A View from a University Researcher

By Stuart Capstick

How many more last chances can we have? There’s no need for another list of the appalling consequences we face if we don’t act: most of us know that if we carry on this way, the outcomes will be a devastated planet and enormous human suffering.

I am a psychologist who researches people’s understanding and responses to climate change, and I have done so for over ten years. I could tell you what the literature says about the way we block out negative information, how we shape our thinking to fit a softer version of reality, how in some ways we’re just not wired upto feel the urgency of this. I’ve worked on projects that aim to get people to make greener choices and have a better grasp of the climate science, and I’ve tried to push for a more urgent approachto changing the way we live.

But despite all this – maybe because of it – those last ten years have felt like joining an effort to put out a house fire with a water pistol. Research papers on every aspect of climate change and the environmental crisis now number in their millions. Yet at the same time as I add to this ever-growing pile, I know in my heart that it has changed little. The publication of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C– meticulously organised by one of the most respected group of scientists in the world – was followed less than a month later by a UK government budget that allocated £30 billion to road-building, and made not one single mention of climate change. Our government is failing us, it is failing our children, and it is failing the natural world. They pay little more than lip service to scientists and to the science. The ‘honest broker’ model– in which boffins assemble the evidence and decision-makers act on it – is broken, if it ever worked at all.

There are times that I lie awake at night, with a sense of blind panic rising in me, and I feel terrified and trapped by climate change. Terrified for my kids – who are 3 and 6 years old, and whose innocent understanding of the world so far doesn’t extend to what we’re doing to it. Trapped, because like everyone else I am just one part of a much bigger structure, that seems unwilling or unable to change.

Most people now accept the reality, human causes and seriousness of climate change. But most of us also float along in a dream-world, knowing but not knowing, aware but unmoved. The hope for me is that XR is sounding an alarmthat could wake some of us up – enough of us to shake the complacency and the silence that permeates society. In all honesty, I don’t know whether we can make a real difference through XR, and I share the doubtsthat some have expressed about its tactics and slogans. We don’t know yet whether XR will peter out miserably, or morph into an effective resistance movement, but I’ve decided that is not a good enough reason not to try.

With hundreds of others, I blocked the road by Parliament on 30thOctober in a first, symbolic gesture to kick-start XR. There was nothing pleasant about breaking the law that day, or having to ignore police demands for you to desist in doing so. But for the first time in years, I felt some glimmer of hope – that maybe we were beginning to treat this like the emergency it is.

As academics and researchers, we are trained to be objective and ‘neutral’ – but I refuse to be neutral about our species sleep-walking into planetary collapse, and I’m not the only one. It’s high time we faced these issues head on, and for that reason I support non-violent direct action of the sort XR has planned. I hope others will join in, and hold our government, our society, and our institutions to account.

Dr Stuart Capstick is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University and with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. This piece is written in a purely personal capacity.

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