Sunday 29 November 2015

Thoughts and feelings on COP2 Swansea by Guest Blogger, Bethan Cox

I am sitting in my warm, dry home with a sense of gratitude.  I have a lot to be grateful for - firstly that I live in the current era when my world has been relatively peaceful and easy.  I’m not sure how long I will have the ability to live a life with so many possibilities and choices.  I went to the COP2 Swansea event today to watch the film Age of the Stupid. Even though I had seen the film before I wanted to support Emergence with their Swansea based events around COP21.
I’m so glad I went. It felt like I really re-connected with people and the fragile world that supports us.  It was a beautiful start to hear Fern reading the poem Extinction by Jackie Kay, it set the tone to what I found a depressing but at the same time uplifting afternoon. 
credit: Eleanor Flaherty
We began by sharing with each other someone who had been an inspiration to us.  Chris Seeley was a huge inspiration to me, I met her through an environmental training course, where she introduced me to Joanna Macy and the importance of honouring my emotions as well as my actions towards living on this planet, within the looming crisis of climate change.  Chris helped to create a space to discuss deep environmental issues and explore our emotions linked with these issues.  Through this work I came to discover more about myself, and found out what nourishes me. Chris helped me to find the confidence and skills to make significant changes to my life and become self-employed.  Chris passed away almost a year ago, I know she inspired many people and her beliefs and creativity will live on through them.
credit: Eleanor Flaherty
Phil Ralph then led an interesting discussion/talk – this brought up lots of thoughts for myself and others in the group.  It made me think about how I blame others for the state our environment.  I realised that I can only truly know what I feel and think, not what others feel & think and that I am the only person who can act differently.   Although we can influence others, they are in control of their own actions and thoughts and have to make their own choices.  I’m sure other people picked up completely different ideas and feelings from this talk/discussion, only they would be able to tell you about what it brought up for themselves!

credit: Eleanor Flaherty
Then for the film - The Age of Stupid.

I felt complete despair when I was watching the film, there are so many images that stuck in my mind and other people in the group later described images that stuck with themselves…
Eleanor  - the African lady having to wash oil off a tiny fish with soap powder which they would eat, when in complete contrast the American guy caught a large fish and threw it back.
Jane - the anti-wind farm campaigner gloating that they had successfully stopped the wind farm at the same time as saying how she’s worried about global warming.  Anna wanting to the throw a mug at the screen when she watched that bit.
Jo - the images of the effects of oil consumption has had on villages in Africa and the stories told of murder by the government to prevent problems with oil extraction.
Pete - the graph showing the CO2 emissions when the film was made in 2009 climbing to reach a maximum by 2015, after which they would have to decrease rapidly, for us not to go beyond the tipping point of 2oC rise in temperatures. 
Several people felt haunted by the last image from space of the dead world surrounded by space junk.

I found the real footage from past news reports all documenting the way things are going really upsetting.  What I found the hardest to take in was that we knew all this seven years ago and the positive actions they suggested in the film haven’t happened.  The opposite seems true - consumerism is still the strongest driving force affecting people & the decisions of politicians.
I was left feeling hopeless and helpless and a massive part of the problem.  I was pissed off! How can humans - the amazing, inventive, creative species that we are - have created this path of destruction which seems unstoppable?
credit: Eleanor Flaherty
I’m so glad I stayed after the film, as I felt confused and despondent wondering what the point was.  As others shared their feelings I realised I wasn’t alone - people were equally as confused, upset, and left with feels of guilt.   There was also a strong sense of belief in the power of people coming together to share in the emotions of it all and finding support and solutions together.  I liked Phil’s description of the fact that two quantum states can exist simultaneously and somehow we can balance the dichotomy of feeling hopeless and hopeful at the same time.
We discussed ways we can go forth and take control of our actions and honour our emotions around climate change.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the final list of pro-active projects and actions out there that Anna compiles, as there were way too many projects for me to take note of them all.
I now feel after writing this that I’ve off-loaded even more of the mixed-up emotions the event brought up.  I’ll finish by quoting a few bits from the day with the derivations of words from Phil.  

I feel comforted (together strong) by the sense of community (one together) we shared today with people, who at the start were mostly strangers to me.  I am less apathetic (without emotion) I and know it’s ok to “feel the pain because I care” (thanks Dai).  I have a sense of gratitude to all involved with the event, Fern, Phil, The Environment Centre staff and all the other participants.  I feel reconnected with a deep compassion (co-suffering) for the people and planet I thrive on.  

Beth Cox - I’m passionate about deepening connections with myself, our environment and the people I share those spaces with. I was Pembrokeshire’s Biodiversity Officer for 10 years, I am now a full time yoga therapist in Swansea, I have been teaching yoga to individuals and groups for over 5 years.  (

Thursday 26 November 2015

Climate change on ice … and pallets! - reflections on COP1 SWANSEA by Anna Pigott

'Surprising' was the word that I chose when it was my turn to sum up my experience of COP1 as we reflected on the afternoon's activities at the end of the day. I chose this word because, from my point of view as a member of the organising team and someone who had arrived at the event with just a bit of trepidation in my heart, it turned out to be very pleasantly surprising day. People had turned up! Up to 40 people all in the room at one point, all giving up their Sunday afternoons, all with a shared concern about climate change and a desire to talk about it. That seemed pretty amazing to me, and I don't think I was alone in agreeing with one person's glowing summation at the end of the day which was simply, 'I love Swansea!'.

But that wasn't the only way in which I was surprised, it turned out. COP1 had other tricks up its sleeve for me. I'll come back to that later. First, perhaps you'd like to know what on earth we did for six hours in a room with climate change.

It began – as all good climate change events surely do – with trying to draw a complete stranger's face while looking only at them and not at the piece of paper. Well, it certainly broke the ice! (Get it? Sorry).  We spent some time getting to know our fellow COPers, lounging on the fabulous Cinema & Co pallet sofas, laughing, drawing, finding out what we had in common, and generally easing ourselves into the day.

Credit: Eleanor Flaherty
With a reshuffling of the pallets, we were ready for Philip Ralph to take the floor with his One Eyed Man performance/stand up/improvisation/dialogue (it defies definition!). The atmosphere was somewhat tense, and while some people needed to get some thoughts off their chest in response to Phil's musings, others simply needed to listen to him lay bare his own feelings about climate change, and about life, with remarkable honesty. As a group, guided by Phil, we grappled with issues about blame, about who's 'we' and who's 'they' and, most importantly perhaps, where's 'I' in all of this? I personally found it hugely affirming just to hear another person talk candidly about how climate change makes them feel, however grim that might be.

Credit: Eleanor Flaherty
It's not easy to know what to say after an experience like that (and I don't just mean Phil's impromptu George Michael impression), and so afterwards we dispersed, blinking, into a welcome tea and cake break, and a few more people drifted in from the street to join us.

Then we got to the film bit. Chasing Ice is a documentary which follows the attempts of photographer James Balog and his team to document the retreat of glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and North America. It is both beautiful and distressing at the same time. Although I found the personal narrative a bit OTT at times, the imagery spoke for itself. The reality of man-made climate change is inescapable in this film and that was the difficult bit. I suppose there is always a tiny part of me that likes to cling to a hope that it isn't happening – that the earth is not loosing its wonderful icy landscapes and that there aren't a host of scary consequences for life on earth that go with that. It is easier not to be reminded. But the film reminded me that it is happening, and that I am nostalgic for ice I have never visited. In fact I am terribly sad about it. And so were other people, it turned out. In the small group of people I sat with after the film, some reactions included 'bleak', 'sad' and 'helpless'.

After the film and some time for us to reflect there was a lovely, peaceful, half an hour with a kaleidoscope of things going on in the room – some people drawing and writing their thoughts on the boards up on the wall, others choosing to stay huddled in their groups, mulling over the film, sometimes with visible emotion. Some people ate lunch, others browsed the reading material left out for sharing. Eleanor Brown played some much-needed soul-soothing music. This was certainly unlike any cinema experience I'd ever had before.

Eleanor Brown - Credit: Eleanor Flaherty
The final part of the day was spent turning our gaze towards action and inspiration. Sometimes a gloomy prognosis can be a perfect spring board for optimism – as long as there is space and time for that to happen. We had more flipchart sheets' worth of ideas and projects than can be shared here, but words flowed and connections were made between people and projects previously unknown to one another. We heard about local co-operatives and democracy initiatives, useful websites, inspiring philosophies, emerging campaigns and much more (watch this space for full details!).

So, back to the surprise. When I got home, despite COP1's optimistic ending, I was jittery and depressed. I didn't expect that. You see, I like to think I'm one of those people who 'gets' climate change. I know it's a big deal, and I make adjustments to my life and my work and so on .. so I know how to cope with it, right? And I know how to think about it, of course ... I mean, after all, this COP thing was more for other people than for me, wasn't it? Hum. That evening a cloud of gloom caught up with me – the one that I generally manage to avoid by not actually thinking about climate change too much and just trying to do stuff about it. And here's the melodramatic bit: I had an existential crisis. Yeah I know! An actual one, right there in the living room listening to Enya (don't ask – it was a coincidence). I was suddenly all adrift, and panic set in: what the heck does it actually mean to be human if climate change really does spell such terrible consequences for life and – perhaps more poignantly – what does it say about us as a species if we fail to do anything about it? If we are just living to eventually go extinct and cause horrible suffering and joyless societies in the mean time – well what's the point in that?! It's not exactly easy to figure out the meaning of life at the best of times, but the prospect of catastrophic climate change doesn't make it any easier!

This catastrophic view is not one that I necessarily think will happen (because I hold on to a hope we can turn things around, and in many ways already are), but the day's activities forced me to confront the 'worst-case' as a possibility and, I think really for the first time, meant that I allowed the full significance of climate change in. That's why six hours in a room with it was necessary. I couldn't go and distract myself, and I was confronted with the sadness and fear that other people feel about this too. There is nothing like witnessing another person's emotions to make an issue more real. But there is also nothing like shared emotions to feel solidarity with one another.  It was impossible to leave COP1 and and still think 'no one else cares about climate change'. While the existential crisis has (thankfully!) subsidised for the time being, I am left with a hugely liberating sense that it is OK to talk, and that other people do care. Let's see what surprises COP2 and 3 have in store!

Monday 9 November 2015

To COP or not to COP - that is the question... by Philip Ralph

You may well be aware that in the next few weeks there are some extremely important talks on the future of our planet happening in Paris. The COP21 Climate Summit is taking place with representatives from all the governments of the world heading to the ‘City of Light’ to negotiate a lasting settlement on global CO2 emissions.

To say these talks are important is like saying breathing is kind of handy for being alive. The science is in. The data is clear. And even if these two things weren’t the case, the evidence of our own eyes tells the story clearly enough. Floods, storms, heatwaves, forest fires, droughts, species extinction. Man made climate change is threatening the future of life on this planet – not just human life, all life. 

We have been playing with our giant chemistry set, the Earth, since the beginning of the industrial age and now, as we pass the milestone of 1°C of warming with no end in sight, we are entering ‘uncharted territory’. 2015 is the warmest year on record and temperatures are set to rise still further with 2016 predicted to be the first year in which the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaches 400 parts per million (ppm). It’s safe to say, no matter what we do, things are never going to be the same again... This is our new ‘permanent reality’, folks...

And I’ve lost you, haven’t I?

Let’s say you’ve got this far. Let’s say that you actually clicked on the link to this blog and read this far. I can pretty much guarantee that you are now thinking of something, anything, else. I can pretty much guarantee that, no matter how concerned you are by what’s happening, no matter how engaged you are in doing something about it, no matter how much of an eco-warrior you consider yourself to be – you’ve still switched off.

Because this is utterly terrifying stuff I’m talking about here. It’s so terrifying and so huge that it’s incredibly hard for us to stay engaged and not flee into our minds or bodies to anything that brings us comfort. And, believe me, I’m not writing this to make you feel guilty or to force you to change or become an eco-activist. I’m writing this because I care passionately and with every fibre of my being about what we’re doing to this beautiful planet of ours... and I want to run away too.

I want everything to be alright. I want to bury myself in DVD box sets and holidays in the sun and nice food and a warm house. I want everything to stay as it is. And yet, the way things are isn’t especially making me happy. In fact, most of the time, it makes me miserable. So, why don’t I want to change it? Because I know this life. I know this way of being. And the future... is really scary...

All of these issues and questions are with me on a daily basis. I imagine they are with you too. And I can’t talk about them because I feel like I’m bringing up God at an atheist’s convention. I feel like I’m committing some kind of social faux-pas even to mention the words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. It’s just not cool (no pun intended...). It’s tantamount to talking about death. We just don’t want to think about it even though it’s the one absolute certainty that we all share. Only now, climate change and all it’s consequences are running death a close second and they may well catch up in the next few years. So, why the hell aren’t we talking about it?

Fern and I share these concerns. We are trying to live our lives by them. We are struggling to make our choices by them – not because it makes us feel virtuous and smug but because it makes us feel better. It makes us feel like we’re doing what we can. And also – and this cannot be overstated – it makes us feel so much happier than all the activities that the economic growth model of living wants us to partake in. So much happier and more connected to our own souls and to other people.

Because we share these concerns we wanted to go to Paris for COP21. We wanted to be there, with all the many hundreds of thousands of deeply concerned citizens from around the world who are making the trip to let their voices be heard. We wanted to be there so badly... but we can’t afford the trip. And we wondered what difference two more people would make. And we wondered if there were something we could do that was closer to home; something that might directly impact our locality here in Swansea; something that might connect us to other local people who feel deeply concerned and can’t make it to Paris...

And that’s why, in collaboration with many of our good friends, we are organising and hosting COP SWANSEA 1, 2 & 3. These three events are a space where, we hope, people will come together to talk about this huge issue that hides under our daily lives without being spoken of. We hope people will come and simply be with each other and allow their fears to be heard. So often, when it comes to activism or marching or protest, fear turns to anger. And as Yoda says, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.

We want to provide a space where fear can be seen for what it is – and that fear can be shared and, together, we can find a way to use that fear for positive actions and change. We’re not stipulating outcomes, we’re not insisting that actions must come from these meetings. We know they will and we trust that they will help in some small way to alleviate the fears of those who attend.

We’re also going to show some films – three extraordinary documentaries about the current crisis. Chasing Ice, The Age of Stupid and This Changes Everything.

I don’t know about you but I usually avoid films such as these like the plague. Why? Because I’m terrified and feel powerless and so often films like this only make me feel worse. But we believe, in coming together and talking and sharing our fears, we can find our way to something that enables us all to move forwards.

The direct inspiration for showing films at the COP SWANSEA events came a few weeks ago when Fern and I attended a screening of the film HOME by Yann Arthus-Bertrand at Swansea’s Environment Centre – our venue for COP2. HOME is an extraordinary film containing stunningly beautiful images of our world and the damage we are doing to it. You can watch it free online in its entirety. See below. (I recommend watching it on the largest possible screen you can... and having some tissues handy...)

Fern and I – and our friends Jo and Yanis – sat and watched Home together with some forty other people. At times I could barely bring myself to look at the screen, so painful and heartbreaking was it to take in the images I was seeing. I found myself utterly devastated by the film and, even when it tried to offer some sense of hope and positivity in its final minutes, I remained locked in my grief.

When the film ended, the audience sat in total silence. And then we instantly launched into announcements about all the various actions and meetings we could go to in the coming days and weeks... But we needed so much more than announcements...

We needed space. We needed time. We needed to be together in our shock and grief. We needed to be able to cry. We needed to be able to talk. We needed each other.

And so, that is what we intend to do at COP SWANSEA 1, 2 & 3. We’re going to meet each other, show some films and then we’re going to be together with however they make us feel. And we know that out of that togetherness will come comfort, will come solace, will come action.

We couldn’t make it to Paris. That’s okay. We can still find ways to come together and let our voices – our fears and hopes – be heard. We very much hope you’ll join us.

Tickets are on sale now. These events are non-profit – all monies raised will go towards covering costs (film licenses and venue costs).

Thursday 5 November 2015

COP SWANSEA (1, 2 & 3)

Emergence - in association with Cinema & Co, The Environment Centre and Volcano Theatre – presents:

COP SWANSEA (1, 2 & 3)

For two weeks in November and December 2015, the world’s leaders will come together in Paris for COP21, a crucial conference to try to achieve a new international agreement on climate change, aiming to keep global warming below 2°C. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are also going to Paris to make their voices heard... but like lots of us who care deeply, we can’t be there. So, we’re bringing it back home.

COP SWANSEA (1, 2 & 3) - Three events combining discussions, creative offerings from local performers, and film screenings. Three opportunities to share our concerns and solutions; to talk about our fears and plan actions; to get better informed about the scale of the challenge and what we can all do to play our part in changing things for the better.

Cinema & Co, 17 Castle Street, SA1 1JF - Screening: Chasing Ice

The Environment Centre, Pier Street, SA1 1RY – Screening: The Age of Stupid

Volcano Theatre, 27-29 High Street, SA1 1LG – Screening: This Changes Everything

Tickets are limited, so please book now via the event links above to secure your place. 
Or call 07555 984986 for more details.

Tickets: £5 - this is a not-for-profit event. All monies raised will go towards covering costs.

If you would like to attend and are unable to pay, please contact Emergence on 07555984986

Please bring a picnic lunch. Tea and coffee will be for sale.

We’ll also be collecting for Swansea Food Bank –
please bring non-perishable food items to donate.

Come to one, two or all three – to connect with others and make your voice heard.