LAST WEEK I WENT TO TWO MEETINGS
My first meeting was small, in the back room of an anarchist cafe. Heavy vegan cake – but free. A dedicated place where for 20 years activists have organised, people have been fed every Sunday for very little or no money, where the profit motive has no place at all.
The meeting was for activists talking about their emotions. This was my first time being asked what pronoun I like used to refer to me. We were offered questions, which we discussed in pairs and fed back. I thought they were intelligent questions: ‘What is your personal experience of climate change?’ All I could think of was that British figs now ripen, but others talked about how it used to be cold on Bonfire Night, whereas nowadays you hardly ever need gloves, and how blackberries begin in July and are shrivelled or rotting by October.
The facilitators offered diagrams of responses to loss – denial, anger grief and so on, and got us to talk about these. Here came the despair: how could we ever get beyond the grief to acceptance and resolution? Loss of species, galloping deserts, destruction of cultures along with the forests they live in – this isn’t like the normal death of a loved person. One woman of 36 said she was now often the oldest person in an activists’ group, because of burnout. Where was the older generation? Another, who was older, felt hopeless about the future. It sounded as if she continued protesting out of habit and solidarity rather than out of any real hope. I suggested that some of these despairing feelings might come from earlier in our lives, and get attached to the environmental crisis. I don’t know what they made of that.
The second meeting was in the Bristol Festival of Economics.
Here’s the flyer that made me decide to go.
“The No-Growth Economy
Is it the only way to save the planet?
With key international talks in Paris coming up at the end of the year, what kind of agreement would be needed to actually tackle climate change, and what is realistic? Some environmentalists argue that the only hope lies in the radical decision to call a halt to economic growth, but others think this is neither possible nor even desirable.
With Cameron Hepburn (University of Oxford), Katherine Drayson (Policy Exchange), Alex Bowen (LSE) and Kate Raworth (University of Oxford).”
Here’s the warning I didn’t really notice:
There were hundreds of people. Literally. And a chair who immediately, contemptuously, described the title of the session as ‘click bait’. Although the panel were all concerned about climate change, in their different ways, and all thought something should be done about it, none of them looked seriously at the arguments for ‘contraction and convergence’. They described global warming (get this!) as ‘market failure’. The word capitalism did not cross their lips.
When contributions were allowed from the floor, a woman immediately said that global warming was largely caused by capitalism, which had to go for growth by its very nature, whatever the human and environmental costs of that. The panel behaved as if she was a bit of a fool, a child, an outsider who had come into a dinner party wearing the wrong clothes. How could a future without capitalism be possible? The market is essential, but it does need some regulation. Actually it would be quite easy to regulate, quite cheap too, if only the political will were there.
I couldn’t see the woman who spoke, or I would have looked for her. Instead, I left early, stomping down the back stairs cursing ‘Market failure!’