Rebellion At The Palace Gates

 

Cold Stone and Fierce Love

My heart is breaking. Every fibre of its delicate sentience is being violated by a reality as harsh as holocaust. Its soft tissues are torn to shreds. I can barely breathe though the pain of it.

Yesterday I attended Extinction Rebellion’s funeral march in honour of extinct and soon-to-be extinct species. It left me broken.

My heart, my fragile human heart, was not made to contain the grief of these times we are living in. It was not made to hold the extremes of death and rage that it is now living with, each day, each breath, each warm, tender pulse.

Participating in yesterday’s ceremony allowed the devastating reality of the global environmental situation to land in me in a way that it never has been able to before. Walking behind the mock coffin amidst the sombre group of a thousand mourners made the extinctions we were there to honour and those that we are threatened with—including that of our own species—shockingly palpable. The fine armour of denial habitually worn to shield my heart from the horrors we are living through fell away somewhere between Parliament Square and Buckingham Palace.

I’ve been trying to shed this armour all my adult life, loosening it and pulling it off piece by piece, only to feel it re-grow again when my attention turned elsewhere for a while. Yesterday a whole layer of the stuff tore off. Being part of the procession, surrounded by others who have shed or are in the process of shedding their denial, overwhelmed any unconscious attempt to turn away from the reality of our global crisis.

Raw, un-shielded, the enormity of the situation broke in on me, the cold facts printed on banners carried by the mourners pierced me like blades of ice.

“200 species lost each day due to human activities.” I find no way to rationalise this fact, nor to bury it. It screams from beneath the soil, eclipses both sun and moon.

Add up the figures:

200 species lost each day…

1,400 species lost each week… 

6,000 species lost each month… 

72,000 species lost each year…

720,000 species lost each decade… 

…through the ravaging of nature by misguided human ingenuity and blind greed.

At the current rate of extinction we will have wiped out all 8.7 million species on the planet in a little over 100 years, and ourselves with them.And the rate of extinction is currently accelerating.

It is impossible to reconcile these numbers with what passes for everyday normality. Our civilisation is literally destroying life on this planet, in the pursuit of consumer paradise. I stagger in the face of the brutality, institutionalised ignorance and systemic denial that allows this to continue. My heart breaks anew with the acknowledgement of my own complicity, however slight compared to many.

Each single species is the labour of ages, an irreplaceable strand in the web of life, a precious jewel in the sparkling constellation of this miracle Earth. To fully feel the loss of one strand is horrible. To be implicated in the loss of 200 per day is devastating.

How to conceive of the conscience of those whose interests in short-term personal gain blind them entirely to the evil they perpetrate?

How to endure the cold faces of business-as-usual sleepwalkers, completely mindless of the damage their consumer lifestyles are causing, utterly careless of the irreparable destruction their everyday choices are supporting? 

Their hard eyes seem made of virtual reality. Their greed is like titanium claws, or like chainsaws, ripping through living fibre. Their unconsciousness of the insidious evil our lives are embedded in is like fracking fluid flooding the chambers of the heart.

“60% of the Earth’s biodiversity destroyed in the last 50 years by human greed and ignorance,” read another banner. By next year that number will only have increased.

How can this be happening? How can it be that I’m only now fully waking up to this reality?

Tears pour down my cheeks from a pool of grief so vast it looks to me like the night sky, an enveloping darkness.

I thought I was getting used to all this. I thought I was finding an equanimity. After decades of environmental awareness and radical choices to limit my impact and re-connect with the living Earth, I thought that I was in touch with the situation. But yesterday’s funeral procession shattered that equanimity. Walking behind the coffin brought home to me the bitter reality of what is going down in a new and savage way. Today I am reeling with a fathomless grief and incandescent rage that is like an image from the book of revelations.

Extinction Rebellion is an apposite name for the movement rising up to fight against the continued and escalating devastation. The heart ignites in rebellion at the inhumanity of the mass extinction we are causing and which if allowed to continue will sweep us away too. The soul of the Earth which resides in all of us floods us with rebellion at what is clearly unconscionable conduct on the part of those who are overseeing the global destruction as well as those who are participating in it—either knowingly or in ignorance. And so we rise up, with fierce love in our breaking hearts, in the name of life, to rebel against extinction.

On the 31st October we roared our declaration of rebellion outside parliament. Last Saturday we took rebellion to London’s bridges and blocked them for a day. Earlier this week we took rebellion to the streets of London and disrupted some of the normality that is destroying our Earth. And yesterday we processed rebelliously from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, stopping outside Downing Street on the way to let our tears fall on the road and our songs echo off the government buildings of Whitehall.

There was something deeply mythical about it. I felt a bit like I was in the Iliad: through the streets the procession moved, calling for climate justice in the name of life; our way was lined with police officers and surrounded by the cold stone monumental architecture of establishment power; one could almost sense the divine forces at play overhead which these two colliding factions were representing here on Earth! Although the police gave no obstruction and we left the monumental architecture behind at the entrance to Pall Mall, the invisible friction grew more intense the closer we got to Buckingham Palace.

There was a third element also, which it took me a while to notice but with which there was actually a more intense collision than the with other. This was the more insidious form of inertia represented by the onlookers who read the banners we carried and the pamphlets we distributed but remained unmoved. Some simply laughed and took photos, enjoying the spectacle of the procession before carrying on with their day; others grumpily pushed through the crowds, resenting the delay, intent on their own business. I felt that the disengaged eyes of these passers-by held more resistance in them than the establishment powers flanking the procession, and the invisible force they represented to be far older and deeper than any of the bright warring gods or even the Earth itself.

So many worlds, so many realities, conflicting and inexorable.

When we arrived at the fountain in front of the palace the air was almost crackling with the friction of subtle forces. It looked almost hopeless, our little bundle of rebellion, in the face of so much cold stone and inertia. But there was a power in it that was far greater than the sum of its parts: the power of life and love rising up to shake the foundations of a destructive and ailing system. However small our number, the grief and rage we expressed there before the seat of the nation’s sovereign power was great and marked a historic moment.

There before the palace gates we laid down the coffin. There before the empty windows of the palace we let more tears fall, welling up from our love of the Earth and despair at the failure of those who are titled our leaders to even acknowledge the emergency. There we called upon the Queen to act in response to the existential crisis we face as a nation and a commonwealth. And there we declared that her failure to do so renders the social contract null and void and our rebellion justified in law and conscience. I wonder if she heard us. I wonder if she cares.

I wonder too what powers are preventing her and her noble officers, the British aristocracy, from acting in accordance with the law of the land and the dictates of conscience to respond appropriately to the emergency we, as a nation, are in.

But I know this: whatever these powers are, wherever they operate from, however much destruction they succeed in wreaking upon the Earth or any other part of this sacred creation, their power will one day fail. For they are not love, and only love prevails.

I know this also: however much my heart breaks, however much grief pours through me in the face of what is being lost here every single day and what will continue to be lost in the days, weeks, months and years to come, love will remain, and that love will cause me to rebel against the criminally destructive status quo that is jeopardising our future and that of all beings on Earth.

Nature Rebels

By Allan Rowell

 

It occurred to me that the title of this essay is a double-entendre, (a phrase with two meanings): ‘Nature writ large, rebels’, and also a ‘group of people rebelling for Nature’ – either way works.

As human beings we are a part of the natural world, though many of us have forgotten this simple truth. As such it is entirely appropriate to describe Extinction Rebellion (XR) as the natural world rebelling through us and equally appropriate to describe XR as a group rebelling for Nature, for, as Buddhism, other ancient spiritual teachings and in recent years science confirms – We are One – one people, one life force, one planet.

As someone with an interest in permaculturetransition towns, the local food movement, and nature conservation, I believe that XR (more specifically the websites of XR and Rising Up) can become a ’lighthouse’ for others new to these interests to educate themselves about what the real problems that we collectively face are. It is increasingly clear that the large conservation NGO’s struggle to deliver this information, as they would be ‘biting the hand that feeds them’.

XR Grass

Looking forward from Rebellion Day on the 17th November 2018, it may not be sustainable to ask people to allow themselves to be arrested again & again, marvelous as that is for sparking public interest. I’d like to see groups of activists taking part in re-wilding projects on any scale, from small areas of grass on housing estates, to public parks or other areas of green spaces in their local areas. Re-wilding can be seen as a rather grand idea, at its largest scale it envisions vast tracts of the uplands reforested, reintroducing locally extinct wildlife.\

My own interpretation of re-wilding is a much more local affair. Given the reduction we now see in insects including pollinators there is little doubt that there is a crisis going on in our countryside: mono-cropping practices and chemical fertilisers & pesticide use have combined to produce an enormous threat to these species, but also the other members of the ecosystem that feed on them. We need to regenerate these ecosystems in our local urban areas offering suitable habitats to the remnant populations of these species, until they can return to a safer countryside once sanity returns to the world.

 We must also face up to the fact that our current civilisation is very likely to collapse in the not too distant future. We need to plan & take action for this now by planting fruit trees & other perennial plants in our local areas. Try not to worry unduly about this, it may not happen in your lifetime, think of it as supporting those generations who will follow this civilisation, do it with love for life in your heart.

rewilding

Apple trees recently planted in local park by ‘friends of group’

As it happens this is all occurring when there is increasing opportunity for groups & individuals to participate in the planning and deployment of new habitats in public parks & other green spaces. The reduction in funding from the government to local councils means that the councils are struggling to afford the costs of upkeep of these areas, and friends of parks groups are popping up everywhere.

What has been seen as appropriate ground cover for these areas has historically been grass, manicured lawns – green deserts for many wildlife species. What is now required, at least in part, are areas of wildflowers creating habitats for threatened insects, and feeding areas for birds & other wildlife. Taking part in projects like this will also educate our children & grandchildren in skills that they may well need in their lifetime.

Think of it as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for urban greenfield sites, where 5 metre wide borders around playing fields are sown with wildflower meadows and fruit trees. These things can be done through official channels, or otherwise. One method that I’ve found effective to deter council staff from cutting newly sown wildflower meadow is to place tree stumps around the area.

leaves

Tree stumps spread around wildflower meadow

Another essential habitat are trees; these are necessary for birds to nest in, but are also additional habitat for insects, providing veritable larders for some species of birds. There are many conservation NGOs already promoting the planting of trees, but as with other NGOs they struggle to inform about one other crucial reason to plant more trees, this no doubt is another case of not ‘biting the hand that feed you’.

Carbon sequestration (meaning: to seize). Growing trees takes carbon the primary greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and holds it both within the structure of the tree and also within the soil. The whole world needs to plant more trees over the coming decades on a massive scale, but as with rebellions, everything must start with small steps.

 

Love Life.

A Growers diary from 2018

My 2018 season on the farm began with rain and lots of it. I had vivid dreams about the irrigation pond at the back of my caravan slowly filling my home while I slept.

The rain and the cold delayed the planting of crops and meant our two acres of asparagus lay dormant. We took advantage of the heavily sodden ground to dig docks out of the first acre of asparagus. We hoped to see spring soon.

Spring came with the first two swallows. It was a very short spring. The trees all blossomed and then greened in unison; the different shades of fresh greens were really beautiful. The asparagus responded with a bumper harvest over a month and a half. Some days we took 100-200 kg a day from the two fields. Spring flipped to summer very quickly.

We loved summer’s first month. We could plant whenever we wanted, not having to worry about sodden ground anymore. The seedlings responded well to the damp earth and constant sun. Then we started to miss the rains. I threw up while weeding the parsnip field. We began to really notice how hot it was. We missed breezes. We became obsessed with weather reports. The rains always seemed to miss us. The ground hardened. The irrigation ponds shrank.

A tame jackdaw named Morgana became part of the team. Driven into someone’s kitchen by hunger and thirst. We fed her by hand and she’d dosed with me in the hotbox that was my caravan during lunch. Sometimes we had 2-hour siestas to get through the hottest part of the day. We’d never needed siestas the 2 previous years I’d worked on the farm.

The summer continued. The grass browned. The crops suffered. We planted cabbages, kale and broccoli into sand. The soil blew off the fields into our eyes. I had to wear glasses to protect mine, which became red and itchy, my eyesight so blurred I couldn’t see properly. We drained both ponds. That had never happened in my time there or during the grower’s 16 years producing crops. We prayed for rain. It didn’t come.

The crops started wilted. Some started dying. We became desperate. We started taking water from the river. Bringing it back up to the farm in a water tanker. We fed our wilting crops sparingly through 120-metre-long irrigation pipes. We realised the true value of water. We we’re thankful then for that wet cold spring, which filled our rivers so they still ran during the drought. The rains that had kept local reservoirs full enough, so we could still water tunnel crops with mains water.

The river kept our crops alive. We heard other farms weren’t so lucky, losing whole plantings of crops twice over.

Rain finally came. We drank the 50 ml caught in the rain gauge with champagne I had saved for a special occasion. The rain had some effect, most of all on our morale, which had been waning as the summer continued. But we still needed to take from the river to truly feed the crops.

The news spoke of UK crops failing and lettuce was sailed across the Atlantic. Brexit talks continued with no definite or security.

The crops managed to survive through our sheer force of will and luck. Luck that someone had leant us that tanker; luck that the rivers and reservoirs still had enough water for us to feed our crops with. We were tired from the effort. I thought about it all and what it meant if that luck ran out.

My 6 month season ended. I felt emotionally and physically battered. I’d thought we’d had time. I thought we’d change it before it all happened; before the climate truly broke down. Then I, a Western, got a taste of how the other half of the planet lives, the half that truly knows what climate change means. Food insecurity. I saw what that looked and felt like. It was terrifying to contemplate what happens when the luck run out. I thanked whatever’s up there for the March rains which filled our pond, reservoir and rivers. Do we hope to based our food security on the luck of the weather? Because we can’t be certain about how the weather behaves anymore. 2018 was a year of ice and fire, neither of which we were ready for; I know I wasn’t.

I have a sadness in me I didn’t have before this year and before this season. It’s the sadness that comes from dead hope. From truly feeling what dying, sterilised earth feels like and that we are heading for big, uncomfortable changes.

From my comfortable position as a Westerner I’ve cared about the environment almost in the way you care for a pet. I got upset about it, signed petitions about plastic in the oceans and the extinction of species, tried to champion the natural world through my art and chose to work in organic farming. But it was only this year that I realised that I’M in danger. My little taste of food insecurity, which must be laughably small in comparison to what African or Middle Eastern farmers experience, made me realise how little we are ready for the dramatic breakdowns in the status quo of our weather. Which are going to happen. This was a year of ice and fire; the Beast from the East to The Grapes of Wrath.

I still carry this sadness in me. It pops up regularly; snatches away happy moments; the pointed end of the stick bursting my optimistic bubble. I guess that’s why I wanted to write this for Extinction Rebellion, because they acknowledge this sadness, this dire experience that we are apathetically allowing to happen, but they are showing such energy in response to it. They speak common sense and they speak it loudly so we can all hear and maybe have enough time to change. They call up the utter nonsense and self-interest that has infested out politics and our systems and they inspire me to continue.

Next year I will still be growing crops; my partner and I will be renting a market garden from the start of 2019 and we plan to incorporate all kinds of plants and habitats to benefit the wildlife which shares the land, but I now know that these actions also benefit me, that protecting nature isn’t an act of sacrifice or parenthood, but one that means I too can keep living on this earth.

Written by Rebecca Mackay

Walk Gently

In response to the beautiful article by April GriefSong —  I would be so glad if this request from the earth might be heard, make music, anywhere it might, for the earth who whispered it tenderly in my ear, many years ago now:

Walk Gently

walk gently

with feet that listen tenderly

it is my body you mark with each step

know yourself by the feel of the air

as it breathes through the pores of your skin

it is my soul you breathe

in your lungs in your blood in your heart

watch the weather well

as you march through the heat that burns water dry

it is the dust of my skin you spit aside

and when the rains fall

take care

my muddy cheeks distort and slide

in between rain and sun

life takes root and grows

with a joy that veers toward ecstasy

come often

lest paths carved out over time disappear

life shoots up any place it can

certain small deaths are necessary

but walk gently

with feet that listen tenderly and give you strength

it is my body you mark with each step

it is my face beneath your feet at the summit

where the wind blows unhindered through your hair

Ann Moradian

April 15, 2009