NARRATIVES: What kind of story is climate change?

imagesA key element in our books and arts pages is the search for a narrative in which the Transition drivers of climate change and energy depletion find their creative expression. Scientists can give us the data, but they cannot tell us how to live or how to respond to the ecological and social crises we face. We need a new cultural storyline to help us navigate a challenging and leaner future. Here storyteller and writer Nick Hunt looks at some of those responses in his review of  Culture and Climate Change: Narratives ed. Joe Smith, Renata Tyszczuk and Robert Butler (Shed, Cambridge)

If the six essays, eleven stories and one conversation in this book agree upon one thing, it’s that telling people the facts about climate change – deluging them in statistics in the hope it will change their behaviour, or translate into political action – stopped working long ago. Culture and Climate Change: Narratives is a welcome attempt to think beyond the ‘hurling facts’ approach to the problem, bringing together writers, artists, academics and theatre-makers to investigate the role of stories in responding to the crisis.

But, as the book’s introduction asks, what sort of story is climate change? “Climate change is too here, too there, too everywhere, too weird, too much, too big, too everything,” writes Renata Tyszczuk in an essay entitled ‘Cautionary Tales: The Sky is Falling! The World is Ending!’. “Climate change is not a story that can be told in itself, but rather, it is now the condition for any story that might be told about… our inhabitation of this fractious planet.”

Climate change is… too everywhere, too weird, too much, too big, too everything

“Stories about climate change don’t need to be about climate change,” says Intelligent Life’s Robert Butler. In Voltaire’s Candide, he points out, the devastating Lisbon earthquake is not the principal theme of the book but the apocalyptic backdrop to the characters’ ordinary lives: ‘…the sailor goes looting, Candide goes begging, and Pangloss delivers a lecture on optimism. Voltaire’s interest lies in the human reactions that follow on from the earthquake.’

A natural disaster, Butler says, is not a story in itself. George Marshall later notes that climate change is problematic as a dramatic subject: “It contains no heroes, no villains, no enemies, no victims, no motive, no clear beginning or end, no pivotal event, no climax, no catharsis, no denouement – other than the ones we choose to project onto it.” How, then, do we tell engaging stories about it?

Bradon Smith, in his excellent analysis of recent climate change fiction (including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Will Self’s The Book of Dave and Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods) hints at an answer in viewing climate change in terms of “the many interconnected forms of loss that it will bring about – of loved ones and family, of other species, of beauty, of humanity, of culture.”

DSC_0387But the book really comes alive in the ‘In Conversation’ chapter, which brings together author Caspar Henderson, theatre-maker Zoë Svendsen, poet Nick Drake and the London College of Fashion’s Kate Fletcher in a panel discussion chaired by the OU’s Joe Smith. Each describes the personal stories that have sustained their work, the narratives bringing them to this point in their understanding of climate change; the conversation asks more questions than it answers, but the willingness to investigate new approaches where others have failed makes this the most honest and urgent part of the book.

At the end of his essay, Bradon Smith returns to the closing words of The Road: a vision of trout whose backs are patterned with ‘maps of the world in its becoming.’ “In the maps and mazes on the brook trout are revealed two paths,” writes Smith, “one a way out of this mess, and one that takes us further in.” Culture and Climate Change: Narratives contains possible keys to those maps. Whether we head further in, or out, depends on what stories we tell next.

Nick Hunt is a writer, storyteller and co-editor of Dark Mountain. His first book, Walking the Woods and the Water, was published earlier this year. nickhuntscrutiny.com

Image: Arctic terns on the wire: Cape Farewell’s Bird Yarns project with artist, Deirdre Nelson. An Tobar gallery and community knitters in Tobermory, Isle of Mull  (Photo: Sarah Darling)

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WASTE: Rubbish resolutions

Big Bin Landscape Love Few WordsIn TFP5 we featured social enterprise The Rubbish Diet  and the witty and effective ways it invites people to ‘slim their bins’ at both household and community levels. Here Bin Doctor Katy Anderson writes about the Diet and how you can Learn to Love Your Bin as a New Year’s Resolution.

 Sometimes we make New Year’s resolutions that we don’t keep.  The key, psychologists tell us, is to make the resolution simple, with stepped rewards along the way until the goal is reached…Luckily The Rubbish Diet challenge is a perfectly-packaged resolution in-waiting!  

 The Rubbish Diet started as a blog by Karen Cannard when she took her Council’s Zero Waste Challenge.   She slimmed her bin from a full-to-the-brim wheelie bin to just a plaster over eight weeks.  She was so amazed at how much influence a family like hers had to control their waste, that she carried on blogging and sharing her discoveries. 

In 2013, she teamed up with social enterprise Cwm Harry to develop a Diet that would help people slim their bins and also provide a toolkit for people to spread the waste reduction message in their communities. The Rubbish Diet invites you to change the way you live and make a positive difference to the world around you with a simple two-step process of tailored emails with top tips that help you recycle more, shop better and save money.

People have taken the Rubbish Diet across the country, taking it on-line, with their street or in their group.  Jackie and Howard from Shrewsbury took the Diet with their street, meeting to talk rubbish with their neighbours over tea and cake.  They now have slim bins, run clothes swaps and share trips to the recycling centre.  Poulomi and Sarah from Harrow, have started running Restart parties where people come together to repair electronics.

the change is permanent

 On average people slim their bins by 40% and the change is permanent.  Slimming their bin saves people money as they reduce food waste and start reusing more.  And it has obvious benefits for the environment – food waste alone in the UK is the equivalent of one in four cars on our roads in terms of carbon emissions.  

Across the UK, huge amounts of recyclable materials are being lost to landfill.  In West London, 67% of the waste sent to landfill could have been recycled.  It goes to landfill by train.  The waste train is one-third of a mile long, taking 1,000 tonnes of “rubbish”, six days a week, see our video here.  1,000,000 recyclable bottles a week go to landfill every week on the train, when they could have been made into new bottles and been back on the supermarket shelves in just 3 weeks.

 Taking a close look at what we throw away has a real impact on our lifestyles.   As Dieter Sarah from Harrow explains,:

I thought I was good at recycling, but The Rubbish Diet Challenge has really made a big impact on how I view, well, everything in fact.  It’s really changed my life. It made me think about the make do and mend culture that everyone had back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I am much more careful about what I buy, and I reuse and mend much more than I used to. 

 Vitally, people enjoy taking the Diet.  It’s light-hearted and easy to do, and leads to unexpected pleasures.  Simon from Shrewsbury who shrank his overflowing wheelie bin by two thirds said:

I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved. The whole family is loving our weekly trip to the market where we can buy food with less packaging, and save money too.

LYB clr illustration onlyIf you would like to learn to Love Your Bin, sign-up is simple.  You can take the diet online, we send you emails with top tips and instructions and before you know it you’ll find yourself part of our growing community of Rubbish Dieters with a slimmer bin and a fresh outlook on shopping and waste. 

Even if you already have a slim bin, we’d love you to try the Diet and share the message. 

Katy Anderson is Co-ordinator of The Rubbish Diet and member of Transition Shrewsbury.  To find out more visit http://www.therubbishdiet.org.uk/ or contact Katy on katya@therubbishdiet.org.uk

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SPORT: Outdoor philosophy

summer2011-021-400x300When we came up with a blueprint for Transition Free Press we decided that it would follow the contours of a regular newspaper with news, features, reviews, opinion pages… and sport. In our back pages we have covered team sports-in-transition (including netball!)  as well as individual physical activities done in a community or environmental spirit – vegan and wild running, ecological diving and surfing, and of course cycling. Here philosopher and adventure cyclist Kate Rawles  explains why encountering the sea in a kayak inspires an immediate sense of connection with the planet.

I am in the glorious Arisaig Islands off the west coast of Scotland and have ‘parked’ my kayak in seaweed. Secured from the wind-drift, I watch the Arctic Terns travelling home from Antarctica. They are small, silver birds with graceful swallow-shaped tails and a screeching call at odds with their delicate frame. Flying up to 70,000 km in one year – by far the longest migrations of any bird – they will clock up the equivalent of three round trips to the moon in a lifetime!

Sights like this explain why sea kayaking has become a passion of mine. About 17 feet long, sea kayaks are both beautiful and immensely sea worthy. In their sealed holds you can pack camping gear and food enough for multi-week trips and their shallow draft and manoeuverability gives a competent kayaker access to islands and beaches that few other craft can reach. It is a low impact, quiet and wildlife-friendly sport.

Once I went to the Lofoten above the Arctic Circle in Norway but, like the Arctic terns, I always come back to west Scotland. However, despite the sheer beauty, diversity and intrigue to be found here, all is not well in the sea.

OP kayak 1 groupHumans mostly understand nature as a set of resources. All other living beings, from blue tits to blue whales, are valued only in relation to their usefulness to us. This anthropocentric outlook, the belief that humans are the most significant species on the planet, is undoubtedly a root cause of our interlocking environmental crises.

For many years, I was lucky to have these debates as part of my job as a philosophy lecturer. But discussing human-nature relations in ivory towers and overheated lecture theatres left my colleagues and I disconnected from the natural world we were trying to think about and without a mandate to act for environmentally positive social or political change.

Outdoor Philosophy is an attempted remedy; it is a discussion about human-nature relations conducted in the middle of other species and ecosystems. It aims to harness the power of this kind of experience – an invigorating sense of reconnection – to nurture, ignite and support people in their environmental work.

Sea kayaking tends to dissolve anthropocentrism, effortlessly. Despite their seaworthiness, it is nigh on impossible to sit in a small boat on even the laziest Atlantic swell and retain a bloated sense of human power and superiority.

In a small boat it’s impossible to retain a bloated sense of human power

Of course, when my sea kayaking trip comes to an end, I load my boat on to my van filled with fossil fuel and drive home, thereby adding to the greenhouse gases that are threatening the lives and wellbeing of the species I‘ve just been revelling in. But, in the end, perhaps that is the point – not to dwell in guilt and blame, but to stay in touch with the deep discomfort of reconnection, as well as its invigorating power. To re-see and revalue the sparrows on my terraced house front. To energise work that aims to reshape our economic, social and intellectual systems so we can co-exist as half-decent citizens of our extraordinary ecological communities.

Kate Rawles lectures and writes on ‘big picture’ environmental issues, sustainability and values. Her 2012 book The Carbon Cycle – Crossing the Great Divide used adventure cycling to communicate climate change. Her next book The Life Cycle will focus on biodiversity and a bike trip in the Andes planned for 2015. Find out more at www.outdoorphilosophy.com

Images: Exploring the coastal wonders of Arisaig in the Scottish Highlands (Kate Rawles)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Fermentation

AOF-with-awards-hi-resFrom  reviews of climate change collections and peak oil fiction, from a Talkback take on resilience studies to the art of making pages out of foraged plants, books form an integral part of all TFP issues. In the autumn edition Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything features in our editorial and Dark Mountain editor, Nick Hunt looks at contemporary responses to the call for a new narrative. Here Alexis Rowell breaks out the pickle jars in his hands-on review of a store cupboard maesterwerk (Ednote: the mead was our toast to TFP at a recent editorial meeting…it was divine!)

“Between fresh and rotten,” says Sandor Ellix Katz, “there is a creative space in which some of the most compelling of flavours arise.” I’m right in that creative space, but my partner, Sarah, is starting to complain about the smells coming from my fermenting cabbage!

I’m a novice fermenter. It’s something I’ve admired from afar but I’d always felt a bit daunted by the mystique surrounding fermented foods and all that bacteria.

“My advice,” says Sandor – a self-described ‘fermentation fetishist’ – “is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. You can do it yourself.”

I started with fruit mead. All you need is a bail-top jar, a pot of raw honey, water and fruit. I used redcurrants from a friend’s allotment, cherry plums from Hampstead Heath and rose petals from my neighbour’s garden.

Reject the cult of expertise. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated

“It looks great – if you like murky pond water,” said Sarah dubiously. But a few days later it was bubbling furiously and had turned a beautiful rose-orange colour. “That looks great,” said a friend, “can I have the recipe?” “Recipe?” I laughed. “Sure – combine honey, water, fruit and petals. Stir and release the pressure twice a day. Drink and be merry after ten days!”

hp581

Next up – sauerkraut. Pack a bail-top jar with shredded cabbage, juniper berries (or caraway seeds or other spices) and brine (salty water), weigh it down with a small glass jar filled with water to keep the cabbage submerged, then leave to ferment.

After a week it was starting to release some powerful odours, Sarah was apologising to visitors and I was worrying I’d got it wrong. But it tasted great. A few days later it tasted even better and it was time to move it to the fridge to slow down the fermentation process.

My fermented radishes looked fabulous as the brine turned red. “Are you sure we’ll be able to eat all this stuff? asked Sarah nervously, as I made plans for a huge jar of kohlrabi, carrot and beetroot kraut.

It’s perhaps a shame there aren’t more photos in The Art of Fermentation and that the illustrations, although lovely, are repeated a lot. But these seem like minor gripes set against the delight of learning from a master fermenter. For this is the omnibus, the bible, the encyclopaedia – it is everything you’ll ever need to know about fermentation – from molecular biology to cultural history, from philosophy to health benefits.

Sandor himself is a larger than life character with a massive handlebar moustache. He looks a picture of health, although he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s been living with HIV for ten years. “Is he healthy because of fermented foods?” I ask. He won’t go that far, but it’s hard not to draw that conclusion.

DSCN6810His book is also a remarkable political statement about the perils of industrialised food and the need for humans to reconnect with nature. In his words: “As microorganisms work their transformative magic and you witness the miracles of fermentation, envision yourself as an agent for change, creating agitation, releasing bubbles of transformation into the social order.”

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz is published by Chelsea Green. Beginners might like to start with his earlier book, Wild Fermentation.

Images: cover of The Art of Fermentation; Sandor Ellix Katz teaching a fermentation class (www.wildfermentation.com); Alexis’ summer mead undergoing fermentation (Sarah Nicholl)

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Practical action on housing

tumblr_mn4ax9kiZC1sq6ylzo1_1280From the Focus E15 mums to tenants unions and co-operatives, the housing crisis has triggered a wave of activism and people exploring their own solutions to its problems.

Today in Hoxton, East London the residents of the New Era Estate marched against a 10% hike in rent after their homes were bought up by a private investment company. Families fear they will have to leave, or be evicted if they can’t pay and are calling on MP Richard Benyon, whose family company is part of the consortium which now owns the estate, to keep rents affordable for current tenants.

The New Era residents are part of a wave of housing activism that has been taking place across Britain as people fight back against high prices, poor tenant’s rights and a lack of social housing. Tenants unions are springing up across the country and campaigners like the Focus E15 Mothers have forced people to take notice of the experiences of some of the most vulnerable.

In September, the E15 campaigners occupied four empty flats on London’s Carpenters Estate protesting that homes like this were standing empty, and due for redevelopment, while families in the borough are being evicted and rehoused outside the city. The group, mainly made up of young mothers, first become active in 2013 after funding cuts to the Focus E15 young people’s hostel led to many of them facing eviction.

Tenants unions are springing up across the country and people are also exploring creative solutions to housing problems. In Edinburgh students are settling into a student-run housing co-operative, aiming to provide affordable accommodation. The project is only the second of its kind and is the largest with over 100 students taking residence.

In October the House of the Commons conference took place in Oxford. The event discussed diverse topics around the housing crisis, including community energy, fuel poverty, the financial crisis, inequality, natural building techniques and community-led housing.

The current issue of Transition Free Press has a page dedicated to housing and some of the pockets if practical, collective resistance in the challenge of accessing safe, affordable, stable housing. Rachel Savage reports from Bristol on the Abolish Empty Office Buildings (AEOB) scheme which has now attracted £225,000 worth of community investment to turn unused offices into much needed, affordable housing.

In the same section, Amy Hall looks at cohousing – combining communal living with private space for each household. She speaks to people setting up intentional, low impact communities around the UK and experiment with new models of shared ownership.

Research published by Shelter in October indicates that two-thirds of private renters in England are unable to save towards a house deposit and with more than 81,000 homeless households in England alone, grassroots housing action in the UK is looking set to grow.

Read the autumn edition of Transition Free Press online here, including our housing focus on page 6. Find out more about print or online subscriptions here.

Photo by Andy Lord: Downtime at the Lilac cohousing community in Leeds -the UK’s “first affordable ecological cohousing project.” 

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TALKBACK: Situating Transition in a broader movement for change

tfp_slider_image_1Some issues need focusing on in a broader, deeper way that regular news reporting or even a colourful feature can allow. Our Talkback section in the centre of the paper give space to some of the key philsophical and ethical debates within Transition and other progressive movements. Our main TB pieces have looked at a wide range of subjects: from finance (Brett Scott), to supermarkets (Adrienne Campbell) to land rights (Shaun Chamberlin). In the present issue Tom Crompton, author of Common Cause, discusses how strenthening intrinsic values can determine our willingness as a people to change.

No cause is an island by Tom Crompton

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As we wring our hands at inaction on a national food security strategy, climate change or biodiversity protection, it’s easy to focus on the timidity of key decision makers in business and government.

From the outset the Transition movement has recognised that decision-makers are crucially constrained in what they can achieve, and that no amount of clever policy analysis or inside-track lobbying can change this. It is understood that fundamental constraints on meaningful action are imposed by lack of public acceptance – not to mention demand – for ambitious change. Public orientation toward change is viewed as the solution, not the problem – and to be far-thinking public support needs to be built for policies that would today spell electoral suicide.

These are important responses to the problems that beset much mainstream environmental campaigning. Here I will suggest that a good starting point for going further is to understand cultural values and how these are shaped.

Social psychologists affirm what many of us grasp intuitively – that our values lead us to express concern about other people, future generations, or other living things. Our values, it seems, are important determinants – perhaps the most important determinants – in motivating public expressions of concern about social and environmental challenges.

We are almost all at times concerned about what psychologists call extrinsic values – money; social status; public image; authority. At other times, almost all of us prioritise what psychologists call intrinsic values. These are values associated with greater concern about social and environmental problems. They include values of connection to family, friends and community; appreciation of beauty; broadmindedness; social justice; environmental protection; equality; helpfulness. In motivating expressions of concern about social and environmental issues, the balance that we strike between these two sets of values (both individually and collectively) is of crucial importance.

As can be easily seen, it’s difficult to prioritise extrinsic and intrinsic values at the same time. It’s difficult to be concerned about making money while also being concerned about community. Indeed, one important study has found that ‘community feeling’ is almost perfectly opposed to ‘financial success’. This isn’t to say that it is impossible to hold ‘community feeling’ and ‘financial success’ to be of importance at the same time – but it’s going to be difficult.

So we can see that values aren’t prioritised independently of one another. Indeed, it seems that they are held in dynamic relationships. Here are three important principles that have been found to govern these relationships:

“Exercising a value tends to strengthen it in a more durable way”

Firstly, exercising one value within a group (for example, broadmindedness) is found to increase the importance that a person places on other values within that group (for instance, social justice). Asking people to think briefly about broadmindedness leads to increased concern about climate change. Why? Well, it seems that engaging this value leads people to place greater importance on other intrinsic values, such as social justice or environmental protection, which are more obviously associated with concern about climate change.

Secondly, exercising an extrinsic value tends to suppress the importance that a person places on intrinsic values, and vice versa. This has been called the ‘see-saw’ effect. So, for example, drawing a person’s attention to the importance of money (an extrinsic value) is found to reduce the likelihood that they will help someone in need, or donate to a charity (behaviours associated with intrinsic values).

Thirdly, repeatedly exercising a value tends to strengthen it in a more durable way – much like a muscle. Repeatedly reminding a person of the importance of image or social status is likely to lead that person to draw upon this value more often in making decisions in many areas of life, and to place less importance on social and environmental concerns.

These principles have important implications for any approach aimed at helping to build public concern about social and environmental issues – with a view to bringing more public pressure to bear on business or government leaders.

For example, an understanding of values highlights the dangers of appealing to extrinsic values in order to motivate environmentally-friendly behaviour. Marketers (indifferent to the wider social and environmental impacts) use extrinsic values like social status to help sell cars or to encourage us to shop conspicuously. But many social marketers also advocate the use of such extrinsic appeals to drive environmentally-friendly behaviour. This is despite studies repeatedly showing that these tactics are likely to backfire: engaging extrinsic values tends to erode wider environmental concern.

Another important implication of an understanding of values is this: values connect causes. It has been found that drawing people’s attention to the financial value of biodiversity (that is, presenting conservation in connection with extrinsic values) leads people to say that they would be less inclined to join a public meeting or write to their MP in support of work on rights for disabled people. Conversely, drawing people’s attention to the beauty and inherent value of nature strengthens their intention to take civic action in support of disability rights.

“Engaging extrinsic values tends to erode wider environmental concern”

This is very important. In fact it presents a fundamental challenge to the way in which the charity sector is currently structured around ‘causes’. Too often, charities themselves work to isolate these causes – because it works in building a constituency of public supporters. Fundraisers call this ‘positioning’. The problem is that the narrow focus on specific issues that this encourages tends to blind-side charities to the wider effects of their communications and campaigns. These communications will affect both public concern about other causes, and more general public appetite to demand change.

If we are serious about building irresistible public demand for ambitious policy change, the implications seem clear: we should always prefer to communicate about issues in ways that connect with intrinsic values; we should avoid communicating in ways that connect with extrinsic values; we should recognise the crucial importance of beginning to achieve coherence in this across ‘causes’. No cause is an island: it is the values we use to communicate which are more important in shaping public appetite for action on a wider range of different social and environmental issues than the particular causes upon which we focus.

An understanding of values, therefore, points to the importance of not getting hung up on the issues (energy insecurity or climate change, for example). Rather, any group working for social change would do well to free itself from a narrow issues-focus and ask in more free-ranging terms: “What are the issues that matter most to the people whom we most need to engage?” and then, crucially, “How do we campaign and communicate on these more resonant issues in a way that connects with intrinsic values?”

Relying upon intrinsic values to make the unconscious links is likely to prove to be a far more effective way of engaging many people on the issues that are closest to your heart, than by campaigning on those issues directly.

Tom Crompton works for WWF-UK and with children’s and disability charities. He is the author of Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environment Movement at a Crossroads (WWF, 2008) and Common Cause: The Case for Working with Our Cultural Values (COIN, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam & WWF, 2010).

Read the autumn edition of Transition Fress Press online here or subscribe for the print or online edition here

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PEOPLE: Danielle Paffard and how divestment changes everything

In a month of climate actions and demonstration here is TFP’s autumn profile of activist Danielle Paffard. Each issue we interview people who are key to an understanding of and manifesting ‘Transition’ culture. In past editions these have ranged from Mark Boyle on the philosophy behind gift economy to George Monbiot on rewilding our neighbourhoods and imaginations. The interviews are often long and intense, though the space in the paper only allows for core extracts from our conversations. Charlotte Du Cann asks the key questions…

What makes an activist? And what effect do actions take in shaping our cultural narrative?

Danielle Paffard helped start up the highly influential campaigns UK Uncut, Move Your Money and No Dash for Gas. How did she get from being ‘relatively unpolitical’ to becoming the new UK divestment co-ordinator for 350.org?

“I studied the environment at university and came out feeling there was a huge problem, but also feeling totally useless and unable to contribute.

“I came across Climate Camp and went from being quite anti direct action to meeting these amazing activists. Two months later I was locked to a coal-fired power station, shutting it down from the inside. That was a really transformatory experience and formed the founding principle for most of the activism I’ve done since: you find a group of people you can work with and who inspire each other.

“Then in 2010 there was a change of government. When the Spending Review made it clear just exactly what this new government was about another radicalisation moment happened to me.

“One of my friends said: if we just keep on marching from A to B listening to Tony Benn speak, we’re going to lose. We need something that’s more feisty.

“The next day he found a small piece in Private Eye about how Vodafone had avoided £6 billion worth of tax and he made the link: ‘Look, if we’re losing £6 billion from one company that could cover almost the entire issue of the cuts, how are the government getting away with this austerity narrative?’

“UK Uncut started at Vodafone’s flagship store in Oxford Street, using the direct action skills we’d learnt through the climate movement to highlight the falsehoods behind austerity. 70 people shut down the shop. By that weekend there were 30 more actions around the country.

“This was when Occupy was starting up and there was a huge anger with the banks and the bailouts. But, though with UK Uncut we targeted high street banks with our actions, it was hard to break through into the more systemic problems around banking.“It was unexpected and exciting and had a key role in changing the awareness of tax justice in the UK.

“At that point I banked with HSBC, who fund the world’s biggest coal mines. It had been on my to-do list to change, but it wasn’t in my diary. So we came up with actions to motivate people to close their accounts.”

“And so with another group of friends we set up the Move Your Money campaign, which was about very publicly moving your money away from the big four banks into more socially responsible alternatives.

“The blockades to a just transition are due to the political power of the fossil fuel industry”

Danielle’s next move however was far away from any high street: with 16 others she scaled a 300 foot chimney to protest about the building of new gas-fired power stations in the UK.

“The platforms at West Burton were about five metres from the top. Once we got on there we blockaded the access points and dropped a hanging tent down into the chimney. So they had to turn the power off. And people took it in turns to sit in that tent. It was November and really cold.

“We delayed work for a week and stopped 20,000 tonnes of C02 from being released. EDF tried to sue us for £5 million. The public reaction was extraordinary. 65,000 people emailed EDF to drop the charge.”

As a result many climate activists were reinvigorated and the Reclaim the Power event was launched at the Balcombe anti-fracking camp in 2013. Paffard is now to be found behind the scenes as divestment co-ordinator for the climate action organisation, 350.org:

“We’re working on ways to stigmatise the fossil fuel industry sufficiently to unblock the political process. It is so weighed down by the fossil fuel lobby we are struggling to get the meaningful decisions we need to do something right on climate.

“My role is to work with the existing campaigns – the university campaigns organised by People & Planet, Operation Noah who work with faith groups and the fossil free health campaign, started by Medact, who have just got the BMA to divest. I am also helping to encourage small independent local groups to get active in their communities, on their own councils, and get them to debate publicly whether public money should be going into fossil fuels.

“If councils don’t have investments in fossil fuels then they’ll be very quick to tell you. And they will do, because everybody does. We’re working on tools to make it easier for campaigners to find that information out, looking at pension funds because that’s where a lot of the investment money is.”

Do people say to you: It’s all very well to divest, but what’s the point if we’re still using oil, coal and gas?

“We are very focused on divestment, rather than personal consumption. It’s very hard to make change until the political power of the fossil fuel industry has been significantly dented. Incentivising clean technologies and getting the investment we need to really transform our entire economy, are blocked by these incredibly powerful industries. And while individual action is important it isn’t going to take down the fossil fuel industry as quickly as it needs to be.

“Until we get massive investment in public transport or incentives for renewable energy, it’s going to be difficult for people to make meaningful enough consumption decisions to change the economy.

“Much of the discussion is now about the social value of investments. The recent Law Commission’s review questioned whether it is right that ‘fiduciary duty’ should just mean short term profit for shareholders. Should it include long term stewardship of both your money and the planet? The fact these questions are being discussed is a really important part of the narrative.

Do you see a relationship between Transition and the divestment movements?

“If you don’t have a Yes, then it’s much harder to push the No. If we’re going to deal with the climate crisis we need to shine a light on all the community projects that are working, so they can be rapidly replicated and supported to make change happen.

“Divestment could be a really interesting project for a local group – because it is about democracy and local participation in decision-making about where public money should be invested. Using the divestment campaign to build a community to do more of the Yes work on a bigger scale.”

Activism typically deals with heavy-duty issues. How do you keep going without being burned out, or oppressed?

“I go running!“ she laughs. “I think it’s about having a good group around you, who can talk and offer support. Also one of the reasons UK Uncut was so successful was because it challenged these big problems and organisations in a fun way.

“So whether you are talking about Sure Start centre closures, by setting up a crèche in an HSBC bank, or running sports days in Top Shop, activists know it’s important to make sure that activism is fun and engaging, because in the end if it’s not, we can’t keep on doing it.” 

Taking part in an Art Not Oil action at The British Museum, 2010; Danielle Paffard; UKUncut Top Shop protest in Brighton; 350.org’s carbon bubble for global People’s Climate March, 2014

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