A few days ago, XR made the headlines for planning to stop Heathrow with drones.
I am finding it difficult to express how disappointed I was by this, especially after having spent a significant amount of time and effort editing the XR blog for the last few months. Like many others, I was drawn to XR precisely because it promised to be a non-violent movement to prevent climate breakdown.
Saying that drones will be flown in a busy airport implicitly threatens violence, just like a mugger who says “hand me your wallet or I will shoot”. There may well be no explicit violence, if the mugged person hands over their wallet; but there is obviously an implicit threat of violence which brought about the action of handing over the wallet. That’s why mugging cannot be called non-violent, and is both immoral and a crime. By the same logic, if airport authorities cancel or postpone flights because of threats of flying drones, they are acting under a threat of violence which is simply immoral and unacceptable on the part of an organisation like XR.
XR should be always claiming the moral high ground of saving all life on earth; it simply cannot threaten violence and maintain this moral high ground. This Heathrow strategy to me is simply the undoing of all that XR stands for.
I hope that XR people reconsider this strategy. For my part, I have to say that I can no longer be associated with a group that would entertain such violent and immoral strategies. This will be my last blog post.
A psychosocial perspective on the April 2019 Rebellion
two years ago I was a hard-working psychotherapist whose mind was
mostly preoccupied with looking underneath the surface of events for
an understanding of what they actually meant. I retired for a quiet
life in the garden (although now I seem to have become a hard-working
environmental activist instead). Letting go of the professional
duties doesn’t mean you stop thinking like a psychotherapist and
I found, anyway, that the powerful significance and intensity of the
Rebellion brought an automatic re-connection – emotionally,
spiritually and mentally – to that way of experiencing and relating
very many of us, I’m sure, I found myself drawing on old skills as
well as learning many new ones during the frenetic build-up to April
15th and the tumultuous unfolding of the 11 days afterwards. A key
thing in psychotherapy is self-reflection and as the pace of things
slackened in the final couple of days, as we all began, however
reluctantly, the heartfelt process of withdrawal and dis-engagement,
turning our attention again to the concerns and demands of the ‘real’
outside world (which now seemed less real than it ever had) I found
myself wondering how to understand the narrative of what had
using the word ‘narrative’ I mean deliberately to suggest that a
sequence of events tells more than just its own story. Most often, it
also tells us something deeper about ourselves. There is a tradition
of thought running through most of the the central theories and
philosophies used by psychotherapists – whether they be Freudian
analysts, Jungians, Gestalt humanists or transpersonal psychologists
– which says that the things we do, individually and together,
ranging from brief personal actions and simple physical gestures
through to extended periods of complex social interaction – can be
understood as enactments and re-enactments of deeper unconscious
realities. These things – from simple ‘Freudian slips’ to the
repetitions of history with global impact talked abut by people like
the contemporary communist psychoanalyst Slavo Zizek – reveal ideas
and truths that are not yet fully conscious. By studying the
narrative, then, we may be able to see something which is trying to
as I found time for pause and reflection while shuffling between the
tea tent, the people’s assemblies and the drumming bands at Marble
Arch on the penultimate day of the London rebellion, I found myself
wondering about this story that we seemed to have just told ourselves
about ourselves. Other than the fact that we had made a tremendous,
incredible collective effort which had brought about a radical change
in public consciousness, what else did the narrative tell us?
thought which impressed itself upon me most strongly, and which I had
already found myself mentioning to many people I spoke to, was that
this was a story about collaboration and determination, goodwill,,
kindness and creativity. Even though parts of the media were still
trying to run a story which was about police inefficiency or
collusion or about work-shy dreamers who had no idea about reality,
the obvious truth was emerging for all to see if they wanted to: when
people act together and are connected to a worthwhile sense of
purpose, and when they do so whilst seeking to stay connected to
higher values like Truth, Beauty, Will, Love and Wisdom, astonishing
things can be achieved. This, perhaps, is how we will address the
huge global problem of climate change. We will consider and plan
carefully and we will act decisively with urgency and discipline. We
will dedicate ourselves to this cause, acting without self-interest,
sharing generously of ourselves and our resources. We will care for
each other and ourselves, making sacrifices to the greater good
without losing sight of of our own rights and dignity. The idea that
everyone is responsible will spread like a wildfire and become the
new ’normal’. We will climb with exhilaration a steep learning
curve in which a process of creative collaboration feeds upon and
nourishes itself. We will rapidly develop new skills, exchange
knowledge and information at breakneck speed in order to meet the
escalating challenges which present themselves to us. In doing so we
will amaze others and ourselves with the truth of the proposition
that a small group of people can change the world.
as I considered the evident and inspiring truth of this, however, I
could not escape another truth – which is that we had, ultimately,
failed. We had not continued “until we win” as the mantra had
been Yes, I know we are not in the least finished, and the rebellion
is only paused, it is is only the beginning, etc. And I truly believe
all that. But the narrative of April 15th-25th does also have less
cheerful things to tell us. It tells us that that, notwithstanding
our Herculean efforts and all the marvellous variations of Love and
Will which were expressed, we were in the end defeated. Our
roadblocks were taken down. The glorious symbols of our defiant
audacity, the pink boat, the lorries, the trees, the solar panels,
were removed. Our people, one by one, were carried away. In the last
days , there had been plentiful evidence of our weakening. Resources
ran low. People got dirty and tired and ill. Some looked skeletal. It
was harder to think and make decisions and communicate effectively.
There was more evidence of fracture and discord in relationships. On
Waterloo Bridge we ate bread and jam instead of delicious vegan
stews. Drinking water became scarce. As we abandoned one site after
another, Marble Arch became too overcrowded, too noisy. People lost
valuable possessions and lost track of each other. Even as we
continued to assert our triumph, we could not deny that we were all
exhausted, completely done in. This, of course, is what may happen in
the story of the battle against climate change. We will make
wonderful, unbelievable progress and it will be a heart-opening and
joyful experience, but in the end we will fail.
i thought about this, I began to consider more specifically the role
of the police in this narrative. What had they been doing and what
did that mean or represent? We all kept saying how good they had been
and how kind and non-judgemental, how they were ‘“just doing
their job”. How might this be understood? It struck me that the
police in this narrative might best be seen as the forces of nature –
not unkind, nor intolerant nor even indifferent, but implacable
nonetheless. In the end, if a few thousand people come to occupy
London, to erect roadblocks and kitchens and performance spaces and
toilets and yoga spaces and meditation tents and gardens and tree
houses and skate ramps in the streets of the capital, the police will
marshal their forces and dismantle them and arrest the people who put
them there however much they sing and dance in defiance. This is as
much the ‘law of nature’ as is the fact that if we keep pumping
carbon into the atmosphere, cutting down forests and destroying
wildlife then the oceans will rise, the icecaps will melt, the land
will become desert and we will all die. The police were just doing
what the police do. It is as foolish to complain about supposedly
‘unfair’ tactics like issuing Section 14 notices or publicising
the details of people charged with offences or cordoning off
demonstration spaces as it would be to complain about average global
temperature rising. Nature, like the police, is not unkind nor
inflexible but it has its limits, If we push it far enough it will
destroy us. In the last days we became simply unable to combat the
rising power of the police, just as we may be unable to keep up with
the escalating challenges with which nature presents us. Torn between
responding to one emergency or another – do I rush to reinforce
Parliament Square, or Waterloo Bridge or Oxford Circus? – undermined
by emotional stress and depleted by a lack of rest and nurture, we
will be simply overwhelmed.
even if that it is an accurate understanding of the narrative, this
should not be depressing; because it is
only a narrative. And a narrative, like any myth or fairy-story, does
not tell us what is going to happen but only what will happen under
certain conditions. If. like Icarus, you fly too close to the sun,
you fall. If, like Rapunzel, you cannot free your inner feminine, you
end up locked in a tower. If, like two of the Three Little Pigs, you
build a house of straw or sticks, it will get blown away and you will
be at the mercy of the wolf.
condition we need to pay attention to in our story, I think, is
simply to do with numbers. This narrative of the April 2019 Rebellion
shows us what will happen if we do not have enough people on our
side. Fortunately, we have some time; not much, but enough to have
another go, another practice, maybe even two, in order to get it
right, so that we tell a different story, one of real triumph which
ends with us living in glorious harmony with nature and in right
relationship with ourselves and each other.
what I saw over the 11 days in London we could not have tried harder
or better. We were really amazing. We were magnificent. But we lost.
Yes, I know we won too and did so much more that any of us dared to
expect but the actual story, within its own frame, is not one of
victory, and it is crucial that we pay attention to that. How we will
win next time or the time after is that there will be a lot more of
us. We must learn from the story that we just told ourselves about
ourselves. We must give ourselves a little time to recuperate and
heal and then we must start to nurture the immense appreciation and
goodwill which our actions have seeded in the general public. Already
many of us are aware of people in our local communities sparked,
stimulated, even clamouring to join us. This must be grown and
protected and harvested so that whatever ‘next time’ looks like
and whenever it happens we will be three times, five times or ten
times bigger and stronger. When we have that many people with us,
working in the same wonderful way, we will be actually unstoppable.
And this amended story, with its happy ending, will, I believe,
inform and inspire a realistic and ultimately successful endeavour in
that ‘real’ life, in which we will come to be at last in harmony
with ourselves, each other and the natural world.
By Beth Maiden, XR Machynlleth regenerative culture group
Almost everyone I talked to in the wake of April’s rebellion in London described taking part as ‘overwhelming’, even if they had a great time (which most had)! Actions like these are very intense and complex, and it’s hard work for most of us to participate. Hard work physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Suddenly, for days, a week, two, we are like a tiny pop-up nation, requiring systems for decision-making, communication, care and support, and more. Feelings run high as we co-create community, trying to respond collectively to a fluctuating, unpredictable environment that can change in an instant.
Then, just as suddenly, we are home, coming down from it all. Trying to make sense of what just happened, how it felt, what worked, what didn’t. What was joyful, what was painful. The whole roller-By Beth Maiden, XR Machynlleth regenerative culture groupcoaster of feelings we’ve just ridden.
We’re often so focused on the ‘action’ part of activism that we forget that driving it all is emotion. We act because we feel something. And when we are acting, we keep on feeling – highs, lows, joy, grief, anger, love, hope, elation, and of course the comedown after.
And so we need space to process. Space to share all that comes up for us – the common ground, and the different experiences. Space to celebrate. Space to release grief and pain. Space to gather back in all of the parts of ourselves that are so easily lost in these big overwhelming actions and in the fight of everyday life. Space to be witnessed as whole, imperfect, feeling beings. Space to witness each other.
A regenerative culture is one that is committed to creating those spaces, so that we can process and heal and ultimately, stay in the movement and not burn out.
Here in Machynlleth, members our Regen group hosted a healing/debrief session for local folks who had gone down to London.
I’m sharing a simple template of what we did for other groups to use/copy/adapt if wanted:
We weren’t totally sure what the session would be like – we just knew that we wanted to hold space for activists to get together and share process all they had seen and felt and experienced in London and since returning.
We booked a community room in a local church for 3 1/2 hours. We advertised the session as a debrief specifically for folks who had been to London. We encouraged people to bring along food to share, cushions, blankets. We also invited people to bring a small object that represented how they feel or felt about the action, to create a temporary community altar.
We had three of us to hold the space – two who had taken part, and one who had not (to hold the space while and allow for the other two to participate).
We had time to grab a cuppa while we arrived and came to sit in a big circle. There were about 20 of us from the local area. We agreed that this was a safe, confidential space.
For the first hour we simply went around the group. Each person took a few minutes to introduce themselves, talk about what they did in London, sharing thoughts and feelings while the group listened.
Then we ate together. This was really special – some folks hadn’t seen each other since the action, whilst in London everyone had felt very close. It felt really powerful and important for activists to be back together again, revisiting the experience with others who ‘get it’ about what it was like. We also lit candles on the altar.
After food, we worked in pairs, taking turns to share and offer active listening. One person would talk for one or two minutes, whilst the other would listen closely, without interrupting or strongly reacting. Using a timer to ensure we all got the same amount of talking/listening time, we asked three questions: How did I feel at the action? How am I feeling now? and What are you hoping for going forward, what seeds have been planted?
Then we joined pairs, to make ‘pods’ of four. Again using a timer (five minutes each), each group took turns to talk and listen. This time, the question was ‘What do I need?‘. This might be what I need right now (touch, words, silence…), or what I need more generally – from my community, from XR, from my self – to feel supported and remain a part of this movement.
Lastly, we had a closing circle to once again move round the group and share reflections on the action as a whole. Each person took a few minutes to share ideas on what was great about the action and its aftermath, and what could be done better, and we wrote these up on flip-chart paper for future planning.
Feedback after the session was that
it was healing, nourishing and really necessary. As it was a
dedicated space for people who had shard a very specific experience,
people generally felt safe to share a wide range of emotions, they knew
others would listen and understand. And whilst not everyone understood
the purpose of the session at the beginning, we found that everyone had a
lot to say once things opened up! There were tears and a lot of laughs,
and the whole thing felt very profound. We intend to host these kinds
of sessions after every action, to keep offering space for the
regeneration that is so important to the sustainability of XR.
This passing bank holiday weekend, I felt it was
important to attend the protests launched by Extinction Rebellion in the
name of preserving our planet and species. As a member of the Young
Greens Executive Committee, I am passionate about the environment and
was keen to get involved. I left my house early Friday morning to travel
to Parliament Square, little did I know I would still be on Waterloo
Bridge singing my heart out at 4AM Sunday morning!
The power of love
I have been involved in many protests in my young
life, but I have rarely seen anything so well organised, so effective
and so purely wholesome as this. From the first moment I stepped onto
Parliament Square to the second I left Marble Arch the resounding
feeling I felt was love. Love for our planet. Love for my fellow
demonstrators. But most importantly, love for every human being on this
Whether that be the few counter-protesters or the
police trying to break us up, the important theme was that we showed
love to everyone who approached us. With this approach, you avoid the
pitfalls of isolating people who are not yet on board, and nothing is
achieved if a significant portion of society feels isolated, and
Extinction Rebellion identified and managed this to perfection.
Preventing shut down
I saw hundreds of arrests, from activists braver than
I, yet the chants “We love the police” and “Who’s police, Our police!”
continued to ring out until the moment I left the protest. What
Extinction Rebellion understands is that the police are not the problem
in this scenario, even if they are the facilitators for the will of the
What else Extinction Rebellion expertly did was make
all zones alcohol and drug free. Whilst some people in attendance quite
rightly fancied an ice cold can of beer in the blazing heat, everyone
understood that we did not need to give the police, the right-wing press
or anybody else an excuse. An excuse to shut us down. An excuse to
demonise us. Or an excuse to not take us seriously.
The clear out
I spent Saturday daytime with the remaining activists
on Oxford Circus, many of whom were arrested as the police scrambled to
clear the junction. I watched in awe as the police used a vast array of
power tools to try and free the activists who had managed to completely
secure themselves to the concrete floor. The smell rising through the
air of burnt tarmac. Sparks flying off the ground as they saw through
the locks. Dozens of police surrounding each peaceful activist secured
to the floor. This felt absolutely surreal against the backdrop of
thousands of shoppers, giant brands and luxury cars. It was incredible.
Eventually, the police cleared the square however not
without igniting the wrath of the protesters with some unashamedly
non-environmentally friendly decisions. A large rubbish truck enters the
Oxford Circus junction and all of the sleeping bags, duvets, cardboard
boxes and everything else was unceremoniously discarded without a
moments thought as to what could be recycled. If you could choose one
crowd you would not want to watch that, it would be a large crowd of
As the sun went down, I moved to Waterloo Bridge for
one of the most powerful evenings I have had the privilege to
experience. With knowledge the police were looking to reclaim the
bridge, hundreds of activists descended for an evening of music, talks
and togetherness. A candlelit vigil was held whilst talented musicians
played beautiful music on a wide range of interesting instruments
against a backdrop of dozens of Police.
As the skatepark was dismantled, fairy lights taken
down, trees torn up, we sang. As the fire brigade came to sturdy up the
truck, so the police can cut protesters down to carry them away, we
sang. No matter what negativity they tried to throw our way, to dampen
our spirits, we simply sang.
It was clear by the end of the night the police did
not expect this sheer determination and resilience from and it was
evident the bridge was not being cleared tonight. Victory, for now. And
yes, the bridge was cleared the following day, but not without a fight.
The morning after
Sunday brought more magic as hundreds marched from
Parliament Square through to Marble Arch. A funeral procession with
activists dressed in black, brass band in tow, led the rebellion forward
as we marched past Buckingham Palace right into Marble Arch where Greta
Thunberg delivered her rousing and inspirational speech. After days of
activism, much walking and losing my voice completely, I thought I would
take Sunday night to myself. Of course, my favourite band Massive
Attack played a impromptu show, of which I then missed, so we are not
going to talk about that.
How the new movement for ecological justice is reimagining the world
by reimagining the art of protest, protection and healing.
By Chris Taylor
Apr 25, 2019
Photo: Ruth Davey/Look Again – Photography for the Wellbeing of People and Planet (www.look-again.org)
Like many in the UK I have jumped feet first into the Extinction
Rebellion movement. It has captured something in the zeitgeist,
bringing together people across cultures and generations in a movement
for fundamental global change. It’s not just about climate change. It’s
about a revolution of love, deep ecology and radical transformation.
There is a long way to go. Victory will be secured over years rather
than months. This is the struggle for the heart and soul of the human
species, not for a quick fix climate solution. But even at this early
stage we are starting to see trends and approaches that are making the
difference – and that show how world-changing movements will operate in
the coming global transition.
This is a Self Organising System. XR is based on
careful study of mass movements for civil disobedience and disruption.
Local groups are free to plan and implement their own actions so long as
they stay within the movement’s guiding principles. The sites occupied
in London had the same freedom – to organise actions, events and
activities as they saw fit.
The whole movement runs on self-organising
interlinked circles connected through virtual platforms including
Basecamp, Google docs and WhatsApp.
The focus on self-organisation releases
untold amounts of energy and creativity. It builds agency and ownership
and avoids the traps and delays of hierarchy.
There is a very strong set of guiding principles.
Rebels are able to navigate how to act because of ten core values.
These include a shared vision, absolute non-violence, welcoming everyone
and every part of everyone. Because these values are upfront and out
there, they build a shared culture, which mirrors the world we are
trying to create.
XR’s organizational culture is “regenerative”.
It aims to be nourishing and sustaining for all members. There were
“welfare” tents at all London action sites offering space to relax,
recuperate, meditate, practice yoga, as well as providing medical care
as needed. This regenerative culture avoids burn-out and is attractive
to the general population. The police were at a loss as to how to deal
with such friendly protesters. Commuters grew to value the calm brought
to the city, the festival atmosphere and the decrease in traffic.
The movement is paying attention to its ultimate vision.
XR publicly declares three concrete short term demands: governments
should tell the truth about the climate emergency, they should go carbon
net-neutral by 2025, and there should be a citizen’s assembly to
explore and devise solutions.
But this is just the short term. Alongside
this is a much longer term transformational vision, which takes its map
from “the map of the human heart”. This is a vision of radical social
transformation and a rebalancing of humanity’s relationship with nature.
That’s the ultimate goal.
5. At its core this is a profoundly spiritual
movement (with a small “s”). It is jam packed with muslims, sufis,
christians, jews, quakers, buddhists and people of no faith, all
exploring thier common beliefs, beyond religion. What we have found is a
yearning for deeper meaning, for the magic and mystery of life, for a
felt connection to the entire eco-system of this Earth. XR is alive with
ceremony, contemplation and a careful, conscious action in honour of
life, love and abundance. We are becoming nature protecting itself,
experiencing its own beauty and evolving into its higher self.
How this will all play out is not easy to see. The movement in the UK
is taking a pause, to regroup, recuperate and shift to some serious
political horse-trading. What tactics will be needed to bring about both
short-term policy change and long-term global transformation, only time
will tell. But for sure, we’re off to a great start.
As one activist friend of mine, Nikki Levitan, put it:
“At the core of my experience this
last week I see that this is the first ever activism that is heart-led,
no blaming or shaming, just taking action from a place of love and
collective responsibility. A community of all generations who care and are able to self organise.
It is amazing when humans step out into the world and really do
something and be the change, it unleashes so much creativity,
possibility and courage.”
Mao once said “The Revolution is not a dinner party”. XR is showing it might just start with a street party instead.
By Cody Petterson For the first time in 15 years, I sat down in my car the other day and broke down sobbing. On the side of a dirt road, surrounded by mountains. Waves of sadness, frustration, rage, and despair welling up. I’d spent the day planting and watering seedlings, which I’ve done for half a decade now. We have 300 acres on the north slope of Volcan Mountain, between Julian and Warner Springs. The property got hit by the Pines Fire in 2002, which killed two-thirds of the conifers. I grew up hiking in Cuyamaca, before the fires, and I got it in my mind to restore the conifer forest on the property. It took months to figure out what was what, heading up to the mountain once a week, taking pictures, coming home and trying to identify all the species, reading late into the night about botany, and forestry, and silviculture. I collected thousands of cones. I learned how to get seeds out of them and to stratify, germinate, and pot the seeds. I started growing seedlings in the backyard. I put together a working group with US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, CALFIRE, and the US Natural Resource Conservation Service. We collected and sent 30 bushels of fresh cones up to the USFS nursery in Placerville, and I eventually got a thousand seedlings from those seeds. I planted every which way I could, learning something new each time, year after year. The first year I planted in the open. The seedlings baked. Next in the shade. They baked. I learned to water every two or three weeks, which isn’t easy across 300 acres of steeply sloped terrain. The pocket gophers ate them from below. I caged the bottoms. Rabbits severed them at the base. I caged them above ground. Rodents climbed up and down into the cages and defoliated the needles. I caged the tops. The rodents ate the needles on all the branches that protruded from the cage, and the hardware cloth cages heated up in the sun and the metal killed all the branches and needles that were in contact with it. And all the time, the relentless heat and dryness killed any seedling left without watering for more than two or three weeks. Winter rains are good, but there’s no snow-melt anymore, and a winter rain doesn’t help a seedling survive in October when there hasn’t been a drop of rain in 8 months (the second half of 2017 was the driest on record here). In spite of thousands of hours of thought, and worry, and work, and care, I’ve lost probably 650 out of the 700 seedlings I’ve raised from seed and planted with my own hands over the last 5 years. That day, after a long, dirty, hot day of planting, I walked to one of my favorite spots, a ring of granite boulders sheltered by a huge, gnarled Canyon Live Oak. There, lying shattered and rotting in the middle of the ring, was half the 60 foot tall tree. The other half was still standing, but covered in the telltale, tiny D-shaped holes of Gold-spotted Oak Borer (GSOB), a beetle that gets into the phloem, xylem, and cambium of our native oaks and kills them rapidly. GSOB arrived in San Diego on firewood from southeast Arizona fifteen years ago and has been slowly advancing north, laying waste to our native oaks. It’s killed maybe 80,000 so far. I wandered around to a dozen nearby trees, all big, ancient oaks. The trunks of every one were spotted with GSOB holes. I stood there stunned. The whole millenia-old forest was dying, as far as the eye could see. I wandered back to my truck, numb. I sat down in the driver’s seat, staring out the window. At the oaks, dying in mass. At the stately, hundred-foot-tall Bigcone Douglas Fir, towering above the oak canopy. Each Bigcone drops maybe two hundred to a thousand cones, depending on size, every three to five years. Each cone has around 100 viable seeds in it. Maybe 40,000 seeds on average per tree, every few years. Times a few hundred trees. An average of somewhere around a million seeds a year fall on our stretch of mountain. And yet there’s not more than a dozen saplings growing naturally on the entire property, 300 acres. I sat there thinking about what that meant, year after year, a million seeds dropped and maybe one or two survive, and those only on the dampest, darkest parts of the mountain. It meant the days of the Bigcone are done. I sat thinking about those thousands of oaks on all those slopes, and ridges, and hills. Dying. I thought of the Shot Hole Borer, working its way up through our canyons, killing all San Diego’s Coast Live Oak, and willow, and sycamore, and cottonwood. I thought of the Bigcone pushing their way up through the oak canopy. Last of their kind. I thought of all my seedlings. The hundreds I’ve planted over the years and the hundreds filling my patio and yard. I’ve lost too many to count, but I can somehow remember the moment I first saw each one had dried out, or been pulled under by gophers, or stripped bare by rodents, or gnawed by rabbits, or trampled by cattle from the neighboring reservation. I’d thought about it all a thousand times. I’ve lain in bed so many nights trying to wrestle with it. I don’t know why, but that afternoon something in my mind buckled under the weight of it. I thought, ‘How do I tell my kids?’ and I started to cry. They’ve grown up with me storing seeds and acorns in the refrigerator, germinating seeds, potting seedlings, watering them, five hundred at any given time in the backyard, working in the greenhouses, unloading all my dusty tools and empty water bottles from the truck when I get back in the evening from the mountain. Their dad working in any spare moment on reforesting is all they’ve ever known. I thought of this photo we took a couple of years ago, sitting in front of all our hundreds of seedlings. So happy. How do I tell them that I don’t know what to do with the six hundred seedlings in the backyard? That if I keep them potted in the yard, they’ll get root-bound and slowly die, and if I try to outplant them on the mountain, they’ll die even faster? That there’s no place left in the world for these trees they’ve grown up with? And then the question that was probably there the whole time, waiting to surface: How do I tell myself? I think of all the love I’ve put into saving that forest. All the years. All the thousands of hours. All the thought, and worry, and hope, and faith. How do I tell myself that it’s all gonna die? I’ve spent so long among those trees. It’s not like trees in a park you visit. I don’t go to a different trail or campground or mountain every week. I go to the same mountain, every time. I know every corner of those three hundred acres. I can see the whole forest when I close my eyes. Those trees are like friends to me. I know their peculiarities, their personalities. I can identify some of those trees by their acorns alone. It’s honestly too much. To know they’re all doomed. And if my forest is dying, the same thing is happening everywhere on earth. My mind leapt back 20 years to when I was doing fieldwork up in Kenai, Alaska. I remembered driving past hundreds of miles of conifers dying from Spruce Bark Beetle, which had exploded without the cold winters to keep its population in check. I must have blocked it out for twenty years. But it was right there, just below the surface of my consciousness, foreshadowing. The sadness, the fear, the despair comes over me in waves when I think about it. The whole biosphere, sixty-six million years of adaptation and speciation, is dying. I took personal responsibility for repairing, conserving, stewarding my half-mile square of it, and it finally hit me–what I’d been wrestling with unconsciously for a long time–that I can’t save it. No amount of wisdom, or sacrifice, or heroism is going to change the outcome. It’s been wearing on me for years, but when you’re raised on Star Wars and unconditional positive regard, you think that no matter how long the odds, you’re somehow gonna pull off the impossible. It’s been years of working, day-in, day-out, against odds that were unimaginably long. Only, they weren’t long. They were impossible. And at the crescendo of sobbing and loss, the saddest thought I’ve ever had came to me: I wish I didn’t know. What else can you say, when faced with a catastrophe of such vastness, with the unravelling of the entire fabric of life on earth? I mean, we need to fight to save what we can, but the web of life as we know it is done. All the beautiful things we saw as kids on the Discovery Channel. The forests I grew up in. The mountain lions, and the horned owls, and the scat and the tracks in the washes. We’re so early in this curve, and the changes that are already baked in will be so profound. I don’t think humans are headed for extinction. We’ll survive, though many of us will suffer and many die. But all this life with which we’ve shared the planet, much of it won’t make it. I wish I didn’t know. I wish I didn’t know those ancient trees dying up there on the mountain. I wish I’d never hiked through Cuyamaca before the fires. Wish I’d never looked beneath rocks for lizards in the canyons before the bulldozers came. Or heard the frogs singing. Some of us have seen what’s coming. Some of us feel, deeply, the oneness of all life, feel its fabric fraying. On the first of April, 2019, just after 3 o’clock, some faith–some fantasy inside me–died, and I felt despair for the world I’ve known and loved. We will not save what was. The world, the systems, the interrelationships, the densely woven tapestry, the totality we were raised to love will collapse. My responsibility now is to my children–to all our children–and the world that will remain to them. To rescue as much as we can from that global conflagration, from the catastrophes of famine, and flood, and fire, and conflict, and exodus, and extinctions that await. To end our dependence on fossil fuels, immediately. To dramatically change our food production, our transportation, our land use. Our way of life. To defeat anyone and anything that opposes or hampers that work. If there were ever a truly holy war, this struggle–to save the whole of life from ourselves–is it. There can be no compromise. No increments. No quarter. There is nothing left, but to go forth–with the grief, and desperation, and granite-hard determination–and transform the world. Utterly. Immediately.
Dr. Cody Petterson is an anthropologist and environmental activist. He is president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and serves on the boards of the San Diego River Conservancy and the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego. He lives with his wife and two children in La Jolla, California, where he enjoys his passion for native habitat conservation and restoration.
On Wednesday 17th April, members of Extinction Rebellion South Lakes staged a Die-in around Kendal market place. The weather was beautiful and who is ever going to complain about that? Unfortunately, far too many people still seem to share demagogue Donald Trump’s delusion that all global warming amounts to is lucky people in temperate zones getting more sun. As a recent casualty of increasingly unstable weather systems, the population of Kendal and villages nearby must be uneasy about this. Yet it’s always been amazing, how sunny weather and the onset of spring is apt to ameliorate or dim our fears – as if us and our beautiful landscapes with their trees in blossom and the cheer of daffodils will be here forever. Despite the broken bridges that remain broken, left behind by Storm Desmond, we are all too easily reassured. The body is simple in its reaction to warmth and light and the attractions of market day.
Setting up signs and banners in three different parts of the square, chiefly outside the low chains protecting the war memorial, at first, we passed unnoticed – the colourful signs and lettered flags taken for a precursor of carnival? Careful not to conceal any information already present on the windows of two untenanted shops, our own placards were propped or masking-taped to the glass. When we left, the only real sign of our presence would be the chalked lines around the fallen bodies, including those of children who spontaneously joined in. The only damage that occurred was caused by an officious security guard to whose initial crocodile smile we had granted a charitable benefit of the doubt. Taking advantage, while we were dying elsewhere in the square, he ripped down Wendi’s banner, also throwing her treasured bicycle to the ground – all part of the job, only doing his duty . . .
By contrast the community police officer who chatted with us a while, cheerfully agreed we were doing nothing he considered illegal: the disused shop was ‘a civil matter’.
With various members of the South Lakes group away for the duration of the main Extinction Rebellion event in London, our numbers were limited. Arrest however, seemed unlikely and the greatest block in many of our minds may have been embarrassment – that classic British trait?
Never underestimate the effect of embarrassment. If it wasn’t for crippling embarrassment, you never know, I might have taken up ballroom dancing, or any type of dancing. Or learned languages freely.
A Cornish friend of mine ,an eco-activist since the 70’s – who held secret midnight discussions with Swampy in the 1990’s and was an invited guest at C40’s 2011 conference in Sao Paulo – was adamant that action needs to be taken at every level, from every possible angle.
The thought that the Home Front is just as crucial as the Front Line, was one I kept in my mind to deflect disappointment at not being able to get to London – a regret of other members too. But if some considered Kendal a soft option, others were not convinced.
One interested office worker, who soon became a member, said she’d been down in London and felt quite comfortable joining the throng: the largeness of the company making her feel safe. In Kendal our group fluctuated at around 16. Crowd support and back-up were, to say the least, limited. That, she felt, would have made her think twice.
By contrast, a lady who died there and then, wished she’d known in advance that an expensive trek to London wasn’t necessary – nor incurring the irony of extra carbon to get to an event protesting against it!
Though I admire all those resolute, tireless, folk who walked to London, my ideal would have been to cycle. And maybe next time, if things don’t change fast, there will huge columns of cyclists all across the country, legally blocking routes everywhere – a wheeled echo of the Jarrow marchers. With enough warning there need be no idling engines. Everyone will know to put their cars and lorries away and stay at home.
In provincial towns, many of the public appear to know little or nothing about Extinction Rebellion. To them, it’s just a story on the news about some “pesky protesters” far away, “down in London”. Seeing Kendal residents they recognise – many of them pensioners with no experience of making a spectacle of themselves or braving abuse, determined for the sake of their grandchildren to make their point and explain what XR is about – really opens their eyes. It becomes personal rather than a fleeting headline. Our purpose in Kendal was not to disrupt ,but to try to publicise and explain, and although we had two or three hysterical people railing against us, generally, there was interest and support. Even the stallholders trying to make a living, were not all hostile.
Not wanting to disadvantage any of the stallholders in particular, after an hour we altered one of the locations of our dying. I asked the trader on the vegetable stall if he minded us dying nearby and he said not. Taking a leaflet to read at home, he only cautioned us against the shifting shade.
Undoubtedly, there is a vulnerability felt in lying on the pavement. With eyes shut, all the passing comments of support or scorn, impatience or contempt, become magnified. Yet talking was harder for me . . . at least at first. Others went through this same transition. My partner, who tends to be reserved in interactions with strangers, quickly warmed to the task. By the end she felt empowered. At last she was doing something instead of just worrying – and if things turned nasty we had a plan to ensure at least one of us would be free to pick the children up from school.
I’m not sure I felt empowered, but I did eventually manage to engage a few sceptics – who hopefully walked on with at least some idea of the crisis we are in.
“When you lot can do something about over-population let me know!” One woman challenged, and it was tempting to emphasise how wars, plagues and famines linked to climate change are already common and will only get worse. It’s always difficult to avoid the temptation towards fatalism that underlies the go-for-broke mentality so prevalent all over the world.
Throwing leaflets straight in the bin or refusing eye-contact were probably less common than the polite statement “I’m O.K. thanks” to proffered leaflets – a reaction which riled some of my comrades – struggling perhaps to resist the retort of “Not for long!”
The dilemma of how forceful we should be – purely verbally – stays with me. Long arguments with bitter opponents absorb valuable time, as does preaching to the converted. The background hope is that some people between these extremes, will later usefully reflect on a few points gently made.
The role of chief hysteric went to a woman ranting about our lack of respect for the war memorial. This, we stayed outside and fixed nothing to. We merely lay down nearby. Personally, I saw this more as a homage. What was the point of all those soldiers dying, only for us to trash the world they died for?
The war against extinction, against apathy over climate change and our own careless consumerism, is more urgent even than the fight seventy years ago, against the Axis powers. (Photos by Kirsten Freiesleben April 17th 2019)
I am lying on sunlit bricks before the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building. I have died, and now look up at a twisted rectangle of sky framed by glass-sided buildings. A single branch waves overhead, reaching from a tree rising from a square of trucked-in soil. About twenty people have also died around me, and lay in the positions they fell in. We will stay dead for about twelve minutes.
That’s how many years we have to prevent climate hell on
earth, at least according to the last fleet of studies. Twelve years is not a lot of time. Perhaps I
should have better things to do with mine. But then I realize, arms splayed
out, looking slantwise up at the diamond-pointed sun, I’m doing precisely the thing
I should be doing and want to be doing. I am dying into the truth of my time. I
am dying into the dying. And it feels strangely restorative
The sea is near. I can smell it. And I begin thinking of orcas,
in particular, one named Tahlequah. Last August, with her dead calf draped
across her nostrum, she heralded her calf through the sea for seventeen days
and nights? She made us look. She made us see what life is like behind the word
extinction. It’s hunger, loss, attrition. Extinction lowered its mask of data and
revealed a broken-hearted mother, grieving on a scale beyond our ken, a grief
as big as the ocean. I am thinking I am lucky to be able to lie here and grieve
for her, and for all of creation, really. I am thinking of how long I have
needed to do this.
Those who can’t lie down join in standing-death. I can’t see anyone though, just this strange, powder-blue fragment of sky. On this chilly April morning the bricks are surprisingly warm, laying a deep bed of deep quiet amidst the clanging jack-hammers, staccato horns, rhythmic sirens. The city thrums on and I realize we are the lucky ones. We at least have found an off-ramp, a brief side exit from the techno-industrial race to ruin.
Though we appear to be sleeping, we are actually waking. We are shaking off an industrial drowse, grieving for a distracted humanity. There’s a feeling of honour to it, a solemnity. This is necessary work. It helps that the sun warms our faces. It helps that we decided to just do this, as awkward as it might have felt at first.
And now here we are, dying into something beyond ourselves,
into orcas, snow geese, yellow tanagers, glacier-fed streams, snow-fed
glaciers, salmon and seasons. Climate refugees, hurricane victims; we die for them
too. By our bodies we have cleared and planted a small plot of human atonement,
and inhabit it with a mood akin to prayer. A cloud’s view would see a city
swirling around a spot of stillness. Is it a wound or a flower?
Professor of Sustainability Leadership, Jem Bendell, has recently
published a thoughtful review of the scientific studies on climate
change, called “Deep Adaptation”.
He concludes that social
collapse is inevitable, environmental catastrophe is probable, and
human extinction possible.
He says, dramatically enough to get our attention,
The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war
But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.
thinks facing this can lead to individual and collective change and
growth toward insight, compassion, and action. He proposes what he
terms “deep adaptation,” which includes the following framework:
reading the piece, I found myself relieved and encouraged.
because I too have been thinking about the likely collapse, thinking
that the earth’s environment is past the “tipping point” in
many areas, that we will lose more species that we can imagine, that
there will be social chaos, that we need to grieve the current and
looming losses, and that I may need to become a planetary hospice
worker, or a climate chaplain, joining with others in trying to
provide support, comfort, and perhaps some spiritual wisdom to help
us manage the coming troubles.
I was also relieved
because I too have been hesitant to share these kinds of thoughts
publicly for fear of reinforcing discouragement and despair that most
people carry. I haven’t wanted to be a voice of gloom and doom,
since that usually helps disempower people. Prof Bendell addresses
this fear by saying that refusing to look directly at the seriousness
of our situation gives us false hope that somehow we can avert the
worst, and thereby keeps us numb enough to go along with accepting
things as pretty much they are, or just advocating for mild,
piecemeal reforms, thereby sealing our fate.
because I have long believed that what is required is radical
transformation at the base of our civilization—an economy that
promotes well-being and happiness, not based on greed; a society
based on fairness, compassion, and cooperation where the “isms”
have been healed and eliminated; a re-uniting of humans with the rest
of the natural world, recognizing our inextricable interdependence
and embeddedness; a human culture that encourages contentedness,
sufficiency, caring, curiosity, and creativity. The author points in
transformation seems like a dream, given the current trends. All the
more reason to not
continue the slow, incremental reformist moves that most of the
environmentalists have attempted. This is not sufficient. Nothing is
sufficient to stop the severe climate induced disruption and
suffering already built in. But hoping that technology or the market
or human decency or enough political will can “save” us from the
worst is not sufficient either. We are called to a radical shift in
consciousness coupled with deep changes in our behavior, policies,
and structures in the external sphere, and correspondingly deep
changes in the interior realms–our self-concept, beliefs,
internalized feelings of powerlessness and unworthiness, unconscious
biases that make us feel superior or inferior, and the underlying
conditioning that makes us feel separate from each other, other
beings, and the Earth.
The interior transformations
needed require, among many things, dedicated and effective methods of
healing trauma, providing emotional safety and safeguards in the home
and public settings, a set of mindful ethics to guide our behavior,
and ways of nurturing compassion, loving kindness, peacefulness, and
enjoyment in the joy of others.
the interior dimension of change needed leads me to three conclusions
or directions for myself. a) To re-dedicate myself to do even deeper
emotional work to release stored distress and childhood hurts so that
I can think more clearly and act more boldly. b) To re-commit myself
to meditate more diligently and to practice even more fully the
I’ve been engaged with, namely, reverence for life, generosity,
kind speech, and mindful consumption, so that my actions point to the
world I want, and c) To live more deeply into the insights of
interdependence, continual change, and unbroken wholeness of reality
from which I can’t be separated, so that I know that the Earth and
I are one, that what hurts the Earth or other being, hurts me, that
when I care for a river’s health I am caring for my health.
the radical change in social structures needed leads me personally to
commit myself to advocate for a bold vision beyond reform; to support
big ideas like the Green New Deal and beyond; to participate in mass
non-violent civil disobedience actions; to help dismantle white
supremacy, patriarchy, and all the dominator systems; to support the
creation of a new just, cooperative economy. A tall order for sure,
but why not go for it!
don’t and can’t know how the story ends. But starting by
embracing the strong possibility of environmental collapse and human
extinction can jar us into a deeper relationship with our true nature
and other beings.
healing, social transformation. You can’t have one without the
– the tagline of Tikkun Magazine years ago.
John Bell is a Buddhist Dharma Teacher who lives near Boston, MA, USA. He is a founding staff and former vice president of YouthBuild USA, an international non-profit that provides learning, earning, and leadership opportunities to young people from low-income backgrounds. He is an author, lifelong social justice activist, international trainer facilitator, father and grandfather. His blog iswww.beginwithin.info and email email@example.com.
“Leave it to me, Sunshine!” may never have actually been spoken by Jack Reagan of the Sweeney, before he proceeded to kick down some miscreant’s door; but for anyone with a memory of such scenes, the words can hardly be mistaken for the gentle endorsements of a solar panel salesman. Rather they’ve become – if time-tempered by humour – a prelude to violence: violence against doors if not against people.
differently each of us perceives violence, was one of the early
questions asked last Sunday in Kendal, where the South Lakes
Extinction Rebellion Group, hosted a Non-Violent, Direct-Action,
turnout was good, the age-range wide – from students to pensioners:
though I’d guess the majority were between 50 and 60?
of the potential chaos of XR’s non-authoritative ethos,
impressively, our training day, as well as practical role-playing
exercises, managed to incorporate numerous digressions into moral and
legal issues as well as a delicious cooked lunch, yet still ran to
time. Not an easy task in a crowded hall hampered by poor acoustics.
by Joel and Kyle, young, enthusiastic, national representatives of
XR, the day began by reminding us – lest there was any chance of
forgetting – why we were here: the disastrous situation; the
negative facts and figures escalating. Not nearly enough is being
done – that much is frustratingly obvious. Even without the folly
of Brexit (rather
than heads-in-the-sand isolation, surely, we need all the connection
we can get?), most
of the media would still be wallowing in celebrity scandal, sport or
trivia. Meanwhile our current ‘government’, always a poor joke in
bad taste, stumbles on like a maudlin, terminal, drug addict. Someone
needs to commandeer all their single-malt for redistribution. Though
it may already be too late for humanity, was a fear many people
visibly shared that overcast Sunday. When, at a later point in the
afternoon, we indicated our agreement with the anxieties of
individuals, by moving from the large circle of our chairs towards
their imaginary axle point, the voicing of this particular worry,
created a tight knot in the centre of the room.
knot that contradicted the result of our first exercise:
to introduce about forty people, many of whom had never met before,
groups of eight or so were asked to form circles – randomly taking
hold of two other hands or wrists. Without letting go, we had to see
if this knot could be untangled. Ours looked impossible. But to our
amazement, despite aged, aching limbs or heavy walking boots, by
patient mutual persistence it was, eventually, untangled. Not that
anyone took too much encouragement from this – despite the humour
that one member of the circle, Liz, was somehow facing outwards. The
crisis of climate emergency and the blithely suicidal tendency of
humanity is far more twisted; our consumerist habits, a matted
confusion of selfish carelessness. Our world is a mess, and our
controls set for destruction – the auto-pilot resistant to every
striving influence. That Ring a Ring o’ Roses may only connect with
bubonic plague in urban legend, didn’t stop me feeling when we
stood in a ring at the end, some doom-laden overlap with the current
was the more experienced of the speakers and obviously used to
dealing with varied groups of XR volunteers. His softly spoken
colleague Kyle was acting as back-up for the very first time and
visibly gained confidence as the day went on, despite being
interrupted and being asked to speak “LOUDER
AND MORE CLEARLY”
by several members keen not to miss a word. The situation of Joel and
Kyle was not one I envied – all the more so after another exercise
amply displayed how easy it is, even in moments of simulated
stress, to literally forget everything useful in your head.
was during one of the exercises in which the group divided into two
lines to represent peaceful demonstrators versus, a) an irate public,
and b) the police.
don’t know if the ‘opponent’ opposite me, was an actor famed
for local or national dramatics, but his angry desire to get to an
imaginary job and later his pathetic pleas to be allowed to gain
access to his ailing hospitalised wife, were so convincing that I
couldn’t help but laugh. Attempting (badly) to fulfil my role as
activist, I tried to take refuge in gently explaining the
demonstration’s purpose – that we were protesting “for the sake
of everyone. For the future. For our children,” and so on – all
very easy theoretically while able to access the facts and figures .
. . In practice, most of these arguments went out of my head and
though some friends might think of me as a talker with a tendency to
dominate conversations, I literally couldn’t remember what to say.
more effective was the woman opposite me, when next I became a police
officer: However much I “Please
she just smiled and beamed. Again, it was hard not to laugh.
next became a demonstrator to show how much harder it is for the
police to move those who can manage to remain floppy rather than
becoming rigid. Naturally enough, it’s harder still to move
protestors whose arms are linked. I asked if he knew of any instances
of the police tickling people to get them to desist. He laughed, and
we assumed such levity would be beneath both protocol or dignity.
XR member with a friend in the police force, passed on this friend’s
insider view of how frightening it can be to suddenly be called on to
‘police’ a demonstration.
few of the police nowadays, resemble those I remember from
demonstrations in the 70’s and early eighties. Very few are like
the notorious SPGi
using unauthorized weapons to disperse protesters. In fact, almost
every policeman I have personally encountered in the last thirty
years has been respectful and friendly. Which is the whole point
about XR and non-violence. XR is trying to speak for all of us, and
doesn’t wish to make enemies of anyone. To quote a recent report on
the traffic block in Sheffield (19th
March), in Newsletter
#17 – Paint the Streets:ii
Police were marvellous, supportive and protective.”
the other hand, Joel’s experience of arrest (it’s happened to him
three times) was more sobering to a claustrophobic, than other
first-hand accounts I’ve heard. XR generally advise giving only
your name and date of birth, although a new law now states that you
must disclose your nationality – an insidious development perhaps
connected to Brexit and all the threats we’ve been hearing about
martial law? Not that one can blame the police for the follies of the
As with the military, a sense
of unity or invincibility has long been a principle of more extreme
forms of policing – an appearance of being inhuman or robotic,
their ideal. One wonders how society might have developed if all this
warring, macho, colonial bullying type stuff could have been avoided.
Whether the human race could have gone in an entirely better
direction? Yet no doubt cavemen practised cruder versions of similar
intimidation, and only the most mindless guard dog is not checked if
you suddenly appear to double in size by opening your coat. In a
sense, XR is saying that all such tactics need to be defused and
resisted. It is us as a race, of whatever colour or creed, that XR
seeks to preserve. The question I can’t help asking is: do we
deserve another chance?
in January, the inauguration of the South Lakes XR group, felt like a
great day, felt like the beginning of this chance, but was sadly
marred a few weeks later when one of its prime movers, Andy Mason,
died. I only knew him for a few hours during and after that first
meeting, yet already thought of him as a friend. When the steering of
my 55-year-old car broke as I was setting off for home, Andy, was as
helpful to me as if we’d known each since childhood. When it was
obvious that the car was beyond safe temporary repair, he and his
wife of more than 46 years, Maggie, took me back to their home while
I awaited a tow truck. Later he insisted on standing with me by the
car to be sure I would not somehow be abandoned at the roadside. More
than the act of a good Samaritan, his reassuring presence was
something I’ll never forget. Key to so many local progressive
causes, Andy’s burning desire was to see a fairer world and a more
to see Maggie at the training day, tentatively I asked how she’d
been. Her reply was: “When
you’re fighting a war you don’t stop just because the comrade
next to you falls. You have to keep going.”
Which is the best tribute I can think of to both of them.
Freiesleben, March 2019
This morning, near the end of writing this report, a friend in York
drew my attention to George Monbiot’s article in today’s
(see links below) honouring Polly Higgins – a campaigning lawyer
who reminds any of us who have become cynical about the misuse of law
by powerful corporations, of the better purposes to which it can be
comprehensively put. For many years her aim has been to make Ecocide
a crime. If you have the time, read the article and watch her talk –
to which the article provides a link.
still, join the Rebellion in London on the 15th
Wellbeing Bundle for AG Wellbeing Coordinators – XR Doc
the legal side, you might want to find out what it might mean for
you, personally, to get arrested/convicted. You need to decide what
is the right course for you, bearing in mind what is at stake for
our planet; also remember that many actions carry a low risk of
arrest and that there are many other ways to make your contribution.
Legal Briefing & Likely Charges – XR Doc
Legal advice/support for activists, bust cards – Green & Black Cross