Extinction Rebellion Tie-in Die-in, Kendal

By Lawrence Freiesleben

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)

From XR Die-in, Seattle

By Rob Lewis

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?

It is surely both.

Earth March Diary from Colchester

By Ness

Day one. Boudicca the litter collector of Colchester. We collected a dustbin sack full of cans, plastic wrap, fag packets, plastic bottles… Mostly all plastic. Sadly we filled a sack within a quarter of a mile, before we had to stop to recycle it. It actually felt like an ocean we couldn’t content with. We ceremoniously marked the sealing of the first sack by advertising the work of #extinctionrebellion in the form of wall papering a bus stop with some beautiful XR posters – You’re welcome.


Theresa, Janet and myself walked on, leaving the town behind for the main road out of Colchester, before leaving the beaten track for the tranquility of birdsong from hedgerows in country lanes; far less litter here. We passed a farm, with three tractors planting potatoes on a very small field; disproportionate for three machines; the three of us just watched, no words needed…. Shared yet unspoken calculations regarding pollution, energy and yield. The maths just doesn’t add up; the answer certainly doesn’t benefit us.

Day…. What day is it? Thursday 11th. After a tough walk to D’Arcy yesterday, i slept brilliantly. Fab campsite, hot showers and in bed by 7:45 – the only way to stay warm. Q: What’s the one thing every peri menopausal woman dreads whilst camping in the freezing cold? A: surprise period! Excellent. Luckily, i did pack two bullets for my pistol, just in case. Even luckier, our next door neighbour in the caravan managed to find a random tampon in her make up bag. Lady, i am eternally grateful. This may be an overshare; get over it. This has made me think about what it’s like for women sleeping rough; just something else bloody awful to contend with (‘scuse the pun). It was a bloody cold night, but it was mouse free and i slept really well. Theresa and i got ourselves packed up and set off at 10 this morning, as we were to part company at Tolleshunt Knights. On arriving there we discovered the bus service had been axed, but a kind Catalonian woman in the form Gloria, (79, district nurse) gave Theresa a ride to Tollesbury, after a great discussion about the Franco regime and introducing us to her friend Ines who serenaded me on the pavement with a Spanish song, before bestowing a leaflet about Jesus on me. Simply blown away by random acts of kindness.

Day four. Friday 12th. Danbury – Writtle. Despite it being only 7.5 miles, I’m being forced to take the day off. After 13 miles yesterday I’ve developed two really awful blisters, which are incredibly painful, preventing me from walking. Today I have no choice but to rest at my friend’s house with Poppy keeping me company. Due to this, my plans changed from camping tonight to sofa surfing courtesy of Miriam, an XR friend in Chelmsford. It also seems that I may not have dodged the bug…. I’m about to go back to bed in the hope I can shake this off a dreadful headache, sore throat and streaming nose. If I surface in a couple of hours feeling better, I shall make my way to Writtle, as the plan tonight is to meet up with Chelmsford rebels to make banners and keep warm before Miriam rescues me and let’s me sleep on her sofa. Fingers crossed this is just fatigue. I’m not done yet.

Day 5 – Saturday 13th – back home, currently game over. Ended up having to come home. It seems I didn’t escape Sophia’s bug. It was a hard decision to make, my best friend Bee looked after me in her home brilliantly, however there’s no place like home when you develop a temperature of 39 degrees. Those of you that know me well will know that my default position on everything is nearly always confrontational; I fight; but when it comes to health I believe that when your body shouts loudest you should listen; it’s your vehicle that will get you to your destination – so requires love and care. I’m glad I listened, because this morning I don’t feel well at all.
Part of the capitalist rhetoric – the “no pain, no gain” ethos is in stark contrast to regenerative culture; it is non compassion at the deepest level; something I am trying to change in nursing culture; a concept that formed a book chapter to inspire change in the way we socialise students into the profession.
So here I am, after a night of rigours and sweats; grateful to be warm in my home with my family, and not suffering the cold and damp in my tent.
Today, I would have been walking from Writtle to Kelvedon Hatch, having met up with fellow travellers Bob and Colin. Colin has taken the baton from me now, and Bob has sorted me out a place to sleep tomorrow night if I’m back in the game – which I intend to be. I want to thank so many people for their support, effort and care….. Too numerous to mention in my current state of being; you know who you are – all of you XXX

The Benefits of Accepting the Possibility of Environmental Collapse and Human Extinction

By John BellS

British 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.

He 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:

I hope the deep adaptation agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration can be a useful framework for community dialogue in the face of climate change. Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”

In reading the piece, I found myself relieved and encouraged.

Relieved 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.

Encouraged 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 that direction.

This 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.

Contemplating 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 ethical principles 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.

Contemplating 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!

We 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.

“Inner healing, social transformation. You can’t have one without the other.”
– 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 isjbellminder@gmail.com.

What Will You Say to Your Grandchildren?

By Jeremy Lent

Facing oncoming climate disaster, some argue for “Deep Adaptation”—that we must prepare for inevitable collapse. However, this orientation is dangerously flawed. It threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy by diluting the efforts toward positive change. What we really need right now is Deep Transformation. There is still time to act: we must acknowledge this moral imperative.

Every now and then, history has a way of forcing ordinary people to face up to a moral encounter with destiny that they never expected. Back in the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler rose to power, those who turned away when they saw Jews getting beaten in the streets never expected that decades later, their grandchildren would turn toward them with repugnance and say “Why did you do nothing when there was still a chance to stop the horror?”

Now, nearly a century on, here we are again. The fate of future generations is at stake, and each of us needs to be prepared, one day, to face posterity—in whatever form that might take—and answer the question: “What did you do when you knew our future was on the line?”

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few months, or get your daily updates exclusively from Fox News, you’ll know that our world is facing a dire climate emergency that’s rapidly reeling out of control. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning to humanity that we have just twelve years to turn things around before we pass the point of no return. Governments continue to waffle and ignore the blaring sirens. The pledges they’ve made under the 2015 Paris agreement will lead to 3 degrees of warming, which would threaten the foundations of our civilization. And they’re not even on track to meet those commitments. Even the IPCC’s dire warning of calamity is, by many accounts, too conservative, failing to take into account tipping points in the earth system with reinforcing feedback effects that could drive temperatures far beyond the IPCC’s worst case scenarios.

People are beginning to feel panicky in the face of oncoming disaster. Books such as David Wallace-Wells’s Uninhabitable Earth paint a picture so frightening that it’s already feeling to some like game over. A strange new phenomenon is emerging: while mainstream media ignores impending catastrophe, increasing numbers of people are resonating with those who say it’s now “too late” to save civilization. The concept of “Deep Adaptation” is beginning to gain currency, with its proponent Jem Bendell arguing that “we face inevitable near-term societal collapse,” and therefore need to prepare for “civil unrest, lawlessness and a breakdown in normal life.”

There’s much that is true in the Deep Adaptation diagnosis of our situation, but its orientation is dangerously flawed. By turning people’s attention toward preparing for doom, rather than focusing on structural political and economic change, Deep Adaptation threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, increasing the risk of collapse by diluting efforts toward societal transformation.

Our headlong fling toward disaster

I have no disagreement with the dire assessment of our circumstances. In fact, things look even worse if you expand the scope beyond the climate emergency. Climate breakdown itself is merely a symptom of a far larger crisis: the ecological catastrophe unfolding in every domain of the living earth. Tropical forests are being decimated, making way for vast monocrops of wheat, soy, and palm oil plantations. The oceans are being turned into a garbage dump, with projections that by 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish. Animal populations are being wiped out. The insects that form the foundation of our global ecosystem are disappearing: bees, butterflies, and countless other species in free fall. Our living planet is being ravaged mercilessly by humanity’s insatiable consumption, and there’s not much left.

Deep Adaptation proponents are equally on target arguing that incremental fixes are utterly insufficient. Even if a global price on carbon was established, and if our governments invested in renewables rather than subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, we would still come up woefully short. The harsh reality is that, rather than heading toward net zero, global emissions just hit record numbers last year; Exxon, the largest shareholder-owned oil company, proudly announced recently that it’s doubling down on fossil fuel extraction; and wherever you look, whether it’s air travel, globalized shipping, or beef consumption, the juggernaut driving us to climate catastrophe only continues to accelerate. To cap it off, with ecological destruction and global emissions already unsustainable, the world economy is expected to triple by 2060.

The primary reason for this headlong fling toward disaster is that our economic system is based on perpetual growth—on the need to consume the earth at an ever-increasing rate. Our world is dominated by transnational corporations, which now account for sixty-nine of the world’s largest hundred economies. The value of these corporations is based on investors’ expectations for their continued growth, which they are driven to achieve at any cost, including the future welfare of humanity and the living earth. It’s a gigantic Ponzi scheme that barely gets a mention because the corporations also own the mainstream media, along with most governments. The real discussions we need about humanity’s future don’t make it to the table. Even a policy goal as ambitious as the Green New Deal—rejected by most mainstream pundits as utterly unrealistic—would still be insufficient to turn things around, because it doesn’t acknowledge the need to transition our economy away from reliance on endless growth.

Deep Adaptation . . . or Deep Transformation?

Faced with these realities, I understand why Deep Adaptation followers throw their hands up in despair and prepare for collapse. But I believe it’s wrong and irresponsible to declare definitively that it’s too late—that collapse is “inevitable.” It’s too late, perhaps, for the monarch butterflies, whose numbers are down 97% and headed for extinction. Too late, probably for the coral reefs that are projected not to survive beyond mid-century. Too late, clearly, for the climate refugees already fleeing their homes in desperation, only to find themselves rejected, exploited, and driven back by those whose comfort they threaten. There is plenty to grieve about in this unfolding catastrophe—it’s a valid and essential part of our response to mourn the losses we’re already experiencing. But while grieving, we must take action, not surrender to a false belief in the inevitable.

Defeatism in the face of overwhelming odds is something that I, perhaps, am especially averse to, having grown up in postwar Britain. In the dark days of 1940, defeat seemed inevitable for the British, as the Nazis swept through Europe, threatening an impending invasion. For many, the only prudent course was to negotiate with Hitler and turn Britain into a vassal state, a strategy that nearly prevailed at a fateful War Cabinet meeting in May 1940. When details about this Cabinet meeting became public, in my teens, I remember a chill going through my veins. Born into a Jewish family, I realized that I probably owed my very existence to those who bravely chose to overcome despair and fight on in a seemingly hopeless struggle.

A lesson to learn from this—and countless other historical episodes—is that history rarely progresses for long in a straight line. It takes unanticipated swerves that only make sense when analyzed retroactively. For ten years, Tarana Burke used the phrase “me too” to raise awareness of sexual assault, without knowing that it would one day help topple Harvey Weinstein, and potentiate a movement toward transformation of abusive cultural norms. The curve balls of history are all around us. No-one can accurately predict when the next stock market crash will occur, never mind when civilization itself will come undone.

There’s a second, equally important, lesson to learn from the nonlinear transformations that we see throughout history, such as universal women’s suffrage or the legalization of same-sex marriage. They don’t just happen by themselves—they result from the dogged actions of a critical mass of engaged citizens who see something that’s wrong and, regardless of seemingly insurmountable odds, keep pushing forward driven by their sense of moral urgency. As part of a system, we all collectively participate in how that system evolves, whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not.

Paradoxically, the very precariousness of our current system, teetering on the extremes of brutal inequality and ecological devastation, increases the potential for deep structural change. Research in complex systems reveals that, when a system is stable and secure, it’s very resistant to change. But when the linkages within the system begin to unravel, it’s far more likely to undergo the kind of deep restructuring that our world requires.

It’s not Deep Adaptation that we need right now—it’s Deep Transformation. The current dire predicament we’re in screams something loudly and clearly to anyone who’s listening: If we’re to retain any semblance of a healthy planet by the latter part of this century, we have to change the foundations of our civilization. We need to move from one that is wealth-based to once that is life-based—a new type of society built on life-affirming principles, often described as an Ecological Civilization. We need a global system that devolves power back to the people; that reins in the excesses of global corporations and government corruption; that replaces the insanity of infinite economic growth with a just transition toward a stable, equitable, steady-state economy optimizing human and natural flourishing.

Our moral encounter with destiny

Does that seem unlikely to you? Sure, it seems unlikely to me, too, but “likelihood” and “inevitability” stand a long way from each other. As Rebecca Solnit points out in Hope in the Dark, hope is not a prognostication. Taking either an optimistic or pessimistic stance on the future can justify a cop-out. An optimist says, “It will turn out fine so I don’t need to do anything.” A pessimist retorts, “Nothing I do will make a difference so let me not waste my time.” Hope, by contrast, is not a matter of estimating the odds. Hope is an active state of mind, a recognition that change is nonlinear, unpredictable, and arises from intentional engagement.

Bendell responds to this version of hope with a comparison to a terminal cancer patient. It would be cruel, he suggests, to tell them to keep hoping, pushing them to “spend their last days in struggle and denial, rather than discovering what might matter after acceptance.” This is a false equivalency. A terminal cancer condition has a statistical history, derived from the outcomes of many thousands of similar occurrences. Our current situation is unique. There is no history available of thousands of global civilizations bringing their planetary ecosystems to breaking point. This is the only one we know of, and it would be negligent to give up on it based on a set of projections. If a doctor told your mother, “This cancer is unique and we have no experience of its prognosis. There are things we can try but they might not work,” would you advise her to give up and prepare for death? I’m not giving up on Mother Earth that easily.

In truth, collapse is already happening in different parts of the world. It’s not a binary on-off switch. It’s a cruel reality bearing down on the most vulnerable among us. The desperation they’re experiencing right now makes it even more imperative to engage rather than declare game over. The millions left destitute in Africa by Cyclone Idai, the communities still ravaged in Puerto Rico, the two-thousand-year old baobab trees suddenly dying en masse, and the countless people and species yet to be devastated by global ecocide, all need those of us in positions of relative power and privilege to step up to the plate, not throw up our hands in despair. There’s currently much discussion about the devastating difference between 1.5 and 2.0 in global warming. Believe it, there will also be a huge difference between 2.5 and 3.0. As long as there are people at risk, as long as there are species struggling to survive, it’s not too late to avert further disaster.

This is something many of our youngest generation seem to know intuitively, putting their elders to shame. As fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg declared in her statement to the UN in Poland last November, “you are never too small to make a difference… Imagine what we can all do together, if we really wanted to.” Thunberg envisioned herself in 2078, with her own grandchildren. “They will ask,” she said, “why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.”

That’s the moral encounter with destiny that we each face today. Yes, there is still time to act. Last month, inspired by Thunberg’s example, more than a million school students in over a hundred countries walked out to demand climate action. To his great credit, even Jem Bendell disavows some of his own Deep Adaptation narrative to put his support behind protest. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a mass civil disobedience campaign last year in England, blocking bridges in London and demanding an adequate response to our climate emergency. It has since spread to 27 other countries.

Studies have shown that, once 3.5% of a population becomes sustainably committed to nonviolent mass movements for political change, they are invariably successful. That would translate into 11.5 million Americans on the street, or 26 million Europeans. We’re a long way from that, but is it really impossible? I’m not ready, yet, to bet against humanity’s ability to transform itself or nature’s powers of regeneration. XR is planning a global week of direct action beginning on Monday, April 15, as a first step toward a coordinated worldwide grassroots rebellion against the system that’s destroying hope of future flourishing. It might just be the beginning of another of history’s U-turns. Do you want to look your grandchildren in the eyes? Yes, me too. I’ll see you there.

Jeremy Lent is author of The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, which investigates how different cultures have made sense of the universe and how their underlying values have changed the course of history. He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering a sustainable worldview. For more information visit jeremylent.com.

On the Matter of Hope

By Rob Lewis

The question now peers out of every weather chart, UN climate report, and grim projection: is there hope? Though nebulous, it feels essential to us right now. Yet it’s getting harder and harder to find. Indeed, if you look with utter sobriety at the numbers, it’s hard not to arrive at zero in the hope column.

But is a hope really a quantity that you can have or not have? We seem to treat it as such. It has long been the practice when writing about climate or extinction to give the reader hope at the end, like it were a token they could place in a turn-style, on the other side of which, presumably, is the will to act.

I’m not sure what kind of hope that is, or if it’s really the kind we need right now. And we do need something like hope, something to give us the sense our efforts will be rewarded, that all is not lost. It’s not surprising that at one of the early meetings of our local Extinction Rebellion chapter, the thing we all talked about when introducing ourselves was our personal wresting matches with hopelessness. All of us pretty much admitted to having lost hope, yet there we were.

In the end we agreed it doesn’t really matter what quantities of hope supposedly exist or don’t exist in the world. We each have to decide for ourselves whether or not to fight for what we love. We were there because we had already answered that question. It wasn’t hope but something else that brought us, something less definable but apparently more necessary. What should we call it?

I don’t know, but it gave me hope.

I am standing on a high prairie, invigorated by a cold northern wind. Grasses, toughened by that wind, stretch gleaming around me, and I am thinking about hope, and its antipode: hopelessness. I have brought this question in my head onto this prairie, but it’s an argument that feels out of place here, which bristles and rushes with an intensity far fiercer than hope. Here, nothing seeks reassurance of its success, or hinges its commitment on a glimmer of anything. Here it is all in all the time. It has the effect, as wild places often do, of making me want to shout.

Amongst the lichen-mapped stones, snow has melted into a patchwork of pools, clear as liquid air. I look into them, “Do you have hope?” But they don’t seem to understand the question. The word hope, apparently, is not in their vocabulary. I look at the distant mountains and ask “is it hopeless?” but the wind tears the words out my mouth and blows them into nothing as I speak them.

I don’t think the earth, or any of its myriad creatures and beings, have hope as we tend to think of it. They don’t anticipate outcomes. They strive, no matter what. Maybe it’s that constancy of commitment that makes them seem so full of hope.

We’re different. We worry over the future, constantly gauging our odds both large and small, collectively and individually. It’s a habit of the human mind that most other minds would find bizarre. Certainly a salmon would never make it up the river scaling waterfalls if it thought that way. A migrating seabird might think twice about the upcoming trek to chile. Flowers could well keep their shops closed for fear of hail. But they don’t. They go, they blossom, they strive.

You could say many of these same things about the human body. Whatever our thoughts, it’s always busy at work, the heart vigorously pumping, the arteries singing, the cranium flashing like a small lightning cloud. The human body is like the salmon and the seabird, a creature of the earth. It is the horse we actually ride, not the one in our heads wondering if it’s going to work out. 

Thinking now of my time on that wild, windy prairie; was it my mind that wanted to shout, or my body?

Whatever hope is, it may be more physical than we realize. Take a vacant lot, asphalt crumbling, littered with trash. Put beside it a lot of equal measure planted with gardens and native plants, with “at risk” kids proudly growing food for their community. Tell me which side has more hope. A river dying behind a dam doesn’t offer much in the way of hope, but restore that river and watch hope flow. Preserve a prairie and watch it grow. Bring the songbirds back and hear hope sing.

It may be a good thing, this clamor for hope, for it may yet focus our gaze. If it is hope we are looking for, we should roll up our sleeves. We can restore it river by river, lot by lot. We can protect it, we can defend it, we can grow it. The sun is still in the sky and the earth wants to live. This is not too complicated.

The earth is hope embodied, and we embody the earth. For me it’s become that simple. As long as the living planet strives, I strive. And regardless of my mind’s conclusions while falling to sleep tonight, and however uncertain the dreaming, I know my body will wake me in the morning saying what it always says, more life please.

How am I to answer?

And what does hope have to do with it?

A Non-Violent Direct-Action, Training Day in Cumbria

By Lawrence Freiesleben

“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.

How 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, training day.

The turnout was good, the age-range wide – from students to pensioners: though I’d guess the majority were between 50 and 60?

Regardless 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.

Guided 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 preferably not Jack Reagan.

That 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.

A knot that contradicted the result of our first exercise:

Intended 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 global situation.

Joel 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.

This 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.

I 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.

Far more effective was the woman opposite me, when next I became a police officer: However much I “Please Madam-ed!” her, she just smiled and beamed. Again, it was hard not to laugh.

Joel 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.

Another 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.

Thankfully, 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 “The Police were marvellous, supportive and protective.” 

On 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 ‘government’.

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?

Back 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 sustainable society.

Pleased 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.

Lawrence Freiesleben, March 2019

Afterword: This morning, near the end of writing this report, a friend in York drew my attention to George Monbiot’s article in today’s Guardianiii, (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.

Better still, join the Rebellion in London on the 15th of Apriliv.

Notes:

i https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Patrol_Group

ii https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv-O1fiIpyo&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0-Q8OeusBrxrH0HVKn3BwE9Wooq1UI2semRlvwlx3doUnNZNmCv_4SSFQ&link_id=23&can_id=dd78d531a5a2b4f56151a7a552e3f7bf&source=email-newsletter-17-paint-the-streets&email_referrer=email_518923&email_subject=newsletter-17-paint-the-streets

iii

The destruction of the Earth is a crime. It should be prosecuted | George Monbiot

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/28/destruction-earth-crime-polly-higgins-ecocide-george-monbiot?CMP=share_btn_link

iv https://rebellion.earth/get-active/international-rebellion-a-guide-for-participants/?link_id=0&can_id=cfbaf1073f34e540f7114d9aef8a8119&source=email-april-rebellion-confirm-your-participation&email_referrer=email_518093&email_subject=april-rebellion-nil-confirm-your-participation

General XR Information

Welcome Pack for New Affinity Groups – XR Doc

Action Consensus

Participatory Decision Making – People & Planet

Regenerative Culture & Preventing Burnout – XR Doc

Extinction Rebellion Handbook

NVDA Literature

For Specific Affinity Group Roles

Legal Support Team Handout – XR Doc

Wellbeing Bundle for AG Wellbeing Coordinators – XR Doc

Legal Information

On 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

Criminal records, DBS-checks, travel, employers – Unlock

Likely sentencing guidelines

Sign up with Mission Life Force ASAP – Mission Life Force

Conscientious Protector / Self-Representing in Court – Mission Life Force

Prison Workshop Video

Briefing on Prison – XR Doc

XR Legal are also here for support – xr-legal@riseup.net

Further Reading

https://www.risingup.org.uk/nvda-handouts has links to many more documents, including ‘action templates’ with lots of ideas for different types of action.

Beautiful Trouble