each person’s experience at least one, if not many moments when the numbers add up, when the terror hits, when someone trusted speaks about a future irreconcilable with what one could bear. These events can be motivating and if Ten Billion provided that for some, then theatre’s role as educator has been met.

But if you’ve already had that experience, theatre is where you want to go to understand it, and a collocation of facts will not do that. This is a far more confused territory, requiring human imagination and many avenues of intelligence, deliberation, conflict and consent. It requires doing something like the processes of science, itself – its questioning and cross-questioning, experimentation, doubt and informed agreement.

Theatre may not be the place to present firm courses of action; Emmott’s advice to get a gun falls especially short. Conventional forms of theatre may, or may not, be adequate to the combination of reality and fiction that understanding climate change demands. But theatre, or something like it, continues to be a place where collectively, humans find a way through. There will continue to be many kinds of productions for many kinds of audiences. The hunger for a theatre by the audience that gets the facts but wants more continues to be strong.

“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)

ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.

The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

The Directory has been live since 2000.

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Environmental Justice League Presentation June 16th in Los Angeles

The Environmental Justice League is a community theatre project housed in the Los Angeles City Council District 10. For 8 weeks, they have met on Saturdays to develop their writing and performance skills to create an original theater piece on environmental justice. The ethnically diverse members of the group range from 20 to 90 years old and  they conduct their rehearsals in English, Spanish and Korean.

They invite all to come watch the sharing of their works in progress. Come see as they transform an outdoor amphitheater into a magic bus that will take you on a ride through the present and future of climate, food, transit and environmental justice.

The performance will be at 5:30 PM, Saturday June 16th, 2012.

The location for the performance is the William Grant Still Art Center at 2520 West View Street, Los Angeles, CA 90016. 

Green Theatre Network Meeting held at Arcola Theatre and Tent on 24th November

The event was an opportunity for members of the Green Theatre Network to meet up, share progress, discuss issues and find new ways to improve sustainable practices within theatres. The morning consisted of discussions and updates, particularly from members of the network who gave brief summaries on their latest sustainability initiatives. There were also discussions on the future of greening theatre and what we can ideally achieve by 2025.

The variety in projects ranged from new LED lighting techniques, introducing Green Riders into contracts, energy monitoring and measuring, Climate Week 2012 progress and more. It was inspiring and exciting to see how each theatre or company is using different initiatives to be more sustainable.

The event was organised by Julie’s Bicycle, an organisation working to integrate sustainability into the arts.

Go to Arcola Energy

First Day in Cancun, Pre-#COP16 debrief

More soon, but a quick post at the very end of the day about how things are looking here in Cancun.

Today started out leisurely, we were on the shuttle to Cancun Messe around noon and got there in the early afternoon. The roadways are lined with police in a number of forms, but most foreboding is the Federal Police with their large automatic weapons.

There is less of a mass outside this initial meting place than the Bella Center, and it is just a stop over to most of the other sessions at the Moon Palace resort. Both locations are remote. The only reasonable transportation is the semi-hourly shuttles for various spots in the surrounding area.

With no lack of trying to be helpful, a staffer directing buses attempted to put us closer to the small town, where we could pick up the shuttle to this year’s Klimaforum. It instead put us at an equally remote resort from which we took a cab. Originally we were going to take the taxi from the resort to the shuttle stop, but I opted in for the full ride.

We arrived at the Kilmaforum hopeful, it was fairly well signed up to the gate, but once in it was a slow downhill. We traveled into the back of the El Rey Polo Club and found a hand drawn “Registro aquí”. The table to which it referred was staffer by temporary relief for the women who had been there. They assumed we would want to camp there, but we just were there to visit. We were also informed the shuttle wasn’t running on any schedule, just when people want to go and there was critical mass (10 people). We asked about getting the shuttle from the shuttle stops to here, they were puzzled.

Whereas the Klimaforum in Copenhagen for COP15 was the conference for everyone else that wasn’t in the Bella Center, this did not follow in it’s footsteps. Closer to the Climate Bottom Meeting in Christianshavn, even with tents for meeting spaces, it was more of a temporary commune than a conference. They had faster Wireless than our hotel, but were otherwise unprepared for visitors. We were directed to a press person who didn’t speak english, which is fine, it’s Mexico, where spanish is spoken, but we had made it clear to someone from an english speaking country (USA or Canada) that our spanish was minimal. So we hung out waiting for some film we were told was going to be shown at 5:00pm, then 5:30pm, but it never happened.

I’m pretty sure we overheard some people involved with the film talk about how this set-up wasn’t what they expected. They expected the meican sequel to the 2009 Kilmaforum, as had I. The response they got was: “Hey, we’re volunteers, we’ve been trying to get this together since Friday, we’re trying to do something different, this isn’t like every other conference you could get anywhere.”

After a guy who had hitchhiked from the Netherlands came to talk to us, since we’re press, we tried to leave. We asked about the shuttle and were told, that it’s only $1o pesos/person if there were 10 people in the shuttle, since that’s how much it costs to make the run. Since it was just us 2, it would be $50 pesos/person… just to leave we did it. The most comfortingly reliable and convenient transport of the day was the bus we took back to cancun.

A few things:

  • If you say the conference is from the 26th of a month, but don’t intend to have public until the 29th, just say it starts on the 29th.
  • If you tell someone that you’re going to show a film at 5pm, show a film at 5pm or make an announcement.
  • If you say you’re open and you’re running a shuttle, run the shuttle  and put it where people, thinking you’ve started, will expect to find it.
  • Also 2 shuttle vans for 10 people each running each journey for what you think is going to be even just hundreds of people is not enough.
  • Be upfront about how your systems work, and commit to it, even if it’s not going to be the best thing in one particular way.
  • If you’re going to do the communal living, camping in the woods, contemporary hippie thing… please be aware that it isn’t the most inclusive way to do things. You may be all friendly and want to love everyone warmly, but not everyone is bought into an extreme lifestyle like that, but they still might care about the climate.

We made it back to our hotel, even more so an oasis after the frustrations of the day, and set about dinner. We wandered nearby to the central square, which reminded me of home around area like Echo Park and McArthur Park. We had some food and wandered to the UNESCO photo exhibit on disappearing climates. Not unlike some of the photo exhibits in the public squares of Copenhagen. It was the first real, accessible, publicly engaged  moment of the day.

Tomorrow should prove to be better, I’m spending the day at the Villa de Cambio Climático, while Moe heads to the opening plenary. HOpefully more to report tomorrow, when the real fun begins!

Can literary fiction ever do climate? Part 2

… and, as if  to continue that very thought above in the post about Ian McEwan, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine have just announced Dark Mountain Festival Uncivilisation 2010, from May 28 to 30. In an email, Paul says:

It is deliberately staged to clash with the opening weekend of the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival: as civilised literature’s establishment grandees gather in Hay, we will muster an opposing army at the other end of Offa’s Dyke, for a very different kind of cultural weekend.

Uncivilisation 2010 will be held in Llangollen “at the other end of Offa’s Dyke” among the  “dark mountains of Wales” and will include contributions from Alastair McIntoshGeorge MonbiotTom HodgkinsonMelanie ChallengerGlyn Hughes and Jay Griffiths. There will also be music and workshops from Vinay Gupta (Institute for Collapsonomics), Briony Greenhill (The Blended Lifestyle), Anthony McCann (Beyond the Commons).

On the surface the ideas proposed by the Dark Mountain Project is very much the opposite of the RSA’s own worldview. They are broadly pessimistic, inviting us to imagine collapse and to look it in the eye, scoffing at ideas of sustainability.

The festival’s webpage says:

UNCIVILISATION is a festival for anyone who’s sick of pretending that we can make our current way of living “sustainable”, that we can take control of the planet’s reeling systems, that “one more push” will do it. It’s time to acknowledge that “saving the planet” is a bad joke. We are entering an age of massive disruption and the task is to live through it as best we can and to look after each other as we make the transition to the unknown world ahead.

But what’s positive about the project is that it is bent on finding new ways to reimagine our present and future, believing that writers and artists can and should be taking on the riskier task of creating the narratives that are currently so absent in our culture. I suspect that behind the darkness of their mountains lurks a glimmer of light.

Tickets are available here:
http://www.eventelephant.com/uncivilisation

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Ian McEwan: Can UK literary fiction ever “do” climate?

There is a sense of anticipation about Ian McEwan’s new novel, Solar, out in a few weeks. Well… maybe we better not get our hopes up.

Of course I hope to be proved wrong. As a young novelist, McEwan was extraordinarily radical; The Cement Garden was scary, edgy and transgressive. He remains, without doubt, a brilliant talent. However as with Martin Amis, he’s been part of the literary establishment’s drift towards neo-conservativism, most visibly with his anti-Islamic pronouncements.

Acrtually, that’s less the problem; it’s as much that his books have become more conservative in their scope. Atonement, say, may have been a brilliantly constructed piece of work, but it was about polishing the form. The grand British novel is an old art form; despite a few post-modern pieces of trickery, it has settled down at the start of the 21st century as a form that tells stories in very conventional start-to-finish ways. The truth is, though Atonement appeared to encounter ideas of cognitive psychology, of how we can deceive ourselves, it was hardly a novel of ideas. The ideas were a device around which a novel hung. Whether McEwan has the will to encounter ideas about climate in a novel remains to be seen.

I thought my views on McEwan being able to write about climate were pessimistic until I came across Paul Kingsnorth of The Dark Mountain Project writing about him:

McEwan, over the last few years, seems to have been nominated by the guardians of our high culture (the broadsheets, Radio Four and the kind of people who hang around at Soho literary parties) as the Grand Old Man of contemporary letters. Every new novel is pored over and dissected in the TLS by professors of literature. McEwan is interviewed glowingly in broadsheet culture sections, and given thousands of words to muse ponderously on weighty subjects like September 11th or climate change. His utterances are quoted reverently by the kind of people who think that  straight-bat banalities become profundities when uttered by novelists rather than cabbies.

And the whole thing is a fraud. That someone as dull and weightless as McEwan can be christened as some kind of literary godhead just shows how callow and flaccid the English novel is at this moment in history. McEwan is a man with nothing to say, who says it at great length, and is admired for it by people who have nothing to say either and enjoy reading about others like themselves. His style is as conservative as his worldview, which is narrrow, secular and bourgeois to a tee.

The trouble with McEwan’s conservatism of form is that it leaves the novelist increasingly hamstrung when it comes to tackling something big and real like climate change. How do you tackle new ideas when you’re still tinkering with an old machine? Ian McEwan has been on one of the Cape Farewell expeditions. He remains involved with the organisation and has written passionately in the newspapers about the need for us to tackle climate.

But when it was announced that he was writing a book about the subject, McEwan himself back-pedalled, to say it wasn’t “about” climate change; that climate change science was the milieu it was set in, it was “the background hum“.

Reasonably, this may be seen as an artists’ natural inclination not to be boxed in by assumptions about what his work is about. But it’s also the product of the kind of formalistic conservatism McEwan and his peers have embraced.  Great British novels usually aren’t “about” very much. Maybe they shouldn’t have to be. Maybe to have climate as “the background hum” is enough.

Interestingly, though, while the grand names of British literary fiction have become increasingly strait-jacketed by the form, it’s the ungainlily-named genre Young Adult that has become the radical one in the last decade. Keen to keep up with the rampant imaginings of teenagers, novelists like Mark Haddon and Philip Pullman appeared far less constrained by a sense of what novels should be like. As a consequence, it’s in Young Adult fiction, rather than literary fiction, that you currently find the novels of ideas – especially when it comes to climate change.

Saci Lloyd’s The Carbon Diaries tackled the idea of how teenagers personal carbon budgets in the near future of 2015 (clue: not very well) head on. Kate Thompson’s new book The White Horse Trick also takes on climate with no sense that it’s a “difficult” subject. In fact, Young Adult fiction allows itself to use all the tricks that literary fiction deems gauche, but which are actually extremely useful when deailng with subjects as big as the environment and our future.

Kate Thompson’s rambunctious children’s book is set in two separate existences, one of which is an apocalyptic future in which Ireland’s topsoil is washed away by storms and its inhabitants struggle to survive in a Burren-like future in which trees are cut down too quickly to replace themselves. Characters cross from there to the Celtic mythic landscape of the West Coast, of Tir na n’Og, the land of eternal youth. As the Independent’s critic Nicola Baird notes approvingly, Thompson pulls off  “the impossible”:

Despite the heavy theme, this is a positive tale that helps readers envision different ways of living. It does so without once lecturing about energy efficiency or using the bus.

It’s a matter of some pride that the book owes its life partly to a residency oragnised by the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre and Situations in Bristol. Kate Thompson kindly opens the book with a dedication which underscores the importance of that residency.

I’m sure Kate Thompson would not want her work compared to that of Ian McEwan’s any more than McEwan would relish having his work discussed in the context of Young Adult fiction. All the same, it’s continually interesting how different art forms feel empowered, or unempowered, to tackle the weighty subject of climate. If McEwan’s novel really does fail to get to grips with a subject he himself has harrangued politicians to take more seriously, then does it leave British literary fiction looking increasingly irrelevant; the fodder of genteel book groups rather than the real and urgent world?

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Marcus Brigstocke’s #COP15

Just in case you’d missed the BBC’s Now Show clip, here’s the transcript. Brigstocke was one of those on the 2008 Cape Farewell expedition.

The delegates came and the delegates sat
And they talked and they talked till their bums all went flat
Then a delegate said of the country he knew
“We must do something quick but just what should we do
So they sat again thinking and there they stayed seated
Sitting and thinking “the planet’s been heated”
“I think” said a delegate there from Peru
“That we all must agree on some things we could do
Like reducing emissions at least CO2″
So they nodded and noted then vetoed and voted
And one of them stood up and suddenly quoted
“It’s the science you see, that’s the thing that must guide us
When the leaders all get here they’re certain to chide us”
So they sat again thinking about what to think
Then decided to ponder what colour of ink
To use on the paper when they’d all agreed
To be selfless not greedy McGreedy McGreed
“But how do we choose just what colour to use”
Said a delegate there who’d been having a snooze
“We need clear binding targets definitive action
We must all agree clearly without more distraction”
So they sat again thinking of targets for ink
But the ink in their thinking had started to stink
And they started to think that the ink was a kink
In the thinking about real things they should think
“If ze climate needs mending then zis is our chance”
Said the nuclear delegate sent there by France
“We need to agree on one thing to agree on
Something we all want a fixed guarantee on”
“Yes” said another who thought this made sense
Some value for carbon in dollars or pence
But the mention of money and thoughts of expense
Had stifled the progress and things became tense
The fella from China with a smile on his face
Said “Who put the carbon there in the first place”
“Wasn’t us” said the U.S then Europe did too
Then a silence descended and no words were spoken
Till a delegate stood up, voice nervous and broken
“Is there nothing upon which we all can decide
Because on Wednesday my chicken laid eggs that were fried”
“We all like a sing song” said the bloke from Down Under
But then the great hall was all shouting and thunder
Policemen had entered and were wearing protesters
Who they’d beaten and flattened like bloodied sou’westers
The police had decided to downplay this crime
With prevention detention and beatings in rhyme
The Greenies who’d shouted and asked for a decision
Were now being battered with lethal precision
All sick of inaction and fed up of waiting
All tired of the endless debated placating
They’d risen up grating berating and hating
So the police had commenced the related abating
Ban Ki-moon put his head in another man’s lap
And was last heard muttering something like “crap”
But the chap next to him said “It’s more like it’s poo”
So the great hall debated not what they should do
But how to decide between crap cack and poo
“It is poo” “It is cack” “It is crap” “We agree”
Which was written and labelled as document three
“I think if we all find one thing we agree on
Then maybe Brazil might be left with a tree on”
So they sat again thinking of trees and Brazil
And of glaciers which had retreated uphill
And they thought of the poor folks whose homes were in flood
But less of the protesters covered in blood
They pondered the species so nearly extinct
It’s as if they all thought that these things might be linked
“We need a solution we need action please”
Said a lady who’d come from the sinking Maldives
The others all nodded and said it was fact
That the time must be now not to talk but to act
Then Obama arrived and said most rhetorical
“Action is action and not metaphorical”
“Wow” they all thought “he must mean arregorical [sic]“
“I love it when Barack goes all oratorical”
“But the problem I have is that Congress won’t pass it
“Bugger” said Ban Ki then “sorry” then “arse it”
Then Brown said “I’ve got it now how does this strike you?
It’s simpler when voters already dislike you”
He suggested the EU should lead from the front
So The Mail and The Telegraph called him something very unpleasant indeed
So the delegates stared at the text with red marks on
Ignoring the gales of laughter from Clarkson
No-one was satisfied nobody won
Except the morons convinced it was really the sun
And they blew it and wasted the greatest of chances
Instead they all frolicked in diplomat dances
And decided decisively right there and then
That the best way to solve it’s to meet up again
And decide on a future that’s greener and greater
Not with action right now but with something else later

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Climate denialism and Žižek’s fear of the future


Slavoj Žižek by Hendrik Speck

If there is a star philosophy turn, it’s  Slavoj Žižek. Last night he spoke at the RSA to a packed Great Room and justified his star status with constantly dazzling performance, which will beonline here soon. As Nigel Warburton, the event’s chair, remarked, what’s thrilling about listening to him talk publicly is the way he develops ideas in mid-sentence. Asides suddenly become new ideas, and even his asides seem to have asides.

One of his asides was a meditation on who would be the figures of the current era who would still be having statues built to them in 100 years time.

Žižek suggested Lee Kuan Yew, the reforming but authoritarian leader of Singapore,  who turned the island city-state into one of the wealthiest economies in the world. And who more importantly provided the model for Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation of Communist China.

Why? Here he took an easy kick at Fukuyama’s idea that liberal captitalist democracy was the last word in history, pointing out that the winners in capitalism’s latest race appear to be not the liberal capitalist states, but the authoritarian ones like China. And (I’m writing from memory here) his real fear is that this is the successful model that we’re all heading towards. More authoritarian capitalist states, not fewer.

Every now and again I try and take on a climate denialist. It’s a fairly stupid, self-destructive thing to do, and leads to really, really, really silly arguments about whose scientists have bigger graphs, and talk of hockey sticks and mad petitions, but occasionally I think it’s worth doing to discover if you have any common ground at all, and to try and understand how the thinking behind this weird group of misfits with such extraordinary political power.

One thing that’s obvious. Denialists like James Delingpole and Nigel Lawson really aren’t interested in science. You can’t be interested in science if your method is to seek out the few dozen science names who put up serious arguments against the thousands and thousands who stand behind the conclusions of the 2007 IPCC report.

What denialists are really afraid of is the self-righteous authoritarianism that global warming brings. They are fundamentally libertarians. We may think they’re delusional libertarians, but what really concerns them is a fear of a future that actually looks much like Žižek’s.

Anthony Giddens in The Politics of Climate Change sees it as inevitable that the green-left’s dream of grass roots localisation is not up to the task of reform. Likewise he sees that broad international agreements of the kind that COP15 seek are too easy to fracture. That leaves nation states as the main actors in climate change – and the levers they have are inevitably based around carbon taxes. In Gidden’s world, (though he wouldn’t put it like this) the state will inevitably meddle in our lives more not less in the future.

Žižek’s fears, Gidden’s rationalism, and denialists’ libertarianism all find their way to the same place. So is there an alternative? One that will calm the fears of the less-mad denialists? Does climate change inevitably lead to a more authoritarian state?

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

“Shun the unbeliever”: a climate blog for Blog Action Day

When we talk about climate, we are talking about time. Not simply about time that appears to be running out, but about how we, as a species, are so poor about judging our relationship with the future.

On Monday at the Roundhouse in London six musicans performed a version of the score of Jem Finer’s Longplayer. What they played, on 234 Tibetan bowls, was just a fragment of the complete score. Jem Finer may be a musician better known for his three-minute punk-folk masterpieces as musical lynchpin in The Pogues but  Longplayer, is no three chord wonder. It is designed to play for a thousand years. You can hear a fragment at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London, where the complete score is gradually being played out, note by slow note, by computer.

In America, The Long Now Foundation measures time in millennia. It was founded, as they say, in 01966 by Stewart Brand and a group of friends who included Brian Eno; (it was Eno who gave the organisation its name). They have built a clock [above right] which struck solemnly twice as the new millenium dawned, and will strike next three times at the dawn of New Year’s Day 3000AD.

In 2005 the artist Betinna Furnee set a time lapse camera up on the East Anglian coast. In eight months she filmed the relentless disappearance of land for her artwork Lines of Defense. Only by condensing that event into just under six minutes, by altering our perspective of  time, does the scale of the the erosion become awesome enough to hold our attention.

The paradox of the modern age is that we have been given the power to see for miles and miles, yet most of the time we can only look as far as the end of our nose – or to some apocalyptic future that is beyond our control. For 80,000 human generations we struggled through the Pleistocene era, honing our ability to cope with our immediate needs – food, shelter and sex; in the 500 generations since then we have utterly transformed the planet –  first gradually, then over the last dozen or so at a breakneck speed which now puts our own relationship with earth in danger.

Perhaps not a surprise, then, that we are having trouble with the immensity of the paradigm shift we need to get our head around this new era. Maybe those of us who campaign around climate haven’t quite got that paradigm right ourselves yet, either.

I thought about this when I read Matthew Cain’s recent blog, Climate Change: I don’t care enough:

I don’t care enough about climate change. I’m not proud of that. I believe experts when they say that it is the biggest threat to the future of civilisation. I pity the plight of poor farmers in areas of the world vulnerable to changes in the climate (Maldives, Bangladesh spring to mind). And I would like to live a responsible lifestyle, contributing more to society than I take out. But that’s not enough to make me care about climate change.

It’s a very honest statement. We may worry about denial buffoons like the Tory MP Douglas Carswell who blogged earlier in the week that the idea of “man-made climate change” was merely the product of the “lunatic consensus” but in truth, they are just the clowns. The real problem is the middle ground… the vaguely sympathetic. The IPPR’s recent report reminds us that there are large numbers of people out there who, far from being energised by the noise we all make on days like today – Blog Action Day, instead feel resentful about being made to feel guilty about their lifestyles. The difference with Matthew Cain is he’s big enough to own up.

We accuse them of being selfish. We pile dung on their driveways. [Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for piling dung on Jeremy Clarkson’s driveway, but… ] But all too often our grandstanding produces lethargy, not action.

There doesn’t appear to be much that’s self-centered about Matthew Cain – apart from an over-keen interest in his own web stats, perhaps. He’s as interested in social causes and progressive change as the rest of us – more probably. He shares with the rest of us that altruism that we know is encoded in all of us.

So why isn’t he as engaged with climate change?

It’s time to start asking whether that’s our own fault. When I say “our” I mean, us, the true believers… those who think it’s the most pressing social issue of our time.

Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia, has a new book out, Why We Disagree About Climate Change. Hulme’s career arc has been a fascinating one. He is the scientist responsible for founding the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. If you’re remotely interested in the science of climate, you’ll know what major players they have been. But recently his place in the unfolding story of climate research has made him more interested in the social response to science than the science itself. He has watched with fascination as the news about impending climate change has been translated into panic, anxiety and inaction. He realises he has seen us handing over our ability to think about the future to people like himself.

Much of the rhetoric here at the RSA has been about allowing individuals to take control of their lives, yet Hulme suggests the narrative of climate change has been about surrendering our mastery of the future to numbers, to politicians and to scientists. Yes, I support the campaign to stabalise atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at 350 parts per million, but what does that really mean? I barely understand the science of it, let alone what it means for the way we will live.

Yes, I want to see significant progress at Copenhagen, but most of the political solutions on the table require a stronger state to enforce carbon reductions. In the Politics of Climate Change Anthony Giddens argues that we must return to an old style command economy. Is this really the future we want? Much of the silent middle ground, left and right wing, sees climate as the excuse the state is using for taking back the power they lost in the second half of the 20th century. And who’s to say they haven’t got a point? If activists like Matthew Cain, who have spent their political lives trying to give people power over the machinery of the state, don’t feel engaged in climate, is that really such a big surprise?

We tend to think those who do not share our need to act to make the future safe are short-sighted. They don’t understand the “long now” those artists have all identified.

But maybe it’s time for climate change campaigners to start thinking more seriously about the future themselves. Shouldn’t what we want our society to be like in the future be a lot more connected to what we want it to be like right now?

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Did #pm2un Tweet make Gordon to go to Copenhagen?

I was blogging last week in response to green.tv’s suggestion that there were too many climate campaigns. My view was that it wasn’t that there were too many, but that maybe they weren’t reaching the right people.

Last week the website BeThatChange.com were pushing hard on a campaign on Twitter,#pm2un, trying to persuade Gordon Brown to commit to go to the COP15 Climate Conference in Copenhagen. At the time this seemed like a great example of a well-targeted campaign.

Though it’s not that unusual for leaders not to commit to attending this sort of conference until the last moment, BeThatChange had cleverly spotted an opportunity there. It looks rubbish for Brown to be claiming to be leading the agenda at Copenhagen when he’s not even committed to going himself. A couple of days after BeThatChange cranked up the heat with their #pm2un campaign, @EdMilibandMP tweeted a survey on his Ed’s Pledge site, asking visitors what their priorities for Copenhagen were. Miliband offered the following options to chose from:

1) the Prime Minister attending Copenhagen to help deliver a deal

2) doing more to provide home insulation in the UK

3) more government support to create green jobs

Whatever you think about the yeas and nays of deliberative democracy, when I looked on Friday, “the Prime Minster attending Copenhagen to help deliver a deal” had received 93% of the vote. How much of that was due to the BeThatChange.com campaign is hard to calculate, but I suspect that the question was even on Miliband’s poll suggests that the original #pm2un campaign was bang on.

If anything, I suppose it’s possible the Labour Party saw how potentially embarrassing such a campaign could be if it gained much more momentum, and instead turned it to their advantage. Either way the news came through late last night, less than 48 hours before BeThatChange’s next #pm2un twitterstorm:

Gordon Brown urges world leaders to attend climate change talk

Whatever did happen behind closed doors, it was nice work all round, really.

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