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.

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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.

For the love of Earth

By Lee Burton

Scientific theories can be approached with skepticism, in fact there isn’t anyone more sceptic than a scientist. The scientific process involves testing against a prediction, practically and mathematically, and siding with whatever the results that arise, even if they’re against individual interest.

When it comes to the causes of climate change the theory here is that mankind is contributing to global rise in temperature through fossil fuel and agricultural industries releasing carbon dioxide and methane gasses. This is a theory that is pretty water tight through the evidence of our existence; without the greenhouse gasses emitted naturally by plants, animals and evaporation then all of the infrared rays radiated from the sun would escape into space making it too cold for life to exist.

On a much smaller scale scientific experiments can replicate the greenhouse gas effect. A common test followed in schools involves two plastic bottles filled with soil, a thermometer in each bottle both next to a light source that is at the same wattage. Filling just one of the bottles with carbon dioxide and then heating both the bottles for 20 minutes at the same distance you’ll find that the bottle with carbon dioxide will be at a slightly higher temperature. We’re currently recreating this experiment on a global scale.

It is not just coincidence that with the industrial revolution in the mid 1800’s that carbon dioxide has risen substantially, and although it is true that carbon dioxide is released naturally through volcanoes and the clashing of tectonic plates, these changes happen over millions of years and not decades.

With the above in mind it is quite hard to contemplate why the term ‘climate change denier’ even exists.

It has been mentioned, often by those in positions of power, that we should be sceptic about the predictions of climate change. The most concerning prediction is that the average global temperature will be 1.5 degrees centigrade by the year 2030, that’s just over 10 years from the time of writing this. If you were skeptical of this the best that can be said is that this is too soon, that could be true, but the most important question to ask with the existing evidence is is it worth the risk? Quite simply no, and the IPCC have been clear; we must drop our carbon emissions by 35% within that 10-year time span.

Even the most irrational among us should support climate change laws and live a life that consists of consuming less red meat and dairy, purchasing of less plastics and cutting down our drive time commutes. The worrying point to make though is that this alone won’t be enough.

Two out of three of the above is much easier said than done. Not eating red meat and dairy should be relatively simple, for the sake of our diet we shouldn’t be eating too much of it anyway; according to the WHO (World Health Organisation) 50g a day of red meat can increase your risk of cancer. The amount of plastics you purchase and your drivetime commutes are mostly determined by your location, e.g. if you live rurally, lack public transport options, have financial difficulties and/or only have a supermarket as a shopping source. Some of these restrictions sound like feeble excuses, but unfortunately private businesses and governments are not providing enough free plastic alternatives and are cutting back on council funds. The predominant problem lies within the economy as it shouldn’t be this hard to fulfill what should be seen as the basics.

Over 40% of our electricity generation is still reliant on fossil fuels and over 40% of all plastic waste is packaging, the banks measure our progress on GDP with all this at our source. In essence, you can buy an electric car but the car is still provided by a power station run on fossil fuels, it’s the source that needs to be replaced.

So, what can we do? As the great David Attenborough has recently said ‘there is still hope’, we’re not yet at 1.5 degrees centigrade. On top of our lifestyle changes we need to be communally active. Get involved in local environmental charities who are everywhere providing plastic-free shops, planting trees, building eco bricks and protesting peacefully against a government muddling through Brexit and living in the short term. Continued pressure from these groups coinciding with changing our commercial habits (as much as we can) will force supermarkets to use recyclable materials and pressure governments to invest money into renewable energy sources. Because if we can’t change our political system, we can at the very least play it at its own game by making environmentalism popular and commercial.

All of this might sound ambitious and/or idealist, but it’s the spark for a much bigger challenge. If you live in the UK you have a privileged opportunity to make a change, most of the world needs to make similar economic upheavals but are not necessarily in the same position to do so. For example, it’s ill advised to protest in the People’s Republic of China, a communist country and the biggest plastic exporter in the world. You wouldn’t protest at all in Saudi Arabia as it is illegal, and they’re one of the biggest oil producers in the world.
It’s also worth noting that putting the United Kingdom in context with the rest of the planet its pollution looks rather tame, so climate change must be looked at as a world-wide problem.

Climate change is not an insurmountable issue yet, it’s a matter of opportunity and influence. The UK might seem small in terms of contributing to pollution, but it also has the commonwealth, Royal Family and trading relationships that have a huge effect on the countries around it. It wouldn’t be so unrealistic that in a country where the industrial revolution began for it to be a leading example with an economic revolution. Community organisations and charities leveraging the advantages of free speech and democracy can sway politicians with green energy investment and maybe even remove the narrow monetary measurements of growth, but it’s imperative that it starts now before it’s too late.

References
https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/summary-for-policy-makers/
https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/06/uk-renewable-energy-capacity-surpasses-fossil-fuels-for-first-time
https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/plastic-packaging-tax

An open letter to Extinction Rebellion by Wretched of the Earth

[Originally published on Red Pepper:
https://www.redpepper.org.uk/an-open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/ ]

“The fight for climate justice is the fight of our lives, and we need to do it right.” By grassroots collective Wretched of The Earth.

May 3, 2019 · 11 min read

This letter was collaboratively written with dozens of aligned groups. As the weeks of action called by Extinction Rebellion were coming to an end, our groups came together to reflect on the narrative, strategies, tactics and demands of a reinvigorated climate movement in the UK. In this letter we articulate a foundational set of principles and demands that are rooted in justice and which we feel are crucial for the whole movement to consider as we continue constructing a response to the ‘climate emergency’.

Dear Extinction Rebellion,

The emergence of a mass movement like Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an encouraging sign that we have reached a moment of opportunity in which there is both a collective consciousness of the immense danger ahead of us and a collective will to fight it. A critical mass agrees with the open letter launching XR when it states “If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak.”

At the same time, in order to construct a different future, or even to imagine it, we have to understand what this “path” is, and how we arrived at the world as we know it now. “The Truth” of the ecological crisis is that we did not get here by a sequence of small missteps, but were thrust here by powerful forces that drove the distribution of resources of the entire planet and the structure of our societies. The economic structures that dominate us were brought about by colonial projects whose sole purpose is the pursuit of domination and profit. For centuries, racism, sexism and classism have been necessary for this system to be upheld, and have shaped the conditions we find ourselves in.

Another truth is that for many, the bleakness is not something of “the future”. For those of us who are indigenous, working class, black, brown, queer, trans or disabled, the experience of structural violence became part of our birthright. Greta Thunberg calls world leaders to act by reminding them that “Our house is on fire”. For many of us, the house has been on fire for a long time: whenever the tide of ecological violence rises, our communities, especially in the Global South are always first hit. We are the first to face poor air quality, hunger, public health crises, drought, floods and displacement.

XR says that “The science is clear: It is understood we are facing an unprecedented global emergency. We are in a life or death situation of our own making. We must act now.”  You may not realize that when you focus on the science you often look past the fire and us – you look past our histories of struggle, dignity, victory and resilience. And you look past the vast intergenerational knowledge of unity with nature that our peoples have. Indigenous communities remind us that we are not separate from nature, and that protecting the environment is also protecting ourselves. In order to survive, communities in the Global South continue to lead the visioning and building of new worlds free of the violence of capitalism. We must both centre those experiences and recognise those knowledges here.

Our communities have been on fire for a long time and these flames are fanned by our exclusion and silencing. Without incorporating our experiences, any response to this disaster will fail to change the complex ways in which social, economic and political systems shape our lives – offering some an easy pass in life and making others pay the cost. In order to envision a future in which we will all be liberated from the root causes of the climate crisis – capitalism, extractivism, racism, sexism, classism, ableism and other systems of oppression –  the climate movement must reflect the complex realities of everyone’s lives in their narrative.

And this complexity needs to be reflected in the strategies too. Many of us live with the risk of arrest and criminalization. We have to carefully weigh the costs that can be inflicted on us and our communities by a state that is driven to target those who are racialised ahead of those who are white. The strategy of XR, with the primary tactic of being arrested, is a valid one – but it needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as well as the reality of police and state violence. XR participants should be able to use their privilege to risk arrest, whilst at the same time highlighting the racialised nature of policing. Though some of this analysis has started to happen, until it becomes central to XR’s organising it is not sufficient. To address climate change and its roots in inequity and domination, a diversity and plurality of tactics and communities will be needed to co-create the transformative change necessary.

We commend the energy and enthusiasm XR has brought to the environmental movement, and it brings us hope to see so many people willing to take action. But as we have outlined here, we feel there are key aspects of their approach that need to evolve. This letter calls on XR to do more in the spirit of their principles which say they “are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised, and inclusive”. We know that XR has already organised various listening exercises, and acknowledged some of the shortcomings in their approach, so we trust XR and its members will welcome our contribution.

As XR draws this period of actions to a close, we hope our letter presents some useful reflections for what can come next. The list of demands that we present below are not meant to be exhaustive, but to offer a starting point that supports the conversations that are urgently needed.

Wretched of the Earth, together with many other groups, hold the following demands as crucial for a climate justice rebellion:

  • Implement a transition, with justice at its core, to reduce UK carbon emissions to zero by 2030 as part of its fair share to keep warming below 1.5°C; this includes halting all fracking projects, free transport solutions and decent housing, regulating and democratising corporations, and restoring ecosystems.
  • Pass a Global Green New Deal to ensure finance and technology for the Global South through international cooperation. Climate justice must include reparations and redistribution; a greener economy in Britain will achieve very little if the government continues to hinder vulnerable countries from doing the same through crippling debt, unfair trade deals, and the export of its own deathly extractive industries. This Green New Deal would also include an end to the arms trade. Wars have been created to serve the interests of corporations – the largest arms deals have delivered oil; whilst the world’s largest militaries are the biggest users of petrol.
  • Hold transnational corporations accountable by creating a system that regulates them and stops them from practicing global destruction. This would include getting rid of many existing trade and investment agreements that enshrine the will of these transnational corporations.
  • Take the planet off the stock market by restructuring the financial sector to make it transparent, democratised, and sustainable while discentivising investment in extractive industries and subsidising renewable energy programmes, ecological justice and regeneration programmes.
  • End the hostile environment of walls and fences, detention centers and prisons that are used against racialised, migrant, and refugee communities. Instead, the UK should acknowledge it’s historic and current responsibilities for driving the displacement of peoples and communities and honour its obligation to them.
  • Guarantee flourishing communities both in the global north and the global south in which everyone has the right to free education, an adequate income whether in or out of work, universal healthcare including support for mental wellbeing, affordable transportation, affordable healthy food, dignified employment and housing, meaningful political participation, a transformative justice system, gender and sexuality freedoms, and, for disabled and older people, to live independently in the community.

The fight for climate justice is the fight of our lives, and we need to do it right. We share this reflection from a place of love and solidarity, by groups and networks working with frontline communities, united in the spirit of building a climate justice movement that does not make the poorest in the rich countries pay the price for tackling the climate crisis, and refuses to sacrifice the people of the global South to protect the citizens of the global North. It is crucial that we remain accountable to our communities, and all those who don’t have access to the centres of power. Without this accountability, the call for climate justice is empty.

The Wretched of the Earth

Argentina Solidarity Campaign

Black Lives Matter UK

BP or not BP

Bolivian Platform on Climate Change

Bristol Rising Tide

Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT

Coal Action Network

Concrete Action

Decolonising Environmentalism

Decolonising our minds

Disabled People Against the Cuts

Earth in Brackets

Edge Fund

End Deportations

Ende Gelände

GAIA – Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives

Global Forest Coalition

Green Anticapitalist Front

Gentle Radical

Grow Heathrow/transition Heathrow

Hambach Forest occupation

Healing Justice London

Labour Against Racism and Fascism

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants

London campaign against police and state violence

London Feminist Antifa

London Latinxs

Marikana Solidarity Campaign

Mental Health Resistance Network

Migrants Connections festival

Migrants Rights Network

Movimiento Jaguar Despierto

Ni Una Menos UK

Ota Benga Alliance for Peace

Our Future Now

People’s Climate Network

Peoples’ Advocacy Foundation for Justice and

Race on the Agenda (ROTA)

Redress, South Africa

Reclaim the Power

Science for the People

Platform

The Democracy Centre

The Leap

Third World Network

Tripod: Training for Creative Social Action

War on Want

Wretched of The Earth is a grassroots collective for Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice and acting in solidarity with our communities, both here in the UK and in Global South. 

XR / Critical Mass demonstration in the City of Lancaster

By Lawrence Freiesleben

The Time:  17.30 – or 5.30 p.m. if you prefer old time.

The Date:   Friday 26th April 2019

The Place:  Dalton Square, central point in the City of Lancaster.

The Aim:    To take temporary control of the City’s central one-way system.

At this point the Mass is not yet Critical. So far, all anyone might notice is a few eccentric cyclists and standers-about. For the present, sitting on the bench opposite a slight knot of people, knowing the plan and anxious to eat something long delayed from lunch, it’s inspiring to watch the numbers build.

By 17.45 a swelling crowd occupied much of the area around Queen Victoria’s Memorial and I don’t think that long-reigning monarch would have been amused – either by us or by where Empire inevitably leads.

It was time for me to change from observer to participant. Ditching a warm jacket (excellent North Shields charity purchase from some years back) for the home-sloganized, Extinction Rebellion T-Shirt, I joined the friendly throng and soon spotted a fellow member of the South Lakes XR Group, Liz Boothman.

Two other younger members, Bella Matarewicz and her sister Rosa, soon arrived to increase the enthusiastic assembly. Undaunted by being refused space for their bikes at Oxenholme railway station, they had come to join the equally important walking group, planning to march through the City’s pedestrianised areas. Meanwhile the cyclists would be orbiting the encircling one-way system as slowly as possible.

Organised by members of Morecambe and Lancaster XR groups in conjunction with the cyclist’s rights group Critical Mass, banners placards and signs were handed around – along with safety pins to attach them. After a general welcome, instructions about the routes, and a rousing send-off by Labour M.P. for Fleetwood and Lancaster, Cat Smith we were all ready. A call went out for any cyclists confident about breaking into the traffic to take the lead.

Halting the traffic and setting off, our clamouring company of cyclists were of all ages, from children to pensioners. A dedicated and enterprising boy of about thirteen scooted along and amongst us, zipping left and right to put flyers under the wipers of parked cars. Interested bystanders, and drinkers in wayside pubs, perhaps amused by our ragged procession, were keen to take leaflets, happy to investigate what we were about. What heartened me most about our repeated circumnavigation of the city’s centre was the amount of encouragement and support we received – even from drivers being held up. The fact of climate emergency is obviously getting through to everybody – with now the media joining in: “Climate Protestors are telling us the deadly Truth” ran the Financial Times last month. Only the government is still dragging its feet.

At points on our orbit there were several prolonged horn blasts which were not so friendly. These were soon counter-blasted by children and other riders with whistles and bicycle bells, as well as cyclists carrying those audible music devices on their bike racks . . . Sadly, it turns out (as anyone reading this probably knows) that these are just called ‘portable speakers’. I may be Luddite in my attitude to technology, but I still prefer gadgets to have an imaginative or catchy name.

None of my photos – many taken optimistically over my shoulder whilst cycling, turned out to be quite what I wanted. The images of a cheap camera are a poor substitute for memory and a sense of connection, but they serve well enough as record.

Dating back even to before my involvement with CND in the early 1980’s, I have long had a recurring dream about cloaked protestors on bicycles. The Climate Emergency behind this consciousness-raising demonstration may be just as dark as the threat of Thermonuclear War, but the event itself defied the black sense of despair or inevitability which the dream has always given – its sense of prophetic unease. This Critical Mass/XR event was contrastingly uplifting – and for a while on the southern section of our gyratory, the sun even briefly glimmered.

To Power

By Matt Byrne

In 2015, I was working in Mariupol, Ukraine, setting up office and rolling out a humanitarian response to the ugly, harsh and continuing conflict in the Donbass. Daily our team would trek towards the ‘line of contact’ separating the two warring sides, passing kilometres of WWII style trenches, and heavily fortified checkpoints packed with Ukrainian soldiers, who would go give our vehicles a quick once over before letting us through. Invariably, we found that those still living on the frontline, in their bullet pocked and shell-mangled houses, were the elderly and people with disabilities. Those, who by their own admission, had nowhere else to go, this was their home.  At night, over a beer, we would listen to the shelling less than 15 kilometres away as the two sides delighted in keeping each other up all night. 

In my spare time, my chosen reading material was This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. As I looked up from the pages of the book, out of my window to the industrial skyline of the city, ringed as it is by steel and chemical works all across the horizon and the port to the Azov Sea to the south, I noted the light film of black soot that covered my window sill if I left it open for the day, the giant chimney stacks perpetually spewing smoke and the soapy film that ran down the middle of the street every time it rained. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far with the book. It was all too much for me, the people of Mariupol were getting a raw deal, short-changed from all sides. I already felt small, adding climate change to the mix, made me feel powerless, useless.

Watching XR take off and command global attention, seeing non-violent civil disobedience do exactly what it is intended to do, is changing that sense of powerlessness inside me. Hearing the flimsy response of the UK authorities that police are being diverted from ‘violent crime’ in order to manage the blockades by the rebels or reading academics who recommend ‘tea fetes’ as a more viable tactic to obtain sympathetic public opinion is a testament to the work of the movement thus far. In these feather-ruffled responses, I hear a call for business as usual. But the courage of the rebels has been heard and noted with the various declarations of a climate emergency in the UK, the Committee on Climate Change’s report for a net zero carbon free UK by 2050 that they are pushing to be signed into law now, and the global surge of protest movements demanding change. These are revolutionary times we live in and it appears that a global wake-up call from the streets has put the heat under the decision makers.   

In 1968, Howard Zinn, wrote ‘this is why civil disobedience is not just to be tolerated; if we are to have a truly democratic society, it is a necessity. By its nature it reflects the intensity of feeling about important issues as well as the extent of the feeling.’ He was writing about those who risked and endured incarceration by objecting to the Vietnam War but his words are as valid today as they were then, if not more so. The CCC pointed to the level of intensity seen in the recent protests as part of its advocacy for cutting carbon emissions to zero starting today.

Recently, I have participated in on UN led sessions monitoring progress towards the 2030 Sustainable development goals. Climate change and the need for action has not been neglected in these discussions. That said, as I observe the member states and participating agencies wrangle over terminology and monitoring indicators, I am struck by how this is also business as usual, very well intentioned business but far from the revolutionary type required given the emergency timeframe we are living in. The urgency is lacking.  So, back we go to Zinn, who concluded; “A new politics of protest, designed to put pressure on our national leaders, more effectively, more threateningly, more forcefully than ever before is needed”. The streets rose up, the urgency appeared.

That said, I also realise to be effective you need to have rebels on the so-called ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’ You need networks of influence that punctuate all levels of the political and justice systems. You need networks that represent the full gamut of those affected by climate change; youth, the global south, diversity, ethnicity, the dispossessed. We also have to mobilise ourselves against emergent threats such as fossil fuel dominated Climate Leadership Council which lobbies for legal immunity from cases taken against them for climate and environmental damages caused by their actions.

Rolling town hall meetings were an instrumental part of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign mobilizing the great surge in grass roots support for his candidacy. Coming from Ireland, I have watched in admiration, the great societal leaps spurred through the debates and decisions taken by a national level citizen’s assembly. Public support can be mobilized and maintained through a campaign of holding local level citizens assemblies and XR has chosen its tactics wisely by adopting them.

I may be too much of a dreamer but guerrilla tactics that provide a social service like providing renewable energy to underserved public services (like hospitals or clinics) in marginalized areas can also drive the message home to people that there is a climate emergency and the system is failing us now, not at some unspecified point in the distant future. The clandestine Gap organization in Rome is exactly this, a vigilante group performing ‘illegal’ acts of repair to the cities crumbling infrastructure. Partnership with renewable energy providers, if they were willing to take the risk and it appears that a number of businesses are, could be an interesting mechanism for responding to some of the manifold grievances that are sure to be raised in the citizens assemblies that link climate injustice to social neglect and marginalization.  

The people living in Mariupol, still live with ongoing conflict, landmines, shelling, dispossession, loss of income, loss of family members, restrictions on movement and hostage to an unhealthy, toxic environment. They have innumerable daily challenges to confront but with nowhere else to go it is still their home. This is our home, we have nowhere else to go. We will not be victims, if we stand together, we are strong, a better future awaits.

I am inspired and forever grateful to those that took to the streets globally to demand exactly that.