By James Turner In this street nothing grew at all where pavement meets with churchyard wall, but while financial markets crash, here weeds can make a coloured splash. They root and photosynthesise and cling where stone and asphalt once were king. This gum-bespattered world has mellowed, primrosed, oxford-ragwort-yellowed. For, since corruption bit the banks, no men have passed with plastic tanks of herbicide to spray the weeds before they bloom and shed their seeds. More weeds means insects, means more birds— I’d paint the future green with words!— but when the money flows again, they’ll soon return, those dogged men, with tanks of poison on their backs, to mount their chemical attacks on cheekily invasive plants. Those primroses won’t stand a chance.
What a beautiful rebellion we have conjured. What a beautiful vision of care and compassion, regeneration and community. We lived it. We breathed it – in London and in places across the world as we flexed our muscles in International Rebellion.
And returning to our daily lives, fractures are starting to appear within the movement. Cracks that reveal tensions and differences. These are to be welcomed, embraced, for they reveal tender places that we need to give attention to. How we deal with them will shape whether the movement grows and flourishes.
We have the potential to reveal a pathway to a new version of human society. If we hold to our vision of a world beyond climate chaos and species extinction and if we act out of our values of regeneration and renewal we have the opportunity to pick up from where Occupy, The Arab Spring and Standing Rock have brought us. We have the chance to be the next wave lapping at the shores of a regenerative world.
So what about these fractures in the movement? How do we best deal with them? I have seen four in particular that I feel deserve our attention.
Burn Out. I have seen many of my friends and fellow rebels return from London exhausted and washed out. Perhaps this is inevitable. We partied hard. We saw a chance and threw ourselves at it. Yet, if our culture is truly regenerative, maybe we are missing something.
It has taken us two thousand years to get to the brink of civilisation collapse. Rome will not be dismantled in a day. Let’s pace ourselves. It’s time to let go of the need as individuals to “make a difference”. This is the voice of ego and it leads to burn-out. Only “we”, the movement can create change. So let’s ensure we are deeply sharing power amongst us, passing the baton back and forth in a continual relay. And when we have time to rest, let’s do it well so we can return with energy afresh.
Inclusion. There have been challenges, particularly from people of colour, recommending what we need to do to be more inclusive. It is of the utmost importance that we respond positively and deeply to these challenges. The global system that is destroying the Earth is built on empire, colonisation and patriarchy. Social inequalities and environmental destruction go hand in hand. All the evidence from history suggests that as social inequalities widen, environmental destruction accelerates.
Unless we dismantle the intricate structures of oppression that have silenced the majority of humanity, we will not save the planet. We will become just one more minority interest group trying to impose its will on the world. Only the radical inclusion of the colonised and marginalised will bring into the movement the wisdom and humility needed to live in harmony with the whole of existence. It is our work to do. It is not something separate from why we are here.
Business. Controversy arose within XR when a group of entrepreneurs formed XR Business. Many were offended by this, saw it as opportunist or out of alignment with who we are. Others took a position arising out of economic analysis: capitalism is destroying the world so business cannot easily become part of the movement. All of these concerns are valid. Given our current situation we are right to be a little suspicious.
At the most fundamental level, the disintegration of our current form of economics is essential in achieving our three core goals. When the leading edge of concerned business breaks ranks and reaches out we would do well to hold them in the embrace of tough love. There is much that business must make amends for, much damage it must heal. And only a regenerative approach will hold them to this task. Those of us who have done the inner work, faced into grief and despair are well placed to hold others to the reality of what they have done. Who else will do it?
The success of all non-violent movements has come when they have been able to mobilise a mass of people AND hold a mirror up to the people who hold positions of power within the old system. Some of these people will crack. When enough do, pressure from the mass takes on a new power. This needs to be our approach to business – tough love and safe spaces to allow those at the leading edge to acknowledge the wrongs of the past.
Strategy. This is less a fracture, and more an ongoing field of discussion. How do we maintain momentum? How do we achieve maximum impact? How do we achieve our goals – not only here in the UK but globally? This is no easy task. And like all complex tasks it will take time to realise. While we feel the urgency of the situation we would do well to sit for a moment with the not-knowing of how next to proceed. Anything we do precipitously will be at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive. It risks adding to our sense of exhaustion.
I have heard many wise and considered voices within the Circle of Counsel exploring how to proceed: “Come back different”, “Go to the places where climate emergency is felt most already”, “Go to the belly of the beast – the financial heartland”. All of these feel like tactics worth integrating into a strategy based on building momentum and undermining the Pillars of Power.
How exactly we stitch them together is not yet clear. What I do know is that we must hold tight to our values of non-violence, compassion and regeneration. Whatever we do must bring us as individuals, as Affinity Groups and as a movement to a renewed sense of our our vigour, our own agency and our own interdependence with all that surrounds us. This is the path to the world we are seeking to birth.
As we move forward let’s remember something profound about the work we have decided to undertake. At one level this movement is about tackling climate chaos. At another it is about stopping the extinction emergency that is facing not only humanity but one million species across the planet. At another level still, it is about completely reinventing what it means to be human.
Unless we are able to create mindsets, behaviours, communities, organisations, societies that recognise our complete and total interdependence with the living planet we will not succeed at even the first level. This is why regeneration is so crucial a part of who we are. It must guide our every thought and our every action.
I have nothing to say about the science or news, I can only speak to my own experience. The climate crisis is something beyond words. You’re a reasonable person, likely you already know. I have nothing to say to that.
I was on Waterloo Bridge the night
before the police took it back. I was there until quite late. At some
point during the night, a group of drunk young Londoners struck up a
discussion with the police; when were they going to get rid of us?
They wanted to know. The protesters were stupid, wrong, an
inconvenience. The police reassured them, agreed loudly: what we were
doing was ignorant, pointless. They were going to get rid of us as
soon as they could. No need to worry.
I stayed until four AM before leaving
alone, unprepared for the cold. Despite the emergency blanket I’d
been given I was freezing. I came back the next day to find it
entirely cordoned off. A wall of police standing all the way across
the street at both ends of the bridge. A friend of mine was up there,
locked in under the truck. She was stuck there for hours before it
was dealt with. For a while I could still reach her on Signal. She
knew she had all our support, all our love. I told her so, while I
could. Before the “Message read” notification stopped appearing.
Before the police took her phone, took her voice away.
I followed a group of other stragglers
back down across Westminster Bridge, through the pressing crowds of
tourists, past the dozen shell games in progress to Parliament
The atmosphere in the square was much
the same as it had been the day before. Same atmosphere, different
people. Those I’d established speaking terms with previously had
gone, replaced by fresh faces, a shift change. I wandered about.
Listened to the music playing in front of the Supreme Court. Handed
flyers out to passers-by under the statues.
It was sunny still, I wanted to keep
moving. I found myself on the far side of Parliament Square Garden,
standing near a police officer in a blue hi-vis jacket; an
intelligence gatherer. The ones you really shouldn’t speak to. I
asked him about the night before. Was that just a de-escalation
tactic, what the police had done with the drunks? Something they were
trained to do; agree with troublemakers, encourage them to move on?
He took offence to this. He’s a fully rounded human being, he said.
All police are, they have their own opinions about the climate
crisis. They can say whatever they want. In fact he agreed with our
message, he told me, just didn’t agree with our tactics. That’s
something you hear a lot. Everyone seems to agree there’s a climate
emergency but our non-violent direct action is taking it too far. I
blinked at this. Left him to his own devices. Wandered back across
the grass to the lengthening shadows of the statues there. The
statues of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Millicent Fawcett. The
statues erected by the government and by the people to overlook the
Houses of Parliament. To overlook the seat of power. Non-violent
direct action is taking it too far? I have nothing to say to that.
Some actions speak for themselves.
wonder if others have had the same experiences as myself – coming
across normally well-informed and caring people who don’t want to
talk about global heating, and my feelings of anxiety when I try to
bring up what seems to be a taboo subject? Not something to be
mentioned in polite conversation!
If I hadn’t read George
Marshall’s insightful ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our
Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’ I would have struggled
to understand just why so many of my caring and intelligent friends,
even (dare I say it?), in the environment movement, feel ambivalent
about XR. Why are they asking ‘Do they really need to be stopping
ordinary people from getting to work?’
Why are so many going
along with ideas (promoted, of course, by mainstream media) such as
‘This action will only impact on ordinary people, not those at the
top’ and ‘Emma Thompson is a hypocrite flying in to support the
protest.’ And, most importantly how do we encourage people to look
at the emergency seriously and support the brave action being taken
by the rebels?
‘Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate
Change’ helped me to understand that the difficulty in perceiving
the imminent danger of global heating arises from our primitive
brain’s inability to see the bigger picture. The analogy is drawn
with primitive man needing to worry about the tiger at the cave door
before giving any attention to the bigger picture further afield.
And, don’t those
who want to keep us from looking too closely at the ‘bigger
picture’ ensure that we are kept busy with many tigers at the door:
Gloom and doom pervade our mainstream media; terrorism and wars,
crime and strife are our regular diet. The BMA even coined the phrase
‘The politics of fear’ which is seen as making people ill. We go
about our daily lives dealing with getting ourselves to work, the
children to school, paying the bills and generally dealing with the
stresses and strains of everyday life. Global heating is low down on
most people’s priorities. If we do start to think about it, we come
close to feeling powerless and overwhelmed. How well I know those
If ‘Don’t Even Think About It’ has given me some
insight into why conversations often steer clear of climate change,
Matthew Crawford’s in ‘The World Beyond Your Head: How to
Flourish in an Age of Distraction’ sees our ‘distractibility’
in the modern world as the mental equivalent of obesity.
‘Distractibility’ is fed by a constant stream of stimuli in the
same way that obesity comes from being fed junk food.
Since reading about
‘distractability’ I’ve become ever more aware of the deluge of
information under which I seem to be buried daily. I’m constantly
distracted by adverts in every available space: the back of car park
tickets, popping up on computer screens, even inside toilet doors
when I go for a wee!
Yuval Harari in his
’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ sees clarity as power and that
censorship works not by blocking the flow of information but rather
by flooding people with disinformation. ‘What happens now?’
‘What should we pay attention to?’ He says: ‘We can’t take on
all these pressing questions – we have to go to work, look after
the children. The future of humanity is decided in your absence.’
it is that conversations usually centre around holidays and everyday
domestic problems, while the questions often asked are ‘Is it is
really necessary to disrupt people getting to work?’ and ‘Aren’t
there other ways to bring the government to get them to do what is
necessary to tackle climate change?’
The problem is that
‘other ways’ have been tried. I hope I’ve got this right but I
• International conferences have been held
and agreements on cutting carbon emissions have been made and broken.
Even the US, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse
gases, quit the Paris agreement.
• The UK government passed
the Climate Change Act in 2008 which made the UK the first country to
establish a long-term legally binding framework to cut carbon
emissions. The UK government crow about their success at reducing
carbon emissions but from my car-clogged corner of S E Essex I wonder
just how this can be true. Then I notice the convey of
freight-carrying container ships making their way up to the Thames to
the Dubai deep port in Essex and have a light-bulb moment: Yes, our
domestic manufacturing industry has been destroyed so our ‘stuff’
is now made in China and other overseas countries. We import goods
and export carbon emissions!
• The UK government which says it
is committed to reducing carbon emissions even gives the go-ahead to
a new coal mine and to fracking.
the face of this inaction what else can we do? With the power of the
fossil fuel industry dictating to governments and calling the tune
worldwide, I reckon that to deal with a drastic emergency, drastic
action is required which is why I’m behind XR.
All I think is
‘Thank goodness for XR, why has it been such a long time coming?!’
As so often happens, the idea came to me in the middle of the night. I was lying in bed pondering why I felt so very peaceful and calm, when the lightbulb moment struck. I have to confess that in view of what is going on in the world I, like many others I guess, have been feeling pretty stressed recently. Climate change, knife crime, terrorism, stories of gloom and doom regularly making headline news means that anxiety and confusion often fill my mind. So, what had happened the previous day to make me see things differently?
I’d been at the Extinction Rebellion protest in London and had met up with a huge crowd of energetic, inspiring, caring people who are prepared to give time and risk arrest for a cause in which they deeply believe.
My joining my local group of rebels came about because I
believe that climate change is a real threat not only to the distant
future but to life on Earth in the here and now. And because I believe
financial interests are stopping the government from taking the action
which we so desperately need.
Before my trip to Oxford Circus I was invited to a workshop where I
was given lots of helpful information about our legal rights, how we
should behave (non-violently) and what would happen if we got arrested.
Most helpful were the phone numbers of solicitors who specialise in
protest law. Role play helped us to prepare for how to deal with angry
people – motorists and those angry that they had been stopped from
getting to work or going shopping.
My day with XR in London turned out to be everything I expected:
well-informed people spreading the word and encouraging each other.
People handing out free food and drinks and passing around sun lotion.
There was lots of singing and clapping. Yoga and first aid tents.
Inspirational speakers. Chatting with strangers who I immediately
‘clicked’ with. The chanting of “We love you” and the shouting support
when an arrest was made. The day was fun, orderly and inspirational.
Emma Thompson described it as an “island of sanity” and how right she
The organisers have made it clear that this is just the beginning. We are now waiting for the government to respond to our demands and if the demands are not met, there are lots more very carefully organised and orchestrated non-violent disruptive events in the pipeline.
So, why did my day with the ‘rebels’ bring me such cheer? Why
did my middle of the night flash of insight feel potentially
I’ve come to see our regular exposure to bad news as a way of
dampening down our joie de vivre. It produces fear, which can make us
feel powerless, so we perhaps feel inclined to pull up the drawbridge
and look after number one.
In my days as a sociology student, I was introduced to the idea of
‘hegemony’ which describes the largely unquestioned world view taken in
by a population. The British sociologist Anthony Giddens described
ideological hegemony as “shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify
the interests of dominant groups”.
The term hegemony is thought to have been coined by the Italian
Marxist Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s. He used the term to describe how,
in a democracy, the domination of one group over others can be achieved
by political power, which depends on the population taking on certain
values and ideas. His message was that what comes to pass does so, not
so much because a few people want it to happen, but because the mass of
citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be.
I’ve come to see our regular exposure to bad news as a
way of dampening down our joie de vivre. It produces fear, which can
make us feel powerless
I’ve come to see that by focusing almost exclusively on the
bad news, our mainstream media drip feeds us daily the idea that the
world is a terrible, dangerous, place and that central to 21st century-life are competition, excessive material consumption and each man for himself.
But this obscures the fact that:
Plenty of people are working hard to help others
Co-operation is on the rise, with local shops, pubs and even failing companies being taken over by local people
The idea of a ‘good life’ of depending on excessive material consumption is being challenged
Random acts of kindness and selflessness are on the increase
And so much more
My lightbulb moment showed me that – as the ancient Greek Stoics said 2,000 years ago – I need to ‘guard my thoughts’ and look for the good stuff in the world. The climate change protestors are a highly visible, wonderful, example of people rebelling. All over the world, people in their everyday lives are rebelling and finding peace and happiness in a way of life which nurtures both the planet and each other.
My lightbulb moment showed me that I need to ‘guard my thoughts’ and look for the good stuff in the world.
I take great comfort from the words of the US historian and
activist Howard Zinn who said: “Revolutionary change does not come as
one cataclysmic moment (beware such moments!) but as an endless
succession of surprises, moving zigzag towards a more decent society.’”
As a group of Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves to a DLR train at Canary Wharf three Fridays ago, a message popped up on the group’s Facebook livestream: Activism is an anti-depressant.
Eighty-two-year-old Phil Kingston was among those up on the train
roof to draw attention to the fact that the financial sector is driving
the climate crisis, which is already displacing and killing people. And
that without urgent action, billions of human beings will die by 2050.
There’s something about witnessing an octagenarian sacrificing his
comfort and liberty for the benefit of other human beings which
reaffirms ‘something I thought I’d lost’ to quote another message on the
Facebook live stream. And of course it’s not just Phil Kingston – more
than 1100 people peacefully got themselves arrested this April, in order
to cause maximum disruption and push our society to save itself. Among
them was Hanna, seven months pregnant, the last person to be removed
from the Oxford Circus XR site.
Alongside the so-called ‘arrestables’ thousands more hearts, minds and hands created and supported the Extinction Rebellion
phenomenon, whether by offering meditation on Waterloo Bridge, acting
as independent legal observers, cooking and serving free vegetarian food
for participants, or holding up colourful, witty banners at road
Waterloo Bridge, photo by Jamie Tarlton
We did this not for direct personal benefit, but for children living
today and their children, and for the millions of people in the global
South already suffering the impacts of climate change. XR is not
perfect; the movement needs to work harder to involve BAME groups and
keep highlighting the way structural inequalities drive climate change.
But in our actions we embodied something which our society denies,
telling us that we’re apathetic and selfish: Love. A reverence for
life, common to all spiritual traditions across the world. And an
instinctual understanding of interbeing – a Buddhist wisdom recognising that all is one and one is all. We are ourselves, but we are also all each other.
photo by Extinction Rebellion
We live in a society which denies this truth and actively works against it. No wonder we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression.
So I agree with the Facebook comment: activism can be a practice which
feeds us. When we act non-violently and collectively, we embody the
interbeing principle and this feeling of connection gives me delight,
freedom, and fresh energy.
Peaceful activism is not just about sacrifice – you can feel
adventure and purpose when (non-violently) breaking oppressive societal
norms. When we’re all one, I am you and you are me, it means you can
let creativity and nature flow through you. It’s a huge relief to know
it’s not all down to you, your ego and your mind. And being part of
something so vast and creative means that things which looked absolutely
impossible start to look more achievable. If this isn’t an antidote for
depression, I don’t know what is.
Waterloo Bridge photo by Jamie Tarlton
In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich
Nhat Hanh wrote that because people cut reality into compartments, they
are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. But deep down
it seems we all know it.
It was there as I approached Oxford Circus, and a complete stranger
walked up to me, beaming, offering me one of her home-made flapjacks. It
was there as arrestees were carried off into police vans while other
participants yelled ‘We love you’. It was there in the woman serving me
food at Marble Arch: ‘How did you get involved? Oh, I was just walking
past earlier today.’ And the 71-year-old bearded man doing legal
observing through the night at Oxford Circus, who’d travelled all the
way from Wales to help out.
‘This Way to Save the Planet’ photo by Jamie Tarlton
It was there in all the passersby who thanked us, and the Oxford
Street shop-worker who told me that although it made it harder for him
to get to work, he agreed with the action because it was ‘for a good
cause’ and that inconvenience was needed. It was there in the stories I
heard of kids who no longer needed their asthma inhalers. And it was
there in the woman who thanked the campers at Marble Arch: ‘I haven’t
heard birdsong here in thirty years. Now I can.’
I laughed very hard many times during XR. And I witnessed many
beautiful things. Spontaneous, deep conversations between strangers;
dancing on Waterloo Bridge under a huge pink moon. While there will no
doubt be tensions and conflict within such a huge movement, during the
week I began to believe that collectively, humans are capable of solving
huge problems – if we’re just given the space and power to get on with
‘How did they manage all this?’ a couple asked me, taking in the
solar panels, trees, stage, singing, musicians, performance, meditation,
conviviality. ‘Hive mind’ was my answer. As ‘Being Mortal’ author Atul Gawande says:
‘We’re all so limited as individual human beings, and yet magic happens
when we all string together. When that happens, we are almost
In Owen Jones’ recent interview video
with Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam criticises the political
‘left’ as having been perpetually dishonest about what economic action
is required to mitigate the climate breakdown and what cultural changes
this will necessitate. He contends that the
‘left’ have become so embroiled, so entrenched in the (conceptually
politically right-wing) neoliberal ideal they are unable to conceive of
human life “in anything other than cost-benefit, materialistic terms”.
Their proposed resolutions have therefore assumed
that market forces are enough to tackle climate change: business as usual WILL work, it just needs tweaking! They
were wrong, whilst Roger is correct:
The ‘left’ – the supposed political guardians of justice and equality –
have fundamentally failed to realise that at the very heart of any
suitable action to mitigating the climate breakdown requires a
redefinition and restructuring of our society and economy.
Just like all life on this planet, justice and equality depend upon
this for their survival.
It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.
So, the political ‘left’ need to become Left again. For many of us, this has long been clear to see. Thankfully, it
appears that they’re (just) starting to see the light. But we, and
they, need to be clear about what the necessary changes in our society
will require of us culturally and personally. Roger was unequivocal
about this. It requires us to accept, moreover
embrace, lower standards of living. For freeing ourselves from our
capitalist indoctrination involves repudiating everything tied up in
capitalism’s tautological relationship with growth. So we must retract
from our supposed inter-generational contract with
every consecutive generation to give them a better standard of living
than the previous (I say ‘supposed’ because I’ve never seen nor signed
this thing). It’s a faulty contract, the objectives of which cannot be
sustained by virtue of its very design. We pursue
its fulfilment in vain, and at what price? At best, the end of civil
society, justice and equality; at worst, the end of human existence
we need to redefine ourselves, every one of us; we need to change our
expectations of what life entails. Reducing our standard of living
involves changing a whole host of our own
personal life-defining ideas. We need to be willing to fully extend the
service life of everything we own, instead of repeatedly repurchasing
unnecessary replacements. We need to re-skill ourselves so as not to be
reliant on corporate manufacturers. We need
to be canny, creative and imaginative. And we can be! We must reuse,
recycle, repair and adapt our clothes again and again and again, until
they are literally unusable as objects of clothing; and then up-cycle
them into rags and quilts. We must re-green and
re-wild our concreted areas, reconnect with the wilderness, walk upon,
re-learn, appreciate and cultivate our privately owned microcosmic
lands. We must localise ourselves (without vulgarising ourselves into
xenophobes), so that we can walk, push or cycle
ourselves to work, the grocer, to our friends and families. Concede
that animal husbandry is one of the greatest
causes of environmental degradation, and thus accept that meat
ought to be reserved for special occasions, or better yet not be
consumed at all. Accept that we needn’t pollute our drains with noxious
chemicals when we wash ourselves and our possessions;
realise that we needn’t shower every single day in order to be
this needn’t amount to austerity as we currently understand it – as a
degrading, unrelenting existence at the margins of civilisation, wherein
nothing possesses beauty or meaning. Kings
and queens of empires old had austere lives compared to many of us.
Ingenuity in practical utility can be
appreciated in aesthetic terms. Yes,
the story, the history and destiny, and the scars of our possessions
can cause us to marvel over them, giving them aesthetic merit. Further
still, in the process of changing ourselves, our conceptions of
objective perfection will entirely evaporate, but the
‘civil’ part our civilisation will not. THAT is what we are doing this
for. There is meaning in all this. So, don’t
mistake reduced ‘living standards’ for reduced ‘quality of life.’ They
are very different things. Happiness and contentment are in this
imagined society, and can wholly be found in the process of
transitioning to it.
said it before: the changes required will not be easy. We will all
experience some strife in the process of challenging and changing
ourselves. I’ve experienced it myself, and last week
I met many people at the Extinction Rebellion protests in London that
had, are or were beginning to experience their own internal mental
rebellions: I am not you
anymore, I am someone else; I wish there was another way but there isn’t, so leave me be! This
internal, somewhat subconscious self-rejection is relentlessly tiring
because redefining ourselves, re-finding ourselves is a tortuous task.
is no physicality to this kind of lost-ness; we are truly alone in an
ethereally grievous mental-state. Those who’ve experienced it may now
know very little about who they
are, but they have realised that our self-image is inextricably bound
up in our culture, and that culture has been hogtied by a now rotting
politico-economic system. For us, denouncing this system is like
pronouncing in the 19th century
that “God is dead”.
It can feel as though we are left in possession of nothing, yet still
have everything to lose. It can feel as though we need to go through
our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.
there is something that keeps us going. There is hope. There is
solidarity and love. More importantly, there is a new social contract to
draw up, and quickly. Its objectives may just
about be attainable, if we really try; if we continue to rebel. This contract won’t catalyse injustice, inequality and global extinction. No, neither
will this contract aspire to give our future generations a better standard of living. Instead, it will aspire to give them life. No
food to eat and air to breathe. In essence, that’s all Extinction
Rebellion are asking for: that we allow our children to live.