XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 4 of 4

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

By Fox (@SnowflakeFoxtrot on Instagram)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

police

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

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

charliearrest

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

bravoarrest

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

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

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

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

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

christianarrest

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

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

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

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

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

release1

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

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

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

For people and planet.

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 3 of 4

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

By Snowflake Foxtrot (Instagram: @snowflakefoxtrot)

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

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

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

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

securitygates

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

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

bravolaugh

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

orangelaugh

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

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

pnr

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

armtubes

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

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

doors

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

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

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

nonviolent

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

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

pnrmic

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

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

dbeis

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

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

roadblock

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

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

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

raisedfist

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

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

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

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

gammaarrest

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 2 of 4

Affinity group formation: building a confident team

By Fox (Instagram: @SnowfFakefoxtrot)

christianclimateaction

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, two police officers walk in from the parade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

‘Not the usual suspects’ – novice activists of ‘Rebellion Day’ at Westminster Bridge, London on 17 November 2018

By Ruth Davey, ruth@look-again.org (© Ruth Davey / Look Again 2018, http://www.look-again.org)

Photographer Ruth Davey volunteered to photograph Extinction Rebellion’s Rebellion Day on 17 November 2018. She spent most of the day on Westminster Bridge before moving to Parliament Square for the multi faith celebratory closing ceremony. She decided to focus on people who had never been on a demonstration of this kind before and was curious as to why they came along to perform an act of civil disobedience – illegally blocking a public highway. She is fairly new to Extinction Rebellion herself although she did cover a roadblock a few weeks ago in her hometown of Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Here protestors explain why they spent the day on Westminster Bridge.

tomhardy

Tom Hardy, 64, education consultant and retired teacher

“I am here for the future of my children. I have never done this before.”

HeatherBower

Heather Bower 53, civil servant

“I am here because something has to be done about the future of the planet – for us, our children and for generations to come.”

KateHodges

Kate Hodges, writer, with children Dusty and Arthur Jenkinson

“I want to be visible and take up space. It’s important for the children to see what we are doing and that we’re doing something for them.”

LindaDiggory

Linda Diggory, 59, charity worker, Stroud

“I’m here because of the absolute paucity of action from our government regarding climate breakdown following the IPPC report that says that we are facing an existential threat to humanity within 12 years.”

JonathanWise

Jonathan Wise, 47, marketing consultant

“I’m here to be in support of what I believe is the critical issue of our time.”

JennyWilkinson

Jenny Wilkinson, 65, retired childcare worker, with Sophie Wilkinson, 27, actor,

and Edwin Wilkinson, 68, retired social care manager.

“After 30 years of banging on, nothing is happening. The time has come. We had to join in on this one!” Edwin Wilkinson

JoCostello

Jo Costello, 68, mother, with granddaughter Katie Jones, 23, care assistant, and daughter Donna Winks, 44, foster carer, all from Wrexham, Wales.

“I have children and grandchildren. The decisions made in the next 12 years will decide what future they have.” Jo Costello

RobHusband

Rob Husband, 54, company director and coach

“I feel anger and frustration being caught up in this consumerism and greed on this place we call earth.”

EmmaDaveCordell

Emma Cordell, 27, nurse, with Dave Cordell, 27, project manager for a charity, both in London

“It’s crazy that people wouldn’t come here today. The future is so scary. What else can we do?” Emma Cordell

LiviAnning

Livi Anning, 19, student in Canterbury

“This is our last chance to turn things around before total destruction. We have to raise awareness.”

SallyWeber

Steve Turner, 61, former teacher, with partner Dr Sally Webber, 59, NHS worker for 35 years

“I am here due to national and international government failures in acting on the scientific evidence of climate change that is happening here and now.” Steve Turner

“The only person you can change is yourself. I decided to stop complaining and get up and do something. It’s time to wake up.” Dr Sally Webber

KaterinaHasapopoulos

Sid Saunders, 39, builder, with Katerina Hasapopoulos, 40, mum of 3, Stroud

“It’s common sense to come here today.” Sid Saunders

“This is about our children’s future. I have to do something.” Katerina Hasapopoulos

AnitaVanRossum

Anita Van Rossum, 71, from Stroud with Arrate Rojas, 34, from Bilbao, both volunteers for Mission Life Force, with international environment barrister Polly Higgins.

JamieRobbins

Jamie Robbins, 43, life coach, with daughter Ruby Robbins, 13, student

“We’re here to make a difference – things have to change and fast!”

 

Climate Changed: a comic book warning of global warming

p238ClimateChanged

p247ClimateChanged

by Zeeshan Hasan

French cartoonist Philippe Squarzoni has taken on the huge task of trying to convey the complexity of climate science and the global emergency that it implies in the form of his autobiographical/documentary graphic novel, Climate Changed. Hopefully this will enable the general public, which does not always seem inclined to wade through dense texts on scientific topics, to get a better appreciation of the challenges of global warming.

The book starts with the author contemplating the difficulties of tackling the subject of global warming in comic book form; unlike most comic book stories, it’s a scientific phenomenon without the conventional beginning and end of most stories. His solution is to place a fairly detailed exposition of climate science in the context of an autobiography. The end result is illuminating. It serves to remind the reader that climate change is not just happening to the globe. It’s happening to all of us, since we all live on this planet that is rapidly heating up, and is already presenting us with real consequences in the form of record high temperatures, droughts and deadlier storms. His visit to his childhood home and his observation of how much smaller and different it seems as an adult illustrates that the comfortable planet we knew even a few decades ago is gone forever; the climate has changed, and it’s now a new, more dangerous world that we live in.

As a low-lying country which is both densely populated and incredibly vulnerable to sea level rise, Bangladesh gets two mentions in the book. Squarzoni quotes climatologist and World Bank economist Stephane Hallegatte: with ‘a rise in sea level of a little over 3 feet (1 metre)… numerous densely populated coastal regions such as the Ganges and Nile deltas could be flooded. Millions of people will be driven out, and agricultural production will be severely affected. 20% of Bangladesh could be flooded.’ Bangladesh comes up again when Hallegatte discusses the potential effect of millions of climate refugees on the international arena: ‘If 20 million people leave Bangladesh and head for India, what do we do?… What will the India and Bangladesh of 2060 be like? Will tensions between them have eased? Or will they be at war?’. Even in Bangladesh, such critical long-term concerns are rarely addressed in the short-term daily news cycle.

Unfortunately, the effects of climate change will be felt disproportionately by the poor; this is made clear by Squarzoni’s account of the severe flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in 2005. The wealthier sections of the city all evacuated upon hearing storm warnings a day in advance. The poor had no means to escape, and had to survive for days on the roofs of their submerged houses with most of the city being flooded with up to 23 feet of water. 30,000 people took shelter above the flood waters in the city stadium, until being finally evacuated by the government to the surrounding states. Desperate people started looting shops for supplies, with the result that a curfew was imposed; US soldiers freshly returned from Iraq were called in with orders from the state governor to shoot to kill. Total deaths numbered 1293, and 2 million were displaced; hundreds of thousands for over a year. Immense numbers were left in financial ruin with no means of rebuilding their flood-damaged homes. All this in the richest country in the world. The question arises as to how poorer countries would deal with similar storms and floods, which will grow more common everywhere as global warming adds heat and power to storm systems. How will wealthy countries treat poor countries suffering from climate change, which has been caused primarily by the carbon emissions of the rich? Will rich countries treat poor countries any better than they treat the poorest of their own citizens?

‘So, how to end this book?’ Squarzoni asks as he draws to a close. He observes that so far humanity has failed to deal with the existential threat of climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, and thus nearly closes on a pessimistic note; but as he says, ‘The story isn’t over’. Everything depends on how successfully we the public are able to lobby governments of the world to act over the next decade (which according to the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change report is all the time we have left to make severe cuts to fossil fuel use and thus prevent catastrophic climate change of over 1.5C).

 

Facing the climate emergency — a personal message to ordinary folk

By Bess Herbert

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience to me — every so often the distant nightmare of climate change breaks through. I read or watch something, I’m shocked, I do some things, I hope the Government is responding adequately, I get pulled back into the demands of my life. And after a time — repeat.

I don’t particularly want to think about climate change. I don’t really think of myself as an environmentalist. What can I do anyway? I like being a mum, I like supporting parents of teenagers, I like my work, listening to the radio, gardening and drinking tea with friends.

But recently it has become clear that we have entered a new, very urgent stage in tackling climate change and protecting our natural world; that we cannot carry on as usual any more; that there is no other alternative but for everyone to face the emergency we find ourselves in, and to act from that point.

We need to face the climate emergency and other ecological crises

We have to face that we are in a state of climate emergency — that we have maybe five years (plus or minus a couple) to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to have any chance of preserving the world as we know it.

The UN IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report published in 2018 said the world has 12 years to halve greenhouse gas emissions to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees (to be clear, this is action on a scale the world has never seen before, similar to a ‘Marshall Plan’ in every country).

However, the report has increasingly been criticised as a conservative compromise, and respected scientists are breaking ranks to issue serious warnings that we actually need to act much more quickly.

We also face:

and sadly more…

It is important to face this shocking information as boldly as we can. Without facing this, we have little hope of responding adequately.

Society still ‘asleep’ to climate emergency

In 2018 there was clear evidence of the effects of climate change around the world, which broke through into people’s consciousness in a new way. Despite this, the extent of the crisis is barely reflected in the media, the Government response, or in our daily experience. Our Western lives keep us busy, entertained, distracted, exhausted, numb and ‘asleep’ to the reality that is approaching. There is a sense that we are sleepwalking towards disaster.

Many positive efforts have been made — but we have very nearly run out of time

There are hundreds and hundreds of amazing, positive, innovative ideas and projects that address the environmental crises, and most of them move us forward as humans too, we have so many of the answers we need; but we don’t have the necessary political will, and we have very nearly run out of time.

There have been fantastic efforts to ‘transition’ us out of global dependence on fossil fuels, to work towards a peaceful and empowering switch to clean, green energy — much has been achieved and will make a difference.

But it has become clear that fossil fuel and extractive capitalism won’t just roll over — it doesn’t know how to stop, and it probably can’t by itself. It is not a thoughtful and responsive system; it has one setting — extracting fuel and natural resources to make money. The fossil fuel industry continues to receive trillions of dollars globally in government subsidies, even as we approach the cliff edge. We continue to be urged to consume more and more. Despite scientists talking about the possibility of the collapse of human civilisation, emissions actually increased last year and will again this year.

It is more and more clear that saving people and planet will take up-ending fossil-fuel capitalism and changing our entire system — and we are approaching this confrontation in the next few years. The more of us who are awake to the emergency we face, the better chances we have.

What does the future bring?

It’s impossible to know exactly how things will play out. Climate science is one of the most complicated areas of science, because of the complex range of interconnecting factors and systems — think of the poor scientists trying to predict cloud behaviour… However, so far the observed effects of climate change are coming in at the more severe end of scientists’ predictions, and it is almost certain that we will see dramatic impacts such as widespread food and water scarcity, very large numbers of climate migrants, extreme temperatures, increasing species extinction, storms, wildfires, and possibly much more within a few years.

In addition to the increasing effects of climate change, we can expect significant ongoing instability in other ways too. The end of the cheap fuel economy will probably continue to cause political tremors across the world; one of the possibilities is that the financial system could collapse because of its links to a collapsing fossil fuel industry. There are other big possibilities too.

As uncomfortable as it is to think about all of these things, it will be a great help to us, and others, if we have had some chance to engage with the fact that big changes are coming.

It will help if many of us have faced that we are in an emergency

It will help us to respond thoughtfully and courageously to the challenges we confront if we have had a chance to face the emergency we are in. It allows us to process and understand that we have moved beyond ‘business as usual’ — that a lot of what has been presented as ‘normal’ in our economic system can no longer apply. It allows us to begin considering other ideas.

Confronting the emergency also stops us being so vulnerable to manipulation, so easily shocked, and less likely to blame scapegoats. It allows us to make important changes to our lives, and to develop the local networks and communities that will be essential. Information and understanding gives us more power.

It’s hard to face the climate emergency

All of this is really hard to engage with, and it can be terrifying and incredibly sad.

It is completely normal to feel huge grief, fear or other emotions when we try to understand the situation and what it could mean. The implications for our children’s lives, or other people’s children. Or our own life. The loss of species. Or maybe even the loss of some of humanity’s greatest achievements and dreams. Our feelings are central to our humanness, our intelligence, and to our caring for each other and the world, and we need space to absorb in every sense what this situation means. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel, we often remain distant, and the emergency continues to be ‘unreal’ to us.

We may also feel ‘discombobulation’, as we absorb that so much of what has been the normal parameters of our life may no longer be relevant.

Sharing our feelings and thoughts with others is so important. When we keep them to ourselves, they can morph, dominate and terrorise us; talking with others means we literally ‘share’ the feelings and experience — we are no longer dealing with them alone; we can confront pain or fear, and understand their true proportions; and it brings us closer. We begin to understand that we are all in this together — and if anything will get us through this, it is solidarity, bravery and togetherness.

For myself, trying to personally grapple with our situation is very hard, and very useful. At times I feel grief-stricken, terrified, shocked and disbelieving. I can’t stop thinking. I cry for what my children may face. I struggle to make sense of it, and am unable to sleep. But I also feel braver, clearer about my life and what I need to do, and more aware of the sweetness of every moment of life and the preciousness of all human beings. And I take heart that I get to fight; we don’t have to be passive, we can actively struggle for the best outcome we can get.

Climate emergency may also bring opportunities to rethink our world

The current situation could also bring opportunities to create a fairer, more caring and united, and less grimly productive world — even as we deal with the effects of ecological crises. The end of fossil fuel and oil power, and the unceasing focus on consumption could be good for us all. But this requires a boldness and forethought that only comes from many people having faced head-on the emergency that we are now in.

What can we do?

The first thing is to personally face the climate emergency. To really take on what is happening and what it means, to look directly at it, and allow ourselves to be affected. And then to ask ourselves ‘What does this mean for my life?’ ‘What role do I want to play?’ ‘How can I be effective and have a good life during this period?’

The next thing is to talk about the climate emergency. The lives of our children, future generations and much of life on earth depends on how we respond in the next few years, and this largely depends on how many of us are ‘awake’.

And then, move to action. How do we act in a way that is consistent with the emergency we face? How bold can we be? What is our particular part of it? How can we join the movement calling for the necessary immediate and dramatic global reduction in emissions and protection of the natural environment?

Thank you for reading. I know this isn’t easy to think about. Thank you for thinking about it.

Please share your thoughts, with me, or somebody. With thanks and appreciation to all of us as we try to do our best in responding to the situation we find ourselves in. Solidarity and love.