This evening I heard some young people from the Just Stop Oil coalition speak, powerfully stating their case for civil resistance and direct action to demand that the UK government award no new fossil fuel licences. Our unelected Prime Minister has initiated 100 new oil and gas developments, when just one – Jackdaw, off the coast of Aberdeen – will already create more carbon emissions than the whole of Ghana.
The speakers reminded us that a year ago at COP26 the cry was Keep 1.5 alive! And we have now reached 1.3 degrees of global warming. The IPCC has warned that if we reach 2 degrees, which seems highly likely, it will result in 700 million climate refugees, nearly the entire population of Europe.
These young people are willing to be arrested; some have dropped out of University, seeing no future for themselves in following that path, preferring instead to do all they can and whatever it takes to end our reliance on fossil fuels and make a meaningful difference to the climate emergency.
Tim Morton spoke in encouragement, evoking the spirit of William Blake (who he called an early maker of memes in his Songs of Innocence and Experience) – ‘the way you say something is what you’re saying’. He saw the Van Gogh soup protest at the National Gallery as ‘weaponised harmlessness’, citing Adorno, who claimed that Proust destroyed the aristocracy with his ‘remorseless gentleness’.
Being a big fan of ‘remorseless gentleness’, I was deeply moved by this intergenerational conversation about climate justice and the failure of democracy. George Monbiot, another member of the ‘Guardian reading, tofu-eating wokerati’ (Braverman), has commented, in the aforementioned publication, on the action, bringing some perspective to the knee-jerk outrage and blame (do read the whole article if you haven’t already – it’s full of good points):
I don’t seek to deny the value of art or the necessity of protecting it. On the contrary: I want the same crucial protections extended to planet Earth, without which there is no art, no culture and no life. Yet while cultural philistinism is abhorred, ecological philistinism is defended with a forcefield of oppressive law.
The soup-throwing and similar outrageous-but-harmless actions generate such fury because they force us not to stop listening, but to start. Why, we can’t help asking ourselves, would young people jeopardise their freedom and their future prospects in this way. The answer, we can’t help hearing, is that they seek to avert a much greater threat to both.
Early last week I wrote an initial dispatch from Glasgow for New Writing North’s Climate Newsletter and you can read it here. I’m trying to catch up with my impressions and experiences and will post instalments as and when I have time.
Wiser than all the government delegates at COP26, the Eco-cab driver who took me to the station could see there’s a gap between words and deeds, promises and action.
I met a friend on the train who is working flat out to keep his business afloat – where does he find the time to protest, campaign or the money to retrofit renewable energy options in his home? I hear this again and again – people not having the space or resources to transform their lives in a way that would radically help the planet, despite doing everything they can day-to-day to reuse, recycle and reduce. Of course governments need to intervene with guidance and support.
Happy to reconnect with the Coat of Hopes – with my own little patch added. It’s been out and about in Glasgow all week and worn by lots of different folk, including some COP delegates. So, a circle has been stitched together.
I keep coming across another powerful sewing project embellishing the city – Collective Zurciendo – Darning the Planet – beautiful embroidered ‘Trees for Life’ initiated by a women’s artivist collective from Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Peru.
use caution – walking directions
may not always reflect
In the fish and chip shop two men pray to Allah. Roma women are selling single red roses. You can hardly see the pavement for rubbish, plastic and polystyrene, stinking tumbleweed. The Council are going to sow wildflower meadows across the city.
I am offered a slice of vegan sausage roll in Sauchiehall Street and they ask if they can film me eating it. They want to know why no one’s talking about veganism at COP26.
Everybody wants to know why they are aren’t talking about what they aren’t talking about. The streets ring with them asking and singing and dancing and shouting. The police – many more police than are needed – look confused but stand where they’re instructed and occasionally gather for group photos and selfies. Some of them wear knuckleduster gloves and carry tazers which prove entirely unnecessary and therefore appear ridiculous, not to mention a waste of our taxes.
The COP26 Main Event Armadillo and Hydro (Blue Zone) and the Science Centre (Green Zone) are cordoned off by stout steel railings and heavily policed. Despite the blue and green banners claiming that we’re doing this ‘together for our planet’, there is limited access and the message is one of exclusion, cumbersome and ugly. Another example of more being spent on defending territory rather than sharing and regenerating it. More than twice the amount the UK government spend on helping poorer countries in the global south deal with the consequences of climate change we in the so-called developed world have created with colonialism, extractivism and over-consumption is dedicated to keeping climate refugees from crossing our borders.
It’s as if Glasgow is populated by three tribes – those who are here to do their bit on the fringes of COP and happy to announce it with a badge or a flag, a t-shirt or a hat with horns, and those who are going about their business with a mixture of bewilderment and pride that their city has been chosen to host this historic occasion, and then the police, drafted in from all over the country – with vanloads from the Met, Norfolk, Wales, Cornwall etc.
Oh, yes, and the first few days of the Leaders’ Summit, those other shadowy presences at the centre of it all, invisible behind the blacked-out windows of their limousines gliding down Stobcross Road beside the River Cyde, protected from everything going on, ‘the real-world conditions’ on the streets. And isn’t it true that democracy dies in darkness?
a dawn raid – police
arrest an inflatable
Loch Ness Debt Monster
As part of the fringe events, Tom Goldtooth from the US Indigenous Environmental Network kicks off the first Coalition Movement Assembly. Humanity must learn its spiritual connection with the earth, he says, know that it is sacred, and then it will be clear that fossil fuels must stay in the ground. It will be clear that the patriarchal system has caused so much damage with violence, rape and exploitation. I saw mostly men coming and going down at the main site. It is mostly women in this gathering.
What is outside? What is inside? How do they interpenetrate? How come into dialogue with each other? How can ‘we should’ and ‘we must’ realign into ‘we will’? Where might diversity, solidarity and unity meet? These questions recur all week and these investigations and conversations will carry on beyond November 12th when COP26 is over. I look forward to seeing where it leads.