When #ClimateScam is Trending –rethinking climate comms

Text of speech delivered at COP27, Nov 9th 2022, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, by Prof Jem Bendell. Check against delivery.

“We have a communications problem. Just as political support for climate action is growing, so political resistance to climate action is also growing. The use of the hashtag #ClimateScam has exploded since July of this year. From never exceeding more than 3,000 tweets in any month up to June 2022, it has been used 70,000-100,000 times per month in the four months since. Compare that to the hashtag #ClimateJustice, which has averaged about 30,000 tweets per month for the last two years and almost hit 100,000 unique tweets in the month of COP26 in Glasgow, with all the world’s media attention. But now? #ClimateScam is being used two and a half times for every #ClimateJustice tweet throughout the last 4 months. These twitter trends are one indicator of a growing resistance to climate action.

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4 years ago: “climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity”

4 years ago today, I gave a keynote speech at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Soon after, a section of the talk was featured by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion (before they became famous).

Here is a transcript of a section of that speech:

“The Sustainable Development Goals offer one framework on public need. And we will hear of a range of efforts on different SDGs from our panellists. But I’d like to invite us to consider something bolder, more urgent. Although climate change is included in the SDGs, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change invites a reprioritisation. It implies that climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity. The artist who made this ceiling said he was inspired by a mirage in the Sahel where trees, donkeys and people all appeared to be melting up into the sky. We could take that a dramatic metaphor, in this human rights room, of the human face of climate change. So as our climate spirals away from one friendly to our civilisation, we need to face up to why we have been so incapable of changing our ways, collectively, at scale.

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I’m not going to be joyful about collapse, but…

To me, ‘resilience’ in the face of climate chaos involves more than a garden, neighbours, and stories of guiltlessness. That means…

I’m not going to be joyful about collapse.

I’m not going to prioritise my survival.

I’m not going to give up on challenging abuses of power that harm people and nature.

Continue reading “I’m not going to be joyful about collapse, but…”

Boring Averages and Climate Brightsiding – big mistakes in climate comms during #ClimateWeek

Do you know what the world’s average temperature was in preindustrial times? In absolute terms? If not, how does hearing of the subsequent 1.3C degrees of global warming make you feel? You have nothing to compare it with. We experience and talk about daily and seasonal highs and lows. Yet with climate we are asked to talk about incomparable averages of 1.5C or 2C degrees. People relate that to an existing cognitive frame of “warmth” which has dominated understandings of climate chaos. That is why people can say things like “I don’t believe in destroying the economy to stop just 1.5C of warming” and it make intuitive sense to others, despite being empirical nonsense. Even the people who work on these subjects can get completely confused and end up publishing extreme silliness such as a “best guess” that crops grown in Europe might cope with 15C of average global warming (making the average like the current Western Sahara – not known for its agriculture).

I write about this ‘average stupidity’ in a two-part essay on the biggest mistakes in climate communications. It is also where I provide the basic information on pre-industrial temperatures and suggest different ways to communicate about it.

Continue reading “Boring Averages and Climate Brightsiding – big mistakes in climate comms during #ClimateWeek”

Where Wisdom and Geoengineering Meet

More climate scientists say emissions cuts are not enough and we face imminent catastrophe unless deliberately altering the climate. What are the options and challenges? I interviewed Dr Ye Tao who is proposing we use massive amounts of mirrors to reduce harm in the short term.

By Jem Bendell

In 2018, Dr Ye Tao was a Harvard engineer working on nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging. He read the Deep Adaptation paper on climate disaster, then cross-checked it with over a thousand peer-reviewed papers across several climate-relevant fields, and realised the growing existential risk to modern civilisation. So that included everything he was working on. He wondered what would be the point of continuing with his engineering work in such a scenario. Instead, Dr Tao decided to repurpose his expertise to try to give humanity a better chance of reducing the catastrophe ahead. Dr Tao has since been developing and promoting what he argues is a scalable, safe, green and flexible form of climate engineering. It proposes using mirrors to reflect the sun, mostly from the ground and over coral reefs at sea, to cool agricultural land, save fresh water, and preserve ecosystems. He arrived at this idea after analysing and debunking the science and economics behind other approaches to geoengineering (which is also known today as ‘climate repair’ and ‘climate restoration’). 

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Hoarding Green Righteousness Will Not Get Us Far – dialogue will

Looking at how some people in the West use the term ‘climate justice,’ I wonder if we are seeing the latest in middle class Western instrumentalization of the suffering and injustices of the world, for the purposes of further self-appreciation. That can occur because of the way commentators within the contemporary Western environmental movement have been inculcated in the hierarchical ideology of the Professional Managerial Class. Within that ideology, there is an instinct towards what Professor Catherine Liu calls ‘virtue hoarding’ where any issue of moral consideration is material for adding to one’s story of being an ethically superior self, who needs to impose one’s ideas on other people, particularly the working class. As decolonial scholar Professor Vanessa Andreotti explained in her Q&A with me, there is a lot more ‘composting of our shit’ from modernity that we need to do first before being useful in promoting either justice or healing after centuries of colonial domination.

Perhaps an example of this phenomenon is the discussion emerging around a rather ‘uppity’ damning of the Deep Adaptation movement that was published in The Ecologist Magazine. In an open letter by one of the authors on the receiving end of their ire, Matthew Slater wrote the following to the author:

Continue reading “Hoarding Green Righteousness Will Not Get Us Far – dialogue will”

A Positive Song in a World Gone Silly

During the pandemic many people appear to have had their capabilities for logic and ethics vaporised in the heat of fear and the distortions of reality from elite interests.  Consequently, from a serious public health perspective, the conversations about the pandemic are mostly silly. That does not mean there are really serious and damaging outcomes for individuals and societies. Millions of lives were lost and many might have been saved with smarter actions and more free flowing information. Now millions more lives are being risked due to the impacts of policies on supply chains and the cascading impacts on the poor worldwide. But given how much misinformed piety and pseudo professionalism is on show, it can be helpful at times to simply laugh at the orthodoxy on the pandemic. Here are some examples. 

Medical officials ignoring early outpatient treatment from their frontline colleagues? Arrogantly silly. 

Bigtech firms suppressing such information that might save lives? Ruthlessly silly. 

Continue reading “A Positive Song in a World Gone Silly”

Has asymptomatic transmission been key to this pandemic and if not, so what?

Has asymptomatic transmission of the virus been significant to this pandemic? The published research I have read indicates that asymptomatic transmission is not significant to the reproduction rate of the Covid virus and therefore not key to the pandemic.

Why does that matter? If not enough of us can get Covid from infected people with no symptoms to significantly affect the reproduction rate of the virus, then the orthodox policy agenda does not make sense. I’ll explain more about why in a moment. But first, some context.

It feels odd, personally risky, and somewhat reckless for me to write a blog on epidemiology. What a weird situation has arisen in society so that sharing tentative analysis on public challenges involves such intense emotions and potential consequences for relationships with friends, colleagues and even future employment or income. That is a situation which I do not want to acquiesce to, as open dialogue on public issues is an aspect of contemporary society that I value deeply.  

Continue reading “Has asymptomatic transmission been key to this pandemic and if not, so what?”

Uniting in Love and Rage against Corporate Power

If you think things in society are going wrong, how does that make you feel? Sad? In some situations, might you feel some rage?

It is natural to feel angry about a bad situation. The issue is then what we do about it. Our culture tends to denigrate anger in ways that mean we do not have a healthy discussion or understanding of the difference between a positive anger and a destructive anger. Anger suppressed can lead to a destructive anger which manifests as aggressions towards people. However, there can also be a righteous anger which is a natural and important response to unnecessary harm and injustice. Such an anger can remain connected to our sense of love for creation and each other. But it needs to flow somewhere…

When you feel righteous anger about a situation, what do you do next? 

Continue reading “Uniting in Love and Rage against Corporate Power”

Act Now BECAUSE It’s Too Late – XR founder member invites us men to join

This weekend, the environmental action group Extinction Rebellion launches its latest wave of protests seeking to make responding to climate chaos the organising principle of all political parties and governments. In response to the latest IPCC report, which began to catch up with the perspectives of XR and the Deep Adaptation movement, XR reasserts its view that we are already within an unfolding disaster and must act to reduce harm, save what we can, and uphold our values in the process.

“Act now because it’s too late,” is also the message I conveyed in the XR handbook. It is too late for reform, for delay, or for pretending we can fix our environmental predicament – but it will never be too late to do the right thing. I even attempted a poem about it – “thank God it’s too late”!

Skeena Rathor is a founding member of XR and a governance member of the Deep Adaptation Forum. She introduced my opening speech at the launch of the international rebellion two years ago. Her courage in saying what needs to be heard and calling us to be our higher selves is immense. Perhaps that is why she featured in this recent music video on Chamunda. I am pleased to share on my blog her invitation to men to join the peaceful rebellion that starts this weekend in the UK. In this letter she conveys the emotions that move her and others to defend Life.

Dearest Brothers

This letter is a plea and comes from a dream that I had over summer solstice. 

But who am I and why and how could this request possibly be part of what is yours to do in this moment? 

The main ask is in bold below.

My name is Skeena.  Skeena Rathor….I’m brown skinned…..My family is from Kashmir – the place of the oldest running conflict registered on the UN agenda… I was born and raised here in the UK…..where the streets of our London council estate were also not safe for a brown child.  Still, safety wise it was easier for my parents.    

I am the Co Founder of Extinction Rebellion’s Guardianship and Visioning Circle which in speaking to you remotely and without real invitation feels like a tricky admission.  I think we’ve done some great things and I think we and I made some mistakes. 

And here we are three years later and the world is burning just as we imagined it would.  Species are dying at an accelerated rate just as we imagined they would.  

Brown and black children are mainly the casualties of our genocidal and ecocidal economics, more and more so every day and this is still only in our imaginations and may not touch us because deep down weve been told the black and brown children are worth less than the white. 

But then more than 4 million children in the UK are hungry… and how many are poisoned through the airs, soils and waters?…..our children are also in a mental health crisis, an addiction crisis and a powerlessness and manipulation crisis. 

I’m a mother of 3 girls.  Maybe you’re not in a relationship with children.  It doesn’t matter. I know you carry the mothering principle and instinct like all living beings do and just as much as I do…because like me you are here to create, nurture and protect.  

But then ok….I hear you…. There’s so much other crisis in your own lives, in the lives of your beloveds.

AND as men….. I think you have suffered a devastating severing from one another and an imprisoning of real self.  Its been different from the pain of women but just as real.

From the moment you were born the world responded to your cries less than they did the cry of girls – fact – and then you were told you weren’t allowed to mourn your losses and cry too passionately…. not allowed to express your rage for fear of scaring people…. not allowed to be too close to your brothers or sisters for fear of wrongness …..not allowed to be equally important to your children because apparently your not as important for the children…. not allowed to rest for too long, not allowed to play too hard, not allowed to love wildly….. not allowed not allowed – you’ve been DISALLOWED. 

Only recently, from my dear brother Ianto Doyle, I learnt the word misandry.  How embarrassing as a Liberation campaigner…. I had no idea.  I’m sorry …. so sorry because I think when sometimes we sisters talk about patriarchy we make you wrong.  More disallowing,  

So I see that your beauty, your strength, your vulnerability and your tenderness is in a stranglehold just as mine has been.

How do we come back together?…. What is it that we need to do together?…  Be together?…. Feel together?  What would you do?

For now, I had this dream –  

To open this Rebellion,  

on Sunday the 22nd August at 5pm,  

As an OPENING CEREMONY of direct nonviolent action……together with my sisters of colours and cultures with our men in their fierce care and protection of us.

There will be three tributaries – the women (FINT – female, intersex, non binary and trans) , the men and the more than human reps, all arriving from different directions. 

We are going to the heart of the violent system to make a stand and say stop the harm and heal the harm.  We are describing it as a Co Liberation action – being in the body of my freedom as your freedom and your freedom as mine. 

I want to ask you to stand in front of us…. as men connected in one unbroken line ….and turn around together, in each other’s arms, reunited to face the truth of this system.   

I want you to protect me and my sisters from what will come towards us, just for a moment and only until you need to.

I want the whole human family in its diversity to stand together – to create a picture of the reconciliation of the human family in the web of life, a picture of deep solidarity and kinship… and so much more than this, more than a picture…. an experience… for all of us…. of a family undivided, in FIERCE LOVE.    

Outside you, holding you, will be mixed rebels and then the Co Founders of XR and Black men as the least arrestable, outside them will be representatives of the more than human – the great web of life.  

Together we will look like an amphitheatre of life protecting life.   

I wonder what you need to stand with us and for us?

I can only face tomorrow if you can face it with me.  Otherwise its too much.  

Theres a vast ocean of crises aren’t there?  Its hard to know which one to turn towards, which one to face….  

But this is where I am calling you all in…..im calling you into facing some crisis with me….because 

Mostly…. I see us still trying to turn away from all of it….facing none of it…..  I’m scared, that because we have our backs turned away… we can’t really see what’s coming…..  

With our backs turned ….we are even more vulnerable and fragile…..and we are already more broken, more disconnected, more disembodied, more dislocated….than we have ever been before….eons of traumas have come home to roost in our bodies, in our lifetime….so we turn away…. 

And who has our backs if we are all facing the other way?  Who has your back?  Who has my back?  

I mean real back.  In full physical presence.  From metaphor to real life…..  I want to get real with you….for us to feel something real together….our power…our freedom…our interdependence…our belonging to one another….in real time….in full life force.

We need each other so very much.  With our love in action.

My privilege and your privilege costs lives every day…..every day life dies because of the systems we are locked into….we are part of the machinery of death and destruction.

Most days, I wake up with this despairing guilt sickness in my stomach, knots of helplessness and anguish…. and then often I hit what feels like a rip tide of grief…. in hearing my children’s voices and thinking about THE Children ….. there is some escape and I can get upright….in being with beloveds there is some more escape….enough to lift me into my resistance….  in the day my resistance includes joy, dance and laughter but I often go to bed with the same sickness.  I wonder how your grief and rage is for you.  

I know I’m not alone in this pain. I know you know so much of this pain.  I know as men you carry a version of my pain.  I don’t really know what your version feels like for you.  

I want to attempt a mass recovery WITH you.  I want to embark on a journey of epic restoration WITH you.  I know…… we need to hear more about what it is you need and dream of. 

I want us to begin something on the 22nd August. 2021, the anniversary of the Haitain Revolution of 1804, the only successful revolt of black slaves.

Please will you start something with me, by protecting us.

We do this in protection of all of us…..especially the children – the children of all species, our children, my children, your children.

With fierce love and prayers for your power and mine to rise and face what is here.

xSkeenax

Skeena Rathor

XRUK Co Founder Guardianship and Visioning