What got you involved in climate activism?
Since I was a child I was well aware that there are problems in the world. About how people relate to each other and people get fucked over all the time, and so on. I was deeply cynical about politics in general. Around when I came university I thought I really have to try and help do something about this.
It was 2007 just after the Heathrow climate camp, which was quite big in the news, and there was a George Monbiot column in the Guardian and what not, so it was gradually in the back of my head: there is this big problem called climate change, and something needs to be done about it. So climate change, along with other social justice issues, became something that I wanted to try and do something about.
I was very proactive; I knew no-one who was doing anything. I saw that there was a national climate march in London and I thought “well I need to go on that then don’t I?” as that’s people actually doing something, and so went along. Then a couple of weeks later I looked on the student union website and I found a small link to this strange, bizarre society that wasn’t really a society and it was very, very hard to find, but eventually I figured out that they met at 5pm on Mondays. It was called Campaigns Collective. So I went along to that, and that was my way in.
Which groups were you involved in?
Early on I was involved a lot in Campaigns Collective which did a lot of stunts around the campus and what not, and People and Planet which in the beginning- it was bizarre- there was a little bit of ‘lobby your university to be nice and friendly’, which basically amounted to giving the university free publicity. Then I did lots of stuff targeting RBS [Royal Bank of Scotland] and raising awareness of the fact that they fund lots of fossil fuels, that’s what I spent a couple of years doing. Also I was later involved in MCA [Manchester Climate Action] a little bit, and climate camp also.
How long were you involved?
Well it was from first year so, three and a half years, roughly.
What kept you involved?
It changed. It was a progression – just like life always is, obviously. It started with me thinking, “well I haven’t a clue about anything in the world, but I’m aware that there are problems, that bad stuff happens and stuff, and climate change is a massive issue, and it’s really, really bad, and not good, so we’ve got to do something”. That’s kind of where I started. Then I was just continuously trying to do something, trying to do something better, and trying to do something that would actually make a difference. It was a gradual progression, it was a progression of thought.
At first I thought: I don’t really want to lobby the university, I don’t really see the point, the university isn’t the problem, its much bigger than this. So then I was like RBS, well they are big and bad, so I did lots of stuff against RBS. Then the progression went on to, well how can I challenge the underlying systemic causes of climate change, because ultimately that’s what it boils down to as without challenging them preventing climate change is impossible. So I did lots of stuff to do with going to Copenhagen, trying to challenge Copenhagen and de-legitimise it, and point out RBS and the interconnectedness of the bailout and the economic crisis and climate change, and stuff.
That’s what kept me involved, and also what got me out of doing it…
Why did you stop?
Well because then the thought progressed and I realised that- really- no one’s going anywhere with their climate activism stuff. Because it is all a complete mess, that’s it summed up shortly. I’ve had a little think about this, about why did I stop?
There was a number of issues with it all that were building up over time, but I guess the crucial point at which I stopped was basically, and I was aware for a few months that I was going to stop doing anything to do with climate change, and that was the growing build-up towards the inevitable announcement by the government of the austerity measures they were going to introduce.
I was aware, obviously the economic crisis had been going on for a couple of years. Initially I was like ‘Oh shit this is going to distract us from climate change’ and then I was like ‘No that’s a nonsense opinion’ later on, a few months later, that the economic and climate crises are both connected.
Then later I came to the conclusion that trying to use climate change as a means to explore the underlying systemic problems of the way of our society is set up is just too subtle. There’s obvious social collapse going on around you that is in everyone’s faces, why do work on climate change?
It’s basically just not really going anywhere, and if the underlying cause, as I consider it to be, of climate change, is our social framework, then surely the best way to stop climate change is to change our social framework in a way that people will actually engage with, rather than trying to keep peddling this climate change idea, which just doesn’t resonate with people. So that was why I was basically like, we cannot be doing climate change stuff any more.
Arguably we still need to point out climate change as an issue, and it’s still important to do that, but it just seemed to me that it wasn’t going anywhere, and that’s because it’s such a hard, abstract thing to get your head around. So that was kind of the crucial cut off. I can say some more specific things about what I was involved in, I’ve got a list of points, in no priority:
1) Too many environmentalists. So what I mean by that was, climate change, and environmental issues in general, are a bit of a mess, because you get a lot of conflicting viewpoints with them. You get people who don’t like human beings for example at one extreme, for example, trying to do their work on environmental issues and they just don’t give a shit about people, they just want to preserve the trees and mother nature and mother earth, save the animals and what not. Then you’ve got people who think that the best thing is to run around not even wearing clothes, just run around with spears, it’s just a mass of complete nonsense. And there is various degrees of this: some want to live in mud huts, some of us thing that local trade is good, with horse drawn carts is good, others think that we should just go back to the seventeenth century before the industrial revolution… Basically there is a whole array of people who want us to go back in time, which is obviously impossible. Environmentalists are a mess, and there is loads of hippie-ish bullshit to do with mystical occultism – I don’t even know what. Environmentalism is a problematic approach because it comes with a lot of baggage.
2) There was a lack of clear idea of what the climate movement was, what it was trying to do. And what the actual politics of the people who took part were. So it was a bit of a movement against some abstract concept: climate change, but what are we actually trying to do about it? I don’t know. Because it was a nice abstract concept, climate change, it meant that so many people with so many diverse opinions and viewpoints could coalesce, but once you scratch the surface there was no real connection between anyone, there was nothing that held people together.
3) Climate stuff became a mask for (or at least the stuff I was involved in was a mask for) a very limited reforming agenda. So despite vocally saying capitalism is the cause of climate change and the problem, it ended up seeking ways that capitalism could address climate change. All of that seems to me to be so… just illogical. You know that it won’t work yet you do it anyway. If capitalism causes climate change, then why not focus on capitalism and not climate change, for example.
4) On a much more fundamental level, in terms of the groups I worked with, I felt very much that there was a very problematic dynamic that existed within the climate change groupings. I probably filled both these roles, but it kind of felt like it was a movement of controllers and a movement of useful idiots. I know have fulfilled both of those roles. There were people who had their ideas and wanted their ideas to be enacted upon, and tried to get those ideas done. And there were other people who got them done, or were there to fill the crowd and make it look there’s enough people here, or whatever. What it didn’t feel was like a group of equal comrades working together to achieve a change together, there was no togetherness. It was not a movement born out of collective struggle and collective solidarity, it was a movement with goals and aims and achievements and targets, and people were a means of carrying out those targets.
Climate change campaigning was, I felt, a good thing in the good times when the economy is ticking over well, and yeah obviously there is tons of shit going on that no one knows about because its all under the surface, but it sort of made sense when the economy is going up, growth is increasing and so on, and everyone is just like, if we keep on going up then it will be OK and all of the problems of the world will solve themselves, but then climate change presents itself as : no, if we keep on going up, if we keep on enjoying these good times as they are set up at present, then no capitalism is not going to save us, capitalism is leading us over the precipice. Climate change was good for that, but now it’s not, it’s useless. I think when the recession first hit carbon emissions dropped over the whole world; I don’t know the details on that statistic. So are economic crises the way out of climate change? No absolutely not. It is no longer the good times so it seems to me that we should no longer focus on climate change.
What are you doing now?
Right now I’m not doing anything, I won’t lie. I’m sitting around working, and then in my free time I am doing whatever. And what could I potentially do?
I am aware that, and this is something that comes up in social movements all the time, and it’s pretty ridiculous, it’s a problem with how they are set up: they always clamour saying we need more working class people, or why are there no people of colour, why are these groups not here and how can we get more of these people involved? Rather than just saying how we are organised, as a group, as a movement is fundamentally geared towards a certain set of people. Let’s understand that and let’s just be that certain set of people and work with that certain set of people and work within our social positioning to make the world a better place, but understand where we come from, understand who we are and not try and be the movement that unites and brings together all under our banner, and that’s what too many social movements have tried to do.
I don’t know the details of the anti-globalisation movement, but certainly in the climate change movement there was strong feeling that here we are and we are speaking for the whole world. Certainly at Copenhagen that was almost epitomised when it was here are these Euro-activists, they have all come together and they’ve come to save the world and they are the groups that are able to do it and they are the groups that are going to do it. Obviously not being like that is what I want to do. What does that mean? I don’t know. Looking at who I am, how I fit in with the world, and where can I work from there.
So right now I’m aware that I’m working at a university, so therefore struggles around university and education obviously resonate with me, and people I engage with on a day-to-day basis. So that is a really clear concrete example of what I can get involved in. For example going to union meeting for UCU [Universities and Colleges Union], or if there is fees stuff kicking off then engaging and getting involved with that. Also if there are projects which I feel connected to or I could connect to, or the people who are doing them are doing them in a way that I can work with, then I would work with them as well. But right now in Manchester there is none of that. Well not much of that anyway!
What would it take for you to get back involved?
I guess there is nothing that could get me back involved in climate activism, but do I think that there is no point in doing climate activism? No. But you have got to be well aware of the world and well aware of what it is you are trying to do, and not just be all ‘climate climate climate climate!’ and forgetting why you are doing climate change stuff. Because if you are doing climate change stuff because you are concerned about people, then obviously your concern about people is the fundamental thing rather than doing climate stuff, so if you feel like well here is where I am, here is what I can do, which is doing a certain climate change project then it makes sense to do a climate change project. There are some good examples of that sort of stuff, but my concern is that short of doing that, I don’t think that any of the climate change groups that have continued trying to do climate change stuff have much potential, to be painfully honest.
In your opinion, what should climate activists in Greater Manchester be doing?
With climate change we’ve got to look at who actually engages with climate change, who hears about climate change and sits up and listens. Now the people who sit up and listen to climate change are generally going to be university-educated, or of a well-educated background let’s say- I would argue- they are clearly going to be concerned and they’re clearly going to be like this is problematic.
One idea of something that is actually really useful that could be done on climate change: too many climate scientists and defenders of climate science spend their whole time banging on about vested interests, climate sceptics and defeating their arguements. Maybe to reinforce them and also to point out that these vested interests are inherent in capitalism and that actually pointing out that this is demonstration that when science or whatever, the truth, is confronted with captialist interests, the truth loses. That’s something very useful that could be done. At every debate where there is someone from the Tyndall Centre in Manchester sat on the panel you go on ask them a question where you say “yeah but what’s the point in all your research when it’s all going to be dismissed by massively funded companies who have tons more money than you.” Because climate science is basically a done deal, it was done decades ago, and yet they are still arguing about it. Why are they still arguing about it? Because of the vested interests that those with power and money have within the the present state of things. And that’s a discussion that I feel will resonate with people at the Tyndall Centre; will actually resonate with all those people who are engaged in this debate which is raging. And I think is a radical perspective that would be nice to hear there. That is something that would be cool the push for.
In terms of action I don’t think there is… I don’t know. How should I know? I’m just one person!
Anything else you’d like to say?
I like discussion, I like to think and share ideas, I like that. That’s it.