A Letter To My 11-Year Old

Dear Milly,

Us adults owe you – your generation – an apology. I think you know what I am going to say but I should say it anyway.

You know the way the weather is so unpredictable and even the meteorologists seem to consistently get it wrong? And you know the way Mummy with her asthma can’t go outside during any extreme cold or hot? And you have heard that hundreds of our animals are becoming extinct each day? And you know at primary school, one of your teachers seemed almost obsessed with informing you of the Sustainable Development Goals and burgeoning global warming? And you know the way I have become obsessed with how much meat-eating, car-driving and paper-using we all do?

Well, it’s because hundreds of knowledgeable scientists around the world are saying it is because we, humans, may well only have approx 80 more years to live on our precious earth. They are saying that unless we cut our carbon emissions to zero within 20-or-so years, it will become so hot and or wet on the planet, humans will not be able to live here any more. Yes, the earth will become uninhabitable by humankind.

Unfortunately, our friends in the environmental movements cannot seem to get our world leaders to act fast enough on these issues so hundreds of people have pledged to get themselves arrested carrying out repeated non-violent direct actions in order to highlight what on earth (literally) is going on. They say that renewable wind and solar energy should be used A LOT more but I have heard MPs say that it is too complex or too expensive… Not true apparently and certainly not compared to the cost of losing our home: OUR Planet Earth.

So I have come here to say sorry that we have made such a hash of things environmentally. You have stood with us at Balcombe (anti-fracking site) years ago and you have done your bit with Mummy even as you are fed up with rocking up to political events with so many strangers. So I am praying that as you reach adulthood, you will become more involved with this work to slow down this catastrophe and maybe even one day agree to let Mum get arrested even just once. It’s true that there are so many avenues through which to carry out this awareness-raising work but I have been an activist for so long, I feel it is time to make that sacrifice. To be honest, most cops can’t wait to get most of us out of the police stations if they arrest us at all!

I hope you can accept this apology knowing that we are doing our bit to address these issues now, albeit a little too late. Most of all, I am sorry that I sometimes drive you spare banging on about these critical issues. After all, as you keep reminding me, you are “only a kid”.

Love,

Mummy Andria

Photo: Milly having fun whilst protesting the arms fair with CAAT in 2013/14.

To my dear companions in Extinction Rebellion.

I want first to put something right with you. An in-joke developed in our Christian Climate Action affinity group about ‘’getting Phil Kingston into prison’’ and when it went public some of you voiced disturbance because in countries across the world, going to prison means torture and possible death. I apologise for my insensitivity. To honour them, I point to Berta Caceres, the brilliant and fearless Honduran environmental activist who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize. This is her acceptance speech:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR1kwx8b0ms

She was assassinated 11 months later by government and corporate hirelings.

My campaigning has gone to new levels in this context where many groups work together with common purpose. I am relieved that at last the utter seriousness and urgency of the developing  Earth catastrophe is being pushed into public consciousness after decades of avoidance by almost all politicians, mainstream media and of course economic and financial powers. Our political ‘representatives’  have let us down. With notable exceptions, they lost their credibility by not  speaking about this.

To say a little about the last 12 days: not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I, a former probation officer and educator of probation officers and Local Authority social workers – all of whom  work in a context of  respect for the law – would within a week be arrested on three occasions and spend considerable time in police cells. Being given the opportunity to meet so many police as human beings has been a gift. Yes, I know that when the chips are down, they have agreed to  uphold  laws which I regard as fundamentally unjust, such as those which are heavily on the side of corporate and state power. Within that context I want to emphasize their  kindness and respect to me and my colleagues. Whenever I had an opportunity to speak about my concern for my grandchildren, I asked if they had children. I was grateful that so many were willing to speak about their concerns regarding climate breakdown. One of reasonably high rank immediately responded with his concern that there are now only 12 years  within which to halt his children’s  descent into  disaster.

These connections with those who we may often regard as ‘other’ are, I am sure, made more possible by our absolute commitment to nonviolence, including verbal nonviolence, to all persons. Hard as it often is to hold on to my belief  that politicians and and those in business and finance have a humanity exactly like mine, I am determined to do so. I have no illusions about the wrongness of their ideologies and behaviour but I completely refuse to say that they aren’t human.  If someone like me can change over the years by facing the traumas of life, especially childhood ones,  and seeking help for them, I hold hope for all.

I would like to address the rest of this note to other followers of Jesus, though the link in the final paragraph may be surprisingly congruent because it touches our common humanity.

I regard myself as a fortunate man to be alive at the same time as Pope Francis. His arrival has given immense encouragement to those of us in the churches, especially the Catholic Church, who have a vocation to justice, peace and care of the Earth. Prior to this, the experience of many of us was that this vocation was  suppressed more than encouraged. It is essential at this critical time of global suffering that this vocation be fully honoured and supported. His writings and speeches about the relationship between the current global economy on the one hand and on the other the destruction of the Earth and the exclusion of the majority of the world’s population from what should be the Common Good of everyone, have a clarity and reality which has often not been as forthright in many previous papal documents.  See for example his  Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) especially paras 52 – 75 beginning with ‘No to an Economy of Exclusion’:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

…and many parts of ‘Praise Be, Our Common Home’ (Laudato si). My experience is that there is often a focus upon the latter document by agencies like CAFOD and Caritas and minimal references to the economic one in Joy of the Gospel.  Criticising the current economy seems to be avoided as much within the Church as in society generally.  I often regard Pope Francis as a rather lonely man in the Churches of the materially rich countries where his pastoral care and simple living are acclaimed but his economic critique is made invisible by silence. He calls us to extend our focus upon personal sin to fully include structural sin.

An aspect of Pope Francis which I value hugely is his explicit seeking of the guidance of the Holy Spirit  and his request to all of us to do the same. Our Church so often seems dead to me in comparison with the one in the Acts of the Apostles.

I end by asking  if you will read the speech by Pope Francis to the World Gathering of Popular Movements gathered at Santa Cruz in Bolivia in October 2014. I imagine that it will shock many Christians whilst being an affirmation for others.  This is the link:

http://movimientospopulares.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Documents_ingles_web.pdf

 

A Strange Week

It’s been a strange week, unplanned and unexpected. It all started when Louis and Niaomh (my children aged 21 and 30) came home, so I guess they have some responsibility for it all. As always they bring life, friends, dogs, food, stories and fun with a little bit of chaos in the mix.

On Saturday they all set off for Rebellion Day. I stayed home with Sylvie and big dog Bagheera. I felt really torn, I wanted to be there but wasn’t sure if either me or my daughter Sylvie (aged 12) could cope with seeing them arrested. Niaomh wrote my number on her arm with a Sharpie before she left.

We had talked on the Friday evening. I knew the plan was to block the bridges but had no idea how the police would respond. Protests in the past have often become violent and I wondered about kettling and brutal removal.

I watched the day unfold on various different media sources as bridge by bridge was occupied. And finally they did it! I was amazed. And the footage showed peace and humour and positivity. I felt proud of them all and moved and thankful.

Then came the text that I had been both expecting and dreading “Heya Im, Niaomh got arrested and is at Charing Cross. She’s all good and with a friend but we might be back a bit late….” (13.01)

I was surprised by my initial reaction. Calm. What can I usefully do?

Tried ringing Charing Cross police station but there was no-one answering. Tried the Metropolitan Police non-emergency numbers and choosing the ‘in custody’ option got a recorded message saying they don’t give out any information about people in custody ‘for legal reasons’. Baffled, surely they are in custody for legal reasons and families and friends have a right to know? Then thought with all the cuts they probably just don’t have the resources to deal with this anyway.

The thing I felt most assured by was that Extinction Rebellion have Wellbeing Volunteers, but more than this, they look after each other. So, there were about 100 people outside Charing Cross police station waiting for Niaomh and other protestors (they were in police stations across London) to be released. They had a small sound system (playing amongst other tracks ‘sound of de police’) and kept each other buoyant.

So, the best thing I could do was walk the dog and make food. Do the Mum thing.

“The tiny comrade is released!” (21.21)

“Hooray! Xxx” (21.22)

They got back after midnight by which time I was in bed, so I had to wait until the morning for their tales.

Niaomh and Adam were on Southwark Bridge. The police were arresting people slowly but surely. At some point someone shouted out that they were only arresting men. They looked round for the ‘gobbiest’ women. Niaomh and her friend Roz were prime candidates. (If you know Niaomh this will not surprise you). My best description of her is she’s big on the inside.

She said she didn’t even know she had been arrested. She thought she was just chatting with the policeman and then he said that she had to go with him as he’d actually been reading to her, her rights. She asked if he was going to put handcuffs on her and he said no not unless you’re violent. Are you going to be violent? No, she said.

She decided instead to use the weapon of charm. All in all, she said the police were great. When she was released they were chatting and laughing with her and fascinated by the piece of turf with the XR logo that she had been wearing and they returned it to her. She said perhaps this is the best way to reach people, to get them to at least consider what you are trying to say.

I have been thinking for a long time about our relationship with the planet and with each other. The IPCC report in October was a wake up call, but to what? I didn’t know what to do. I had fantasies of running off to join Greenpeace (if they’d have me), but I have home, work, a 12 year old and a small dog (Betty), friends and a community. Commitments and responsibilities, but also things I love and care about.

I have never been a joiner, but nothing in my life has ever made more sense to me than this, now. We either have to find ways to change, to evolve, to live better, to care more, to share, or we will become extinct, and in our death throes we will take out the living planet and the myriad of beings we share it with.

As a species we are irrepressibly curious, creative, caring, innovative, experimental, active, social and yet our flip side is destructive, brutal, fearful and greedy. But we have a super power – choice. I don’t believe that any being could truly choose global destruction but I could be wrong (any Darth Vaders out there?). It’s time to wake up and it’s time to choose and the clock is ticking.

Yesterday the news was more Brexit. Theresa May spoke of ‘a brighter future’. The disconnect is criminal. What future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Climate emergency journal

I first became aware of the state of the climate emergency this summer, due to the heat wave across Europe. It was scorching (relatively!) in Britain,, and then one day on twitter I saw a map of the whole world swathed in red. The heat wave was global. It wasn’t on the news, but it left me alarmed, and needing to know more. I am fortunate to work in a university, although not on climate science, but with free and easy access to lots of journals and experienced in trying to wade through reams of different arguments about any given topic. What I read soon terrified me.

I am a mother of two, one 10, one 15, and I wept. My beautiful, loving, innocent children, whom I had carried with huge love and care to life, were not going to see adulthood. I thought of quitting my job, and starting camping to save the earth for children. I would call it climate action now. I read and read more across the web, about climate change ligation by children in the US, about the history of arguments in academia about carbon dating of tree rings, about what the human effects of living with heat are (horrifying). If Brexit was a nightmare form which we in the UK were wishing to wake up from, here was one with far more round consequences.

I told anyone who would listen, other guests at our hotel in France, my wider family (general reaction: not important, ‘brexit is more urgent’ ‘we don’t believe in climate change, so and so’s father worked with satellites and says it’s all rubbish’).

Amazed, and disappointed in how steadfast in their ignorance many people are, I have just become more sad and more alarmed. I am following XR avidly and joining in as I can, although not yet on a major demo. I find it hard as a full time working mother, as all my ‘free’ time is spent on chores like finding lost PE kit, cooking, shifting kids around etc., but. I hope to very soon. I have thought of walking the length of the country, stopping at every door to talk to people, and wondered how long it would take me. My husband and children soon said they would help. I still may, if I can work out how to get the time off work (difficult). My dream is to see Richard Curtis make a ‘Notting Hill’ or ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ style movie with the XR message at its heart. There are many out there who simply have no idea, and no wish to know, what’s going, because everyone feels so powerless these days. But we must get the message out to the mainstream, to the school run mums who leave engines idling, to the people buying huge diesel 4 x 4s because they make them look rich, to the shoppers going out buying plastic objects for Christmas that will end up in landfill and polluting our seas. Stop, I want to say, stop.

I have woken, many nights, profoundly sad, and gone to my tablet to read more.

Nurses to Extinction

The old woman coughs hoarsely into a handkerchief, pulling the mask from her face. We use morphine to keep her free of the agitation of respiratory distress, and nebulized drugs to keep her airway open, as well as make the cough productive. Eating and drinking are hard to do when you are constantly on an oxygen mask. Even with the oxygen off your mouth, there is oxygen flowing into your nose. This is not really helping her to live, merely setting trails to her dying with tubes and wires.

The webpage London Air gives you very measured and description of how air pollution can affect conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). It does however not give any insights into the emotions of those suffering from the disease, often caused by our bad air quality, nor of those who care for them – London’s many fine nurses, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals, and doctors. We do the best we can with people panicked and traumatised at their own bodies’ failure. The ravages of COPD are quite ghastly to behold. Many patients bounce back into hospital a short time after their admission with the same problem, but with a poorer prognosis. Our treatment of them has only been a sticking plaster, placed over the cracks. We do our best to keep people happy and enjoying that bare, reduced life they lead in hospital. Back out in the polluted streets and modern slums of London we do not see or hear them – they are invisible – save when they re-emerge from this “illspring.”

The “sticking plaster” seems for me symbolic here, as it mirrors our government’s attitude to dealing with climate change. For a small cut, a “sticking plaster” is ideal, but climate chaos is a huge, scarifying wound – capable of destroying communities, dwellings, lives and –as time may tell – societies. Nothing small or temporary will do. I did not want to be a “sticking plaster” in the battle against extinction and the poisoning of our environment. Nurses have long been patient advocates. But that advocacy remains locked to our clinical area for the most part. We should remember the bravery of some of the first modern nurses such as Mary Seacole, who, derided and scorned, journeyed into battles to take injured soldiers away from harm’s reach or tend to their injuries.

But long before the Crimean War, women, and occasionally men, provided help to their communities when it was not always safe and went against the authorities’ wishes. What were the state-sanctioned Stuart witch trials of England other than an attack on local “healers” and “pellars”. Most of these people did the best they could with a lack of science and scant resources. It was in some sense a power grab enacted by James I – drawing influence away from local knowledge and talent and making the country ready for the Age of Reason, which was all too keen to throw the kernel of medical wisdom away with the chaff for being folksy. The 17th century Stuart regime was faced with a crisis, in the form of the 1665 plague, a terror that took the lives of 100,000 people. The clinical heirs to the folk wisdom of ill health, the plague doctors, were not able to offer good remedies. The rich fled London. Industrialisation and human misery helped to spread the damage. This history offers us a smaller scale parallel of our modern situation. The difference is that we can stop extinction with our knowledge and tactics, whereas early modern clinicians had little hope of stopping Bubonic epidemics. Not to detract from their humanity and human sensitivities, but nurses are made for crisis situations, whether that be widespread disease or climate change.

Nurses should feel empowered by being trusted figures in the community, the inheritance of a job that is a vocation nor a career. We can speak about climate chaos, as well as report from the frontline of pollution and degradation’s effects on our nation’s health. We have the social connections of those wise women of times forgotten, but with a deeper pool of knowledge and more possibilities of working together within our networks.  We can relay the suffering of those in poverty and lingering in chronic illness and give voices to the voiceless. We can be more than mere “sticking plasters” in sum. Which is why, as your fellow nurse, I would passionately urge all of you to join Extinction Rebellion.

Tom Lennard @tomlennard

You can get involved with the Extinction Rebellion health workers group at “XR Health Workers”.