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.

Letter From An Apocalyptic Future Pt. 3

(Part 1, Part 2)

But then, at that tortuous point, a peculiar thing happened: something in me awoke.

There arose in me an overwhelming peace and a feeling of love larger than the earth-embracing sky. I found myself thrown open like I’d never been before and began to see the world with new eyes and a heart that could finally allow itself to be completely and entirely broken, utterly riven, and finally revealed to itself in its full tenderness.

For there was no longer anything to resist or to protect.

There was no longer a problem to be solved or a victory to be fought for. There was absolutely no space left for striving or for making anyone wrong. Finally, at the end of the day, at the end of time, all that remains is the crystalline knowledge that all we ever have is this one moment: rich, fragile, all-encompassing, infinitely precious.

And I experienced this moment as pure love.

Love as the ground and inner being of everything. Love as the space within which everything occurs. Love as the silence which contains every sound. Love as the womb of creation. Love as the enfolding void.

I felt love for this Earth as never before and for all beings without exception: insects, animals, plants and humans; viruses, billionaire frackers, terrorists and Trump — all fragile fleeting forms of tender life, vulnerable to all manner of ills, all living bravely beyond themselves into uncertainty and then death, all desiring only life and more and more life, existence infinitely precious and sweet.

I felt love for the sky above, its clouds floating along. I felt love for the birds so light who give us what is left of their song while they can. I felt love for the dawn, which will continue to spread splendour over the eastern horizon after we’re gone though there won’t be eyes to behold it or hearts to rejoice. I felt such love for the children of our world, my own son among them, some of whom will be playing and laughing until the very end takes them into silence. I felt only love for everyone, whatever their active or passive roles in bringing about this tragic end. Yes, it was clear to me that no-one is to blame. All things come to pass through the mysterious agency of ultimately impersonal forces. And yes, I believe these forces boil down only to love.

Over the last three years I have of course descended from this pure state of abiding love, spiralling again and again through grief and confusion, distraction, denial and the rest, but never for very long. I always return to what has become a baseline: the presiding pulse of sublime love and peace. The world increasingly conspires to return me to it. Every joy and every sorrow give way quite quickly to the awareness that all this, every cause of joy and sorrow, will soon be gone. And that makes even the sorrows poignantly beautiful. There is in this a deep relief, considering the multiplying causes of sorrow arising amidst this daily escalating crises.

Soon I will see my son die, or he will me, or we’ll be incinerated together along with millions of others. And soon after that our Earth, our beautiful, poisoned Earth will be without life upon her rocky surface.

Yes, the sun will still set in the West, but there will be none left to weep at its setting.

The worst that could happen is happening. It came slowly, then suddenly. And we brought it on through our own choices, our failures to choose better. And yet, around everything, somehow there is something untroubled, something vast, indestructible and whole. I call it love. Where it is felt, fear is absent.

*******

 

Author’s Note: This piece was written in the shocking summer of 2018, while unprecedented wildfires burned across the Northern hemisphere, the Great Barrier Reef died-off by a third and the Arctic sea-ice further melted and thinned. This year it became clear that previous models predicting climate change to become disruptive by 2050 and catastrophic by the end of the century seriously underestimated the rate of climate collapse due to the non-linear effects of positive feedback loops and tipping points. Increasing numbers of renowned scientists and analysts are now saying that the global climate may already have gone into an abrupt and irreversible breakdown, the effects of which will become catastrophic within the next decade. It may already be too late. But there might still be just a little time left to make radical changes to prevent anthropogenic global climate breakdown from cascading into apocalyptic proportions. But only if we act now and resolutely, individually and as a global civilisation. The future of life on our planet is in our hands. It is time to rise up and demand that our governments take the necessary steps to reduce carbon emissions, invest in clean energy technology, decommission and safely dismantle nuclear weapons stashes and nuclear power stations and legislating against irresponsible consumption while massively promoting and incentivising One-Planet living. They won’t do it unless we make them.

Rise up in the name of life on Earth!

extinctionrebellion.org

Letter From An Apocalyptic Future Pt. 2

(Part 1)

“If everyone does a little we’ll achieve a lot”, seemed to be the mainstream platitude of the time, promulgated by those seeking to sustain the consumer disaster to those too stuck in it to seriously consider an alternative. The reality is, of course, that if everybody does a little then little gets achieved. And that’s what happened.

It was an excruciating time. While living simply and radically reducing the negative impact of my life on our planet to almost zero, I’d come to realise that not only was this kind of step necessary for ecological survival, but it was also what we needed to do for the sake of our basic wellbeing. Living close to the earth in a small heart-centred community felt greatly more than anything that was going on in modern ‘civilisation’. But very few people could see far enough beyond their own personal dramas, glowing screens, sense of entitlement to luxury convenience, in order to perceive an alternative. Amidst the many sparkly distractions of the consumer circus and the status symbols of power and success, no one had time for the sacrifices of simplicity or its quiet beauty.

I think that most people were just too far gone to explore any remedy.

Opening to the real necessity and possibility of radical change would only have revealed the horrendous depth of the disaster that most people’s lives were embedded in. People just couldn’t look at how monstrous the world they were living in actually was, beneath its face-paint and bling. To do so would have been to see their lives and themselves laid bare in a hideous way. It was too much the collective psyche to bear.

So it was a complex time for us few radical earth-dwellers. On the one hand, we were experiencing deep nourishment from our community and the land, living in a way that wasn’t hurting anyone else or our planet. On the other hand, we were one of a handful of tiny islands in the midst of a great destructive ocean. I went through a lot of anger at the levels of blindness and apathy; contempt for my spineless fellow humans; grief for everything I saw was being lost or thrown away.

Such a priceless thing to exchange for baubles, this Earth.

It was almost too much, witnessing the wanton destruction of our blue-green jewel of a planet. And yet that seemed to be what I was asked to do: to endure this destruction with open eyes and heart unclouded by the opiates of distraction.

In the end, exhausted, I finally dropped through almost endless despair into a state of resignation and complete acceptance. Something in me died. It was all over. We just weren’t going to make the changes. The temperature would continue to rise. Species loss would accelerate. Ecosystems would continue to deteriorate. Natural disasters would become more frequent. Food and water shortages would intensify. Nuclear war would break out. Civilisation was going to kill itself, taking along with it the rest of life on this planet. No amount of positive action from a very minor segment of the population was going to have an impact on the rumbling juggernaut racing towards global destruction. There was no longer any point in hoping for a solution.

Such a strange thing to accept. So vast, the implications. So devastatingly sad. Grief isn’t really big enough to fully let in the scale of this loss.

We weren’t made for this.

I was breaking beyond endurance.

Letter From An Apocalyptic Future Pt. 1

It’s August 2021.

There’s no longer a question as to what will happen next: Life on Earth is coming to a close.

Global temperatures have risen half a degree in the last three years alone. Last winter there was no sea ice in the Arctic at all. This summer it seems as if half of the Northern hemisphere is ablaze with wildfires. The 250 species which were already exiting stage left each and every day a couple of years ago have now increased in number to over 600 per day, all of whom will soon be followed by the rest of the characters still in the play.

We don’t know if there’ll be some kind of denouement lasting several years or simply an abrupt end counted in weeks and months. What we do know is that the curtain is about to fall. No-one born today will live beyond the age of 10. Many will starve this winter. Many more in the coming summer.

Whatever chance there might have been for us to turn this thing around and evolve beyond the crisis point we reached over the past 30 years or so—we missed it. That window of possibility has firmly closed. Strangely, we knew it was closing. We knew we had to make some radical changes in order to squeeze through. But there simply wasn’t sufficient will to do so, not individually or collectively. The apathy was too strong. The marketing industry was too powerful. The corporate influence on government was too powerful. Forces both personal and systemic simply couldn’t accommodate themselves to the changes required in order to transition into a sustainable way of being. And now there’s no longer any hope of our planet’s biosphere surviving beyond the next decade. It will all soon be over.

Either catastrophic ecological collapse will trigger economic breakdown which will, in turn, trigger the catastrophic wars that our governments are currently poised for to fight over the remaining resources, or economic meltdown brought on by fear and panic at the worsening ecological situation will trigger wars which will then push the dying ecosystems into full demise. Either way, the outcome is the same. The crazy-train is rushing headlong off the cliff-edge. It doesn’t really matter which way we fall into the abyss. Life on this planet is finished.

Many people are still living in denial.

“Everything will be ok. We can still sort this out.”

But the vast majority of climate scientists, ecologists, and economists are in agreement that we have passed the point of no return. Abruptly escalating climate change is upon us. Every day this fact sinks a little bit further into reality. While broadcast media is paralysed, still engaging the mock debate of ‘is it really happening?’, the internet is awash with evidence of the incontrovertible reality.

Many of the super-rich have been preparing for “The Event” for some time now, buying up small islands or swathes of land in New Zealand, Hawaii, Tasmania, preparing bunkers, assembling private armies. What they hope to achieve by extending their time by a few years after the apocalypse I’m not sure even they know. A reflex of habit I guess, an isolationist hangover from lifetimes of sociopathic dissociation from the fate of every man. Not that I blame them for wanting a few extra years. It does feel good to live, and it is very hard to face the prospect of the void.

I remember it was three years ago, in August 2018, that I fully accepted for the first time that the crazy-train wasn’t going to slow down and turn around. I’d been living for two decades in the shadow of the knowledge of the potentially world-destroying activities of human beings, oscillating between desperate hope and bitter despair. For the last five of those years I’d been living very small and light in a conscious community of people focused on healing our connection to the Earth and each other, housed off-grid in mud huts, working the land, cooking on fire, gathering water from the stream, embracing the radical simplicity that some of us believed the whole world needed to adopt if our planet was going to make it. Elsewhere others were doing likewise. Elsewhere others were protesting the disaster, risking prison and in some cases their lives in order to halt some of the destruction. Elsewhere many brave souls were striving to transform their lives in radical ways in line with carbon neutrality and ecological protection.

But really, we were very few.

(To Be Continued)