You know that uncomfortable, jarring feeling you get.
When your body experiences one thing, but your eyes see another?
It’s known in the psychologist trade as cognitive dissonance – when beliefs are contradicted by information.
When it happens our brains get very uncomfortable and have three options – change our beliefs (hard), change our actions (quite hard), change our perception of our actions (easiest).
Well this has been the experience of being on the environmental campaigning beat in Manchester this week.
Extreme cognitive dissonance – as the city revealed we’re way off our carbon targets, rose up to declare a climate emergency – and it all went completely ignored.
It could have been so different – a momentous, landmark, ground-breaking week.
It started with Monday’s revelation at the Manchester Climate Agency’s annual ‘conference’ that the city had only managed 2.5% of our pledged 13% year on year carbon reductions .
So – not only is 13% a year not enough (because it is tied to a 2038 date that is far later than climate campaigners in the city believe it needs to be to avoid catastrophic warming and nature loss) – we didn’t even manage to chop a sixth of that figure. And we also now need to hit 15% in 2019 and 2020 as a result.
Furthermore, almost all the reductions managed in previous years -were the result of the national decision to withdraw from coal (clearly a good move but not the result of any great change on the ground here and a change that will no longer provide any cuts – we now have to start doing that ourselves).
So – what this report showed, was that the city- it’s businesses, its politicians, its communities, its policy makers and its media are ‘carrying on regardless’, and that has to change.
Cognitive dissonance #1 – MCCA annual ‘conference’
One might have assumed that this devastating ‘2.5% fact’ would be the central premise of the meeting; heralding crisis talks, a ‘stop everything and sort it out’ tone, using the 200 odd attendees’ combined knowledge to form an emergency ‘hive mind’ brainstorm to create a plan for changing it up, especially ahead of the ‘climate emergency’ motion coming to the floor at Wednesday’s city council.
But no – speaker Jonny Sadler’s 10-minute speech was clear and unemotional and followed by a smooth-talking presenter who offered no time for questions, and instead urged us all to go and mingle and ‘find out what you can do as individuals – go on challenge yourselves to think of things you haven’t before!’.
It seemed a staggering miss-step – this damning revelation of collective failure on a massive scale (barely a dent in the cuts we need to make) – followed by no questions, no discussion and just an invitation to find out about recycling, vegetarian recipes or carbon literacy training.
All highly required of course.
But completely missing the point – that action of the scale required is not going to come about through tiny events like this asking 200 people to make individual action, well-meaning as they are. Especially when most people were already engaged and in a position to offer more about how to solve the problem of individual inaction, that addressing their own inaction (key difference).
The cognitive dissonance was so jarring and loud that I actually began to question I had heard correctly, as I watched people wandering cheerily round with wine in hand, I thought ‘shit, did I hear that wrong?’.
I got chatting to an executive council member and cross checked my facts – had they clocked this 2.5% figure? No they definitely hadn’t – so off we trotted to find Jonny Sadler – who confirmed that yes – the figure was 2.5%.
My jaw metaphorically dropped.
The whole tone of the event was so at odds with what it revealed about the state of play – that the key facts had completely passed many people by.
When I privately questioned organisers about this utterly peculiar mismatch, the answer seemed to be that the event was aimed at ‘individual citizens who don’t know as much as you’.
The justification was; ‘the 80% (ie city residents) aren’t making any cuts and that has to change’ – by which was meant, the event was aimed not at those organisations responsible for the 20% (the ten top polluters which includes universities, NHS) – who the MCCA clearly believe they have won round – even though no real emissions cuts have actually been forthcoming ….
…No, the plan seemed to attempt to get the message to individual residents, one at a time.
And as if telling them they need to change was going to be enough anyway (all behaviour change studies show it isn’t).
This seemed a completely bizarre strategy – for a once-a-year event with no funds to carry this out this public engagement to think that a small one-off conference had a role in tackling this problem in this way.
So an event that could have been about convening the ‘great and the good’ (with whom the MCCA has worked hard to establish a credible reputation that could have been put to far more effective use); about gaining front page news ahead of the required emergency; about using this ‘2.5% fail’ as a spur to create a coalition of action across public, private, academic; to acknowledge that current approaches were not working – including at the agency itself; to brainstorm ideas for ways to spur the action – and find the money – that’s clearly needed…
…instead decided to simply ask 200 people to make personal change and make personal connections (valid moves in themselves, but an entirely inadequate response in the circumstances).
As a result the message was lost, including any potential for media coverage (no outlet other than myself and Manchester Climate Monthly has reported this 2.5% fact, an really sad indictment of our regional media (see later for more on this) but I’m sure in no small part down to the MCCA’s own strange communications approach. Did they even send a press release? Did they adopt the required tone of alarm? Did they use their report to gain coverage? It seems no, they held a networking event).
I’m a newcomer to the campaigning scene in Manchester and have entered it with, hopefully humble, beginners’ eyes, not assuming I have any answers just a willingness to learn and time to give.
But this event made me quite angry.
Because as the saying goes, if you stop being part of the solution for long enough, you become part of the problem.
There are crumbs of hope – the event opened with hard-working chair Gavin Elliott standing down; perhaps this an acknowledgement that a new approach and fresh energy is now required, and perhaps his impending departure caused Monday’s rudderless affair. I do know the agency is looking at it’s remit and considering where next.
As it turned out – this event was simply the start of a week of cognitive discomfort, not to say disbelief.
Cognitive Dissonance #2
09.45 Wednesday. Town Hall portico, Manchester city centre.
About 50 or so campaigners gather at the front entrance of the town hall extension ready to attend the Climate Emergency vote being proposed by councillors Annette Wright and Eve Holt.
Chorlton councillor Holt had started working on the motion back in January – but was dropped swiftly when it seemed there was lack of support inside the Labour party (aka the council, given Labour’s 93-3 majority over Lib Dems).
In June we heard that it had been revived, and a campaign began, neatly corralled by Climate Emergency Manchester who’ve gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for the emergency, for people to contact their councillors to urge them to support it, and to push for key elements to be added to the motion.
(It does not pass me by that ‘ruler’ Richard Leese is one of the new motion’s signatories – I can’t help be curious at what prompted his decision to back and whether it changed the tune of those who previously didn’t, and wonder what it was that persuaded him to do so…..prize for best guess!)
We troop up to floor 3 and the public gallery – noting there’s a security guard asking for ID on the door to floor 2’s press gallery and access to the chamber.
The agenda has been re-arranged so the motion is heard at the top of the meeting, which seems a suitable approach for An Emergency.
Wright and Holt make brilliant, impassioned speeches met with standing ovations from the benches and galleries, Mandie Shilton Godwin makes a crucial interjection from the floor spelling out what councillors will need to do, and Lib Dem’s young councillor Richard Kirkpatrick chips in with an amendment that is accepted without demure (unheard of!) to pull the carbon-zero target date back to 2030, and add a provision for the council to push the GM Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuel.
On the floor of the chamber are 40 or so school children, some littlies and some teens, standing with banners and placards which they hold facing the councillors in a ‘horseshoe of hope’.
‘Our Future in Your Hands’
‘Join the Pollution Solution!’
‘Please Reduce Co2’.
Youth MP Ishaa Asim and another pupil are invited to the podium to address the council with powerful words.
The energy in the huge room – already hot when we arrived – is electric and the public in the ceiling gallery are sweating and breathless with excitement … (and an over-enthusiastic thermostat).
There are no objections. There is no point-scoring.There are only 96 democratically elected people doing their duty and doing it well.
The motion is carried and we applaud and we whistle and I have a lump in my throat.
In here, for this half an hour, the world IS reacting to the facts in a way those facts merit, we ARE going to do this!
I leave the chamber and pause to write a post on Facebook and Twitter.
I check the @mancitycouncil feed – nothing. Oh perhaps they’re outside with councillors and pupils getting photos? Coz I assume the council have briefed them and teed up some coverage of this historic day?
I check the Manchester Evening News Twitter feed – nothing. Strange? I think – as I added the Newsdesk to my tweets. How easy is a simple retweet?
But by 3pm – four hours after ‘The Emergency’ was declared – still seemingly nothing on any media outlet – or the council’s own channels.
Our Manchester media, it seems, have not quite cottoned on to what ‘Emergency’ means.
So reality dawns – the council’s own press office has failed to cover it’s own Emergency – there is no press release, no imagery, no quotes, no clarification of what the motion means.
For instance – councillor’s Kirkpatrick’s amendment seemingly means that the city is now committed to 2030 not 2038 and seems a hugely significant point – but it is a not even recorded anywhere officially.
What’s the saying – if no-one sees it – has it happened?
This is what I feel like as I sit at home wondering whether I dreamt the whole episode.
I pick up my phone and call the MEN newsdesk.
I get a call back from a journalist who is apparently writing up the story by reviewing the live feed of the meeting.
I give her background, I give her some quotes. I send her photos. I send her a video of the crowd cheering the motion being passed (which has had nearly 2,000 views simply from being shared from my own lowly Facebook page).
No story ever appears.
I’ve no doubt the council’s lack of action has not helped.
I send an email to the council’s Head of Communications.
I haven’t had a reply by the time of writing this, not that I expected one in that time given that I’d asked a number of questions.
But magically, two full days after ‘the Emergency’, a piece appears on the council’s website (somewhat misleadingly badged with the date Wednesday 10th which may be when it was written but most certainly wasn’t when it was published, and I know because I’d checked multiple times in the previous 48 hours).
I’m so upset that the only places this event – an Emergency ! – seem to have been recorded at the time are on personal social media and campaign accounts and websites (eg Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth).
Councillor Holt manages to get hold of the speeches, edit them herself so she and councillor Wright can publish on a personal YouTube page – the only mildly curated record of their epic calls to action.
Clearly, our climate and environmental crisis requires huge change – and such change can only come about with an engaged and active media. Yet the media outlets in Manchester seem to be virtually ignoring this agenda.
This communication and content failure is a matter of huge concern that any self respecting media professional in the city – wherever they work – cannot let continue.
Cognitive dissonance #3
The day continues with further evidence of how big this gap is.
Late afternoon, I hear word following Manchester’s declaration, that Bury council are set to do the same that evening.
Emma Greenwood, young climate campaigner and youth MP for Bury, a few days earlier part of a climate delegation in London to meet political leaders including Jeremy Corbyn, is one of those travelling expectantly to the council meeting to hear the motion heard.
I tune in via the council’s website stream, hoping for a similar approach to Manchester where the Emergency was given top billing.
Sadly for the future of the world! – it was not. After more than two hours of cheap point-scoring, petty squabbling including an attack on the new leader, former policeman Dave Jones, and self-aggrandising procedural trivia – the council turn to the final matter of the evening – the Declaration of a Climate Emergency and associated measures.
It is approved, and a perfunctory piece appears in the local paper, with nothing again in the MEN.
Our young Greenwood posts a fun snapchat-style update on her Facebook page – where Bethanie Mortenson who proposed the motion leaves a message to say: ‘It’s a shame that there wasn’t enough time for a proper discussion’.
Er – quite.
I later hear that Oldham also took a supposedly huge step towards a cleaner greener future that very same evening, with the passing of their version of ‘a Green New Deal’ and a ‘commitment to power all their own buildings and street lights from renewable sources by 2025’.
It seems fantastic news – but I can find nothing on any media channels (such as the Oldham Chronicle) about this – save a link to the 20+ page report.
So yet again, matters of huge regional import have gone completely unreported – and therefore largely unknown.
A week that could have been about our collective climate challenge here in Greater Manchester; about three of the 10 boroughs (joining Trafford) Declaring an Emergency; about a step change in the region’s attitude to what is happening about our climate crisis – was instead met with the usual diet of traffic accidents, court cases, crime & celebrity spats.
Is it any wonder our 2.7m residents in Greater Manchester are largely unaware of the challenges coming their way?
The changes they’re going to have to make? (read my analysis here).
How deeply disappointing that these attempts to give our citizens their cue, to let let everyone know now is the time to up our game – went almost entirely ignored – when it is our job, nay our duty, to carry the alarm when it is sounded, and to keep sounding it until the crisis has been averted.
This failing is an associated crisis that has been years in the making, as the heart has been hollowed out of local reporting, bought up by big media giants who want clickbait and video ads, not a commitment to democratic accountability, telling the community what it needs to know, providing true public service.
It’s simply not there, right when we need it most.
Shame on us.
I for one will do all I can to fill this gap.