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?!’

What it’s like to be at an Extinction Rebellion protest

By Aram Hawa

From the 15th to the 18th of April I can proudly say I was involved in the XR protests which struck London this spring and brought business in the bustling city centre to a hurtling stop. Having not attended a protest since the Iraq war one back in 2003, I was joyously amazed at the turnout. Hordes of XR clad protestors began gravitating around Parliament Square as the sun approached midday, defiantly grasping their banners and thought provoking picket signs. Some were draped in fossilised carcasses, signifying the monstrous destination for humanity if their voices were not listened to, others were dressed casually, if not a little free spirited, but all wore the same expression of an emphatically determined activist who was about to do something a bit out of the ordinary.

I think people have a misperception that environmental activism is for tree hugging hippies who have an aversion to showers and shoes. Whilst undoubtedly there are these elements in the following, the vast majority of members are normal people who have become increasingly aware of the morbid nature of the planets future and have decided to act on it. It was so heart warming to speak to and watch elderly people politely yet defiantly refuse the demands of the police to remove themselves from the roads. What on Earth would drive them to do this and risk incarceration? Well, exactly that, the Earth. These well educated people were equipped with the latest scientific findings on the impending doom and havoc that climate change is threatening us with. Once you understand their behaviour in the global context of a planet warming up irreversibly, transforming lush green forests into barren deserted toxic waste lands and bountiful thriving seas into oscillating graveyards, their behaviour becomes completely rational! More than anything these people care, they care about the miseries we are inflicting upon the planet in our consumption based lives, they care about the thousands of animal and insect species which are being pushed to and falling off from the bridge of extinction, they care about the quality of life their grandchildren will have when the air they breathe is noxious and the water they drink is all but gone. Ultimately they care about the planet, encompassing all the sentient beings who reside here and the intimate and fragile relationship we have with our ecosystem. With this in mind, those elderly protestors amiably quarrelling with the police become the sane ones and the swarms of shoppers, tourists and commuters metres away become the ones deserving of a psychiatric health check up. How are they so comfortable living their lives when everything at stake? How can they contribute to the machinery which is making it so? Do they really not care despite everything being at stake? This is not something which can just be ignored. This is why XR must bring everything to a grinding halt in order for those who lead us to take a painful, unfaltering look at where our priorities lie.

The energy of being there is hard to describe, an infectious buzz pulses through the crowd. Organising the logistics was of course at the heart of the commotion but high faculty, stimulating conversations flourished in abundance. Protestors discussed what it was that brought them there, their fears and trepidations about the changing times, what they intended to achieve in reorganising the political architecture, all the while gregariously greeting and engaging with the bewildered commuters they were blocking. If I had to describe the whole experience in one statement it would probably go along the lines of – one of the most rewarding, emotionally infused, collectively harmonious, surreal experiences of my life.

I distinctly remember being sat on Waterloo Bridge with the thirty or so other protestors who were acting as the front line of defence against the teams of police sternly observing close by. One by one protestors were engaged with by police squadrons, isolated and sullenly informed of their supposed wrong doings. Most looked away at this point, others chose to question the foundations by which the police could instigate the arrest, it was a simple delaying tactic and the end result was always the same. Every time someone was dragged off into the back of a police van a cheer followed them, kind words of love and admiration for their commitment filled the air, a show of appreciation for the unknown price to be paid.

In the midst of this a women began singing at the front, her voice was sweet and her words brought about a stir in the crowd. Suddenly a number of protestors began to weep, it was strange to witness, there didn’t seem to be any single event which should have caused this reaction, but I understood. We, a group of misfits and strangers were all stood together at that moment in time with the sun gently blessing us with its rays and the wind tenderly dancing in our hair, how could such a world punish us with threats of imprisonment when all we wanted was to safeguard that which provides life and blood to us all? We stood peaceful and defiant, we knew what we were doing was right, throughout history small groups of well intentioned people have always been the catalysts for progressive societal change. That however does not lend enough weight to the ominous feeling of impending arrest by a militarised adversary. Personally, I have never felt such a connection to others as I did during that week. It is easy for a virulent disdain for mankind to develop when you are seemingly alone, constantly learning of the newest atrocities committed to a defenceless nature on a daily basis. I have never truly bonded with groups for shared interests in things such as sports teams and leisure pursuits, their deafening chants and pernicious rhymes always appeared superficial to me. It was different this time, for once I had found others who cared for the planet as much as I did, others who were also willing to risk the ridicule and scrutiny of everyone else in defending the rights of the Earth, others who were eager to discuss their ideas on what can be done to protect her from those who would wish to do her harm, it was truly humbling to be in the presence of such people with whom I shared so much. The song being sung reflected this sentiment, it was a truly beautiful spectacle to behold, one I will cherish forever. A moment which resonated with the entire experience of the protests; the chaos surging ravenously around, yet we, pious in our beliefs and determined in our actions, stood firm together, awaiting the smoke to engulf us.

And the arrest itself? By the fourth day of the protest and having witnessed hundreds of my brothers and sisters being taken away I began to feel within myself a mesmerising fire ignite, a shimmering manifestation of duty to the cause, a call to arms. I hadn’t come all this way, shared the highs and lows with my comrades to not take the final plunge.

Seeing photos of the dozens of cohorts of neon coloured police teams descending on Parliament Square to break our blockades, I quickly hastened with two other rebels from Oxford Circus. Upon arriving I quickly realised that the photos had not done the situation justice; hundreds of police officers stood circling the Houses of Parliament, like vultures in frenzy they shot each other glances and nods, ravenously deciding which victim to take next.

Without thinking twice I grabbed my rucksack and ran to the corner of the square, one of two remaining fortified positions that still bore the hallmarks of a committed group of rebels. I pushed through the crowd of intrigued onlookers, bursting through into the centre I threw myself to the ground, joining the fifteen or so other brave souls who in their beliefs and actions, were demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice their freedom for the greater good. It did not take long for my time to come. Two officers paved their way towards me, their heavy duty shoes echoed loudly across the callous street floor. As they squatted over me, their arsenal of weapons dangled cautiously close to my face, a baton, mace spray, handcuffs and others I couldn’t discern. They stared intensely, their expressions bore no emotions, the mask that is used to conceal ones humanity was wrapped tightly around their faces. They read to me the crime that I was committing, detailing the law which had designated obstructing the highway as a crime, they asked me if I understood. As rehearsed, I gave them nothing, not responding in any meaningful way, listening instead to the encouraging songs of the rebels which at the time seemed to take on a defiant childlike innocence.

The sentence was given, “You are now under arrest, you do not have to say anything but…” the words fell out of his mouth like a rapid river over a cliff edge. I was walked off past crowds of civilians and protestors, heading directly towards the den of police vans conglomerated around a patch of grass where the other detainees were being held in anxious anticipation.

To be honest, the next twelve hours were comfortable and at times comical. The officers, slightly bewildered by the mammoth logistical task before them of coordinating the cell spaces across London for the hundreds of arrested protestors, regressed into a relaxed state. The good will and intentions of the protestors rubbed off and laughter and kind words were exchanged. The long queues forced a harmonious engagement between both sides, allowing the officers humanity to seep through the gaps in their armour, cascading into an angelic bubbling of friendly human connection. Things carried on in this vein for the four hours that it took to check me into a cell, after which a thin bed and my book provided the nights entertainment.

Without being formally investigated I was released in the early hours of the morning. Upon being led out of the final security door I was greeted pleasantly with smiles, warming words and a well earned brew by the XR arrestee support group who had been waiting all night for us. How comprehensively XR had thought out this entire operation, the care and devotion which had gone into arranging such a post release reception filled my thoughts as I left the building, my admiration still growing for the organisation as I walked down the miserable and dreary London streets. I was of course heading straight back to the protests.

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.’”

XR Activism is an anti-depressant

By Kirsten Downer

As a group of Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves to a DLR train at Canary Wharf three Fridays ago, a message popped up on the group’s Facebook livestream: Activism is an anti-depressant.

Eighty-two-year-old Phil Kingston was among those up on the train roof to draw attention to the fact that the financial sector is driving the climate crisis, which is already displacing and killing people. And that without urgent action, billions of human beings will die by 2050.

There’s something about witnessing an octagenarian sacrificing his comfort and liberty for the benefit of other human beings which reaffirms ‘something I thought I’d lost’ to quote another message on the Facebook live stream. And of course it’s not just Phil Kingston – more than 1100 people peacefully got themselves arrested this April, in order to cause maximum disruption and push our society to save itself. Among them was Hanna, seven months pregnant, the last person to be removed from the Oxford Circus XR site.

Alongside the so-called ‘arrestables’ thousands more hearts, minds and hands created and supported the Extinction Rebellion phenomenon, whether by offering meditation on Waterloo Bridge, acting as independent legal observers, cooking and serving free vegetarian food for participants, or holding up colourful, witty banners at road junctions.

Waterloo Bridge, photo by Jamie Tarlton

We did this not for direct personal benefit, but for children living today and their children, and for the millions of people in the global South already suffering the impacts of climate change. XR is not perfect; the movement needs to work harder to involve BAME groups and keep highlighting the way structural inequalities drive climate change.

But in our actions we embodied something which our society denies, telling us that we’re apathetic and selfish: Love.  A reverence for life, common to all spiritual traditions across the world. And an instinctual understanding of interbeing – a Buddhist wisdom recognising that all is one and one is all. We are ourselves, but we are also all each other.

photo by Extinction Rebellion

We live in a society which denies this truth and actively works against it. No wonder we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression.  So I agree with the Facebook comment: activism can be a practice which feeds us. When we act non-violently and collectively, we embody the interbeing principle and this feeling of connection gives me delight, freedom, and fresh energy.

Peaceful activism is not just about sacrifice – you can feel adventure and purpose when (non-violently) breaking oppressive societal norms.  When we’re all one, I am you and you are me, it means you can let creativity and nature flow through you. It’s a huge relief to know it’s not all down to you, your ego and your mind. And being part of something so vast and creative means that things which looked absolutely impossible start to look more achievable. If this isn’t an antidote for depression, I don’t know what is.

Waterloo Bridge photo by Jamie Tarlton

In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that because people cut reality into compartments, they are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. But deep down it seems we all know it.

It was there as I approached Oxford Circus, and a complete stranger walked up to me, beaming, offering me one of her home-made flapjacks. It was there as arrestees were carried off into police vans while other participants yelled ‘We love you’. It was there in the woman serving me food at Marble Arch: ‘How did you get involved? Oh, I was just walking past earlier today.’ And the 71-year-old bearded man doing legal observing through the night at Oxford Circus, who’d travelled all the way from Wales to help out.

‘This Way to Save the Planet’ photo by Jamie Tarlton

It was there in all the passersby who thanked us, and the Oxford Street shop-worker who told me that although it made it harder for him to get to work, he agreed with the action because it was ‘for a good cause’ and that inconvenience was needed. It was there in the stories I heard of kids who no longer needed their asthma inhalers. And it was there in the woman who thanked the campers at Marble Arch: ‘I haven’t heard birdsong here in thirty years. Now I can.’

I laughed very hard many times during XR. And I witnessed many beautiful things. Spontaneous, deep conversations between strangers; dancing on Waterloo Bridge under a huge pink moon.  While there will no doubt be tensions and conflict within such a huge movement, during the week I began to believe that collectively, humans are capable of solving huge problems – if we’re just given the space and power to get on with it.

‘How did they manage all this?’ a couple asked me, taking in the solar panels, trees, stage, singing, musicians, performance, meditation, conviviality. ‘Hive mind’ was my answer. As ‘Being Mortal’ author Atul Gawande says: ‘We’re all so limited as individual human beings, and yet magic happens when we all string together. When that happens, we are almost unlimited.’

FIRST, REBEL AGAINST YOURSELF.

By Adam Stark

In Owen Jones’ recent interview video with Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam criticises the political ‘left’ as having been perpetually dishonest about what economic action is required to mitigate the climate breakdown and what cultural changes this will necessitate. He contends that the ‘left’ have become so embroiled, so entrenched in the (conceptually politically right-wing) neoliberal ideal they are unable to conceive of human life “in anything other than cost-benefit, materialistic terms”. Their proposed resolutions have therefore assumed that market forces are enough to tackle climate change: business as usual WILL work, it just needs tweaking! They were wrong, whilst Roger is correct: The ‘left’ – the supposed political guardians of justice and equality – have fundamentally failed to realise that at the very heart of any suitable action to mitigating the climate breakdown requires a redefinition and restructuring of our society and economy. Just like all life on this planet, justice and equality depend upon this for their survival.

It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.

So, the political ‘left’ need to become Left again. For many of us, this has long been clear to see. Thankfully, it appears that they’re (just) starting to see the light. But we, and they, need to be clear about what the necessary changes in our society will require of us culturally and personally. Roger was unequivocal about this. It requires us to accept, moreover embrace, lower standards of living. For freeing ourselves from our capitalist indoctrination involves repudiating everything tied up in capitalism’s tautological relationship with growth. So we must retract from our supposed inter-generational contract with every consecutive generation to give them a better standard of living than the previous (I say ‘supposed’ because I’ve never seen nor signed this thing). It’s a faulty contract, the objectives of which cannot be sustained by virtue of its very design. We pursue its fulfilment in vain, and at what price? At best, the end of civil society, justice and equality; at worst, the end of human existence altogether.

Therefore, we need to redefine ourselves, every one of us; we need to change our expectations of what life entails. Reducing our standard of living involves changing a whole host of our own personal life-defining ideas. We need to be willing to fully extend the service life of everything we own, instead of repeatedly repurchasing unnecessary replacements. We need to re-skill ourselves so as not to be reliant on corporate manufacturers. We need to be canny, creative and imaginative. And we can be! We must reuse, recycle, repair and adapt our clothes again and again and again, until they are literally unusable as objects of clothing; and then up-cycle them into rags and quilts. We must re-green and re-wild our concreted areas, reconnect with the wilderness, walk upon, re-learn, appreciate and cultivate our privately owned microcosmic lands. We must localise ourselves (without vulgarising ourselves into xenophobes), so that we can walk, push or cycle ourselves to work, the grocer, to our friends and families. Concede that animal husbandry is one of the greatest causes of environmental degradation, and thus accept that meat ought to be reserved for special occasions, or better yet not be consumed at all. Accept that we needn’t pollute our drains with noxious chemicals when we wash ourselves and our possessions; realise that we needn’t shower every single day in order to be sanitary.

And this needn’t amount to austerity as we currently understand it – as a degrading, unrelenting existence at the margins of civilisation, wherein nothing possesses beauty or meaning. Kings and queens of empires old had austere lives compared to many of us. Ingenuity in practical utility can be appreciated in aesthetic terms. Yes, the story, the history and destiny, and the scars of our possessions can cause us to marvel over them, giving them aesthetic merit. Further still, in the process of changing ourselves, our conceptions of objective perfection will entirely evaporate, but the ‘civil’ part our civilisation will not. THAT is what we are doing this for. There is meaning in all this. So, don’t mistake reduced ‘living standards’ for reduced ‘quality of life.’ They are very different things. Happiness and contentment are in this imagined society, and can wholly be found in the process of transitioning to it.

I’ve said it before: the changes required will not be easy. We will all experience some strife in the process of challenging and changing ourselves. I’ve experienced it myself, and last week I met many people at the Extinction Rebellion protests in London that had, are or were beginning to experience their own internal mental rebellions: I am not you anymore, I am someone else; I wish there was another way but there isn’t, so leave me be! This internal, somewhat subconscious self-rejection is relentlessly tiring because redefining ourselves, re-finding ourselves is a tortuous task. There is no physicality to this kind of lost-ness; we are truly alone in an ethereally grievous mental-state. Those who’ve experienced it may now know very little about who they are, but they have realised that our self-image is inextricably bound up in our culture, and that culture has been hogtied by a now rotting politico-economic system. For us, denouncing this system is like pronouncing in the 19th century that “God is dead”. It can feel as though we are left in possession of nothing, yet still have everything to lose. It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.

Yet there is something that keeps us going. There is hope. There is solidarity and love. More importantly, there is a new social contract to draw up, and quickly. Its objectives may just about be attainable, if we really try; if we continue to rebel. This contract won’t catalyse injustice, inequality and global extinction. No, neither will this contract aspire to give our future generations a better standard of living. Instead, it will aspire to give them life. No luxuries. Just food to eat and air to breathe. In essence, that’s all Extinction Rebellion are asking for: that we allow our children to live.  

We rebel for life. Viva la Rebellion.

What just happened?

By Chris Neill

A psychosocial perspective on the April 2019 Rebellion

Until two years ago I was a hard-working psychotherapist whose mind was mostly preoccupied with looking underneath the surface of events for an understanding of what they actually meant. I retired for a quiet life in the garden (although now I seem to have become a hard-working environmental activist instead). Letting go of the professional duties doesn’t mean you stop thinking like a psychotherapist and I found, anyway, that the powerful significance and intensity of the Rebellion brought an automatic re-connection – emotionally, spiritually and mentally – to that way of experiencing and relating to things.

Like very many of us, I’m sure, I found myself drawing on old skills as well as learning many new ones during the frenetic build-up to April 15th and the tumultuous unfolding of the 11 days afterwards. A key thing in psychotherapy is self-reflection and as the pace of things slackened in the final couple of days, as we all began, however reluctantly, the heartfelt process of withdrawal and dis-engagement, turning our attention again to the concerns and demands of the ‘real’ outside world (which now seemed less real than it ever had) I found myself wondering how to understand the narrative of what had happened.

By using the word ‘narrative’ I mean deliberately to suggest that a sequence of events tells more than just its own story. Most often, it also tells us something deeper about ourselves. There is a tradition of thought running through most of the the central theories and philosophies used by psychotherapists – whether they be Freudian analysts, Jungians, Gestalt humanists or transpersonal psychologists – which says that the things we do, individually and together, ranging from brief personal actions and simple physical gestures through to extended periods of complex social interaction – can be understood as enactments and re-enactments of deeper unconscious realities. These things – from simple ‘Freudian slips’ to the repetitions of history with global impact talked abut by people like the contemporary communist psychoanalyst Slavo Zizek – reveal ideas and truths that are not yet fully conscious. By studying the narrative, then, we may be able to see something which is trying to emerge.

So, as I found time for pause and reflection while shuffling between the tea tent, the people’s assemblies and the drumming bands at Marble Arch on the penultimate day of the London rebellion, I found myself wondering about this story that we seemed to have just told ourselves about ourselves. Other than the fact that we had made a tremendous, incredible collective effort which had brought about a radical change in public consciousness, what else did the narrative tell us?

The thought which impressed itself upon me most strongly, and which I had already found myself mentioning to many people I spoke to, was that this was a story about collaboration and determination, goodwill,, kindness and creativity. Even though parts of the media were still trying to run a story which was about police inefficiency or collusion or about work-shy dreamers who had no idea about reality, the obvious truth was emerging for all to see if they wanted to: when people act together and are connected to a worthwhile sense of purpose, and when they do so whilst seeking to stay connected to higher values like Truth, Beauty, Will, Love and Wisdom, astonishing things can be achieved. This, perhaps, is how we will address the huge global problem of climate change. We will consider and plan carefully and we will act decisively with urgency and discipline. We will dedicate ourselves to this cause, acting without self-interest, sharing generously of ourselves and our resources. We will care for each other and ourselves, making sacrifices to the greater good without losing sight of of our own rights and dignity. The idea that everyone is responsible will spread like a wildfire and become the new ’normal’. We will climb with exhilaration a steep learning curve in which a process of creative collaboration feeds upon and nourishes itself. We will rapidly develop new skills, exchange knowledge and information at breakneck speed in order to meet the escalating challenges which present themselves to us. In doing so we will amaze others and ourselves with the truth of the proposition that a small group of people can change the world.

Even as I considered the evident and inspiring truth of this, however, I could not escape another truth – which is that we had, ultimately, failed. We had not continued “until we win” as the mantra had been Yes, I know we are not in the least finished, and the rebellion is only paused, it is is only the beginning, etc. And I truly believe all that. But the narrative of April 15th-25th does also have less cheerful things to tell us. It tells us that that, notwithstanding our Herculean efforts and all the marvellous variations of Love and Will which were expressed, we were in the end defeated. Our roadblocks were taken down. The glorious symbols of our defiant audacity, the pink boat, the lorries, the trees, the solar panels, were removed. Our people, one by one, were carried away. In the last days , there had been plentiful evidence of our weakening. Resources ran low. People got dirty and tired and ill. Some looked skeletal. It was harder to think and make decisions and communicate effectively. There was more evidence of fracture and discord in relationships. On Waterloo Bridge we ate bread and jam instead of delicious vegan stews. Drinking water became scarce. As we abandoned one site after another, Marble Arch became too overcrowded, too noisy. People lost valuable possessions and lost track of each other. Even as we continued to assert our triumph, we could not deny that we were all exhausted, completely done in. This, of course, is what may happen in the story of the battle against climate change. We will make wonderful, unbelievable progress and it will be a heart-opening and joyful experience, but in the end we will fail.

As i thought about this, I began to consider more specifically the role of the police in this narrative. What had they been doing and what did that mean or represent? We all kept saying how good they had been and how kind and non-judgemental, how they were ‘“just doing their job”. How might this be understood? It struck me that the police in this narrative might best be seen as the forces of nature – not unkind, nor intolerant nor even indifferent, but implacable nonetheless. In the end, if a few thousand people come to occupy London, to erect roadblocks and kitchens and performance spaces and toilets and yoga spaces and meditation tents and gardens and tree houses and skate ramps in the streets of the capital, the police will marshal their forces and dismantle them and arrest the people who put them there however much they sing and dance in defiance. This is as much the ‘law of nature’ as is the fact that if we keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere, cutting down forests and destroying wildlife then the oceans will rise, the icecaps will melt, the land will become desert and we will all die. The police were just doing what the police do. It is as foolish to complain about supposedly ‘unfair’ tactics like issuing Section 14 notices or publicising the details of people charged with offences or cordoning off demonstration spaces as it would be to complain about average global temperature rising. Nature, like the police, is not unkind nor inflexible but it has its limits, If we push it far enough it will destroy us. In the last days we became simply unable to combat the rising power of the police, just as we may be unable to keep up with the escalating challenges with which nature presents us. Torn between responding to one emergency or another – do I rush to reinforce Parliament Square, or Waterloo Bridge or Oxford Circus? – undermined by emotional stress and depleted by a lack of rest and nurture, we will be simply overwhelmed.

But even if that it is an accurate understanding of the narrative, this should not be depressing; because it is only a narrative. And a narrative, like any myth or fairy-story, does not tell us what is going to happen but only what will happen under certain conditions. If. like Icarus, you fly too close to the sun, you fall. If, like Rapunzel, you cannot free your inner feminine, you end up locked in a tower. If, like two of the Three Little Pigs, you build a house of straw or sticks, it will get blown away and you will be at the mercy of the wolf.

The condition we need to pay attention to in our story, I think, is simply to do with numbers. This narrative of the April 2019 Rebellion shows us what will happen if we do not have enough people on our side. Fortunately, we have some time; not much, but enough to have another go, another practice, maybe even two, in order to get it right, so that we tell a different story, one of real triumph which ends with us living in glorious harmony with nature and in right relationship with ourselves and each other.

From what I saw over the 11 days in London we could not have tried harder or better. We were really amazing. We were magnificent. But we lost. Yes, I know we won too and did so much more that any of us dared to expect but the actual story, within its own frame, is not one of victory, and it is crucial that we pay attention to that. How we will win next time or the time after is that there will be a lot more of us. We must learn from the story that we just told ourselves about ourselves. We must give ourselves a little time to recuperate and heal and then we must start to nurture the immense appreciation and goodwill which our actions have seeded in the general public. Already many of us are aware of people in our local communities sparked, stimulated, even clamouring to join us. This must be grown and protected and harvested so that whatever ‘next time’ looks like and whenever it happens we will be three times, five times or ten times bigger and stronger. When we have that many people with us, working in the same wonderful way, we will be actually unstoppable. And this amended story, with its happy ending, will, I believe, inform and inspire a realistic and ultimately successful endeavour in that ‘real’ life, in which we will come to be at last in harmony with ourselves, each other and the natural world.

Focus Greenland – Wildfires, record ‘melts’ and boggy permafrost

By Kate Goldstone

*    http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/greenland-population/

**  https://theconversation.com/greenland-how-rapid-climate-change-on-worlds-largest-island-will-affect- us-all-82675

*** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland_ice_sheet

“In some places climate change is an undeniable fact of everyday life. One of these places is Greenland.” – Visit Greenland.  (link to https://visitgreenland.com/about-greenland/the-guide-to-climate-change-in-greenland/)

Greenland is the world’s biggest island. It’s a Danish territory that enjoys limited self-government and has its own parliament. In 2018 just 56,000 people lived there*, not a lot. So does it really matter if climate change melts the ice that smothers this extraordinarily wild, remote place? As it turns out, a fast-melting Greenland will have a dramatic effect on the rest of the world. Here’s a quick look at the potential damage caused by global warming in Greenland.

Climate change – Greenland in context**

Greenland’s vast ice sheet covers 80% of the island, acting like an enormous mirror reflecting the sun’s heat back out into space. The resulting ‘Albedo effect’ cools the earth’s surface. When there’s no snow, there’s no Albedo effect and the surface of the earth warms faster.

Greenland’s position on the globe, in the North Atlantic, matters as well, since the meltwater affects the normal circulation of the ocean currents. And it matters even more when you consider most of the island’s ice is more than a kilometre deep. That’s an awful lot of water. As Wikipedia says***, if the entire 2,850,000 cubic kilometres of Greenland’s ice were to melt, global sea levels would rise 7.2m (24 feet), leaving many of the world’s greatest coastal cities, including London and New York, underwater.

Greenland is particularly vulnerable to climate change. In fact temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the global average, and not a month seems to go by without some weather record or another being broken. One of the most recent was a proper shocker, a highly unusual and very large wildfire whose cause has been laid at the feet of global warming. The drier the land gets, the more runaway wildfires we’ll see in Greenland.

It looks like some frightening climate-led trends are emerging in Greenland. Take the fourteen years between 2002 and 2016, when Greenland lost around 269 gigatonnes of ice every year, one gigatonne being a billion tonnes. In 2012 they saw an exceptionally severe melting season, with 97% of ice surfaces melting at one time or another through the year. When the snow actually melted on top of the 3km high summit of the island, scientists were astonished.

The big warm-up carries on. April 2016 delivered abnormally high temperatures and the island’s earliest ever ‘melt’, a day when more than 10% of the ice sheet’s entire surface turned to water. While early melts like this aren’t catastrophic, they do reveal how very quickly and dramatically the ice sheet responds to temperature hikes.

Iceland’s permafrost is thawing at its top level, leaving more and more of the island boggy, damp, and perfect for disease-carrying mosquitoes.  The underlying permafrost reaches as deep as 100m and while it’s permanently frozen right now, there’s no reason to believe it’ll stay that way. The molten ‘active’ layer of permafrost is currently growing by around one and a half centimetres a year, a trend that’ll continue unless we start to reverse climate change.

Experts predict Arctic air temperatures will rise by anything from two degrees Centigrade and seven and a half Centigrade by the end of the century, revealing more than 1,500 billion tonnes of organic matter that has remained frozen solid for many thousands of years… until now. Melting it means the CO2 and methane it contains will be released into the atmosphere to cause yet more global warming.

Glaciers tell us a lot. Following their movement is a reliable way to spot climate change in action.  The magnificent Ilulissat Glacier, in West Greenland, is the world’s fastest moving glacier and Greenland’s biggest contributor to worldwide sea level rise.  May 2008 saw it ‘calve’ the biggest chunk of ice ever recorded on film, an event lasting more than an hour that left a vast three-mile-wide scar. Early 2019 saw even worse news emerge, with a study showing that the biggest ice losses between 2003 and 2013 happening in the south west of the island, hinting that ice is melting directly into the sea, via rivers, avoiding becoming part of the glacier altogether.   

Last but never least, polar bears. Since 1979 the sea ice around Greenland has decreased by just under seven and a half percent, which is already badly affecting polar bears. Scientists predict a 30% drop in polar bear numbers over the next few decades, leaving us with fewer than 9,000 of these precious creatures left on earth.

We’ll leave the last word to the Visit Greenland website: “The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, and is experiencing some of the most intense effects of climate change, with southwest Greenland seeing the most rapid warming (about 3°C during the past 7 years). In July 2013, the temperature at Maniitsoq airport, just beneath the Arctic Circle in west Greenland, was recorded at 25.9°C. This is the highest temperature ever recorded in Greenland.”

Greenland might be home to fewer than 60,000 people. But the effects of climate change on the island will have an impact on us all, wherever on our lovely blue planet we happen to live. Politicians have failed miserably. Now it’s down to us to bring global warming to an end.