So, the question has been, where next after Paris..? What next after Paris? I’m hoping the Climate Rising event, organised by Friends of the Earth, might have some answers, or at least ideas and inspiration.
It certainly has some big hitters attending, either physically or via Skype, including Caroline Lucas, Naomi Klein and Benjamin Zephaniah. It’s located in Friends Meeting House in Euston, a great building owned or leased by the Quakers (“with us, events don’t cost the earth”), right back in the place I cycled past last night with the Critical Mass lot.
It’s an early start but I make it in time to hear the event kick off with an opening debate chaired by the Guardian’s environment editor, John Vidal, who is an hilarious and outrageous host, describing Amber Rudd as a disgrace, and often filling the air with expletives. Who said journalists have to be dull? The panel includes the wonderful Sheila Menon, one of the Heathrow 13 activists who may be sent to prison for her peaceful act of protest.
The discussion centres around the panel’s experience of Paris, their views on what happened, and the eventual outcome. There are some really interesting reflections, and loud applause in particular for Sheroze Khan from MADE for his brave decision to even go to Paris, after the terrorist atrocities.
— Morgan & Garrett (@climatejourney) January 30, 2016
On the agreement, the panel is united: not nearly good enough, but better than no agreement at all. And of course there were all sorts of problems about the way the agreement was by and large made by white men with power, to the exclusion of indigenous peoples, the poor and those without power. But there are also chinks of hope; Labour MP Clive Lewis is very interesting in his view that there’s more common ground now between Labour and the Greens, and this can be a strong force going forward (for as long as Corbyn remains leader, at least).
— Joseph Downie (@josephdownie) January 30, 2016
If all this sounds a little depressing (it is), the mood’s lifted somewhat by Caroline Lucas’ appearance as she chairs a debate led by three quite brilliant, completely different, speeches by a scientist, a union leader, and a student union leader. Particularly impressive is Mark Serwotka from the PCS union – a man with a difficult job when it comes to defending his members’ jobs – but he was unequivocal: the short term need to protect jobs at all cost doesn’t out-trump the long term need to live on a habitable planet. So refreshing to hear. For example, rather than renew Trident, let’s use that highly skilled workforce, and cash, to be world leaders in the manufacture of renewable energy infrastructure. A million green jobs.
Shakira Martin from the NUS is also great; covering a wide range of topics – from letting all kids to be ‘wild’ at school to why fighting climate change is also about fighting racism and austerity – in a hugely passionate speech.
After a brief section for Q&A (during which the topics of over-population and personal carbon budgets are not well answered) it’s time to take stock and re-fuel. They’re doing a pretty tasty vegan soup which I eat (drink?) while flicking through a book called The Mindful Carnivore. I also bump into a guy from New Cross who happens to work on a community food garden project just round the corner and which I’ve been meaning to check out, Common Growth.
The afternoon is devoted to two breakout sessions and it’s almost impossible to choose. In the end I kind of regret my choices as I go to sessions about things I already know about rather than something completely new, although, because of the large numbers of people, I get the impression that all are quite challenging for the facilitators and none can go into huge amounts of depth in the time available.
In the session about food, I learn about the Flexitarian Movement, and especially, Flexi Bristol. It sounds like a great idea; rather than tell people they must go veggie or vegan, reward restaurants that offer great veggie and vegan choices, support local farmers, etc. Basically, a “less but better meat” message, taking people on the road of thinking more about where their food comes from and what impact it has. It sounds like it’s having a lot of success, and I love the idea that whole towns and cities could become Flexitarian, similar to the Fairtrade Towns scheme. Predictably, it looks like Bristol could be the first…
The session about ‘nature’ is perhaps a little general, but I guess the impact climate change will have and is already happening on the natural world, and why this matters, is a pretty huge topic to cover in an hour!
I do think it’s a bit sad though that most of the narrative on climate change (even today) is focussed on how it will make life more difficult for humans, with very little attention paid to the devastating effect it will have on ecosystems, habitats and species; a mass extinction is already underway but, as the human race, we are more focused on whether we can feed 8, 9, 10 billion people. Sure, species come and go, and this isn’t the first time the climate has changed, but the speed of the change and the lack of migratory options for most species (thanks to habitat loss and degradation) mean the rules of the game have changed dramatically.
Worse, when we do spend time thinking about the threats posed to ecosystems by climate change, it’s couched in terms only relevant to the survival of humans, eg: the collapse of fish-stocks will mean the loss of a nutritious food source for millions; the demise of bees will mean our crops aren’t pollinated as effectively, and so on. In other words, there are very few people saying that habitat and species loss is intrinsically bad and unjust in its own right. I find this rather sad and disappointing.
In our group discussion I use the phrase from Paris, “We are not fighting for nature, we are nature defending itself.” I’m then picked up on my other point about the sheer size of the human population being one of the key issues: “If you’re saying humans are part of nature, then how can human population also be a problem?”
I think the answer is that yes, we are part of nature, but no ecosystem thrives when a single species becomes too dominant and numerous, as we are. Certainly, no ecosystem has ever had to deal with a dominant species that has also learnt how to kill/eat everything in its path, burn fossil fuels until they start to change the very chemistry of the planet and its atmosphere, and invent nuclear weapons capable of wiping out most, if not all, life on earth.
So yes, protecting bees is important and I’ll do my bit. But the reason for doing this shouldn’t just be because they play an important role as pollinators and produce tasty honey. They have as much right to life as we do, and that alone is worth taking action for. Otherwise are we only to conserve the bits of nature that have value to humans? And will we come to understand that rich, diverse, healthy ecosystems are good for all species – including us – too late? Anyway, I know I’m veering away from cycling here… (I did cycle to and from the event though!)
After the workshops, it’s back into the hall to hear from Benjamin Zephaniah on a dodgy video-link, but his message is a good one (if a bit all over the place!) Keep talking about the climate, it really matters, talk in language people understand, and don’t get preachy.
Then, to round things off, leave on a high, and ensure no-one sneaks off early, it’s Naomi Klein’s turn. As ever, she is galvanising, supportive and optimistic; we are seeing real change across the board, in the US, in Canada, at local grassroots levels, at the Whitehouse, in where money is being invested in, in the multitude of voices coming together around the world, including those of indigenous groups. It’s just a shame in the UK we’re stuck with Cameron, Osbourne, Rudd and Truss, who all fail spectacularly to get it.
There’s also time for a few actions throughout the day, including solidarity tweets for the people protesting against housing cuts, for the Heathrow 13, and for those protesting against fracking, in Lanc’s and around the UK.
There’s a lot of talk of ‘tipping points’ when it comes to climate, but it really feels like 2016 could be a tipping point year for the climate movement as it becomes mainstream, understood and acted upon. I’m not sure if it feels like this because I’m closer to the issues than I was a year ago, or because things really are changing – hopefully a bit of both.
All in all it’s been a great event; educational, thought-provoking, challenging, inspiring… and I got to meet a few of my Time To Cycle buddies again. I can’t wait for our re-union and next steps meeting on 13 February!