The Emperor still has no clothes…

This is a write up of my notes for the Teach the Future Teach In on 27th August. It misses out some ad libs and includes other notes that were skipped over, so doesn’t act as a precise script for the recording due out shortly.

Organising on climate in the trade union movement means we need to grasp that its vital for working class organisations not just to react to the crisis but to lead on resolving it.

Last year’s OXFAM report noted that the rapidly increasing carbon footprints of the top 10% of the global population will take us above 1.5C on their own, regardless of what the rest of us do.

The poorest 50% have a negligible carbon footprint. What might be called the “upper middle” 40% – which includes most of us here, working class people in the Global North and better off people in the Global South – have a carbon footprint that is shrinking.

The struggle for a sustainable climate is therefore a class struggle against the unsustainable overconsumption of the wealthy.

If you look at the organising core of climate denialism it combines the corporate interests of fossil fuel companies and an activist cadre of extremely wealthy men, like Lord Lawson.

Global Crisis

The problem is that attempts to deal with climate breakdown have to go through the existing machinery of power, which maintain current economic relations.

This is very marked in the United States, which has been the world’s leading economic, political and military power since at least 1945. They are failing to lead.

This is not just because they are spending twenty times as much on their military as they are on climate investment, but because their whole model of society – all those sprawling gas hungry suburbs, short haul flights, lack of high speed rail or decent metro systems in most cities, the celebration of individualised alienated mass consumption to fill the holes in their souls – generates the third biggest per capita carbon footprint in the world. Only Saudi Arabia and Australia are worse. “The American Way of Life” is not a viable model of the future anymore – even for the US itself.

They are now also exporting record quantities of fracked LNG and Oil. The power of fossil fuel interests buying up votes in Congress means there is a see saw between outright Trumpish denialism and limited half measures like the Reduce Inflation Act – which combines both vital investment in green energy and lets further fossil fuel projects off the leash. The passage of this Act means that John Kerry will no longer be walking naked into the conference chamber at COP. He’ll be trying to maintain his dignity in his underpants.

There is a strongly held view in the Global South that climate breakdown is a problem for the Global North to fix, on the basis that the world’s richest countries – the USA, Canada, EU, UK, Japan, Australia etc – are responsible for 90% of historic carbon emissions. “You broke it. You fix it”. That is sometimes put vehemently in India and is a strongly held view in parts of China too.

But in China that is shifting.

A friend of mine who works for a Chinese University tells me that for the last few years there have been two to three conferences a week on aspects of climate change up and down the country. Xi Jinping talks a lot about the need to build an “Ecological Society”. They are currently investing one and a half times as much in green transition as they are in their military. It is currently expected that their 2030 target for renewables will be met by 2026 and coal – on which they are still heavily dependent – is being redefined as a support for a grid based on renewables not the other way round. The speed with which this can be achieved is vital for all of us (both in its direct effects but also in providing a developmental model for other Global South countries).

More negatively, the failure of the Global North countries to transfer the $100 billion needed as a bottom line for the Global South to cope with climate impacts and develop without recourse to fossil fuels has led to the African Union planning to demand at the COP that Africa’s reserves of oils and gas are developed to alleviate poverty. With Global North countries developing their own reserves, they don’t have a leg to stand on if they want to oppose this.

Britain

We are about to move from Boris Johnson’s inverted pyramids of patriotic piffle – pie in the sky “world leading” targets with no plans to meet them just to strike a pose – to Liz Truss – who will be worse.

While Truss formally supports the Net Zero 2050 target for the UK, she says she finds the sight of solar farms in the countryside “depressing” and her response to the energy price crunch is to use it to boost oil and gas production and exploration in the North Sea, while rejecting a windfall tax on energy producers, lift the ban on fracking while opposing onshore wind – none of which will reduce bills.

She is backed by Lord Frost – known to his friends as “Frosty the No Man” – who opined in the week of our 40C heatwave, during which the Fire Brigade had more call outs than at any time since the second World War, that he saw “no evidence” of a climate emergency in the UK and instead of the “medieval technology” of wind power, favours measures to “master our environment”, like fracking and nuclear. She is also backed by Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (a really bad name for a band) and is anticipated to put go slowers like Jacob Rees Mogg in the cabinet.*

The paradox here is that you could have such a dynamic Tory narrative in favour of Onshore Wind. They could say – “let’s cut the red tape and let the market work its magic!” Or, in the name of “energy security” they could paint them red, white and blue and call them “Freedom Farms”, stand in front of them for a poster with the slogan “Its Britain’s Wind!” Why don’t they do that? Perhaps because fossil fuels are more profitable than renewables and they want to maintain market share regardless of the cost (in all respects).

The good news here is that they are already so unpopular that just about everything they do will be discredited just because its them doing it. Liz Truss – a hard person to warm to – will not get a honeymoon period.

Schools

Who said this?

“The challenge of climate change is formidable. For children and young people to meet it with determination and not with despair we must offer them not just truth, but also hope. Learners need to know the truth about climate change…they must also be given the hope that they can be agents of change.”

Nadhim Zahawi said that at the launch of the DFE Net Zero Strategy in April. Of course, his pitch for Conservative leader a couple of months later was to cut 20% from all government budgets, so…

Four questions for us to think about.

  1. In the context of increased economic pressure on schools, with energy costs up 93% on last year, leading to pressure for cuts down to bare bones provision (4 day weeks, cutting all staff not teaching core subjects have both been floated) will the positive initiatives from the Net Zero Strategy – like the National Nature Park, the requirement for all schools to appoint sustainability leads in 2023 – be dropped as “green crap” and the DFE Sustainability Unit with them?
  2. In the context of a wholesale retreat from Net Zero targets by the Conservatives at national level, what milage is left in lobbying Conservative MPs (though we should never cease pointing out to them that dropping the 2050 targets would lose them 1.3 million votes) compared with getting opposition parties likely to form the next government on a sound policy? The point here is that a government visibly on the skids is leaching power even while still in office and the statement “We will undo this” by Shadow Ministers cuts the ground out from new initiatives and sets the agenda even before the old government falls.
  3. In the context of denialists/go slowers “crisis, what crisis” types dominating the cabinet, how far is the current DFE “impartiality guidance” – which says that the science is set and denialism invalid, but the debate on what we do about it has to be done in a “non Partisan” way, that blocks support for particular campaigns or initiatives but allows debate to be had, so long as no one view is promoted, allows personal views to be stated, as long as they are identified as such and its made clear other views are available – be replaced with straight forward “war on woke” from the top? **
  4. What scope is there for a campaign for school insulation on the TUC Report, to directly cut energy costs and act as community hubs?

Lastly, watch out for the NEU Guide to Decarbonising the Curriculum – due out in November.

Thank you for having me.

* And so she has. At Business and Energy for goodness sake.

** The appointment of Jonathan Gullis, who refers to the NEU as the “No Education Union” and does not seem an open minded sort of chap, does not bode well.

Look up! Wake up! Stand up for your rights!

A youth who is worried by the future too often. Atleliers Populaires 1968

The only war that matters is the war against the imagination/ all other wars are subsumed in it. Diane Di Prima

A sense among young people of being silenced in the face of impending disaster is even more relevant today than it was in the late 1960s.

A survey for Teach the Future by Bath University asked 10,000 young people across the world in 2021 for their views and feelings about the future in the context of the climate crisis.

76% were afraid of the future.

54% thought that humanity is doomed.

39% were actively considering not having children.

That is a tidal wave of anxiety that will come out in all sorts of pathological forms if it is denied or silenced, but generated positive action from 2018 on; with the wave of school strikes that built up to millions taking part across the world by September 2019. This generated a supportive movement among parents, teachers and other educators, to change the curriculum as an agent of change for our whole society; anticipating the shifts we will need for a sustainable society, so that we are actively making them.

This is driven by the reality of climate breakdown.

As I am writing this, the Storm Eunice is howling outside and the rain splattering on my window after a week of storms. A world that felt mostly safe for most of my life no longer does. Switch on the laptop and climate crisis impacts are all over it. They are hitting the Global South hardest, but are coming home to roost in the Global North too. No one is going to stop it by building a wall.

The mobilisations in response are the human fuel for change.

A government serious about making a transition to sustainability would learn from it, work with it and use it to galvanise more people to act on the scale and with the urgency we need, with schools acting as community hubs. Actually implement Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, which mandates governments to educate their whole people to understand the scale of the crisis and the measures needed to overcome it.

Instead – alongside the most minimal steps forward in the DFE Net Zero Strategy – we have new guidance on “Political impartiality in schools”. which is designed to keep this movement within safe bounds for the government.

The headlines that heralded this announcement all screamed that this itself is anything but politically impartial, with student movements protests on climate, Palestine and racism; critical views of the British Empire or figures like Churchill specifically mentioned as “woke” issues – or “left wing brain washing” – that would be suppressed by it. This is an attempt to speak power to truth.

The actual guidance is far more subtle than a Daily Express headline is capable of and plays on the fact that teachers are – in general – far more fair minded and conscientious and far less partisan than, say, a government Minister. The law on this matter is quite specific and limited. “Partisan” views are those which support one political Party over another, or put forward one solution to the exclusion of all others. The guidance has some quite unexceptional points that just about every teacher would use in any case, that if stating a personal view, identifying it as such and saying that other views are available, or, if there is a genuinely contested argument, pointing out sources of differing interpretation. A similarly mature approach might be welcome in some of our newspapers. Debating an issue of concern to students, or organising clubs to pursue it, is not, in itself “partisan”. However, the liberal use of the word throughout the guidance creates the impression that it might be; with the intention of inhibiting both teachers and students from exploring the issues involved without feeling there is someone looking over their shoulder waiting to dob them in to the DFE thought police. As there very rarely is, this is an attempt to set such an inhibition in people’s heads. We shouldn’t let it in.

Presenting issues in a “balanced” way is less of an issue than whether an issue is being presented truthfully. The problem comes when the presentation of awkward facts for those in power gets interpreted as partisan and ruled out of order. This is the US Alt Right playbook to control narratives expressed in the accents of the British civil service. Much of the framing of the discussion on History in the press suffers precisely from this sort of cherry picking. Attempts to look at the history of the British Empire from the point of view of the colonised as well as the coloniser, for example, lead to really jumpy reactions from people who would like that perspective to remain suppressed; whether that is in the classroom or the National Trust. This is not because people are unaware that the elegant stately homes they love were built with the proceeds of slavery, but that they’d really prefer not to be reminded of it. Its because they know that this is a fact that they find it so disturbing; and so resort to disavowal. Look straight at something, and pretend its not there. There’s only so much reality one can take, after all. The “war on woke” is designed to sustain existing unbalanced views and hagiographies in a way that turns History into a series of self serving myths, and any questioning of them into heresies. None of us should be intimidated into ceasing to question or challenge.

There is an attempt running all the way through the guidance to inhibit the expression of any view that might be interpreted as partisan, as well as a staggering lack of self awareness of the partisan views of the government itself – which this guidance acts to disguise.

On climate in particular, a little humility would not go amiss from a governing Party that

  • abstained on the Parliamentary motion to declare a climate emergency,
  • still contains the organising cadre of climate denial and delay in the form of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group,
  • has for the most part come very late to any recognition of the scale of this crisis,
  • has a default to backslide, and a Net Zero Plan with targets that its own Parliamentary watchdog says it will undershoot by 80%.

These are awkward facts. Not contestable because they are on the public record. Would it be “partisan” to point them out? What would the “balance” be? It is the weakness of government responses to the scale and enormity of the crisis that has fueled the student protest movements and strikes.

The relatively tepid language of the guidance acts as the soft cop to the hard cop role of the tabloids, which are primed to go after examples of “woke” teaching in the same way they did in the 1980s when some schools tried to teach that it was ok to have two Dads or two Mums, which led to exactly the same sort of accusations of indoctrination – teaching kids to be gay – “its political correctness gone mad” etc etc etc with hues and cries at school gates from parents frightened their kids were being “turned gay”; allowing the Conservative government to introduce Section 28 and ban teaching that gay families were ok. They don’t talk about that much anymore, but they do have a pretty consistent record of being on the wrong side of history.

Let us consider Scenario A – dealing with climate breakdown – in the new DFE guidance on “political impartiality in schools” in the context of their overall edict that “You can discuss political issues with pupils, and their interest and engagement in these should be encouraged. However, you should not promote partisan political views to them, or encourage them to participate in specific political activity, including protests”.

The paradox of this position is that it is a truth universally acknowledged that the cure for an otherwise disabling level of anxiety is to take action against the causes of it. Depression and despair sets in where such action is blocked. The driver of the fear in the survey is that most young people feel that their governments are failing to tackle the problem on the scale and at the speed needed to resolve it. it is the gap between the knowledge of the crisis and the paltry scale of the actions being taken to deal with it that causes despondency.

In Scenario A the government acknowledges that there is no justified argument against the reality of climate breakdown, the reasons for it and the disastrous consequences of failing to deal with it, neatly disowning a noisy faction of its own back benches, as follows.

Teaching about climate change and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, would not constitute teaching about a political issue. Schools do not need to present misinformation, such as unsubstantiated claims that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring, to provide balance here.

So, there is no requirement to cover the sort of nonsense put out by the Global Warming Foundation to provide “balance”.

However, where teaching covers the potential solutions for tackling climate change, this may constitute a political issue. Different groups, including political parties and campaign groups, may have partisan political views on the best way to address climate change.

This part of the topic should be taught in a balanced manner, with teachers not promoting any of the partisan political views covered to pupils.

In other words. Its ok – in fact its desirable – to have a debate. Partisan views can be expressed in a lesson, so long as there is more than one of them. Not only that, but its also ok for teachers to express a personal view, as long as it is clearly identified as such, and its made clear that other views are available.

Its in the area of potential solutions, that go beyond technical matters to how we organise society and deal with issues of justice and fairness in the transition we have to make, that open debate is essential. The government’s model of education tends to emphasise the transmission of “knowledge” – an old fashioned passing down of truths from authority figures – and they tend to interpret debate in the same way as manipulation by authority figures. What they seem to have missed is that so much of the debate, with “partisan views” fiercely expressed, has been led by students who have felt let down by the absence of content, absence of urgency and absence of organisation and mobilisation in schools and communities. In so far as any progress is being made at all, including by the DFE, it is down to them. It is no job of a responsible teacher to try to shut them up.

The whole point about trying to forge a just transition is that we are making it up as we go along, no one has all the answers and to find them we have to let a hundred flowers blossom and a thousand schools of thought contend; so we can (all) look up, wake up and create our own future.

A matter of priorities: Bernie gets it right.

In the United States there is a tragic argument that is putting desperately necessary investment to begin to shift the country away from its gas and oil guzzling model – falsely and fatally projected to the rest of the world as a mirage of modernity to which they should all aspire, but which is now not even viable for the US itself if it wants to survive this century intact – at risk.

The danger is that President Biden’s $550 billion ten year package will be derailed by opposition from Republicans in the Senate, in alliance with two Democrat Senators who are widely seen as wholly owned assets of the fossil fuel industries (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona).

While $55 billion a year is completely inadequate to move the US onto a track on which it would be doing its fair share of carbon emissions reduction, its provisions are supported by majorities of US citizens and for fossil fuel interests to derail it completely would bog the USA down completely in an outmoded form of society and scream to the rooftops that its political system is simply the best democracy that money can buy.

Stalling progress buys time for the restoration of fully fledged climate denialism should the Republicans regain control of Congress in the 2022 mid terms and the White House in the 2024 Presidential elections. At which point the US would be back to being a huge rogue state. This would be politically clarifying, but all of us would pay a terrible price for the enlightenment.

It took the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement to overthrow Trump last year. Nothing is certain, but for the fossil fuel fraction of capital to retain its power, it will need an increasingly fascistic political expression. Trump, Bannon, Bolsonaro; these are no longer aberrations or outliers, they are a possibly paradigmic future for the leaders that late, late capitalism will need to sustain itself until it runs out of road and goes off the cliff.

By contrast, the military budget is an almost complete consensus. The imbalance here is grotesque. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it on the Senate floor on Wednesday “At a time when the scientists are telling us that we face an existential threat in terms of climate change, we are told that we just don’t have enough money to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and create a planet that will be healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations. Just don’t have enough money. Yet today the U.S. Senate will begin consideration of an annual defense budget that costs $778 billion.”

Here’s what the contrast in the proposed (and contested) sum for climate change and the bipartisan consensus for military spending looks like, along with an equally instructive comparison with the sums committed for each in China. The US is spending 14 times as much on its military as Biden is proposing for green investment. China is spending one and a half times as much on green transition as on its military.

Bernie has stated that he will vote against. Hopefully other progressive Democrats will do the same to put down a marker that by 2050 the shiniest military in the world won’t be of much use to save even the USA itself from climate impacts that will overwhelm its infrastructure.