It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over

By Dr. Richard Hil

How To Mobilise Against The Climate Violence Perps

“An effective response to climate change requires collective action by all countries and sectors.”
– Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“Australia… remains one of the most carbon-intensive OECD countries and one of the few where greenhouse gas emissions (excluding land use change and forestry) have risen in the past decade.”
– OECD, January 2019.

Is it just me, or have you noticed how conversations have changed over recent weeks/months? The climate emergency seems to have crept into every discursive nook and cranny. There’s talk of floods, fires, droughts and associated calamities, and of the prospects for survival as the climate emergency goes through what one commentator refers to as an “escalation crisis”, meaning that the pace and scale of change is far in excess of what the climate models are telling us. The upshot is that we simply don’t know where all this is heading. It’s a wicked problem, on steroids – a problem over which we (apparently) have less and less control.

Not surprisingly, there’s panic in the air. The world’s leading scientists – including the 15,000 from 184 countries who signed an open letter in 2017 – have exhausted themselves in pleading to governments and corporations to take the necessary action to avoid “runaway climate change”. In many instances such pleas have been either ignored, dismissed or entangled in webs of sectional interests and realpolitik obfuscation.

The growing sense of concern among scientists, however, has not gone unnoticed among my friends and acquaintances. When the “climate thing” comes up, I’ve seen perfectly well-adjusted people start chewing their nails, fidgeting, staring into the distance, and more than occasionally, quietly weeping. We shouldn’t be too surprised by such reactions – or what psychologists refer to as “ecoanxiety” – as there is growing evidence that the threat posed by the climate emergency is generating severe mental health problems – anxiety, depression and suicide ideation, to name a few.

The fact is that people are becoming more and more attuned to what is happening around them. My own mind is swirling with terrifying predictions about the extinction of all life on earth in a few decades, or, as some are predicting, in 12 years or less. Its hair rising stuff.

And as if all that isn’t enough, we still have to put up with so-called “denialists”-cum-conspiracy-merchants who peddle spade loads of aberrant nonsense that merely deplete one’s energies. I don’t bother with them, frankly – the people or theories. Why would I? It’s like arguing over whether the world is flat or if smoking leads to lung cancer. It’s a waste of time. There’s no ‘debate’.

Common global experiences

Most days I chat with my older brother, Henryk, who lives in Lima, Peru. We talk about this and that – Brexit, the state of the Peruvian economy, Donald Trump’s latest buffoonery, and whether our prostates are in good shape. But since the middle of last year all that has changed. Now we both wrestle with the climate emergency, its consequences, the tragedy of it all. This is what he said during our last Skype chat:

“Does anyone [in Peru]care that we have the highest temperatures ever recorded in parts of Lima, or that there’s flooding in the north and south east of Peru? Roads have been blocked and bridges downed, communities are often cut off. Farm land is being destroyed in many parts of the country. Power consumption is at record highs to keep household temperatures down, with electrical goods in high demand. The snow is melting in the Andes, a source of drinking water for the capital. This is all the result of climate change. It’s an unfolding tragedy. I have been in a permanent sweat for 15 days. This is very unusual, uncomfortable and it’s difficult to sleep at night.”

A quick browse through the Internet confirms what Henryk is saying. In 2017, heavy rainfall (10 times more than the average) fell in the northern Piura region of Peru, leading to the deaths of 67 people, mainly as a result of mud slides, with thousands more having to evacuate their homes. In total, over 100,000 homes were damaged and more than 100 bridges destroyed, bringing chaos to that part of the country.

Floods and droughts have had severe impacts on farmlands across Peru, impacting its food supply. To make matters worse, the Ausangate glacier in the Andes is melting, threatening water supplies to Lima’s 10 million people. Many other extreme climate effects have been noted, not least unprecedented snow falls in parts of the Andes, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. As in Australia, records are tumbling, year on year. The projections for both countries are similarly depressing.

The Ausangate Glacier Lake in the Andes Mountains within Peru. (IMAGE: junaidrao, Flickr)

On some of our better days Henryk and I hope things aren’t as bad as we think, although we’re not silly enough to put our faith in geo-engineering which, as Naomi Klein has wryly observed, is using pollution to neutralise pollution. On other days, Henryk and I get so depressed that we take to packing our existential bags. In short, we veer from naïve optimism to bone-jarring panic, seething anger and everything in-between.

But somehow, we always end up with the “so what can we do to stop this before it’s too late” question. Yesterday we both agreed that given the severity of the crisis – my brother keeps an eye of the doomsday clock which is set at two minutes to midnight – all of global civil society should take radical action.

Radical action

Ok, so what does that look like? We echo various activist suggestions, like mobilising people to surround our parliaments with human chains, mass protests outside the homes of fossil fuel CEOs, heckling at shareholder meetings, chaining ourselves to mining equipment at extraction sites, stopping coal trains, and so forth. We both laud the actions of activists who have prevented CSG mining in NSW, or the open-cut mine in Gloucester, NSW, and those brave souls in Peru who have been killed or criminalised for seeking to protect the environment. We know that the rich and powerful are worried by all this, that’s why they’ve introduced draconian anti-protest laws across the globe, including in my own state of NSW.

Henryk and I also talk about changing the language we use in order to sheet home blame for the crisis to where it belongs: governments, lobbyists, corporate heads, mainstream media etc. Phrases like “policy violence”, “climate disaster”, “climate criminals” and “climate genocide” have crept into our vocabulary.

Like many others, we also think that citizens tribunals should be created to prosecute the guilty parties – or at least to identify who they are (as happened in the wake of the invasion of Iraq) – and that the criminal and environmental courts should do the same. We’ve ruled out violence as a tactic but we’re all for civil disobedience of the Extinction Rebellion and 350.org variety, if only to raise public awareness about the scale of the impending catastrophe.

All these actions and more are urgently needed to tackle the climate violence being perpetrated against us, even though it might be too little, too late. The window is shutting, and fast.

These are unprecedented times, much worse than the nuclear crisis because, even with the egregious policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, human agency could still intervene to draw us back from the brink. But if the runaway climate emergency takes hold then no-one knows what will happen and no amount of geo-inventiveness will pull us back from the abyss.

Lake Hume, in southern NSW. (IMAGE: Tim J Keegan, Flickr)

I often laugh at this prospect, in the same mad way that occurs when all hope is lost. At other times, I’m virtually catatonic, especially when reading those doom-laden reports. My brother and I also rant at the self-censorship of the corporate media, the marginalisation of voices calling for radical action – independent journalists, climate scientists, environmental activists – and the way the plutocratic elites have turned the climate emergency into an infotainment sideshow or a business opportunity.

The deceit and vacillation of governments across the globe when it comes to emissions reduction is nothing less than scandalous: an act of wilful violence perpetrated against us all.

Our choices

We have choices about how to respond to all this. My worry is that too many people are opting to carry on regardless (because life is demanding, or the story of finality is too much, or because we want to shelter our nearest and dearest). Others have retreated into fatalism (the party’s over, time to hunker down in gated communities, survivalist enclaves and nirvana-like hamlets), and yet others are talking of armed resistance when strangers come looking for food and water.

But there are other ways of responding which we see, for instance, in litigation cases through the courts, mass protests, actively shutting down mines, divestment, and so on. The current reality demands that these and other actions intensify, and that the coalitions and networks that make up the global environmental movement name the guilty parties and compel them, through organised civic action, to take the necessary decisions to prevent climate catastrophe.

Ultimately of course, what this means is system change and a radically different way of thinking about democracy and our relationship with the planet. Conference resolutions, non-binding targets, trading schemes and the rest will not be enough in the short term to prevent the slide to catastrophe – after all, carbon emissions are at record levels as I write.

That should tell us all we need to know about what the abuse of power looks like.

Cooking the books?

What about Australia’s commitment, or lack thereof, to reducing carbon emissions? A recent OECD report, Environmental Performance Review of Australia, suggests that our actions are ruinous when it comes to greenhouse gases (GHGs).

In a press release, the OECD notes that: “The country will fall short of its 2030 emissions target without a major effort to move to a low-carbon model…. Australia needs to develop a long-term strategy that integrates energy and climate policies to support progress towards its commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions.”

Reflecting on the review in The Conversation, Alan Pears, senior industry fellow, RMIT, concludes that the government’s current targets, “fall far short of what is really necessary and responsible”, a conclusion backed by the Climate Council and respected researchers like Anna Skarbek, CEO at Climate Works Australia, Monash University.

Rio Tinto’s Warkworth Mine, near Bulga. (IMAGE: Lock the Gate Alliance, by D. Sewell, FLICKR)

The OECD review notes Australia’s’ continued heavy reliance of fossil fuels far exceeds those of other wealthy countries: “[Australia is] reliant on coal for two-thirds of its electricity [and]has one of the highest levels of non-renewable energy use of advanced economies, with fossil fuel consumption still benefitting from government support. Coal, oil and gas make up 93% of the overall energy mix compared to an OECD average of 80%. The share of renewables in electricity generation has risen to 16% but remains below the OECD average of 25%. Australia’s power sector – the country’s top emitting sector – is not subject to emission reduction constraints.”

As one of the worlds’ leading per capita GHG emitting nations and coal exporters, Australia stands out as a pariah state. But, like other countries, it is paying the price. As the review notes: “Australia has warmed by 0.9ºC over the past 60 years, with the warmest years occurring since 2005. Both rainfall and drought are likely to grow more extreme, and bushfire smoke and dust will increasingly affect air quality. The oceans around Australia are warming, rising, and are expected to become more acidic, exacerbating pressures on the Great Barrier Reef. Better water management is needed to respond to the changing climate and prevent further toxic algae blooms forming and killing fish in the drought-hit Darling River”.

The review outlines a range of recommendations to lesson GHG emissions and the destruction (among the worst on the planet) of biodiversity and ecological systems.

Despite such tragedies, the current Coalition government remains committed to coal as part of its “energy mix” into the foreseeable future, and new mines are in the offing in various parts of the country. It may not be official policy, but Australia is, in effect, committed to worsening the globe’s biosphere, thereby inflicting spectacular violence on all species.

Coal of course is only one, albeit hugely significant, contributor to GHGs. It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that globally, about 7.5 million people die avoidably (prematurely) each year due to the effects carbon burning pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine carbon particulates that lodge in the lungs) and 500,000 perish as a result of extreme weather events caused by anthropogenic climate change. Yet, as Melbourne-based scientist, Dr Gideon Polya, observes, “This latter estimate of presently about 0.5 million climate change-related deaths may be an under-estimate because UN Population Division data indicate that presently 15 million people die avoidably (prematurely) each year (half of them children) due to poverty and deprivation in the Developing World (minus China), with these impoverished, tropical or sub-tropical countries already being severely impacted by global warming.”

Australia’s contribution to this unfolding tragedy is manifestly evident. It’s up to the global environmental justice movement to ratchet up the struggle for survival.

EXTINCTION REBELLION – as seen from Cumbria

By Lawrence Freiesleben

A baton to pass on

Having lived for years in relative isolation and felt like (another) voice in the wilderness since 1980, the sudden rising up of Extinction Rebellion is inspiring. Despite taking part in numerous protest marches and movements since 1977 and been aware of countless courageous actions by activists being absorbed or quickly side-lined by our largely traitorous media, I’m hopeful that this time, a wider cross-section of the population have begun to get the message. As Shaun Chamberlain links in his vivid post: Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction: As a global society we are accelerating towards oblivion.

Attending the first meeting of my local Kendal group of Extinction Rebellion last Friday, at the Friends Meeting House, I was surprised by how many ‘ordinary’ looking people appeared galvanised by the opportunity of taking action. Some of the members there had taken part in the bridge-blocking protest in London back in November, one of many significant actions in towns and cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Copenhagen, Galway, Stockholm, Dublin, Cork, Berlin, New York and Madrid. Another member was a hardened Greenpeace activist who outlined the different levels of roles available to anyone wishing to take part in the holacratically organised, Extinction Rebellion: You don’t have to be arrested if you feel that’s a step too far. Everyone interested at any level is vital.

Petition organisations like Avaaz and 38 Degrees have achieved amazing things. What we can only hope for next, is that all such groups along with old campaigners such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace can overlap and work in unison to stir our useless government into action rather than justifications and excuses. Better still, we need to begin the process of dismantling our entire omnicidal, neo-liberal system. It needs to be replaced – every last lock, stock and stinking barrel!

Anyone reading this, please look up your local branch of Extinction Rebellion. They are springing up everywhere and have already spread to 35 countries abroad. This emergency cause is one that the internet and (dare I say it given my own abstention), social media – were born to facilitate . . . a cause which might partly excuse much of their blatant consumerist triviality. Please go out (or stay in) and spread this idea as far and wide as you can! https://rebellion.earth/

Disrupting Earth’s climate is to awaken a sleeping beast

By Zeeshan Hasan

Fixing Climate; The Story of Climate Science and How to Stop Global Warming by eminent climate scientist Wallace Broecker (who unfortunately just passed away)and his co-writer Robert Kunzig is an informative look at the science of global warming as well as a summary of the options for solving it. Wallace Broecker was professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and through his research first discovered one of the primary regulators of the planet’s climate; namely the “thermo-haline conveyor,” the network of ocean currents which circulates hot and cold water over much of the Earth’s surface.

A recurrent theme in Broecker’s writing is his view of Earth’s climate as a sleeping beast which we awaken at our peril. The relative stability of climate for the past ten thousand years (since the end of the last ice age) is exactly what allowed humans to develop agriculture and create civilisation. Thus, we have greatly benefited from the long sleep of the climate beast. However, the carbon dioxide emissions created by our modern society’s dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas risk disrupting the climate and waking the climate beast. The consequences could be sudden and drastic.

Whereas we may think of climate change as being gradual and taking place over centuries or millennia, climate science has shown that drastic changes have happened very quickly in the past. A prime example is the end of the “Younger Dryas” ice age, a cold period which lasted from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago.

“The [ice] measurements … had shown that the warming at the end of the Younger Dryas had been abrupt … the ice layers were suddenly half as thick … most of that change had taken place in just a few years” (page 141).

So the scientific evidence is that climate change of sufficient magnitude to end an ice age can occur naturally in “just a few years,” not centuries or even decades. This bodes ill for our future, as our burning of coal, oil and gas is now changing the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere faster than any time in history. If a similarly quick global warming were to happen now, humanity would have little time or ability to adapt to it. The results would be catastrophic in terms of increased desertification, reduced food production and famine.

Aside from temperature rise, the biggest threat to Bangladesh in particular is from sea level rise. This is another area where research in climate science has made it clear that big changes can happen at a frightening pace.

In the 1980’s a colleague of Broecker’s, Richard Fairbanks, thought he could pinpoint a time when sea level rose twenty metres in a single century (page 171).

The above is indeed a stark contrast with the scientific conservatism of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of sea likely sea level rise being 59 centimetres by 2100.

The IPCC scientists specifically did not take into account the recent observations of accelerated ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica — essentially because they didn’t know what to make of them (page 183).

The problem is that scientists are generally cautious by nature, and unwilling to talk about possible worst case scenarios until that outcome is virtually certain. Unfortunately, if we wait until the worst case global warming scenario is inevitable before we start doing anything, it will be too late; the climate will have already changed, and humanity will have to suffer the awful consequences. Scientific conservatism in this case is lulling the public and world governments into a misplaced sense of security. So what is to be done? The answer is clear.

Which brings us to the one absolute certainty; no significant solution to the [carbon dioxide] problem can emerge until governments worldwide, and especially that of the United States, follow the lead of Norway and the European Union and impose either an emissions cap or a direct tax on [carbon dioxide] (page 266).

Broecker’s conclusion is shared by most climate scientists. To prevent dangerous climate change, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by replacing fossil fuels rapidly with nuclear, wind and solar energy. This will require huge investments, and the only way the money can be raised is through a carbon tax. Those of us who care about what the future holds for our children need to start thinking about how to bring about this colossal change in the world economy. The only way to solve the climate crisis is to put continuous and increasing public pressure on politicians around the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 4 of 4

Breaking the law in broad daylight part 2: XR and anti-fracking activists continue the blockade of the Government Department for Energy, BEIS

By Fox (@SnowflakeFoxtrot on Instagram)

It’s been over five hours since several dozen of our activists locked on to and blockaded the Government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). As Snowflake Gamma is driven away in a police van under arrest for criminal damage, I turn and head back for the main entrance of BEIS to check up on the rest of my affinity group.

Suddenly Sierra reappears outside the main entrance. He had disappeared around the same time Gamma had – he must have faked his lock-on too, only pretending to attach the carabiner in his arm-tube. With police just metres away, distracted by the lock-ons around the corner and on the road, ‘Si’ cracks out another can of spray chalk. He starts with the message sprayed loud and clear in capital letters three feet high, on the windows of the building that face out towards the road: “FRACK OFF”.
Next he starts on an extinction symbol, even bigger. Another PNR anti-fracking activist has turned up with a camera; we’re both struggling not to laugh as we film. How can the police not have spotted him?
When the symbol finishes he moves straight on to the next message: it starts with a love heart.

“Oi!”
A police officer finally clocks him and starts to run over.
“Watch your back!” warns the PNR activist filming him.
But Si ignores her – he’s not about to run. His message isn’t finished, and he’s here to make a point. He keeps spraying doggedly on, not even speeding up.
Just as he finishes the R of ‘<3 PNR’ a copper grabs his arm from behind and pulls it into a lock, shouting.
“You’re nicked, you’re nicked – put the can down, PUT THE CAN DOWN NOW!”

At this moment, I witness the most deft disarmament of police adrenaline I have ever seen. In the blink of an eye, Si switches from a spray-painting radical activist on a mission into an ordinary middle-aged white English pacifist in a chirpy mood.
To de-escalate the arresting officer’s shouting, Si matches the volume of his voice and then immediately drops it down to a normal conversational level.
“YEAH YEAH, alright, okay. Just be careful of this arm, it’s injured.”
Si gently drops the can, raises his other hand in the air, and acquiesces calmly. The tension in the officer’s shoulders eases visibly.

As another officer strides in, Si turns slowly to face him and greets the man with a smile, reacting as jovially and politely as if he were running into an old friend in the street.
“How are you doing, mate?”
The officer stops dead in his tracks, seeming a little chuffed someone asked.
“Very well, thank you, and yourself?”
“Lovely – if you’d just take this glove off a moment, I’d like to demonstrate this arm’s actually a bit injured, so if you could be gentle with that…”
The man does as Si suggests without a second thought.

More officers come over and surround him. But the body language of everyone there becomes so relaxed, that suddenly Si seems like he could be chatting to new acquaintances in a pub garden, rather than a group of police catching him red-handed and arresting him for criminal damage.

From an outside perspective, it seems to be an incredible display of how to use both privilege and de-escalation to disarm police repression. I can’t help but laugh as I run off to check on the rest of the Snowflakes.

police

[Image: Police stand guard at the windows in front of Si’s artwork chalked on the walls of BEIS.]

I catch the last few seconds of Charlie being escorted into a van by two officers. The Christian Climate Action group appear to have all been arrested and moved on by this point, along with Indigo.

charliearrest

[Image: Snowflake Charlie still in the gates, taken minutes before being arrested.]

bravoarrest

[Image: Snowflake Bravo lies on her stomach handcuffed looking into camera, taken minutes before being arrested.]

Only Bravo remains inside the building; after discovering she had also faked glueing her hand to the entrance gates, the police have handcuffed her and moved her closer to the window. We still can’t hear each other, but we make some basic communication with gestures – she seems bored but okay. She’s been locked on since the action started six hours ago, so I can’t blame her.

As I gesture for her to pose in her cuffs for a picture, I’m surprised when her solemn expression suddenly bursts into radiant laughter. I turn to see why: Oranges is stood beside me, holding up a scrap of paper to the window. On it are scrawled the words “sexiest activist EVER”.

laugh
[Image: Snowflake Bravo, handcuffed, laughs at a message held up by Snowflake Oranges]

Now that the second entrance is clear, the message is relayed to those back at the main entrance, where the locked-on activists are getting restless. A few are still glued on clogging the main doors to the building as police works to pry their hands free with glue kits. Police are still hesitant to arrest them, and the blockade is dragging on – but now the second entrance is open, they’ve successfully diminished our disruption. After a painstaking process of cutting the drainpipe open, the two older Christian Climate Action activists blocking the road are finally freed from their arm tube and taken away for arrest. The cameras follow as one holds up his banner reading “for my grandchildren” outside the police van. Victoria Road is finally clear, and it seems the blockade is over.

christianarrest

[Image: an older Christian Climate Action affinity group member smiles and holds up a banner reading “for my grandchildren” as he is escorted away by police.]

But it doesn’t last. Minutes later, Delta, Echo, Veteran and the remaining arm-tubed activists silently get up and run in unison into the middle of the road, laying down and linking arms. Police look on in confusion at the change of target, and a ripple of hysterical laughter spreads through the activists.
The PNR anti-fracker comes back on the microphone.
“This just keeps getting better and better!” he booms happily.
Support crew again surround the arrestables with banners, blankets and snacks, followed by police.

I check up on the remaining Snowflakes. Delta is wrapped up warm and happily laid in the road, arm in arm in arm with the activist beside him. Veteran and Echo sit quietly locked together in the road, Veteran eating snacks, Echo tapping on his drum with the fingers of his free hand (image below). The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed.

end
As they settle, I hand my Wellbeing duties over to Quebec and say my goodbyes. After spotting my camera and seeing the footage of Si’s arrest, the XR media team have asked me to the office urgently to get my shots up online for the press and social media.

I later learn that the remaining activists continued to block the road for another two hours after I left, bringing the total time of the skirmish and roadblock to around eight hours. Police had painstakingly cut open arm tubes and arrested them one by one. They’d had to re-open de-commissioned cells in the city to accommodate the sudden influx of 22 arrestees at once, and we’d hit the news on several outlets across the country. A few hours later, Quebec sends a photo to our group signal chat: Veteran, Echo and Delta smiling and giving the thumbs-up outside the police station as they emerge from the cells (image below).

release1

Another surfaces of Bravo sat on a bench in the police station next to two more XRebels from Christian Climate Action, all three grinning (below).

release2
It was a triumphant start to Extinction Rebellion’s saga of actions over the next two weeks – but by no means the most spectacular. The rebels had bigger things in the works, and the Snowflakes would be at the frontline on many of the following days of action…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

For people and planet.

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 3 of 4

Breaking the law in broad daylight – The Snowflakes’ first day of action

By Snowflake Foxtrot (Instagram: @snowflakefoxtrot)

In the late evening, the meeting point is communicated only to affinity group coordinators via Signal, an encrypted text-messaging app. Our crew forms a Signal group chat and we arrange kit for the next day – snacks, first aid supplies, water, warm clothing.

The next morning several different affinity groups turn up together at the meeting point. There’s around sixty people in total. We’re told something unexpected – all the affinity groups will be doing the first action together as one. Presumably it’s to help build confidence amongst a lot of first-time activists. Arrestables and support crew are split into two massive groups. Arrestables are taken off to one side, briefed separately by some coordinators, and disappear.

This time, support crew aren’t originally told what the action is or where. We prepare banners and placards, and wait at a safe distance. When we get the message actions have begun, we bolt towards our charges, following the sound of police sirens.

As I approach the flashing lights surrounding the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), I see officers positioned to block the entrances. The extinction symbol has been spray-chalked repeatedly all over the entrance; one affinity group I’d spotted at the meeting point, surrounded by banners reading ‘Christian Climate Action’, are locked together or glued to the doors, singing hymns.

securitygates

Through the windows, I see that Bravo and Charlie have managed to make it past the doors and into the security gates, spray-chalking them with more extinction symbols, and have now glued their hands to the gates to prevent police dragging them away.
Another male activist, ‘Indigo’, is glued to the gate in between them. They are happily talking and smiling as security and police mill about, wondering what to do or waiting for instructions.

christianaction
[Image by Tamsin Omond: Bravo, Indigo and Charlie set up for a long wait as they occupy the entrance gates of BEIS.]

bravolaugh

[Image: Bravo and Indigo laugh at a joke made by a support team member]

orangelaugh

[Image: Wellbeing support Oranges sticks close to arrestable Bravo].

I can’t get past the police to go inside and can’t hear what’s going on through the windows. But I’m reassured that two other support crew have made it in and are looking after the three of them. Bravo is with a female wellbeing supporter with glasses, ‘Oranges’ – the two seem excited and happy in each other’s company.

pnr

Moving on to the next entrance, I see six arrestables laid down on the pavement (image above), locked-on to each other in pairs. They’re surrounded by support crew holding banners. One reads ‘PNR’ in solidarity with the anti-fracking activists of Preston New Road, some of whom have turned up today to support XR’s actions in London.

armtubes

Just around the corner by the second entrance, another dozen arrestables are locked on and blocking the main entrance to BEIS. Around half, including Echo and Veteran, have locked on to each other with arm-tubes (image above), forming a front line laid down on the floor between the police and the doors.

Another half, including two elderly women along with Snowflakes Delta and Gamma, are sitting or standing with a hand glued to the revolving doors, some with small pieces of paper on them that read: “Glued on – don’t try to move me”. One elderly woman, “Juliet”, has even glued both hands to the electronically-opening side door, forcing security to deactivate it.

doors

I’m happy to find all the Snowflakes and proud of their first actions, but frustrated that in the fray they’ve been split up. I can’t get to Bravo and Charlie to support them. Despite the fact we’d agreed glueing hands wasn’t part of the Snowflakes’ repertoire for actions, the others are stuck…

Or are they? I take a closer look at Delta and Gamma. Their hands seem to have moved slightly on the windows. I catch Delta’s eye, and as I step in close I see the glue container still full, hidden behind his leg.

gluedhand
[Image: Delta smiles as he fakes glueing his hand to the revolving door.]
“I’m not locked on,” he whispers. “They’ve shut the side doors but the revolving doors still move. Me and Gamma are thinking of sneaking inside when they’re not looking.”
I look at him and grin.
“Do it, it would be bloody brilliant.”
I do the rounds of our locked-on arrestables, handing out snacks and high fives, joining in chants, helping rearrange banners and taking photographs.

nonviolent

[Image: Gamma holds up a banner reading “Non-Violent” as she pretends to have her hand glued to the electronic gate of BEIS.]

Later on, A PNR anti-fracking activist comes on the loudspeaker. He announces that on hearing the news of what XR are doing in London, Preston New Road’s activists have suddenly turned up unannounced and blocked the gates of Cuadrilla’s fracking site, bringing their operations to a standstill for the day. A great cheer goes up amongst the small crowd gathered.

pnrmic

[Image: Rebels hold up banners and media film as a PNR anti-fracking activist talks on a loud-speaker.]

Around forty police and several vehicles are present, but they’re mostly standing around, apparently not sure what to do next. As the day drags on, it becomes clear they’re reluctant to arrest the activists, especially with so many cameras around. They’re simply not doing anything violent or dangerous – they’re just standing up to make a point for our future. Some of the police, who likely have children to raise, appear to be on our side.

dbeis

[Image: the small crowd of activists, media, police and bystanders gathered around the blockade at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.]

But more and more press and cameras are coming in. It’s time to up the game. Two older activists, locked together with an arm-tube, run from the first entrance and lie in Victoria road in front of BEIS, blocking traffic. At their feet, they lay a banner that reads “For my grandchildren” (image, right). Support crew and police surround them, but it will be a while before they get the right tools to cut off the plastic pipes shielding the chains around their wrists.

roadblock

[Image: a crowd of activists and police gathers around the roadblock.]

In the meantime, out of the corner of my eye, I see Gamma using the distraction. She gets up and makes a run for it in her highly conspicuous long red cloak. The camera operators and I are laughing as she disappears down the street. Soon afterwards, I notice that ‘Sierra’ or ‘Si’, a tall man who was lying down in front of BEIS apparently locked on to another protester with an arm-tube, is also gone.

A few minutes later, we find out what they’re planning. A great cheer goes up as seemingly out of nowhere, Gamma suddenly reappears minus the red cloak in the middle of the activists. She climbs up onto the top of the entrance to BEIS, a can of spray chalk in hand. Police flock back around the entrance but the locked-on and glued arrestables are in their way.

raisedfist

[Image: Gamma raises a fist into the air and calls to the crowd below, with the Extinction Symbol and “<3 PNR” spray-chalked into the windows of BEIS behind her.]

As the officers watch helpless, Gamma brazenly spray-chalks the extinction symbol, along with “<3 PNR”, on the windows above the entrance to BEIS. Someone hands her up a loudspeaker, and she delivers a speech about why they’re here, and the government’s criminal subsidy of environmentally-destructive fracking across the country. As she finishes, there’s cheering and clapping from the crowd – including some of the press.

rebelforlife
[Image: Gamma holds up a banner reading “Rebel for Life” and the extinction symbol up on the entrance to BEIS, as a crowd of police wait for her to come down.]

More activists pass up banners and placards, and she holds them up for the cameras to see why we’re here. Still protected by the buffer of lock-ons, she sits down atop the entrance with a placard reading “save our children”, and begins talking to reporters who hold their cameras above their heads to film her.

gammaarrest

Eventually, Gamma comes down and is wilfully arrested by police the moment her feet touch the ground. Escorted by two officers, she walks without fuss, smiling wide as a horde of police and press follow her to the van (image above). I ask police where she’s being taken so I can meet her when she comes out of the cell, but she waves me off – “I don’t need anyone to pick me up, thanks.”

But Gamma’s arrest was another distraction. As I’m about to see, Si, who’d also disappeared from his lock-on, had his own plans to carry out…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the occupation of BEIS, and the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 2 of 4

Affinity group formation: building a confident team

By Fox (Instagram: @SnowfFakefoxtrot)

christianclimateaction

[Image: Snowflake Quebec checks in on two locked-on arrestables from another affinity group, Christian Climate Action, outside the blockaded Government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.]

The day before our first action, our newly-formed affinity group meet again.

After our Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training the day before, the Snowflakes affinity group (AG) meet at another location. We’re planning to go to a quiet park, but the 100th Remembrance Day parades block our path. Instead, we end up in the crowded basement level of a café, squeezed around two small coffee tables.

It’s a far more public location than I’m comfortable with. Not only that, but having just met the day before, we’re still somewhat uneasy around each other. It’s a strange atmosphere. We ask some questions and play games for a short while to get to know each other better. We establish personal boundaries – things we are or are not comfortable with regarding each others’ behaviour or the actions we’re willing to take. Our words are careful until we slowly begin to feel more comfortable together.

We start to work through each others’ concerns and plans. People queuing for the toilet stare at us as we calmly and openly discuss illegal actions and arrest, without revealing crucial information such as times or locations. We establish hand signals and code words that might be useful in case of problems in the field when we don’t want to give out key information.

Suddenly, two police officers walk in from the parade.

I speak a little too loudly, abruptly interrupting Charlie talking about spray-chalking and locking herself on to fencing:
“I’ll get home before dark.”

The group falls silent for a moment, and spot the coppers.

It’s an alert signal we had established just minutes before. The key word combination or phrase, such as “before dark”, is designed to sound like it’s part of normal conversation, so members of the affinity group can alert each other to danger without strangers understanding.

The police officers come and stand directly beside us, queuing for the toilet. Our conversation switches to banal chatter, quickly filling the silence. Bravo surreptitiously slides a bag of patches and gear, marked with extinction symbols, under the table where it’s out of sight. I lay a forearm on the table to cover the “Rebel for Life” patch I’d had in front of me.

The conversation is disjointed and awkward, sounding almost too upbeat as we pointedly ignore the officers. Around a minute later someone suggests we head for the office. Everyone enthusiastically agrees – for some strange reason. We grab our gear and leave the coppers below, regrouping outside with a sigh of relief.

“Good thing we got our language sorted,” says Charlie.

As we continue talking on our way to another meeting point, Delta reveals he’s considering getting arrested too. In a perfect combination, we find out one of XR’s founding members, ‘Gamma’, is looking to join an affinity group for the next day of actions – the two buddy up as arrestables.

Recommended to do so by an experienced activist, Veteran and I head back to the hall in the afternoon for some more technical training and to pick up gear for tomorrow’s actions. Inside the main hall, another even bigger group – around a hundred and twenty people – is receiving their NVDA training, as we had yesterday. It’s encouraging to see how full the room is. We skirt past them to meet someone we’ve been directed to in the next room over – in this case, a stairwell. ‘Builder’ asks us to turn our phones off and leave them outside of the room.

Builder explains he’s someone with experience creating, acquiring or advising on how to make and use the physical materials activists often need to complete their actions. Opening a large duffel bag full of activist resources, he describes different methods activists can ‘lock-on’ to each other or buildings.

The idea of this is partly to physically block something from functioning as usual, like a road or the parts of a machine. However, lock-ons also prevent the police from simply dragging activists away, slowing arrests down and increasing the duration of disruptions.

Some are straightforward, like a bicycle D-lock around the neck or handcuffs being attached to a gate. The technique was allegedly recently used by an activist who attached themselves to a digger at the HS2 construction site where old-growth forest was being bulldozed to make way for new railway lines.

The example Builder has the most of are ‘arm tubes’: a model where two activists chain one arm to their buddy’s, using a chain and carabiner around the wrist, placed into and drainpipe tubing to prevent the lock being easily undone. Police then can’t simply drag the activists away from whatever they’re occupying or blocking, as they risk injuring the locked arms.

To move them, police have to request special tools to painstakingly cut through the tubing until the two activists can be separated, arrested and removed one by one. It’s a way of enhancing the use of one’s body as a blocking tool to directly cause disruption for a longer period of time.

In this case, he’s mass-produced a bunch of simple arm-tubes using plastic drainpiping, and says once the tools are out these can be cut through in a matter of minutes. However, he explains other activists have created arm-tubes using various combinations of metal piping, mesh wire, metal rings and cement to make them heavy and sturdy – a nightmare to cut through or move once locked. Depending on how sturdy the lock-on is built, the whole process can take hours, increasing the disruption caused to the activists’ target.

I’m asking questions and learning all the details. Veteran just nods and smiles; she’s used these several times before. We thank him for his time and I relay his advice to the rest of the Snowflakes. By evening, we’ll have the information on our first action target…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 1 of 4

XR SNOWFLAKES EPISODE ONE
Extinction Rebellion’s arrestable activists: Inside the formation of civil disobedience affinity groups

by Fox (Instagram: @SnowflakeFoxtrot)

charliearrested
[Image: Snowflake Charlie is arrested in the blockade of Southwark Bridge]

“… and all those of you prepared to do the most arrestable actions all week, in the far corner by the window.”

London, England – two hours in to the first of Extinction Rebellion’s Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training days.

The hundred or so people present divide into clusters in the large hall depending on how far people are willing to go and how often. Most spread towards the other end of the room from me, willing or able to attend only one or two action days, or preferring low-level offences like roadblocks. I’m stood with half a dozen others just outside of the far corner – prepared to go all week and willing to try all sorts of actions, but unsure of being arrested.

In said corner to my left, a group of six or seven people with determined faces stand shoulder-to-shoulder, facing out to the rest of the room. There’s something unnerving and yet inspiring in the calm set of their faces. Looking at them, I’m filled with a mix of awe and jealousy.

One of the primary goals of the training session is for those attending to form affinity groups – the core unit of XR activism. They’re groups of around 8 to 12 people who have an ‘affinity’ for each other. This is based partly on practical elements, like how close they live to each other or how much free time they have. But they can also form based on how well people connect, the values they share, the targets they have in mind, or how daring an action they’re willing to try. Once formed, XR affinity groups can act independently of any central organiser or coordinator, taking action when, where and how they see fit – as long as it squares with XR’s values and vision of change.

When the organiser suggests arrestables need to be backed up by a non-arrestable support team, my cluster is naturally magnetised to the heady atmosphere that surrounds the silent stoics in the far corner. They’re a mixture of genders, ages and experience levels. A couple are veteran activists, with experience of repeat arrests at demonstrations such as Preston New Road’s anti-fracking campaigns. They’re fighting for their children’s and grandchildren’s futures. Others have only dabbled in activism or have never done this before, and just seem like younger people fed up of not being in control of their own.

We form a circle of fifteen or so people. As we go round and introduce ourselves, the atmosphere is electric and tensions run high. My original cluster of mostly young people explain, almost embarrassed, reasons why they’re hesitant to be arrested. Some are worried about how the police might treat them, one is worried about being sectioned, some work with children, or a criminal record could end another’s career. Everyone listens without judgement.

But those from the far corner cluster each calmly assert they are willing to be arrested repeatedly, until they are put in prison on remand for their actions. There is no posturing or arrogance, just a quiet certainty. For some, it seems like a decision they’ve taken a long time to arrive at.

As each establishes when they’re available and what they’re willing and not willing to do, many leave the circle for other clusters less willing to do the high-risk illegal actions. Eventually the group pears down to just eight individuals – four arrestables, and four support crew including myself.

Extinction Rebellion’s policy is to be open about who they are and what they are doing from the get-go, with no-one hiding their faces or resisting arrest. One of the first things that a coordinator did was to call out the fact that police infiltrators or corporate spies might be present – and to encourage them to “do their job really, really badly”.

Most people in the room are using their real names, and have no illusions that their details and data are readily available to the police, often before they’ve even done anything. During the training, arrestables prepare to be held fully accountable for their illegal actions, gathering knowledge on the likely charges they’ll face and their legal consequences.

However, from here on, I’ll refer to the activists by code names. This is partly in respect for each individual’s privacy and personal security from public opponents of the Rebellion. More practically, it’s useful to to tell their stories without embellishing them as heroes or appealing to the “activist’s ego”. But the main reason, to me, is because in relation to an issue which affects the whole planet, their identity should be irrelevant. This story isn’t about who they are, it’s about what they do.

We establish roles – who does what as a general rule. An action coordinator volunteers themselves, assigned to communicate information within the group such as meeting points and times, and to potentially liaise with other affinity groups taking action on the same day. Each activist pairs with one other in the AG: a buddy they will stick with if we get split up or if things get out of hand.

Dark-haired woman ‘Bravo’ buddies up with ‘Charlie’, a woman with short hair – both arrestables. The two other arrestables appear to know each other: an elderly lady with extensive experience of anti-fracking activism at Preston New Road, who I’ll call ‘Veteran’, points to a bearded animal rights advocate with a determined expression, ‘Echo’.
“I feel safe with him. We’ll buddy up.”
Echo nods in calm agreement.

I volunteer for wellbeing coordinator, thinking my first aid training might make me useful in that sense. It’ll be my job to make sure the arrestables are looked after at the actions – that they’re fed and watered and warm. It’ll be up to me or a Legal Observer to find out which police station they’re being taken to, and to communicate the details to the Wellbeing team and Arrestee Support. This way, we can make sure one of the AG or someone from Arrestee Support is there to meet them as they come out – with snacks, cigarettes, or whatever other comfort they’d requested beforehand.

brazilianembassy
[Image: a Wellbeing team member, wearing a blue Wellbeing sash, calls out for supplies as they attend to two arrestables laying in the road, who are locked on to each other in the roadblock in front of the Brazilian Embassy. November 15th 2018.]

A younger Scottish man and woman who are already friends, ‘Delta’ and ‘Quebec’, buddy up together and agree to help me on wellbeing. Another quiet man, ‘Hotel’, agrees to help out with coordination.

We spend the rest of the day training and preparing for what the likely worst consequences will be of our actions. There’s a conflict de-escalation role-play, where we take turns playing angry drivers on blocked roads, and the activists talking to them to defuse their rage. We practice going limp while being arrested as a non-violent means of slowing police from moving you: we take turns pretending to be police and activists, dragging each other along the to get used to the physical feeling of it. We learn about the likely charges and legal consequences of different actions.

charlielimp

[Image: Snowflake Charlie uses passive resistance (going limp), a non-violent method of slowing police which does not count as resisting arrest in the UK.]

Many questions are answered, and a lot of knowledge is shared not only by those who’ve set up the event, but by those who have come to the training: anti-fracking activists recount their previous experiences of arrest and actions, lawyers shed light on court procedures and offences, scientists add in useful facts. A flurry of documents and phone numbers are distributed on paper and electronically for activists to learn more about what they’re getting into. Although Extinction Rebellion coordinators acknowledge there’s no way to tell how the state and the police will react, all the legal information is explained in a surprisingly simple way.

At some point, one of the organisers running the workshop asks us a difficult question: what is the name of our group? I suggest ‘Maximum Effort’, referring to the Deadpool catchphrase and how far our arrestees are willing to go – but no one gets the reference. Echo suggests ‘Reasonable Choice’, and this gets a few nods – but we’re running out of time.

“Snowflakes,” someone says.
Almost everyone seems in agreement, but the name makes me uneasy.
“Do you all know what that means?” I ask.
The term ‘snowflake’ is used as a patronising insult that describes people as fragile, wrapped up in the uniqueness of their ego, and easily offended. It’s often used by those at one far end of the political spectrum to describe the other end as weak. Particularly, the alt-right use it as a derogatory label to describe far-left individuals with a strong reaction to situations of social inequality, sometimes also known as ‘social justice warriors’.

Most of the group seem aware of the meaning and the irony of calling the most radical group of activists in the room fragile ‘Snowflakes’. Others, like Veteran, don’t seem to care. Everyone but me seems happy with it and the name sticks. I guess we’ll own it.

We exchange contact details and arrange to meet at a separate location, just us, to get to know each other better and begin making plans. Little did we know, we were also about to have our first close call with the police…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.