Climate Breakdown

2007 - 2022

Twenty Six Years of Solutionism

Discussing the impending COP in Glasgow (1) a friend of mine blurted out in a sea of expletives “It’s “COP26 FFS!” … “This is the 26th meeting they’ve had!”

This feeling of extreme exasperation at the process is matched with dark anger, cynicism and despair at the corporate nature of these events, the inevitable surveillance consequences for Glasgow, and the reality that these events and these players are never going to get to the bottom of the ‘problem’.

There has been 26 years of ‘solutionism’: a process where solutions which aren’t the solution and can’t be the solution are posed to solve a set of problems which can only be resolved by fundamentally changing our economic system; our way of life; and our power relations. Instead corporate power and political elites mingle with NGOs and environmental groups deeply meshed within this nexus to issue forth ameliorative, partial and inadequate measures at a pace and a timeline that is un-threatening to those corporate and political interests. Targets, offsets and distant time horizons are cobbled together while “intense negotiations” result in a tumultuous breakthrough (until the next time).

Meanwhile the UK government treats the climate as a joke and the public with contempt. Yesterday the Prime Minister incredibly – told the BBC (from  11.40) that he was ‘not aware’ of the huge new Shell development in the Cambo oil field, West of Shetland, despite the fact that the Oil and Gas Authority (2), which is part of the UK government, is charged with making the decision on whether or not to approve the plans.

He may be more aware after today a petition with over 80,000 signatures in opposition to the plans for Camo landed in 10 Downing Street addressed to the Prime Minister and Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In addition to the petition an open letter signed by 77 organisations was also sent to Johnson, similarly calling on him to reject Shell’s Cambo proposal. Signatories include Save the Children, RSPB, Oxfam, 350, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Avaaz and Uplift.

Designed Failure

COP26 is now only three months away, but the dread feeling is that the actors involved cannot ‘succeed’.

These actors, these players are not going to take action because they cannot take action. The process is designed to fail. The annual event has something of a performative nature to it. It is like Lucy and Charlie Brown kicking the football.

But if Stratton and Johnson are gaslighting us and treating COP as a plaything, this may have dire political consequences for them.  Even the most conservative and mainstream commentators are worried. Tom Newton Dunn (of Times Radio and the Evening Standard) wrote: “COP26 is in deep trouble, and Boris Johnson knows it. Privately, No10 has already significantly downgraded what Glasgow can achieve. An internal row is now underway between the PM’s advisers on how low to set the bar.”

Imagine for a moment the moral mindset and framing of the world to work in that way?

But if Johnson and his government consider COP to be a plaything for global posturing, re-branding and humiliating the Scottish Government, the shallowness and moral vacuum of all of this is already backfiring on this regime. Newton Dunn outlines four problems coming down the line towards Johnson.

Setting the scene Newton Dunn explains: “If Kyoto in 1997 was about agreeing there is a problem, and Paris in 2015 was about setting a target to tackle it (limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C), Glasgow was to be about working out how to do that. The tricky bit, in other words.”

First there is still no international consensus on what should be agreed in Glasgow. You don’t turn up at these events and say “right what are we going to do?” Covid has taken up the energy of many countries but it is the host nation that must drive the process – inspire others by action – and prepare the event with intense and detailed multilateral planning.

The second reason Newton Dunn outlines is “COP26 is in deep water is that a realisation is dawning that those global policies to halt climate change that have been agreed so far are going to fail. Tree planting to decarbonise the atmosphere is one. Oxfam GB’s boss Danny Sriskandarajah told me this week that for the world to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, forests would need to be planted “five times the size of India”. “It’s just not realistic,” he said.

No. Shit. Sherlock.

Third, according to Dunn: “Johnson is still unable to show a strong enough lead on these matters in Britain for the rest of the world to follow. His heat and buildings strategy to replace 25 million gas boilers, his hydrogen strategy and the plan to build an electric car-charging network are all many months late.”

Finally – and if you listen carefully you can actually hear the penny drop:

“Fourth, most frighteningly of all, things are about to get even worse. On Monday, the world’s climate change scientists publish their first update in seven years on exactly how warm the Earth has already become, and all the omens are grim. Potentially very grim.The world is very likely to be a lot hotter than had previously been feared. Some predict the 1.5C limit is already out of reach 29 years early, and climate change irreversible. Time to panic? It could be.”


Big Beasts

What is incredible about this narrative is not the slow burn of the very protected and highly complicit media class – it’s the cynicism of the narrative that follows. It’s not the actual scale of the crisis facing humanity that worries these actors, it’s their perception on the world stage that’s important. According to Dunn there are two camps within No 10 arguing over how to play this out.

One camp led by COP26 President Alok Sharma’s want to “say as little as possible before the summit in the hope of building a late consensus and declaring whatever can be agreed in Glasgow a success.”

“A declaration to ‘keep 1.5 alive’ might be enough, they say.”

These are the people hosting the climate event that purports to be pivotal to our future.

The other camp – led by Johnson’s “Big Beasts” insist that’s not enough we’re told. “Glasgow won’t solve everything, they argue, but it could still be a crucial stepping stone to another COP in five years that might.”

So two camps but both share an outlook that is desultory useless and would lead us into further unmitigated disaster. As Dunn cynically concludes: “Five years ago, a COP26 that fails would have been an environmental disaster but not a political one. But times have changed, and so has the weather.”

This is worth spelling out not to undermine the multitude of actions that are emerging and planned across Glasgow and Scotland to resist and process the climate crisis, but to put into context the level of moral depravity and incompetence at the heart of the British government.

If the ignorance of some of the media commentariat is as astonishing as the Prime Minister claiming that Thatcher’s destruction of the mining industry in 1984/5 was an act of premature climate activism, the lesson is surely that we must maximise the international political damage from Johnson’s criminal neglience.

Call the COPS

But what can be done to avoid being drawn into “solutionism”?

Consider how you relate to COP and the power relations it is a manifestation of. Look at responses that seek solidarity within community and internationally. Support resilience and develop skills for emotional survival in traumatic times. Cultivate outrage and develop strategies for movement building that are about radical political and economic change. Imagine different futures and challenge the inevitability of disaster. Build movements that look beyond growth and extraction.

Do not look for solutions handed down from above. They aren’t coming.


(1) COP is shorthand for ‘Conference of the Parties’. The term COP refers to the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as to the global talks on climate change matters. At these talks, governments negotiate the actions and rules for addressing climate change. COP takes place annually over two weeks. This year’s COP was set to be the 26th climate meeting, which is why it is called COP26. Due to COVID-19 concerns, COP26 is now delayed until 1-21 November 2021.

(2) The plans for the Cambo oil field clearly contradict the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) advice that there should be no new fossil fuel development. This is so that we can try and avoid the catastrophic 1.5°C rise in global temperature. The development will also run roughshod over the UK’s commitments to meeting its climate targets. There’s already enough oil and gas in existing sites to cause the UK to exceed its share of emissions under the Paris Agreement goals.

‘No new oil & gas’ to meet climate commitments, says International Energy Agency report, May 2021:    

Thanks to Gehan Macleod, Luke Devlin, Svenja Meyyericks, Layla-Roxane Hill, Bronagh Gallagher for helping thinking about responses to COP.

Comments (24)

Leave a Reply to Daniel Raphael Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Agreed, this was clear from the outset – who in their right minds would have designated the UK to host this crucial meeting? I suspect the decision was taken even before Johnson became PM and the outlook wasn’t much better under May or Cameron. The attempt to exclude the Scottish Government speaks volumes.

    At best we are tinkering at the edges, with things like traffic reduction schemes. Look at the power of the aviation industry flexing their muscles during the pandemic. And the subtext of people holidaying nearer to home, but despoiling what they perceive to be wild beautiful places. What is going on at present is contributing to consciousness raising but little more. We need to be focusing on the big polluters – certainly the new oil fields, on all extractive industries.

    I wonder what the SNP-Green pact will deliver closer to home? We desperately need a joined up response to climate change, not just panic measures.

  2. Mark Bevis says:

    I’m just ignoring the whole circus.
    We passed 1.5*C above the 1750 baseline in the spring of 2020, according to data released by James Hansen. This year parts of America hit 2*C briefly.
    You’ll get more usefulness out of blog posts and youtube articles than you will out of governance.

    Here’s the latest crop of sources and articles for those that can bear it.

    Climate change known since 1850s:
    (The earliest reference I’ve seen is actually 1785, from a Belgian philosopher)

    Greenland ice melt July 2021


    14,000 scientists can’t be wrong surely?

    5 survival places (with good info on collapse methodologies):

    AMOC collapse July 2021

    descending into madness:

    Artic methane now leaking from rock formations

    Even Antartica is releasing methane now.

    Rather than attend or demonstrate COP26, civic society should form their own equivalent, in the gardens and community spaces of the suburbs, and set up your own policies. Predicaments have outcomes, problems have solutions, only adapting to the former is now a viable option.
    We all have limited agency, and limited energies. Choose wisely how you spend those energies and enjoy the agency you have.

    An oldie but still a goodie:

    1. John McLeod says:

      Mark – a wealth of great information here. Not easy to know how to choose wisely (your closing statement). The momentum of everyday life and work pulls us along every day, in the wrong direction. Its like trying to repair a sinking ship as it gradually disappears under the waves.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        Yes, an overwhelming wall of data and analysis. As the crises deepen, so does the amount of written word increase in proportion. I agree, we are trapped by our civilisation, whether we like it or not.

        My titanic analogy is that as the headless chickens run round the deck looking for none-existent lifeboats, the sensible will be in first class ripping out the wood panelling to make a raft carried on the cooking oil drums from the kitchens and sails made from bedsheets, and oars from the shovels of the coal bunkers – or some such – in other words using the detritus of excessive capitalism and turning it into something useful.

    2. Colin Robinson says:

      I do think direct action and mass community disinvestment from ‘the system’ is the way ahead. But there’s little appetite for it in our society, such is the total hegemony that our dependency culture exercises over us. We can only hope that the immanent deconstruction of that totalitarian system and its ideologies will foist direct action and self-determination upon us. Perhaps, instead of making a song and dance outside of the Hydro, communities should be quietly and patiently building their own resilience under the guise of self-help in preparation for the eventual and inevitable collapse of capitalism under the weight of the global crises it’s producing.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        “communities should be quietly and patiently building their own resilience under the guise of self-help in preparation for the eventual and inevitable collapse”

        Well said Colin, that is my conclusion too. Quietly is the word, we don’t want corporate monsters finding out and using their resources to destroy and conquer communites. Seek out those within the existing heirarchies that agree with your aims, every council has them, find the communal spaces, and build them up slowly. Every community, whether it is small as 2 people, or 200, could look to what I call the 3 Rs – resources, resilience, recovery

        What does you community have? Land, money, tools, seeds, buildings, but not just stuff, but skills – carpenters, gardeners, artists, musicians, plumbers, medics, organisers, mediators, counsellors, etc Is there a community centre or church? Does it have land you can use to grow food on without anyone (currently) complaining. How many cot beds would it fit to hold refugees in an emergency? And so on.

        Build resilience through mutual aid – someone’s troughing needs fixing – get the builder, or a team of enthusiasts, and set up a water harvesting system. Payment is a job well done and probably someone else cooked them meals, or did their accounts, or whatever. LETS it has been called in some places. People short of food – arrange communal cooking from those that have some to share – defeating hunger is not just about foodbanks. Similarly resilience is not just about surviving, it’s about thriving. A community that thrives in effect has surplus skills, energy and resources to able to have a chance of dealing with crisis.

        Every community will come under threat. Whether from natural climate effects, or human intervention. A thriving resilient community will have resources left over to deal with these crises – spare rooms in houses with dry store of clothing and bedding, dried & canned foods; extras tools, ropes, whatever. A simple alarm system using whistles that people carry. Perhaps a stock of spears for self defence – most hostile human intervention will be chancers, opportunists looking for an easy steal – a robust attitude of defence will see them off. (The UK isn’t America, guns will not be a significant feature, and once the ammo runs out, all guns will become ornaments). Set up systems and resources such that people know what to do when a crisis happens, and where to go for resources.

        These are all mere words, there is no set prescription. Every community is unique. But adapting mindsets and actions with these ideas in mind, will help each community develop their own variations, develop what works for them. Do I practice what I preach? Not usually, it doesn’t have to be all the time, merely some of the time. Giving your time and resources has a way of making it’s own kharma. I’ll give an example:

        In recent years I’ve wanted to learn to scythe. Recently a local course came up, and I paid for it myself, and bought my own scythe. Then a local well-being project funded by the lottery I am involved with then offered to pay my course fee, which they’ve just done, as they have scythers already. Now I’ve been asked to scythe a quarter acre probably unpaid “for practice”, which is a bit daunting for a beginner, so I suggested making it a community effort with the other scythers they have. That is now being arranged. It’s not a big deal, it’s not even looking out of the window of the Titanic, but there will be several beneficiaries – the land owner gets his land cleared for restoration, we get some practice, the project gets some prestige, and some more like-minded people will meet up and connections made. And we’ll all have a fun day out in the countryside. It’s only a little thing, and yet, it still has importance somehow. Will it save the world? No, will it allow some species of insect to endure for another 6 months? Possibly. And the project is already going to pay for the peening course in October.

        The Incredible Edible group I help run, it has only 2 regulars, 3 part-timers and several occasional visitors. Not what you might call a thriving community. But I do see what we do as a prototype, that can be scaled up by others when they realise the need. That’s when the allies you have within the hierarchy will become important.

        “Overthrowing capitalism” and adapting to climate change is as much about letting go of stuff you are told you need, and re-evaluating what is important, rather than marching and throwing insults and rocks. Best to let it die of it’s own accord, whilst you’re doing something positive with your limited agency and energy.

        1. John McLeod says:

          Thanks again for this inspiring vision of how we can all work together in ways that are satisfying and meaningful in themselves, as well as building a collective way of life that can cope with the challenges that face us all as the systems we currently live within gradually fall apart. As well as all that (not instead of it), I believe that elected politicans could do a lot more. I think that there one of the problmes in society is that elected leaders assume that their primary job is to pass laws and adminster tax revenues – in other words, make sure that the government/State delivers services. They seem to have lost sight of the idea that they can also function as catalysts and enablers for individuals and communities to pursue their own initiatives. For example, for the last 18 months Nicola Sturgeon has spoken to the nation almost every day, informing and encouraging us around covid and what we all need to do to handle it. Some of this has referred to government controlled services, such as vaccinations and economic support. But a lot of it has been about what we can do in our own everyday lives. Why can’t the First Minister, other ministers, opposition politicians, journalists etc carry this approach forward in relation to the climate crisis? There is plently to talk about, lots to do, and endless examples of both local and international projects that people would like to hear about.

          1. John McLeod says:

            Want to just add that ‘climate crisis’ is not the best way to talk about this, because it implies that the problem is something ‘out there’ – i.e., weather systems, etc. It is more accurate to describe the problem as being ‘in’ us or ‘between’ us. We are all participaring in, and perpetuating, a way of life that is inexorably destroying the capacity of the biosphere to sustain it (see the survival places article link in Mark’s earlier post). What needs to change is the way we live. Does anyone have a good word that captures this idea? ‘Transition’ refers to an important aspect of it, but its a very broad term – there are many different types of life transition, such as from school to work, etc. Also, in Scotland it seems to have been subsumed into a concept of ‘just transition’ which seems to me to be a way of saying that we need to do this is a nice way, without actually facing up to what the actual things are that we are needing to do. Many of the actions that need to be taken refer to things that people enjoy doing and would have to give up or do less of, such as driving cars, going on foreign holidays, or wrapping food in plastic. Politicans (or any of us) don’t like to talk about sacrifice or what would be perceived as a lowering of standards of living.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            The problem, though, as with all inspiring visions or utopian thinking, is the ‘how’.

            Or do you expect that a collective way of life, in which we can all work together to produce our means of subsistence in ways that are both meaningful and satisfying in themselves and environmentally sustainable (social and environmental justice), just spontaneously happen like a phoenix rising from the ashes?

            Why would social and environmental justice automatically be the general will of (what remains of) mankind in your vision of post-apocalyptic society? Why couldn’t that general will equally emerge as egotistical and competitive, dog-eat-dog and the devil take the hindmost; a general will that expresses itself in a more Thrasymachan ideology of justice, whereby ‘might’ rather than ‘equity’ is right?

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            “…in Scotland, it seems to have been subsumed into a concept of ‘just transition’ which seems to me to be a way of saying that we need to do this in a nice way, without actually facing up to what the actual things are that we are needing to do. Many of the actions that need to be taken refer to things that people enjoy doing and would have to give up or do less of, such as driving cars, going on foreign holidays, or wrapping food in plastic. Politicians (or any of us) don’t like to talk about sacrifice or what would be perceived as a lowering of standards of living.”

            And there you have the nub of the problem: the changes/sacrifices you want are contrary to the general will, which is for material affluence rather than social and environmental justice. Hence, you are the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness.

  3. Colin Robinson says:

    I think your analysis of the spectacle of COP26 is spot on. Governments are powerless in the face of apocalypse.

    However, we – the governed – are also powerless as potential agents of change. This is due to the totalitarian nature of capitalist society.

    Demonstrations, even large ones, are apropos of nothing. A march proceeds, chants are cast into the air of public indifference, speeches are made by the usual gasbags, then we head home and carry on, as usual, having had a nice day out.

    Protest isn’t a political let alone a revolutionary act. Capitalist colonisation has been internalised to such a saturating degree that protest has evolved to be toothless and non-threatening with regard to the existing structures of power.

    The colonisation of consciousness – hegemony – in capitalist society has become completely seamless. We’re conditioned to accept a modified and sanitised version of dissent. These faux forms of dissent serve as safety valves for the release of our general feelings of unease or sense of injustice, a kind of social therapy or catharsis. They’re forms of dissent that are acceptable to the status quo and even serve to support it.

    This is because there’s a real fear, reinforced by example, of how powerful negative disruption (as opposed to positive protest) can be. Throwing a spanner in the works – or flying an airliner into an iconic building – actually gets attention and action. It reveals in la propagande par le fait how brutal and ruthless the current order is by revisiting that brutality on that order itself.

    There’s a conformity to how people in capitalist society behave today when it comes to protesting power. And this is precisely what those who exercise that power wish: accepted discourse and dissent, carried on within designated boundaries.

    The Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes reveals just how the state treats those who dissent in a way that upends established power structures. People walked out of their jobs, took to the streets, and shut down the machinery of society. They were met with breathtaking violence by Macron’s government and scant media coverage.
    When people seriously confront existing power structures, they’re met with the aggressive repression of the state rather than escorted and protected by the police because they’ve got the right permits to occupy designated ‘free-speech zones’ on a designated weekend. Their confrontation won’t appear in glossy photos on the cover of corporate-owned magazines.

    Contrast this with the demonstrations that regularly take place in cities around the world. Most of these are coordinated, many have NGO support, and all of them are spectacularly impressive, with flags and klaxons and drums and carnival. But very little is disrupted in a way that causes any meaningful discomfort to the status quo.

    What I find most troubling, though, is that so many of our protests and movements demand that our governments ‘do something’ about whatever trouble it is that’s inconveniencing us. Which is extraordinary given the premise that it’s these very governments that have caused those troubles in the first place, that the problem is the solution (which is the real absurdity of ‘solutionism). It also bespeaks an astounding lack of agency on our part or any sense that we might ‘do something’ for ourselves. We’re like upset children, running to our parents and demanding that they take away our hurt and make things right again.

    Protest in capitalist society has become an identity, a status, which fandom we live out by means of consumerism. Status consciousness or ‘identity’ sells, and conformity with the status quo is both maintained and reproduced through our fear of a loss of status or identity.

    The colonisation of consciousness by capitalism is really that insidious.

    1. Ian S says:

      Spot on, thank you.

  4. Roland Chaplain says:

    Thanks Mike. This so needed saying yet again. I wish I knew the answer how to connect with the vast numbers of people who just feel helpless in the face of the power of big corporations, the culture of consumerism and a UK government that is the most mistrusted in my lifetime. At least there is one small step we can all make and that is to support young people from the Global South (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) to be enabled to come to COP26 and tell their story. The COP26 Coalition, FoE, War on Want and other groups are building a support network to make this possible. crowdfunder supporting Global South activists get to COP26. We also need to do everything we can to pressure and support the Scottish Government to stand up to the might and deception of Westminster and also BBC collusion with promoting techno-growth non-solutions. Finally an appeal to anyone else from my own profession as an applied weather and climate forecaster- please, please keep using every opportunity to tell the story. We have a very special responsibility just like public health experts do with Covid.

  5. Maclean says:

    You can see it’s a Boris and Westminster propaganda exercise. He’s already had Union Jack waving ministers jetting all over the planet to show its an English Imperialist Event in one of their colonies. Not an event in Glasgow Scotland ,but Glasgow U.K. the Scottish government will be encouraged to go on holiday that weekend, somewhere other than Scotland . Like all things international,Scotland has no say that’s down to being a subservient country . We’re like a child all grown up ,with ideas, ambition ,hopes for a better and brighter tomorrow but crippled by our abusive bigger partner. That won’t change until we change it , sad thing is , all thats said or agreed at COP 26 will come to nothing as the big players are handcuffed to the big companies and power , and they don’t what change. We’re well past the tipping point ,thats came and went in 1998. It’s a down hill slope from here and it’s getting faster every day . Funny how people thought Water World was just a picture ,now it looks more like a prediction.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Yes, Waterworld was slated at the time as ‘pretentious’ in relation to its environmental message. But maybe it deserves reappraisal as an early working of the climate apocalypse narrative that shapes our current consciousness. I must say that, at the time, I found it good, invigorating escapist fun, like a good, old-fashioned Western.

  6. Tom Ultuous says:

    A depressing but accurate summary Mike. So little will be done that when you take into account the environmental impact of these world “leaders” attending an overall loss will be shown.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      I’m sure the event will be a success for the politicians in terms of its primary grandstanding purpose. It will also provide the protesters with a nice day out and Police Scotland with an opportunity to test its systems and procedures.

      Let’s hope they get good weather.

      1. Tom ultuous says:

        There will also be plenty of money wasted by the “leaders” paying lip service to averting the crisis. The US will set aside trillions. Johnson will set aside “billions” (approx 8 guineas in clown speak).

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          The insoluble crises of capitalism need to be embraced rather than averted, Tom.

  7. Daniel Raphael says:

    Outstanding as usual, Michael. Extracted a pity portion and tweeted along.

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      Pithy, damn it.

  8. Tom Ultuous says:

    Suppose a drug was created that reversed telomere lengths to youthful levels such that you could only die in an accident or by your own hand. Would it make a difference or is the number of meaningless noughts at the end of their bank balance the only thing that matters to them?

  9. Mouse says:

    I guess it’s called the ‘conference of parties 26’ because the UN don’t want to be associated with the annual UN climate change conference?

  10. Bob Hamilton says:

    We shouldn’t be daft enough to think “COP 26” as a concept for change will be successful. We shouldn’t give a monkeys for the “Conference of the Parties” we should be concerned with a “Conference of the People”

    Therefor we would be better to look at COP 26 as an event and opportunity for education, organising and progressive change in the places that are obvious and available around us. Feeding, educating and social interaction, exhibited by our food banks and mutual aid programs and public expression of conscience we have learned around covid.
    Visiting COP 26 delegates/activists should be encouraged to explore our communities, for what they can offer and what they can find that is inspirational in taking us forward.

    Six Degrees Of Separation
    A project with COP26 in mind and the opportunity for sustainable community education and learning.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.