Trimtab* tactics to move civil society on climate

*A ship’s trimtab is a small narrow rudder on the trailing edge of the much large rudder. To start turning a huge ship, the trimtab is deflected, which initiates the process of turning the ship
by making the larger rudder easier to shift and which ultimately changes the ship’s course.
It was an analogy used by Buckminster Fuller as to how he regarded his own work.

by Richard A. Shirres

As the hope of the Paris Agreement recedes, with the UN reporting1 we are on track for a 2.8°C global temperature rise, and as the distant thunder of ever more amplified climate impacts mercilessly rolls on towards us, here in the UK serious government ‘climate action’ languishes, its credibility further undone by the ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ fig-leaf of its globally unjust target of ‘Net Zero’ by 2050. At COP26, the UK committed to reducing its emissions by 72% of 1990 levels within 8 years (2030). The current prognosis in the UK for local climate action, if stirred by civil society, suggests the 2030 target would be missed unless our civil society malaise around engagement about climate is systematically challenged.

Our, at best, casual approach to citizenship and civil society engagement in the UK has degraded considerably in the last four decades. Factors in that degradation include our neoliberal governance, with its stress on the individual, and the fuelled growth of consumerism partially enabled by our car-planned culture, which can be set alongside the loss of community interaction opportunities. On the latter, for example, we can point to decades of ‘house-box’ making with bleak-‘lets escape’- streetscapes and poor quality place-making meanwhile about 20% of libraries have closed in the last decade.

A recent public opinion survey2 suggests only 13% of the UK public do fully understand that climate change is entirely caused by human activity. This is an indictment of messaging by government at all levels and the main stream media [MSM] as a whole. Crucially, the relentless, and unquestioning, reinforcement of the growth paradigm across all MSM and leading political parties defies reality. After WWII, rates of total global material extraction began increasing exponentially. But since the start of the 21st century, global levels of extraction3 have shot past ecologically sustainable limits and now annual rates of extraction are increasing on an ever more rampant exponential trend (With direct implications for both emissions & global ecosystems). Ultimately in real life, exponential trends crash.

Yet around the planet, and even in the UK, there are communities reaching for a different paradigm; understanding that there is ‘another world’ but it needs to be this one; to paraphrase Paul Éluard. Climate scientists, western activists and, especially, indigenous peoples truly understand already the insidious impacts from global heating and ecological destruction. Most of the UK population clearly does not.

Whilst those who are focussed on the climate & ecological crisis mostly cross-fertilise knowledge and actions within our bubbles, we cannot turn our ‘huge ship’ towards implementing societal transformation unless there is a common understanding across the majority of civil society about the causes of the crisis, its actual status and the imperative to act. Only a culture of empowered communities and active citizenship can ultimately provoke a political shift towards the urgent societal changes needed. The first step is to achieve a common understanding by the majority of civil society about the nature of the crisis and actions needed.

The presentation: Towards a Systematic Inception of Civil Society Discourse: The Conjoined Envisioning of Global Climate Impact & Local Community Response, was first given at the Co-operative sponsored Ways Forward Conference in October 2022, in Manchester. Providing some useful graphics, it attempts to outline background and tactics that may help to bring communities together, so to begin adding to the crucially necessary civil society engagement because hope now lies in actions.


1. United Nations Environment Programme (2022). Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window — Climate crisis calls for rapid
transformation of societies. Nairobi.
2. BEIS (2021). BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker (March 2021, Wave 37, UK). Published 13 May 2021, Figure 4.
3a. Bringezu, S. (2015). Possible Target Corridor for Sustainable Use of Global Material Resources. Resources 2015, 4, 25-54;
3b. Krausmann Fridolin, Simone Gingrich, Nina Eisenmenger, Karl-Heinz Erb, Helmut Haberl & Marina Fischer-Kowalski, 2009. Growth
in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century. Ecological Economics 68(10), 2696-2705.


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Places for Everyone goes before the Planning Inspectorate

November is the month in which the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Places for Everyone Plan goes before the Planning Inspectorate for its “Examination in Public”.

Cover of the Places for Everyone report

Anyone can watch the hearings, which, as it’s a huge plan with many aspects, will take the best part of the month.

As SSM made critical comments in our section 19 consultation response last year, we have the right to speak at the sessions and will be going to several of them as will other community and environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and some of the constituent groups of the Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt coalition.

Of particular note will be Friday’s morning’s session which will deal with the plan’s Sustainability Appraisal. This is part of the outsourced Integrated Assessment and we made a number of criticisms of it. Chief among these is the failure to provide any estimate of the carbon impact of the plan despite the legislation requiring that plans demonstrate how they contribute to the mitigation and adaptation of climate change.


Places for Everyone, the plan and the voluminous list of supporting documents.

The Examination website with links to all relevant documents, including our (and others’) written statements.

The timetable for the first part of the examination and the agenda for next week.

The live-streams of the sessions in the first week:

1 Nov AM:

1 Nov PM:

2 Nov:

3 Nov:

4 Nov:

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Stitched Up: towards a Viable Economy, locally and globally

This is the second in our series of pieces about organisations that have received Steady State Manchester’s Viable Future Mark.

Bryony Moore spoke with Mark Burton about the work of the Stitched Up co-operative. You can listen to the full discussion (28 minutes) HERE.

Stitched Up members with some of their upcycled and repaired clothing.

The Stitched Up team at their sustainable clothing hub in Stretford, with some of their upcycled and repaired clothing.

Stitched Up was set up by a group of people with varied backgrounds to do with fashion, creative arts and well-being who shared concerns about the dominant model of the fashion business. The issues of waste, unsustainability and exploitation seemed to be so global and remote that it was difficult to take action. However, by focussing on reducing consumption locally, by promoting repair and upcycling and the skills to do that, they have been able to raise the issues with many people and make a distinct contribution to both understanding the issues and doing something about them.

In our conversation we noted the contradiction between the way people here were brought together to work in textile factories, thereby developing a collective consciousness, something that has largely gone (but being celebrated in one of the co-op’s projects) leaving its opposite, the isolated consumer, preyed on by the marketing function of the global textile and fashion industry. As research at the University of Exeter has shown, learning how clothes are made helps shift the relationship people have with fashion, helping us value how things are made.

Stitched Up is now a Community Benefit Society, with a membership, some 50 volunteers and a small staff team.

Stitched up runs workshops on upcycling, mending, making and also on repair (via its fortnightly Repair Café). They work with local groups and arrange clothing swaps too. Stitched Up joins with globally focussed campaigns and action calls. Fundamentally they work to increase the sustainability of clothing, keeping clothes in use for longer, thereby opposing the throw-away culture of the fashion industry, especially “fast fashion”. They also take donations of cloth and have prevented the destruction of some three tonnes this year alone.

Yet, like most innovative, community-led projects, Stitched Up faces challenges. It relies on small grants, earned income and volunteer time and lacks the cushion of ongoing core funding that would enable more planning, expansion and replication of their work. An immediate challenge is that the base in Stretford Mall (formerly Stretford Arndale) will close in March when the site is demolished. So they are looking for an alternative: maybe you can help!

Thanks to Bryony for an insight into a project in which we can see many elements of our Viable Economy and Society vision – convivial, ecologically sensitive, concerned with sharing and with social and economic justice, while maximising the capacities of citizens.

Listen to the full conversation HERE. Find out more at the informative Stitched Up website.

Viable Future Mark logo

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New edition of our Carbon and Planning Workbook

The Carbon and Planning Workbook is a guide for local campaigners who want to estimate the carbon (greenhouse gas) consequences of proposed planning developments on local land.

It takes you through the various aspects to consider and data that you can use in your estimates. It also aims to forewarn you of potential problems and uncertainties in making such estimates.

We have now updated it, building on our recent experience in calculating the probable carbon impacts of new developments. There are additional references, improvements to readability and some short additional sections on associated sources of carbon emissions (transport, aviation, water system).

Do take a look, try it out, and let us know how you get on.

Click here for the workbook page

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Book review: Degrowth as a desirable and possible future


1) The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism.
by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter and Aaron Vansintjan. Verso, 2022. ISBN 9781839765841. £18.99 paperback, £11.39 ebook (publisher is currently offering both at the ebook price)

2) Political Friendship and Degrowth: An Ethical Grounding of an Economy of Human Flourishing. by Areti Giannopoulou. Routledge, 2022, ISBN 9780367757960. £120 hardback, £33.29 ebook.

More and more books are appearing on Degrowth. However, if you are looking for a clear, comprehensive, scholarly but practical overview, then I’d recommend The Future is Degrowth. Published by Verso, it does speak specifically to those of us on the left, but even if you are from a different political tradition, you could do worse than to read it.

Political Friendship and Degrowth is for a different audience, based on a PhD thesis from the University of Sussex, it is primarily directed to those with a grounding in philosophy, but it does make some interesting observations on degrowth and the kind of society that would restore solidarity and kindness among us.

The first book, by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter and Aaron Vansintjan, has the following structure:

    • Introduction
    • Economic growth
    • Critiques of growth
    • Degrowth visions
    • Pathways to degrowth
    • Making degrowth real
    • The future of degrowth

The introductory chapter is particularly good at debunking the various misrepresentations and misunderstandings of degrowth. Degrowth, they note, is both a critique and a proposal, and later sections explore both aspects.

They begin by examining the concept of economic growth. Building on their statement in the introduction, “Economic growth, we argue, appears as the ideological, social, and biophysical materialization of capitalist accumulation”, they explain,

First, growth is a relatively recent idea, the hegemony of which is the core ideology of capitalism, justifying the belief that growth is natural, necessary, and good, and that growth, as the increase of output and the development of productive forces, is linked to progress and emancipation. Second, growth is a social process that has long preceded the current hegemony of growth in contemporary society: a specific set of social relations resulting from and driving capitalist accumulation that stabilizes modern societies dynamically and at the same time makes them dependent on expansive dynamics of growth, intensification, and acceleration. Third, growth is a material process – the ever-expanding use of land, resources, and energy and the related build-up of physical stocks – which fundamentally transforms the planet and increasingly threatens to undermine the foundations of growth itself.

While I would put the three points in the reverse order, this is one of the best definitions I have seen.

The next section surveys the various critiques of growth that come together in degrowth. Most will be familiar to readers of our work; they are (with my summary statements),

Ecological critique – growth destroys the very foundations of life on earth.

Socio-economic critique – growthism offers a false proxy for human well-being and stands in the way of a more equal society.

Cultural critique – growth destroys human relations, making them mechanistic, instrumental and alienating.

Critique of capitalism – growth is inherently bound up with the capitalist mode of production, that is with accumulation of surplus as a result of exploitation and expropriation.

Feminist critique – growthism, as an economic rationality, devalues other spheres of human labour and relies on gendered exploitation.

Critique of industrialism – growth is inseparable from the deployment of undemocratic technologies and structures.

South–North critique – foregrounds the exploitative and extractive relations between rich countries and the global South.

Moving on, the book considers what degrowth actually means. Having reviewed some of the definitions that have been offered, the authors suggest a synthesis,where,

A degrowth society… in a democratic process of transformation:

1. enables global ecological justice – in other words, it transforms and reduces its material metabolism, and thus also production and consumption, in such a way that its way of life is ecologically sustainable in the long term and globally just;

2. strengthens social justice and self-determination and strives for a good life for all under the conditions of this changed metabolism; and

3. redesigns its institutions and infrastructure so that they are not dependent on growth and continuous expansion for their functioning.”

So far so good, nice ideas but how can it be made to happen? The rest of the book is concerned with that key question. The answer can be contrasted with the simplified policy programme of the New Green Deal (to which the authors, while critical aof some aspects maintain a friendly orientation, emphasising the points in common). Rather than a single policy package, to be implemented by wise politicians, top-down,

“… degrowth proponents prefer a diverse policy platform and tend to approach the issue more holistically. This is because focusing on a single policy tends to minimize the amount of change needed in the whole system while failing to hedge against the possible negative effects of that policy taken in isolation.”

Focusing first on policy, six clusters are identified as covering the bulk of degrowth approaches, (1) the democratization of the economy, or, the strengthening of the commons, a solidarity-based economy, and economic democracy; (2) social security, redistribution, and caps on income and wealth; (3) convivial and democratic technology; (4) the redistribution and revaluation of labour; (5) the equitable dismantling and reconstruction of production; and (6) international solidarity.

However, in the penultimate chapter, the book also addresses the how of change. This is where many contributions to the debate fall apart. These authors do better. They begin by acknowledging a rift in the degrowth discussions between grand policy prescriptions and small-scale bottom up solutions (we ourselves position our distinctive approach between the two, primarily at the “meso-level”). The use this duality productively, seeing the bottom-up “nowtopias” as providing content, know-how, as vital for the more systemic interventions. Drawing on the work of Erik Olin Wright, his notion of “real utopias”, and taxonomy of strategies, they review the roles of nowtopias, non-reformist reforms, building counter-hegemony and transformative power, and the response to crises.

Will it work? We can only know by trying. The authors sum it up in these words,

Yet whether a degrowth society can and will become reality cannot be answered theoretically; it depends on the practices, relationships, and organizing of all of us. To make this vision real requires a massive, concerted effort from every corner of society – let alone those who consider themselves to be on the left. We have made some proposals for how to think about the strategies for systemic change, …. But to start this journey, we need a broad but unified ‘movement of movements’ for life and against capitalist growth to confidently take the first steps along this path of transformation. You don’t have to call this ‘degrowth’, but we hope that the core concerns of both the critique and the proposal of degrowth will be integrated into more and more struggles and transformative practices. There are endless ways to follow this path – from starting a workers’ cooperative to setting up a mutual aid centre or pushing for non-reformist reforms in your municipality. Whatever you choose to do, know that our trajectories are aligned.”

Degrowth as a movement of movements

Degrowth as a movement of movements

To conclude, The Future is Degrowth is a tour de force, it is well argued, and well referenced (although sometimes the references are to a whole text rather than the specific relevant part). It is unusual for me to read a text where I can hardly raise a quibble but these authors are extremely sure footed. I recommend you read it.

Political Friendship and Degrowth is a more difficult read. Only if you have an interest and some grounding in philosophy would I recommend it. It argues for the relevance of Aristotle’s concept of political friendship, a kind of extension of interpersonal friendship across the communities we live in, and potentially further. It is a concept that connects with the ideals and practices of solidarity, mutuality and accompaniment. Areti Giannopolou relates this idea, negatively to the writings of Adam Smith (the free market with its invisible hand), and more positively to Karl Marx (and economic equality) and Otto Neurath (a free, associational socialism). She explores the concept of the solidarity economy and discovers limitations in its political vision, it being tied to the logic of the market.

Finally, in the last chapter, and pulling in the eco-feminism of Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, she comes to degrowth and finds in its convivial emphasis on necessary production and “relational goods” rather than the current system that emphasises of material goods. She sees a clear synergy with the life-orientated approach of degrowth and an extended understanding of political friendship.

Sadly, the book is extremely expensive, even as an ebook (on the highly restricted Vital Source platform), so few will read it. That is a shame as it does make some helpful connections between political philosophy and the degrowth project.

Mark H Burton

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The Steady State Manchester Solidarity Grant

Permanent page for this scheme (any updates and changes will appear there).

We now offer a small grant (up to a few hundred pounds) to very small groups who want to do something original to challenge the damaging growth model of economic and social development in Greater Manchester.

We favour small, community-based groups who need a little financial support yet can’t easily, or yet, access the established funding sources. If you’re part of such a group or know people who are, there’s more about the Grant here:

One page summary

Details of the grant

We’ll consider activities which:

  • put into practice what we advocate, or are in keeping with our views;
  • challenge the economic status quo;
  • are open to all, unless targeted at minoritised people

Examples might include, amongst others,

  • new models of ownership, production, distribution etc.;
  • influencing/participating in local decision making;
  • meeting basic needs (like hunger, keeping warm);
  • tackling inequalities;
  • spending on: room hire, leaflets, zoom subscription, teabags, helping low income or mobility-impaired people with transport costs;
  • spending by small local groups whether or not they have written rules and a bank account.

There are some things we won’t fund.

See more here:
One page summary

Details of the grant

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Save Greater Manchester’s Greenbelt (SGMGB) awarded the Viable Future Mark

ThiSGMGB logos is the first article from our Viable Future Mark holders. Evelyn Frearson from Save Greater Manchester’s Greenbelt (SGMGB), explains what the organisation is, its aims, and what they are working on.

SGMGB was established in 2017 as an umbrella organisation to bring together Green Belt and greenspace community groups across Greater Manchester, with the aims of protecting Green Belt, green spaces and the environment in Greater Manchester. It is a constituted organisation with representatives from all ten boroughs in Greater Manchester.

Formation of the group was precipitated by the publication of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2016. This draft plan proposed to remove the Green Belt status from large swathes of Green Belt land for development, which galvanised residents who treasure those spaces to join together and speak out against their loss. In response to objections from residents, GMSF was redrafted in 2019 and 2020 with reduced, but still significant, Green Belt loss. In 2020 Stockport Council voted against approval of GMSF and withdrew. The remaining nine authorities in Greater Manchester set up a new joint committee to proceed with a joint plan, which was revised to adjust for Stockport’s withdrawal and renamed Places for Everyone. This joint plan proposes significant loss of Green Belt land across the region and SGMGB members have continued to protest via every available avenue.

SGMGB members are currently preoccupied with the ongoing Examination in Public of the Places for Everyone Plan. Representations have been submitted to the consultations and members will participate in the Examination Hearings. Meanwhile, Stockport Council is preparing its own new Local Plan separately and is expected to consult residents on a number of draft options in the autumn of 2022.

We believe our Green Belt and greenspace is precious for ecology, food production, the rural economy, recreation, mental and physical health, and mitigating the impacts of climate change and air pollution.

We are becoming increasingly aware that we are part of a fragile ecological network with biodiversity that supports our existence. Some areas have seen a collapse in biodiversity, which poses a threat to the invisible network that we depend on. Our Green Belt and greenspaces help to support our ecological niche by providing habitats for a diverse range of species. For example, the Woodland Trust notes that a mature oak tree provides a habitat for 2,300 species of wildlife.

Green Belt and greenspaces include agricultural land which provides a livelihood for farmers and horticulturists and supports the rural economy. Global conflicts and climate change are threats to food supply chains. Locally produced food becomes increasingly important in providing food security and in reducing carbon emissions arising from transporting food. Farming has the ability support the environment while delivering economic, health and well-being benefits.

Countryside in Green Belt provides opportunities for access to nature and outdoor recreation that has well-established benefits for our physical and mental health. We believe that maintaining and enhancing these opportunities will improve quality of life in the population and reduce healthcare costs.

The challenges we face due to climate change are now acutely apparent. Green Belt and greenspaces play a vital role in mitigating the damaging effects of our life-styles and activities. Green plants and peat bogs absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also provide shade to reduce the amount of heat reaching the ground and some species, such as birch, trap particulate pollution on their leaves before it reaches our lungs. Green spaces absorb rainfall and help to reduce flood risk associated with development that covers the ground with non-absorbent materials, such as concrete and tarmac.

We liaise with other groups who have similar aims such as Wildlife Trusts and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). We are proud to be associated with the Community Planning Alliance, which does great work to highlight national issues in planning. Many of our groups are on their map which at the time of writing marks 640 grass roots campaign groups fighting environmentally damaging development projects.

Our ethos very much aligns with Steady Sate Manchester and we are delighted to have been awarded the Viable Future Mark. Their report on the Climate Impact of the Places for Everyone Plan is particularly pertinent to our campaign.



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Viable Future Mark: the first five awards

We are delighted to announce the launch of The Viable Future Mark. This award is being given to groups and organisations whose work is consistent with our vision of a Viable Greater Manchester.

The Viable Future Mark badge

Viable Greater Manchester means a post-growth society that lives within its ecological means, enabling a sufficient, dignified and fulfilling life for all without exploiting other peoples and ecosystems globally. Read more about it below.

So who are the first holders of the Viable Future Mark?

They are,

In their different ways, each of these Greater Manchester groups makes a contribution, through one or more of,

  • campaigning,
  • informing and educating,
  • developing policy, or practice,

to at least two of,

  • Increasing public understanding of ecological limits and/or ecosystem realities.
  • Prioritising social justice for all people.
  • Integrating the spheres of ecology, politics and economics.
  • Challenging and changing prevailing economic and social arrangements.

Moreover, their work does not rely on assumptions of aggregate economic growth and,to some extent at least, promotes degrowth, post-growth or the steady state economy.

We will be featuring each of these groups in future articles here.

Meanwhile, if you know of a group or organisation whose work fits the above criteria, do suggest them for a Viable Future Mark. Likewise, if you think your organisation would qualify, then do get in touch. That way we can build a loose alliance of groups, whether campaigning organisations, services, community groups or businesses, all consciously working towards the Viable Future that we all need.

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