Nov 23, 2008

Learning in London

Free from pressing school deadlines, I stepped away from academia this weekend for a bit of Free Skoolin'. Across London there were workshops, skillshares, and art classes for folks open enough to learn from an equal. I've spent about 8 weeks under a flood of expert education. Education imbued with hierarchy and elitism. But Free Skool, like infoshops and other skillshares, gives us a chance to learn about ideas that interest us (climate change, art, music, bike repair, self defense, permaculture) outside of the institutional setting.

Most relevant to this blog, I attended a workshop on Class and Climate Change. Attendees were involved or interested in class struggle or environmental movements at various levels. We discussed the way that climate change will affect different groups of people in the world and at smaller scales. Hurricane Katrina was considered a potential worst case scenario of climate chaos: Poor people being left behind as people with privilege escape the most damaging impacts. Rising food and fuel costs disproportionately affecting the poor was another example considered.

We considered the way that climate change can feel really abstract in your daily life, even if your food and fuel costs are rising. It's tough to pin that on a source. We call it the economy much more readily than calling it scarcity or an environmental issue. I kept thinking about wildfire news. We usually hear about million dollar mansions about to be devoured, or some celebrity who might lose a home. Unless the homes of 500 poor people are wiped out at once. It's not a human interest item unless a bunch of poor people get fucked. Kinda like Katrina, no? I digress (therefore, I blog).

We also talked about what could enhance the immediacy of climate change for people and something pretty fab came up. We kinda started talking about phenology. I find this fab because I've been thinking about ways to do a phenological dissertation that might contribute to the conservation of a species, hopefully one that indicates health of a habitat, while also highlighting the immediacy of climate change. Yeah, phenology is that old naturalist science of recording natural events. Like when butterflies emerge from cocoons or when flowers bloom or whatever natural events tend to coincide with temperature, seasonality, etc.

I like phenology because it has the potential to erode skepticism associated with climate change. Events like Katrina and two years of drought in California are explained away as episodic variations in nature's rythms. Most of us realize that nature isn't blissfully balanced but is in fact capable of terrific displays of unremittent ferocity. So we can pass off intensifying hurricane seasons, prolonged droughts, and mild winters as variations along a vast timeline.

But what happnes when you start talking to people about the lack of snow on a local mountain? Or the way that trees hang on to their leaves into December when they used to drop in late October? I hear people open up and contribute their own anecdotal experiences, even in places like rural Georgia. It's the kind of change that people can be bothered to lament. And I think it's a way to further the discussions of climate change in popular venues. I'm not necessarily talking about convincing people that climate change is real, but more that climate change must be addressed ... NOW.

Is it me or have we reached several thresholds at once? Ecological, Economic, Social... We have an amazing opportunity with the collapse of our economic systems. We can make a new way forward, absent the ultimate global inequality that has brought us to climate chaos and scarcity. I'm not talking about carbon trading, clean fuel, or green consumerism, addressed nicely by CorpWatch here. And I'm not talking about all of us moving to the sticks and going off the grid. There just ain't enough land for 6-9 billion of us to do that. But instead of fully market based solutions, I'm more excited by the Green for All concept pushed by Van Jones. I don't love it when he goes off on the power plant or wind/wave/solar farm ideas, but I do like that he's taken the economic crisis and not only offered a viable solution but one that could affect inequality and climate change and habitat/species loss if enacted responsibly. (Paving California's deserts with solar panels wouldn't help habitat, for example. Instead I favor putting those panels closer to the sources that need them, like on top of buildings and such). I'm not sure that these solutions are as anti-capitalist as I am personally, but I support their exploration as a viable alternative to business as usual.

As much as I love the individual initiatives like the Compact, I recognize that the lifestyle choices of the few will rectify little if we don't make some huge systemic changes. I love challenging myself to be be as carbon neutral as possible, but when I have to turn on the heat, I don't have a lot of good options. Lifestyle purity - if that's your thing - won't spare one the non-discriminating effects of climate change. So we need some bigger solutions. We need bigger but decentralized solutions wherever possible.

So that's what Free Skool did to me this weekend. It reopened my brain. It connected some academic learning to some real life situations and perceptions. It reminded me that we're all experts and no one is an expert. It allowed me to creatively relate my science to my social life, resuscitating a bit of me that's been on life support for the past few months as I've had my head stuck up my transcontinental ass. Oh, and Free Skool exposed me to three awesome autonomous spaces and about 50 radical peops I hope to see again!!! Damn, and I wrote all of this without ever touching the free boxes, People's Republic of Southwark, and the mini-ecofair that holds promise for a monthly Really Really Free Market in London. Next time, then.


EccentricEmma said...

You have been given an award!

Beth! said...

hola amiga - two things sprang to mind while reading your post.

(1) your mention of phenology reminded me of the Shifting Baselines phenomenon, where what appears "normal" now is not necessarily what was normal at another time (for example, average fish sizes today are smaller than a century ago for some species, because of overfishing). This can cloud perception of the rate of change, and is again, as you said, so important to talk to different generations to gauge how things have changed.

(2) Someone else that inspires me with viable solutions to address the triad of ecological, environmental and societal problems is George Monbiot. I wonder if you will read any of his work for your classes?

rachel kesel said...

thanks for the shifting baselines info. i'm finding this line of science something i can really love as it's fairly populist and also incorporates some cultural information.

regarding george monbiot, i totally love him. we don't read anything w/ any relevance to society. we really just seem to focus on the science and bureaucracy. my course is encouraged to explore all other elements of conservation on their own time. which i manage.

i believe george monbiot will be at this mtg tomorrow, which i plan to attend in prep for the ntl climate march on 12/6.

'How do we get back to climate safety?'
27th November, 7pm at Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ

lili said...

hello again, a really inspiring book to read would be 'do it yourself, a guide to changing our world' by the trapeze collective, one of the key points being that no effective environmental change is possible without a socio-economic change.

rachel kesel said...

thx PRoS! I've seen this book (DIY: A Handbook for Changing Our World) several times at my fav bookstore in SF (Modern Times).

here's a substantial link to it for other folks.

maybe i'll see if 56a has a loaner copy so i can read it and do some writing on it here.