Global Heating – the Elephant in the Room

By Eileen Peck

I wonder if others have had the same experiences as myself – coming across normally well-informed and caring people who don’t want to talk about global heating, and my feelings of anxiety when I try to bring up what seems to be a taboo subject? Not something to be mentioned in polite conversation!
If I hadn’t read George Marshall’s insightful ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’ I would have struggled to understand just why so many of my caring and intelligent friends, even (dare I say it?), in the environment movement, feel ambivalent about XR. Why are they asking ‘Do they really need to be stopping ordinary people from getting to work?’
Why are so many going along with ideas (promoted, of course, by mainstream media) such as ‘This action will only impact on ordinary people, not those at the top’ and ‘Emma Thompson is a hypocrite flying in to support the protest.’ And, most importantly how do we encourage people to look at the emergency seriously and support the brave action being taken by the rebels?
‘Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’ helped me to understand that the difficulty in perceiving the imminent danger of global heating arises from our primitive brain’s inability to see the bigger picture. The analogy is drawn with primitive man needing to worry about the tiger at the cave door before giving any attention to the bigger picture further afield.

And, don’t those who want to keep us from looking too closely at the ‘bigger picture’ ensure that we are kept busy with many tigers at the door: Gloom and doom pervade our mainstream media; terrorism and wars, crime and strife are our regular diet. The BMA even coined the phrase ‘The politics of fear’ which is seen as making people ill. We go about our daily lives dealing with getting ourselves to work, the children to school, paying the bills and generally dealing with the stresses and strains of everyday life. Global heating is low down on most people’s priorities. If we do start to think about it, we come close to feeling powerless and overwhelmed. How well I know those feelings!
If ‘Don’t Even Think About It’ has given me some insight into why conversations often steer clear of climate change, Matthew Crawford’s in ‘The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction’ sees our ‘distractibility’ in the modern world as the mental equivalent of obesity. ‘Distractibility’ is fed by a constant stream of stimuli in the same way that obesity comes from being fed junk food.

Since reading about ‘distractability’ I’ve become ever more aware of the deluge of information under which I seem to be buried daily. I’m constantly distracted by adverts in every available space: the back of car park tickets, popping up on computer screens, even inside toilet doors when I go for a wee!

Yuval Harari in his ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ sees clarity as power and that censorship works not by blocking the flow of information but rather by flooding people with disinformation. ‘What happens now?’ ‘What should we pay attention to?’ He says: ‘We can’t take on all these pressing questions – we have to go to work, look after the children. The future of humanity is decided in your absence.’

So it is that conversations usually centre around holidays and everyday domestic problems, while the questions often asked are ‘Is it is really necessary to disrupt people getting to work?’ and ‘Aren’t there other ways to bring the government to get them to do what is necessary to tackle climate change?’
The problem is that ‘other ways’ have been tried. I hope I’ve got this right but I understand that:
• International conferences have been held and agreements on cutting carbon emissions have been made and broken. Even the US, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, quit the Paris agreement.
• The UK government passed the Climate Change Act in 2008 which made the UK the first country to establish a long-term legally binding framework to cut carbon emissions. The UK government crow about their success at reducing carbon emissions but from my car-clogged corner of S E Essex I wonder just how this can be true. Then I notice the convey of freight-carrying container ships making their way up to the Thames to the Dubai deep port in Essex and have a light-bulb moment: Yes, our domestic manufacturing industry has been destroyed so our ‘stuff’ is now made in China and other overseas countries. We import goods and export carbon emissions!
• The UK government which says it is committed to reducing carbon emissions even gives the go-ahead to a new coal mine and to fracking.

In the face of this inaction what else can we do? With the power of the fossil fuel industry dictating to governments and calling the tune worldwide, I reckon that to deal with a drastic emergency, drastic action is required which is why I’m behind XR.
All I think is ‘Thank goodness for XR, why has it been such a long time coming?!’

Positive, peaceful and unified – why I joined Extinction Rebellion

Image for ‘Positive, peaceful and unified – why I joined Extinction Rebellion’

By Eileen Peck

As so often happens, the idea came to me in the middle of the night. I was lying in bed pondering why I felt so very peaceful and calm, when the lightbulb moment struck. I have to confess that in view of what is going on in the world I, like many others I guess, have been feeling pretty stressed recently. Climate change, knife crime, terrorism, stories of gloom and doom regularly making headline news means that anxiety and confusion often fill my mind. So, what had happened the previous day to make me see things differently?

I’d been at the Extinction Rebellion protest in London and had met up with a huge crowd of energetic, inspiring, caring people who are prepared to give time and risk arrest for a cause in which they deeply believe.

My joining my local group of rebels came about because I believe that climate change is a real threat not only to the distant future but to life on Earth in the here and now. And because I believe financial interests are stopping the government from taking the action which we so desperately need.

Before my trip to Oxford Circus I was invited to a workshop where I was given lots of helpful information about our legal rights, how we should behave (non-violently) and what would happen if we got arrested. Most helpful were the phone numbers of solicitors who specialise in protest law. Role play helped us to prepare for how to deal with angry people – motorists and those angry that they had been stopped from getting to work or going shopping.

My day with XR in London turned out to be everything I expected: well-informed people spreading the word and encouraging each other. People handing out free food and drinks and passing around sun lotion. There was lots of singing and clapping. Yoga and first aid tents. Inspirational speakers. Chatting with strangers who I immediately ‘clicked’ with. The chanting of “We love you” and the shouting support when an arrest was made. The day was fun, orderly and inspirational. Emma Thompson described it as an “island of sanity” and how right she was.

The organisers have made it clear that this is just the beginning. We are now waiting for the government to respond to our demands and if the demands are not met, there are lots more very carefully organised and orchestrated non-violent disruptive events in the pipeline.

So, why did my day with the ‘rebels’ bring me such cheer? Why did my middle of the night flash of insight feel potentially life-changing? Life-enhancing?

I’ve come to see our regular exposure to bad news as a way of dampening down our joie de vivre. It produces fear, which can make us feel powerless, so we perhaps feel inclined to pull up the drawbridge and look after number one.

In my days as a sociology student, I was introduced to the idea of ‘hegemony’ which describes the largely unquestioned world view taken in by a population. The British sociologist Anthony Giddens described ideological hegemony as “shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify the interests of dominant groups”.

The term hegemony is thought to have been coined by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s. He used the term to describe how, in a democracy, the domination of one group over others can be achieved by political power, which depends on the population taking on certain values and ideas. His message was that what comes to pass does so, not so much because a few people want it to happen, but because the mass of citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be.

I’ve come to see our regular exposure to bad news as a way of dampening down our joie de vivre. It produces fear, which can make us feel powerless

I’ve come to see that by focusing almost exclusively on the bad news, our mainstream media drip feeds us daily the idea that the world is a terrible, dangerous, place and that central to 21st century-life are competition, excessive material consumption and each man for himself.

But this obscures the fact that:

  • Plenty of people are working hard to help others
  • Co-operation is on the rise, with local shops, pubs and even failing companies being taken over by local people
  • The idea of a ‘good life’ of depending on excessive material consumption is being challenged
  • Random acts of kindness and selflessness are on the increase
  • And so much more

My lightbulb moment showed me that – as the ancient Greek Stoics said 2,000 years ago – I need to ‘guard my thoughts’ and look for the good stuff in the world. The climate change protestors are a highly visible, wonderful, example of people rebelling. All over the world, people in their everyday lives are rebelling and finding peace and happiness in a way of life which nurtures both the planet and each other.

My lightbulb moment showed me that I need to ‘guard my thoughts’ and look for the good stuff in the world.

I take great comfort from the words of the US historian and activist Howard Zinn who said: “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag towards a more decent society.’”