How a book about a deer started me down a path of baffled anger…and why I think many people today are feeling the same way.Read More
Look, I don't want to bring anyone else down, but so far 2019 has been the worst year of my life.Read More
I don’t think of myself as any kind of hero. If real life was Lord of the Rings I’d definitely be a home-loving hobbit. But Gandalf keeps knocking at all our doors. It seems to be up to us to save the whole frickin’ planet.Read More
This September, members of my local community discovered that a 65 hectare site located just of the A10 in fields between Harston and Haslingfield, and including a popular riverside bridleway, had been submitted to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Joint Minerals and Waste planning team as a possible site for mineral (sand and aggregate) extraction and waste disposal.
Our horror was universal. Many of us walk these fields daily, and have delighted in the annual wildflower displays and our sightings of otters, water voles, barn owls, terns, and many other species. Residents of Harston were appalled that the extraction plan predicted up to 80 lorry trips a day traveling in and out on the A10, in that section almost entirely residential and already choked with traffic due to existing new developments along it.
People tagged me in the social media uproar, because they knew I was a greenie and had already tried to organise a community purchase of another nearby meadow.
My immediate reaction, though, was conflict. Obviously, like my neighbours, I didn’t want this to happen. But objecting on the grounds that we didn’t want a mine in our backyard left a bad taste in my mouth. After all, the amazing “progress” of the developed world so far - our sprawling cities, our transport networks, our endless economic growth, our tracts of single family homes - has all been ennabled through mineral exploitation, as this article succinctly points out. As long as we believe in the story that continued endless growth and development is necessary, we must also accept that endless resources are necessary, and given that most of the resources we currently extract from the ground go back into landfill, and are not recycled or reused, that means endless new sources of virgin materials. (Even if we were reusing everything, by the way, that couldn’t keep up with growth). In other words, if it’s not our backyard, it will be someone else’s, and that someone else, especially if it’s an overseas source, may not have the high environmental standards, for protecting and restoring extraction and landfill sites, that we do.
Try this exercise. Look around whatever room you are in and try to identify the materials that all the things around you are made from. Ceramics, glass, plaster and metals? They come from minerals extraction. The glass over that picture in your living room was once sand, maybe from under the sea or extracted from the soil of a pretty meadow. Similarly the pigments used in the artwork - many come from mineral sources. The screen of your TV as well as its components. Everything in your phone, tablet or laptop. The metal frames of your furniture, fittings of your light fixtures, handles on your doors - that comes from mining. Your jewelry, your plates, your knives and forks, your toys, your souvenirs, your impulse buys. Every time you replace them or buy more, you’re probably buying things made from virgin materials, ripped from the ground or dredged from the sea. Now multiply your purchases by the 60 million people in the UK, the 250 million in the US, the 500+ million in the EU. Are you surprised that we are running out of resources, and that the wolf of consumption is now at your back door?
Nevertheless, I did submit an objection to the extraction plan, with signatures from 64 local citizens. You can see what I wrote here. I included all the reasons my neighbours and I objected: loss of a treasured amenity; increased traffic and health risks from diesel lorries; threats to the local wildlife and river quality. But I also tried to present a challenge to the agenda of growth. Growth is what we now have to get rid of. What we need is de-growth - to shrink the amount of land and resources given over to development and switch to a circular, waste-free system, where we value materials as they should be and never throw them away. Where we change what we value away from things and accumulation and toward conservation and a genuine feeling of community which understands that some can’t have too much while others lose it all.
By the way, the current state of the submission is that the planning authority informed me it was not taking public comment on individual land submissions at this stage. This is because submission does not mean acceptance. The authority will be reviewing submissions and deciding upon which, if any, they would like to move forward on in Spring 2019, at which point the public will be invited to comment. To be informed of their decisions, you can register on the planning portal.
I’m writing this because I see others that, for one reason or another are going through the stage of wondering what to make of a diminished thing. Is the West declining? Where did enlightenment go? What will happen to the earth? And what is happening to me?Read More
Hackers at Cambridge, a university based Hackers Group, contacted Pivotal a few months ago to invite suggestions for their upcoming GreenHack event - a hackathon aimed at tackling issues around sustainability.
Through our work with Cambridge Carbon Footprint, I had recently met the amazing Chris Moller, an engineer, telecoms expert and organiser of many Repair Cafes, and we had had a great conversation about appliances - how more and more were being used for five years or less and then dumped in the landfill; a colossal waste of raw materials and energy. He had an idea about tracking appliance lifespans in order to inform buyers about whether the appliances they were thinking of purchasing were built to last - or built to waste.
I was delighted to be able to connect the Hackers to Chris, and the result was that one of the three challenges of the hack came directly out of his idea. I also pitched an idea about measuring energy usage in the city, and this helped the organisers zero in on another of their challenges, an active household energy monitor.
The GreenHack took place on 10 March 2018, and the results are spectacular. One of the top 5 winning projects developed a Chrome extension called LifeSpanner that informs potential buyers at point of sale about the potential lifespan of their product. You can be one of the first to test it out here: https://devpost.com/software/lifespanner
It was a great privilege to spend time with at the GreenHack, listening as the students debated and developed their ideas, and to be able to give them a short talk on our urgent need to get to a waste free circular economy as soon as we can.
Thanks to the Hackers!
10 ways tackling climate change is going to make your life better.Read More
Steve Waters joins Pivotal on the 8th December at Cambridge Junction with his monologue, In a Vulnerable Place, and in conversation with Dr David Sneath. Here Steve explains how that monologue came about and about the "wicked problem" of climate change -
Six years ago I wrote a duo of plays about climate change called ‘The Contingency Plan’ which debuted in the year the world met in Copenhagen to – as it turned out – fail to reach substantial agreement on reining in global carbon dioxide emissions. Now as COP 21 is convened in Paris to address that unfinished task, I’ve too returned to re-examine these questions in my show ‘In a vulnerable place’.
In the intervening time there’s been a raft of plays ‘about climate change’. I don’t especially like that phrase as it feels ludicrous, a bit like saying ‘this play is about capitalism’ or that play is ‘about life’. Climate change, however we talk about it, is far too complex and multifarious to be spoken about as if it were an issue. Perhaps that’s why it interests me; it’s what the philosophers call a ‘wicked problem’, defying definition and simple solution. It can’t be voted away or solved by decree. It is happening whoever sits in Westminster. It can be made a hell of a lot worse, of course – and George Osborne leads in that respect if in none other.
That’s one reason I’ve returned to it in this monologue. I realised my capacity to think about this new reality was waning. Playwrights are in some ways condemned to superficiality on the questions they engage with; nobody wants to be a one-trick pony banging on again and again about their pet concern. And yet I started to wonder whether there could be a more precise way of thinking about it which might merge activism and writing; whether it was time to look again at where we can detect this elusive reality in the lives and landscapes around us.
The new urgency comes from my sense of the rapidly worsening state of the natural world, a feeling compounded by a joint report by all the major UK wildlife charities, ‘State of Nature’, two years ago, which suggested even these sceptred isles are losing species at a terrifying rate. Then I met some anthropologists, such as David Sneath who were working on the experience of environmental change in this country and in madly exotic sounding locales: Alaska, Tibet, Mongolia. And I got embroiled in a controversy in one of our less well known national parks, the Broads in Norfolk. I found myself within a story, a story this time I didn’t feel required the veil of fiction – a story I wanted to talk to audiences about, in my own person.
I’m well aware a one-man show in Cambridge or anywhere else is hardly likely to make a dent on what takes place in Paris. Yet, as the Pivotal festival suggests, a network of artists and activists can create a kind of public space away from the heavily policed conference chambers where we can stare down this future that’s heading towards us and forge our own way forwards. In 2009 this felt like a lonely task – now there’s many more of us and whatever the politicians achieve, for me that’s a result.
Steve Waters, 2015
Last night poet Fay Roberts and Pivotal director Michelle Golder joined Pete Monaghan of Rebel Arts Radio at Cambridge 105 to preview every Pivotal event, including our takeover of the Rebel Arts slot which Fay will be DJing on the 7th of December, 9-10 pm. Pete played some awesome tracks from artists including Massive Attack, The Destroyers, Woody Guthrie, Agitators, Grace Petrie and more.
Catch the whole show on demand by clicking this link: https://www.mixcloud.com/RebelArtsRadio/rebel-arts-radio-301115-cambridge-pivotal-festival/. We hope you'll enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording it!
A few weeks ago, Pivotal team members Michelle Golder and Jane Monson joined actress Sochel Rogers (Futures for Sale at the Mill Road Winter Fair), speaker and gardener Charlotte Synge (Empty Common Community Garden Party) and speaker Chris Forman (Can ipods (and chairs and lampshades) grow on trees) at the studios of Cambridge's own TV station, Cambridge TV, to introduce the world to Pivotal.
See the whole clip on the Culture on demand page of the station here: http://www.cambridge-tv.co.uk//?s=pivotal
An interesting discussion on the question of divestment has been going on on the Cambridge 38 Degrees site (you may need to join to read).
As I recently connected with the CapGlobalCarbon organisers, who advocate a system of capping fossil fuel production at the source, charging a fee for production, and distributing the profits globally, I received this comment from Dr David Knight, an organiser for CapGlobalCarbon, who agreed to my posting it as a guest blog here.
The implications of Brent Crude at $43.6 for the Climate Movement
The price of Brent crude has fallen to its lowest level in the recession that followed the Credit Crunch, while the FSTE 350 Oil and Gas producers share Index has dropped about 25% in a year. These trends are already having a serious impact on the fossil fuel (and other extractive) industries, making investment in them increasingly risky.
The risk is compounded because:
The already shaky economic system may be close to collapse.
There are several important implications for the Climate Movement:
1. Low oil and gas prices reduce the impact on consumers of measures such as Cap & Dividend and carbon price mechanisms that increase the cost of fossil fuels. This makes the present a good time to introduce these measures.
2. The increasing riskiness of fossil fuel investments provides a strong financial argument for divesting and re-investing in renewables, energy conservation and energy storage.
3. It’s a good time to divest as it’s hitting the producers when they are down.
4. The interactive global eco- and financial systems are unstable and threatened with collapse. Schemes such as CapGlobalCarbon’s Cap & Dividend together with Divestment/Reinvestment might just help to bring about a transition to a stable, equitable, and less extractive future.
Naomi Klein is likely to agree with much of this.
Dr David Knight, CapGlobalCarbon http://www.capglobalcarbon.org/
In the aftermath of the British general election, where climate change and care of the environment more generally weren’t a priority for the major political parties, and certainly not for the new Conservative government, it feels crucial to keep awareness, debate and action high on the agenda.
Indeed, Klein's groundbreaking book makes light of the previous Conservative-led coalition being close to the oil and gas industries, which wish to promote their energy and single-minded economic agenda against any other system that might place people, communities and our living planet higher than GDP (gross domestic product). The core of the issue, Klein argues, is that capitalism is the problem; power, money and the efforts to preserve the hegemony of that power are preventing the urgent, necessary, all-species action on climate change. Carbon causes the specific problem of temperature and weather change, but it is the psychology driving those behind the means of procuring and using the carbon that needs tackling. And quickly.
For five years, I read and reviewed most of the books that came out on environmental themes. Some, like Fred Pearce’s Confessions of an Eco Sinner (2009) and Dancing at the Dead Sea by Alanna Mitchell (2005) are excellent in their style, factual analysis and presentation. Others might cause a small ripple, or none at all. It’s a big field of literature in its own right now, rightly so. What I took from that drip-feed diet was an observation of growing problems, and some case studies, but not such a rigorous dissection and arguing of the scale of the disaster that befalls humanity, as that presented here.
Every so often a book comes along that has its own force and depth of integrity and This Changes Everything has that power. Indeed, the New York Times described it as “almost unreviewable… the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring.” Rachel Carson’s book is credited with providing and presenting the data that led to the phasing out of DDT being used in agriculture and household gardens; could Klein’s book have a similar impact upon the climate change deniers and the businesses that most affect our planet?
Klein has been on a roller coaster of a journey with this book and acknowledges help from full-time assistants and researchers, as well as funding in order to travel, employ others and write. She was also trying to get pregnant during the research period and this personal narrative of hope, disappointment and then ultimately happiness weaves through it, grounding much of the ecological devastation and impact upon communities in some hope. However, it is tinged with some shocking statistics:
The introduction and first part of the book, Bad Timing, is a tough read. She visits conferences dedicated to climate change denial and unpicks the money trail given to the propaganda. Klein devotes a lot of space to Richard Branson and Bill Gates, exploring their Damascene conversion to finding a “solution” to climate change, and how this hasn’t halted or altered their business practices and expansions.
But I think it’s crucial to focus on the positive and highlight the optimism that Klein does weave through the latter part of the book, where she talks of some of the communities she has visited who are able to “build fleeting pockets of liberated space”, in terms of their “resistance to the economic system [that] creates the necessary friction to slow and brake.”
I met with a group of people who had come together through the Transition Cambridge Group to discuss This Changes Everything and asked them for their responses, how the discussions around the issues had gone, had anyone’s attitudes changed and how they were responding as a group and as individuals and members of other families, communities and networks, to the strong message for change and action.
“As a direct result of coming together to read and respond to the book, we’ve formed a group called ’Fossil-Free Cambridgeshire’, one member, a doctor, said: “We concluded the book before the winter holidays, then we reconvened and discussed where to go. We talked about doing an action and then thought about starting a group like this. The university has one, Positive Divestment Cambridge, but that’s specifically for the university. It isn’t about divestment, but about positive investment instead."
“We also decided to create another group, a support group or a leaders meeting, to discuss what was coming out of this and support each other. We formed around International global Divestment Day, made a banner and met and joined a demonstration."
We met on election night, 7 May, and the talk turned to arranging meetings with local ward councillors post-election, irrespective of their parties and any national political agendas, but to work on a local level with debate and discussion.
“I’m enthusiastic to do more, and reading the book and meeting within this group has reawakened the activist within me,” another member said. “From the outset, Klein spoke of the fears and struggles that confronted her, and that when she faced them, it showed her the reality [of the climate situation and the impact of business as usual]. We can have much better lives, and better communities, if we face some of these challenges and fears.”
This was a clear example of one of the “circular and reciprocal systems” Klein writes about, using resilience in a regenerative way to respond. Klein highlights many examples around the world where communities have come together, often from a very weak initially demoralised and socially awkward start, to create resistance and communality. Although politics belittles the people; as I write in late May the US Senate has voted 50-49 against the motion that humans are responsible for climate change, despite scientific evidence presented by NASA and other respected bodies to support the motion.
To conclude I’ll point the reader to both the book, and to the accompanying online materials and campaign, particularly the Beautiful Solutions part of the website, which highlights some opportunities “to chart a different course”.
The book needs to be read, and to be responded to, although I recommend seeking out, if not already being involved with, a community of those willing to engage with the issue, as the facts and figures Klein lays bare are a tough read, hard to digest and respond to alone.
May this book truly help to change everything, for the best we humans can achieve.
This review is by James Murray-White, Pivotal Organiser, writer and filmmaker, specialising in visual anthropology: exploring the world and what makes us tick. He has a background in theatre (as playwright and director, with a smidge of theatre in education), and also 5 years as an environmental journalist in the Middle East, where he wrote for www.greenprophet.com amongst others. Currently a content producer for Cambridge TV.
A version of this review was first published June 2015 in Contributoria - http://contributoria.com/
One thing that deciding to "turn and face" the issue of climate change has done for me is reveal the sheer number of groups, organisations and individuals involved in what has become a climate change industry of itself - websites, activist organisations, books, sustainable products, government departments, academic degrees, journals, arts organisations, food suppliers, caterers (even festivals!) - you name it, there's a body out there engaging with the issue.
And there's a lot of good news to be had. Jeremy Leggett's The Winning of the Carbon War is a particularly useful source to follow, as its feed captures news - good and bad, but of late much to be positive about - as it happens.
To take just one example, this is the headline for the post of 18 October, 2015: US government blocks Arctic exploration, Congressmen call for federal enquiry on Exxon’s climate change denial, 10 oil companies pledge to support Paris – not Exxon: Week 41, 2015.
This has prompted a thought - that whether you "believe" in climate change or not, whether you are willing to buy in to any of the proposed solutions, even whether the scientists' models turn out to be "true" - in one sense these no longer matter. One way or another, we all WILL be profoundly affected by climate change in our lifetimes. It might be through local, national or international legislation, or through economic impacts of actions taken by agencies who are convinced, or it might be (I think will be) through the actual impacts of climate change over the next century and beyond. And it might be all of the above.
For those in the most vulnerable areas of the earth, it almost certainly will be.
Whether we like it or not, our generation - that is, those of us alive now - are responsible for making the decisions that will impact on the planet for generations to come.
But how can we make those decisions? The problem is too gigantic, the solutions too diverse, unconnected, and untested.
I'd like to propose a first step. As individuals, and as a society, and ultimately, as a species, we have to rethink our values. We need to develop a set of principals - a kind of new ten commandments - by which we will manage our resources and live our lives. And at the top of that list, we need to put stewardship of the planet and all its diversity.
Every time a new decision is called for, whether on local transport, government contracts, or holiday plans, we need to think, how will this impact on our planet? How can we protect, nurture and restore its natural balance?
Some people will think this is arrogant. Who are we, puny humans, to put ourselves in the position of protectors of the entire globe? I'm reminded of my days as a young mum, looking after my son at the co-operatively run Playcentre in Wellington, NZ. I noticed that some mums didn't take action when kids not their own did something unsafe or uncivilised. I mentioned it at a meeting.
"I wasn't comfortable taking the responsiblity for telling off another person's child," another mum said.
"Well, you're the one that's here," I replied. "For now, it's your job."
This post by Michelle Golder
Pivotal began when environmental scientist Peter Daldorph loaned me his copy of Gwynne Dyer's 2008 book, Climate Wars. I think he felt bad about it afterward. The book had upset him, and it upset me too. It's a work of speculation, by a well-respected military historian and journalist, based on both the science, and interviews with world military and political leaders.
In a style as gripping as any spy novel, Dyer presents a number of possible future scenarios - and all but one are ghastly to contemplate. Unfortunately, the one that isn't - the one where the world's leaders, right now, agree that the threat is imminent and we must take immediate action to drastically reduce carbon emissions - is the one he also thinks is the least likely. There just isn't the will, the economic implications are too dire, we all have to agree, and so on, and so forth, to the end of the world, amen.
To a person like me, who lives almost entirely in a world of imagination, the book created a very vivid and unforgettable picture. But it didn't, for me, lead to further action - it just made me depressed. I'm a nature lover, and a humanist, I recycle, buy organic, and take the bus if possible, but what more substantive action could I take? The book's focus was very much on world leadership as the solution to the problem. And this was before the sweeping Jeremy Corbyn Labour leadership victory here in the UK (at this writing it is one day post that victory). Democracy really wasn't seeming up to the task.
"If you think Dyer's bad," Peter said, "you should read Naomi Klein." But it turned out that Naomi Klein was "bad" in an entirely different way. Klein too starts from the position that climate change is happening and must be stopped or slowed or we face dire consequences for the planet and for humanity. But she makes a compelling argument as to why the world's worst offenders have failed to act, linking it to the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, globalisation and free trade, and pointing out that it is those same policies which have led to increased global and internal inequality.
For me, this put the whole question in a new light. Now, I saw,"winning" the battle against carbon was not necessarily going to result in a depressed and depressing world in which the middle and working classes would suffer the most and the growing economies of the developing world would be stopped in their tracks. Winning this battle could also mean winning a battle against inequality. It could, eventually, mean a better life and a better world for nearly everyone (at least those for whom it's not already too late. I'm thinking of the polar bears now). And this was a world I could imagine without pain. Indeed, it was - potentially - beautiful.
But not everyone is going to want to read a radical book by Naomi Klein.
So what could I, a sometime scriptwriter and filmmaker, without any following or funding, without any skills in permaculture, or organic farming, or politics, or anything much except in creating events, and those mostly for the sake of pure entertainment, what could I, and my friend Peter, do to get that positive vision across and make it real? To help ourselves and others turn and face the changes that are coming, one way or another, in a positive way?
This Post is by Michelle Golder