[FAO Liverpool Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram]
- Context evidence, ethics
- Willing the means
- Appendix: Notes from Greater Manchester Green Summit (25 03 2019), The Lowry, Salford Quays.
In 2007, sociology Professor, Ulrich Beck, argued that the key issue of justice for governments entails equal concern for both economy and ecology:
“Climate change is not solely a matter of hurricanes, droughts, floods, refugee movements, impending wars or unprecedented market failure. . . . If we want to survive, we have to include those who have been excluded. The politics of climate change is necessarily inclusive and global – it is cosmopolitics” (Ulrich Beck [13 07 2007], ‘In the new, anxious world, leaders must learn to think beyond borders’, The Guardian).
This makes poignant re-reading in 2019, against the backdrop of Trump as US President, Brexit catastrophe in the UK, and the rise of far right/fascist behaviour and politics elsewhere in Europe. As novelist Ali Smith cautions: “All our nationalisms are nothing in the face of climate change” (in interview with Claire Armitstead, ‘A new season’, The Guardian Review, 23 03 2019: 11). Smith contrasts narrative and politics:
“Story is an ancient form of generosity . . . . . Story has always been a welcoming-in, is always one way or another a hospitable meeting of the needs of others, and a porous art form where sympathy and empathy are only the beginning of things” (ibid.).
Politics, she says, is the opposite:
“Where our stories meet other stories or block other stories; and where people decide that other stories can’t be heard because my story is more important than your story – all that stuff – you could call it politics” (ibid).
So story (like love and friendship) involves/evolves a degree of intimacy and trust, which engenders (potentially enduring) affinity. Whereas politics is adversarial and competitive: a power struggle. Journalist and writer, Steven Poole, makes an analogous distinction: “Writing is not data. It is a means of expression, which implies that you have something to express” (Poole, ‘Deepfake or fortune’, The Guardian Review 23 03 2019). We need both.
In 2018, in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland school shooting in the US:
“A steady parade of Parkland students called out ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the stall tactic it was. Politicians were going to think and pray and legislate to keep the deadly system precisely the same. What had begun with good intentions after horrors like Columbine rang hollow nineteen years and 81 mass shootings later. The Parkland kids welcomed thoughts and prayers in addition to solutions, not instead” (Dave Cullen  Parkland. Birth of a Movement: 21).
As Ben Okri counselled in his epic poem, Mental Fight: An Anti-Spell for the Twenty First Century):
It’s time we turned our formidable
Powers of heart and mind
To humanity’s solvable problems –
Problems which have become accusations.
(‘Harmony of politics and heart 1’, Mental Fight, 2002: 42).
Context, evidence, ethics.
We start with what we already know about injury, damage, inequality and injustice, as climate change morphs into climate breakdown. Interconnected challenges in the Liverpool city region, to be targeted / developed / mitigated / reduced or eliminated, include:
- air quality / air pollution / noise pollution: NB cars, motorbikes, vans, freight, industry; trees
- contamination: soil, food, water
- energy: fossil fuels / fracking / fuel poverty / decarbonisation / renewables / community energy
- the industrialisation and commodification of the natural environment, with consequences for its protection, preservation, maintenance and development: land use, green spaces, coastal places; species and habitat deterioration and loss (destruction); animal exploitation and cruelty
- mobility: access to people, places, work/employment, culture, services & opportunities – walking, cycling, wheelchair use, cars; public transport: trains, buses; the internet
- civic marginalisation / democratic deficit / corruption / abuses of power & position
Poverty and inequality are fundamental considerations within climate change discourse and decarbonisation. We know that poverty is not just an economic condition / issue / political strategy (Austerity politics), but variously manifests across lives and communities, e.g. as fuel poverty / lack of shelter: poor, insufficient and/or unaffordable housing / homelessness / educational impoverishment / ill health and disease / food poverty/dietary poverty/malnutrition / period poverty and gender inequality.
Poverty degrades and demolishes; creates despair and powerlessness. It destroys dignity, appetite and agency (personal, social and political); it undermines opportunity and impedes creativity, participation and collaboration. Poverty turns hope into fanciful, wishful thinking; an unaffordable luxury. This dense victimhood can lead to anger, self-harm and violence. Poverty crushes, divides and kills. For example, the marginalisation of asylum seekers and refugees is intensified by their enforced unemployment and impoverishment. Poverty and inequality undermine democracy. And like poverty and inequality, climate breakdown is a feminist issue and a post colonial issue. Malaysian author, Tash Aw, “feels a duty to reflect the distinctly un-beautiful truth: ‘Suffering is suffering – it has no aesthetic quality to it'” (‘My generation believed wealth could provide them with the emotional security they needed’. Guardian Review: 20-23).
Liverpool researcher and activist, Alan Cunningham (15 07 2014), concluded his submission to Liverpool‘s Mayoral Commission on Environmental Sustainability:
“Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Dr. Mark Stafford Smith have argued with others that ending poverty and safeguarding Earth’s life support system must be twin priorities. They suggest six goals – thriving lives and livelihoods, food security, water security, clean energy, health and productive ecosystems, and governance for sustainable societies. However, these goals are dependent upon: climate stability, reducing biodiversity loss, protection of ecosystem services, a healthy waste cycle and oceans, sustainable nitrogen and phosphorous use, clean air and sustainable material use.”
Based on the evidence, the interconnectivity of these issues – as health and safety issues, as equality and social justice issues – is indisputable. Take the value/role of trees, for example:
“Trees can reduce soil erosion and flood risk, provide food and shelter for wildlife and are proven to boost human health and wellbeing. They also have a vital role to play in combatting climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere” (John Tucker, director of woodland outreach for the Woodland Trust charity, cited Stephen Armstrong, ‘A promise to plant”, Tree Life 2019, Guardian Labs [06 04 2019: 10]).
Yet locally, mature trees have been felled across our region. There seems to be no local authority or city region policy informed by the above evidence and the expertise of those whose business is to research, understand and advise on the vital interconnectivity mentioned here. By contrast, and to avoid further climate catastrophe, author and biologist Amy-Jane Beer advises: “We should plant 1,000 trees for every one felled” (Tree Life 2019, ibid: 12-14). Recent research expands our understanding and sense of urgency:
“Whatever the precise figure, air pollution – principally nitrogen oxides and tiny particles known as PM2.5 – kills more people than smoking, and more than Aids, diabetes and traffic accidents combined . . . . Many who do not die as a result of air pollution struggle with its effects on their hearts, lungs and brains. New findings have even linked it to psychotic experiences in young people” (Caspar Henderson, ‘Air pollution causes one in nine deaths globally each year. How are cities around the world cleaning up?’ Guardian Review, 06 04 2019: 12. Reviewing Beth Gardiner (2019), Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future).
A recurring theme at the Greater Manchester Green Summit (25 03 2019), eloquently flagged up in his keynote address at the start of the day by poet and Chancellor of the University of Manchester, Lemn Sissay, was the question of “the gap” or gaps. This points to the importance of not just what we know, what evidence shows, but also to what we don’t yet know/maybe don’t want to know or acknowledge, and how to fill those gaps in knowledge, understanding, political will, material support and best practice. ARUP (a contributor to the Greater Manchester Green Summit) is a global firm of engineering consultants, designers, development planners and project managers, founded in April 1946. Members aim to “work together to shape a better world”. (See Katherine Farley, ‘Arup: sustainability shapes every project’ [The Guardian, 16 05 2013]). Arup chooses to combine data with local knowledge (i.e. narrative), thereby establishing a hybrid methodology capable of capturing the complexity of lived experience and diverse lives.
There are clearly issues of ownership, control and accountability that run through these concerns, debates and projects: issues of inequality, of differential power and opportunity, which need to inform how we organise for change. “An audience is very different from a crowd, festive or otherwise”, observes Barbara Ehrenreich (Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, 2008: 253). And given “the immobility required of the ‘audience’“ (ibid. 206), “a spectacle, by its nature, offers an inherently more limited experience than a participatory event” (ibid.). It follows that a healthy democracy requires us to be more than spectators. It requires our active participation and engagement. And democracy, as a never-ending process over time (not a one-off event), requires stamina as much as imagination and courage.
Seventeen year old, David Hogg, one of the Parkland survivors and subsequent vocal activists, said at the time:
“We need to realize there is something seriously wrong here and policy makers need to look in the mirror and take some action. Because ideas are great but without action ideas stay ideas, and children die” (reported in Cullen  Parkland. Birth of a Movement: 20).
Cullen reports that in the next six minutes, David publicly demanded action twelve times:
“Any action at this point, instead of just complete stagnancy and blaming the other side. . . . We are children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action” (ibid.)
Cullen’s verdict was: “That was the moment. February 15 2018, 8.22 a.m. EST. David Hogg called out Adult America for letting our kids die. The uprising had begun” (ibid.). Democratic renewal was now on the cards, care of children and young people stepping up to the political table.
The democratic renewal required to challenge and arrest climate breakdown is a participatory process. This was evident at the Greater Manchester Green Summit, where awareness of the necessity of collaboration was on view throughout the day. These engagements confirm that the challenge is not primarily technological or organisational, but a matter of political will and commitment. (See sociologist, Richard Sennett’s beautiful book, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures & Politics of Cooperation ). Who should own, control and be held to account for our energy systems, is not a technical question.
Alan Cunningham highlights the advantages of using the international policy framework for healthy cities:
“If the WHO and health academics, such as Sir Michael Marmot, demonstrate a relationship between Healthy and Sustainable Living, which they do, then any process of green economics which fails to recognise that relationship is likely to create or exacerbate inefficiency and unfairness”. (‘Low carbon pathways to health’. Presentation to Green Economics Institute annual conference, 2013).
Demonstrating how efficiency, fairness and health can go hand in hand, Beth Gardiner contrasts London’s record with that of Berlin, a city where:
“The increasing availability of attractive, affordable and readily available alternatives to passenger cars has delivered substantial improvements in transport connectivity, quality of life and health” (cited Henderson, ibid: 13).
She makes a further significant point regarding legislation:
“With the precedent of values-based legislation, such as the Clean Air Act, and mobilization for the Green New Deal in the US, a shift away from fossil fuels that poison our bodies and wreck our planet is possible” (cited Henderson, ibid.). Emphasis added.
And the values-based actions / interventions of individuals, groups and organisations also make a real difference. For example, Kenya’s “lush forests suffered aggressive deforestation from the 1970s to the early 1990s, mainly from charcoal and timber, and the effects have proved devastating – with drought and desertification looming” (Armstrong, ibid: 10). In 2015, the company responsible for Yorkshire Tea began its five-year project to plant a million trees in the UK and Kenya (ibid.), planting three main species in Kenya, in collaboration with local farmers, to provide building materials as well as food, and as a source of income.
Willing the means.
“It isn’t enough to will the ends. You must will the means” (Alan Simpson  ‘The sustainable lives of others – international lessons in decentralizing Britain’s energy system” (cited Walsh, 26 07 2018). See also Simpson, ‘When the war is over’ 2018) www.alansimpson.org.uk
It is clear that renewing politics entails valuing and facilitating narrative (people’s stories, whether as novelists, poets, citizens, victims and/or activists). But acting on the evidence of both narrative and data, requires, in turn, political will and action. So a productive creative tension between narrative and data, between story and politics, is fundamental to this recovery and renewal.
“The Parkland students decided in the first few days that they needed to speak with one voice, and focus on gun safety. March for Our Lives followed on 24 March 2018. Estimates state that between 1.4 and 2.1 million people marched in the US that day, making it the third or fourth largest one-day protest in American history, equivalent to the largest protest of the Vietnam war era, led by college students, who had been rallying for the better part of a decade. The Parkland uprising was organised by high school students in five weeks” (Cullen, ‘Words can kill. What we write about when we write about gun crime. Changing the story”. Guardian Review, 09 02 2019: 11).
Cullen expands on the significance of this uprising and how it changed the story:
“When Parkland was attacked last Valentine’s Day, supporting gun safety was considered politically toxic. Suddenly, for the first time in a generation, it is starting to grow politically toxic to oppose it. . . . State legislatures reversed the NRA momentum, passing 67 laws tightening access to guns. But the big prize was the November midterms. Democrats finally stopped cowering on gun laws, ran on reforming them, and took the House of Representatives” (Cullen, ‘Changing the story’, ibid.).
We ‘adults’ need to learn from and with children and young people. To achieve the paradigm shift required to preserve the planet and our lives within it, we have to build a shared understanding and commitment, using a collaborative methodology embodying the principles of participatory democracy and equality. In the Liverpool city region, there already exist knowledge and expertise regarding renewables, climate mitigation and adaptation, for example, but in an era that has been dominated by neoliberalism (privatisation, fragmentation, marketisation, commodification, escalating inequality, financialisation), these skills have been insufficiently recognized, valued or deployed. And so they perish or leave the city region or country for more culturally sympathetic and financially supportive environments. And so we lose precious time as well as expertise.
We need to change the narrative. Professor of philosophy and politics at The New School for Social Research, Nancy Fraser, recommends “a new alliance of emancipation and social protection against financialisation” (‘The End of Progressive Neoliberalism’, Dissent, 02 01 2017). This double goal and process must lie at the heart of any action to stem climate breakdown and inequality. (See also, for example, political sociologist, Martin Shaw, ‘Wellbeing for everyone in a sustainable Europe’, Social Europe, 15 01 2019).
Young people have been prominent recently: as victims, survivors and activists of the Grenfell Fire in London in 2017 (see ‘The Choir: Our School By the Tower’, Gareth Malone’s work with school children as they prepare to return to their school: BBC2, Episode 1 [11 03 2019], Episode 2 [18 03 2019); as victims, survivors and activists in the wake of the Parkland massacre in the US in 2018 (see Dave Cullen , Parkland: Birth of a Movement); and as climate activists striking from their schools across the world (including Liverpool), inspired by Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg’s climate protests outside the Swedish parliament, started in 2018.
In 2019, we can say, without fear of contradiction, that kids (Cullen’s affectionate term for Parkland’s inspirational young activists) have shown themselves to be ‘the adults in the room’ (on gun control, political negligence and corruption, racism, democracy, climate breakdown and UK relations with the EU). They object to their certain victimhood, if matters are left in the hands of the politicians/their elders. When both ‘sides’ feel abandoned, there is urgency in creating ways of overcoming this generational and political estrangement: together. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
As Ben Okri put it in his millennial poem (1997 & 1999):
Now is the moment to choose
What we are going to freight over.
(‘Hold on to your sanity’, 2, in Mental Fight: 49).
As Brexit paralyses parliament, incites uproar and despair across the country, and completes the process of turning the UK into a hostile environment for children, citizens, immigrant workers, neighbours,‘foreigners’, friends and businesses, for example, Okri’s words have added poignancy, urgency and clout. val walsh / 10 04 2019
Tash Aw (13 04 2019) In interview with Lisa Allardice, ‘My generation believed wealth could provide them with the emotional security they needed’. Guardian Review: 21-23.
Stephen Armstrong (06 04 2019) ‘A promise to plant’. Tree Life 2019, Guardian Labs.: 8-11).
Ulrich Beck[13 07 2007], ‘In the new, anxious world, leaders must learn to think beyond borders’, The Guardian).
Carbon Literacy Trust, www.carbonliteracy.com)
Dave Cullen (2019) Parkland: Birth of a Movement.
Dave Cullen (09 02 2019) ‘Words can kill. What we write about when we write about gun crime. Changing the story’. Guardian Review: 6-11.
Alan Cunningham (2013) ‘Low carbon pathways to health’. Green Economics Institute annual conference.
Alan Cunningham (15 07 2014), Submission to Liverpool’s Mayoral Commission on Environmental Sustainability.
Barbara Ehrenreich (2008) Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.
Katherine Farley (16 05 2013) ‘Arup: sustainability shapes every project’, The Guardian.
Nancy Fraser (02 01 2017) in Dissent, 02 01 2017
Beth Gardiner (2019) Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future.
Caspar Henderson (06 04 2019) ‘Air pollution causes one in nine deaths globally each year. How are cities around the world cleaning up?’ Guardian Review: 12/13.
Greater Manchester Green Summit (25 03 2019), The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Ben Okri (1999, reprint 2002) Mental Fight. An anti-spell for the twentieth century.
Steven Poole (23 03 2019) ‘Deepfake or fortune’, Guardian Review.
Rosemary Randall & Andy Brown (2015) ‘In time for tomorrow?’ Clean Slate, no 96 summer 2015: 30/31; & their book (2015), In Time For Tomorrow.
Richard Sennett (2012) Together: The Rituals, Pleasures & Politics of Cooperation.
Martin Shaw, (15 01 2019) ‘Wellbeing for everyone in a sustainable Europe’, Social Europe.
Alan Simpson (2018) ‘The sustainable lives of others – international lessons in decentralizing Britain’s energy system”. Also ‘When the war is over’ (2018). www.alansimpson.org.uk
Ali Smith (in interview with Claire Armitstead, ‘A new season’, The Guardian Review, 23 03 2019: 11).
John Tucker (06 04 2019) cited Armstrong, ibid.
Val Walsh (09 08 2014) ‘Reflections on climate change, sustainability and democracy: prioritizing renewal, equity and justice in the Liverpool city region’. Submission to Mayoral Commission on Environmental Sustainability. Also posted on togetherfornow.wordpress.com
Val Walsh (26 07 2018) ‘Reviving and renewing Labour values and politics’. Report on group meeting with Alan Simpson (07 07 2018). Posted at togetherfornow.wordpress.com).
Val Walsh ‘The democratisation of energy: the real revolution’. Short presentation to Bootle CLP (22 03 2019) & Liverpool Green party (27 03 2019).
- ‘Healthy city checklist’ (25 07 2013), World Health Organisation (WHO), regional office for Europe.
- The Marmot Reports, 2008 & 2010. Fair Society, Healthy Lives (2010).
- The Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), established to support countries and global health partners to address the social factors leading to ill health and inequities. Its final report, ‘Closing the gap in a generation’, was published in 2008.
- ‘Developing a five-year local strategy for people, places and the economy on Merseyside.’ Co-authored proposals (CAM [Climate Action Merseyside] + Zero Carbon Liverpool & others). Forthcoming 2019.
Notes from the Greater Manchester Climate Summit.
The Lowry, Salford Quays: 25 03 2019.
- Climate change mitigation
- air quality
- production & consumption of resources
- the natural environment
- climate change, resilience & adaptation
- people – places – economy
- plan for homes, jobs, environment
- population health plan
- vision for housing
- clean air
- local industrial strategy
- 5 year plan (download)
- an immediate programme of mitigation + update plan along the way
- SCATTER has 40 interventions
- models are useful in informing pathways
- engagement and education
- the innovation that can fill the gap
- innovative funding mechanisms
- showing leadership
- ARUP data + local knowledge
- collaboration is the key
- Oldham NB City Trees NB drainage as well as contribution to air quality / decarbonisation
- Oldham: engagement with everyone – 300,000 people re Generation Oldham, community-led
- Coalesce project
- Powerpair project
- sustainable food / growing your own / agripark
- taking new approaches to funding and financing
- public sector showing leadership
- upskilling workforce
- focus on urgent action
- long term plan: that is reported on / that is for us all / that is ambitious
- a clean growth mission for GM
- Carbon literate GM
- emergency / mobilization – not done to us but done with us
- why is not enough / relevance / empowerment across workplaces and communities
- Carbon Literacy Trust
- plastics: food, drink & hospitality: reduce, re-use recyclable + compostable. No single use
- 220 community energy groups across the UK
- Forum for the Future: community energy + asset owners – community energy matchmakers
- Friends Provident as funder
- sustainable urban tree system: drainage, water fountains, City Trees
- research into domestic energy use NB Salford University Energy House: health, warm, affordable homes
- investment / decisions / potentially leading to procurement
- collaboration is key + creating additionality
- Hydrogen cells / fuel cell innovation centre (EU funded)
- inspiring and educating the next generation
- people-powered retrofit / city-led clean energy system = a new service + UK first
- Scatter carbon budget analysis
- developing the Ignition project in Manchester via private investment
- Wildlife Trust Lancashire, Manchester, North Merseyside: mapped ecosystem services and investment
- “We can’t build our way out of this crisis.”
- need consistency + new funding models.
- Transport is a huge challenge: have to deal with road junctions re walking & cycling.
- clean air plan launched 2 weeks ago
- sustainable transport system
- electric buses
- freight: decarbonizing urban delivery
- the challenge of engagement
- future energy supply / developing an investment
- Catapult energy systems: holistic approach, whole systems view / action es.catapult.org.uk
- journeys without cars
- focus is on health throughout the 5 year plan
- smart sysetms – heat
- local Area Energy Planning – a living lab of connected homes & consumers
- 300 building transitions a day between now and 2018. enwl.co.uk
- need to understand deprivation / access to funding 7 innovation
- heat map + CSE
- target delivery to those most in need
- reporting back to this Summit from last year’s contributors who made pledges.
- notable how many of the projects and organisations are EU-funded
- recurring problem of lack of skills in construction and engineering, for example; workforce capable of delivering the services required. This is a serious GAP and draws attention to the importance of ongoing education and training.
vaw / 30 03 2019 / end.