Why I say that this civilisation is finished.

By Rupert Read.

It has been a huge privilege to be involved with Extinction Rebellion, for nearly a year now. For the first time in years I feel a growing glimmer of hope for humanity. Finally, we are seeing a mass mobilisation of people who are not willing to die quietly. An upwelling of people unafraid to call for the radical initiatives that we need to limit the scope of global overheating. As a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, I have been among those privileged to put the case for the action of our rebels to those in the media and in Government.

We need to be clear that there is no ‘safe’ level of warming. ‘Even’ 2 degrees (which is now almost unachievable) means the death of over 99% of the world’s coral reefs – permanently defacing the ecology of our planet, and probably means the end of ice in the northern hemisphere. The International Panel on Climate Change — which is still, contra popular belief, a relatively conservative body — is unambiguous in its latest report (1.5 degree) that 2-degrees means the displacement of millions of people through desertification and flooding. It means a much greater frequency and a higher magnitude of the extreme weather events that are increasingly blighting the world. It means an increase in violence and war globally because of resource scarcity and hotter temperatures. It is violence: 2 degrees is violence from the rich and stupid against the global masses. It means increased frequency of pandemic and pestilence, with greater threats to our health and the food supply we rely upon to nourish us. And because of the inherent unpredictability of the effects of 2-degrees warming, it could expose us to a myriad of other threats that we cannot predict and that could be far worse than our models suggest.

This is why Extinction Rebellion’s actions are so important, and in particular why the call for net zero UK emissions by 2025 is vital. Our movement has been courageous by communicating with brutal honesty exactly what is at stake over the climate emergency. There needs to be far more of this communication within the public sphere.

In my new book, This Civilisation is Finished, co-authored with Samuel Alexander, we attempt exactly this. We reject the ‘soft denialism’ so often present in the mainstream discourse about the climate emergency. A discourse that seems cherry-picked to present what is actually ecological apocalypse in as palatable and unthreatening a way as possible. Instead, we have found that minds and hearts are only truly concentrated when the scale and enormity of the threat to human and non-human life is exposed in its unveiled magnitude. When this occurs, people stare the threat in the face, the fight-or-flight response is activated and – as there is nowhere to run – they become energised by the necessity to battle for the survival of themselves and their children.

This is no exaggeration. The stakes of course are very, very high, here, because the climate crisis and the broader ecological emergency of which it is only the most urgent part puts the whole of what we know as civilisation at risk. By ‘this civilisation’ I mean the hegemonic civilisation of globalised industrial growth capitalism— sometimes called ‘Empire’—which today governs the vast majority of human life on Earth.

As I see things, there are three broad possible futures that lie ahead:

  • This civilisation could collapse utterly and terminally, as a result of climatic instability (leading for instance to catastrophic food shortages as a probable mechanism of collapse), or possibly sooner than that, through nuclear war, pandemic, or financial collapse leading to mass civil breakdown. Any of these are likely to be precipitated in part by ecological/climate instability, as Darfur and Syria were.

    Or
  • This civilisation (we) will manage to seed a future successor-civilisation(s), as this one collapses.

    Or
  • This civilisation will somehow manage to transform itself deliberately, radically and rapidly, in an unprecedented manner, in time to avert collapse.

The third option, at which XR aims, is by far the least likely, though the most desirable, simply because either of the other options will involve vast suffering and death on an unprecedented scale. In the case of (1), we are talking the extinction or near-extinction of humanity. In the case of (2) we are talking at minimum multiple megadeaths. But (2) would obviously be hugely preferable to (1), and thus the ultimate importance for us of getting our societies not only to mitigate but also to adapt, deeply.

The second option is very difficult to envisage clearly, but is, I now believe, very likely. Unless we are incredibly lucky or incredibly determined and brilliant (or almost certainly both) then we are facing, almost certainly, changes around the world which are going to bring an end to this civilisation. So we need to think about what comes after it. We need to think about it now, and we need to start to work toward it; because there are many sub-possibilities within possibility two, and some of them are very ugly.

One of the reasons I wrote the book with Sam is so that we can talk about how we can prepare the way for (2). I think that there has been criminally little of that preparation, to date. Virtually everyone in the broader environmental movement has been fixated on the third option, unwilling to consider anything less. I strongly believe now that that stance is no longer viable. And, encouragingly, I am not quite alone in that belief.

The first option might soon be as likely as the second. It leaves little to talk about.

Any of these three options will involve a transformation of such extreme magnitude that what emerges will no longer in any meaningful sense be this civilisation: the change will be the kind of extreme conceptual and existential magnitude that Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of ‘paradigm-shifts’, calls ‘revolutionary’. Thus, one way or another, this civilisation is finished. It may well run in the air, suspended over the edge of a cliff, for a while longer. But it will then either crash to complete chaos and catastrophe (Option 1); or seed something radically different from itself from within its dying body (Option 2); or somehow get back to safety on the cliff-edge (Option 3). Managing to do that miraculous thing would involve such extraordinary and utterly unprecedented change, that what came back to safety would still no longer in any meaningful sense be this civilisation.

That, in short, is what I mean by saying that this civilisation is finished.

Extinction Rebellion is key to transforming the civilisation we have into something that will allow us to maintain human life either in the third option or in arming our global consciousness with the understanding of the need for deep adaptation in the face of the second option.

If not, we are left only with terminal collapse.

I hope that this book, in which I discuss XR at some length, will help us in these difficult and necessary thought-and-feeling—processes.

A Better Catastrophe

It has been 18 months since I began reading aloud monologues from Andrew Boyd’s  ’12 characters in search of an Apocalypse’ first published in Dark Mountain No.11. I was inspired and gathered into action by tree brother and illuminator of linguistic alchemy, Jason Stewart’s, vision that these readings could be held in such a way as to facilitate communities and friends to feel their way into needed conversations about this climate emergency. The impact has been significant.

Since reading “I Have Kids.  Hopelessness is Not an Option”, I have rooted myself as often as I can at the Colne Valley Wildlife Protection Camp, Harvil Road, Uxbidge – at the front line of HS2 devastation, ripping into the woodlands and wildlife habitats for a new train line and all they deem needed to service it – one which nobody wants and without doubt, will never be completed.    It is the perfect example of a climate catastrophe headed over a cliff edge while all on board make inane comments about the stunning view out the window. 

As a parent, I rarely get through a reading of this monologue without tears.  As a tree lover, I rarely get through a day living on camp, staring across the busy local road we are camped on at the destruction visited on this unique landscape, without tears.   My response –  to offer gifts of creativity and beauty to the trees and hedgerows behind the camp, eerily marked with red paint – next on the list to be bulldozed into a power station for HS2.   It is not much.  Dawn dances and sunset songs.  I want these beings to know someone knows them as alive, life-sustaining and worthy of care.  I bring passionate presence to the act of faithful witness to what is being done.  

Since reading “Defend this ground”, I do what I can to confound HS2 plans – pull up markers wherever i find them; rub out the red paint lines; untie orange ribbons designating routes.  It is all litter and vandalism to me.  It reappears relentlessly.    Perhaps the men who follow orders from above think this is a game.   They wait until I go away and bulldoze places I have danced or decorated.    In faraway lands, indigenous wisdom keepers, environmentalists and activists doing similar defensive actions, disappear.  Or rather, someone follows orders to make them disappear, or to harass them through the trees they have pledged to protect, till a tired misstep has one fall to his death..  

Since reading “This Means War”, I have been on a steep learning curve, loosening the system grip on my thinking; attempting to acquire skills, tools and comrades to step into direct action to call a halt to this insane runaway train ride into extinction.   I have found elders and those who have been marching this field of activism long before me.  I listen to their stories – tales of courage and conviction, nonviolence and comedy moments, heartbreak and joy, moving on and finding other ways to carry the obligation of doing the right thing.   Some of them have been fighting this war so long, it is hard to imagine something more is called for now.  That this is the last stand that can make a difference.

As a student of Orphan Wisdom, I have been to the end of the road in the land of fire and ice, during days without end; a visitor in a community on the edge of extinction; to witness and learn from a spell-breaking, master practitioner of eloquence, on the topic of the trouble of our times. Stephen Jenkinson tells us: “We’re an hour before dawn, and first light will show the carnage, or the courage, we bequeath to the generations to come.”

And so we weave courage into creativity and ingenuity to add to our armoury of action tools – we must find it within ourselves to hold to nonviolence.   This rebellion will be rooted in song and dance, flapjack and authenticity, grief and beauty and all that we know is magnificent about being human.   Let those who cling to the failing-us-all system find no purchase to drag the rebellion into violence and antagonism.

The dinosaurs are with us in this.  I invite every person within reach of a museum displaying an extinct being, to take a photo of that being next to an encouraging sign – “We may be extinct… but at least we didn’t cause it ourselves.” or  “What will your display case read?  Homo sapiens – extinct by lack of care for home planet”.  Best caption wins a bow of deep gratitude.

Ancestors are with us in this.  If any of you have granny’s favourite flapjack or cake recipe at home, please make a tray of it and bring to any of the Extinction Rebellion days.  Label the tin with granny’s name, and when we offer this delicious delicacy to a frazzled traveller desperate to pick his child up from school or turn up at work on time cos she can’t afford to have pay docked, we will speak your granny’s name to them reminding them we all have ancestors who thought they were building a better life for us.  Extinction Rebellion calls for our future to be met with courage and cake.  The next generation who will live into the consequences of our actions right now – have already been born.

Non-human beings on this planet are with us in this.  The Ash and Elm trees are with us.  The Whales and the Albatross are with us.  The polar bears are with us…only just.   The sun is with us.  The wind is with us.  The composted life as Earth is with us.  The water is rising to be with us.

I am Rising Up to raise my voice for the rights of all beings to some kind of future on this magnificent planet.   And my voice, nurtured to full shine by the sisterhood of trees: plant medicine attuned; reborn in system breaking redemption; vibrating in trust to what is needed –  is powerful and prophetic.    The planet Earth needs your voice and your participation in Extinction Rebellion.  Together, let’s make “A Better Catastrophe”.

April Griefsong

EXTINCTION OR SURVIVAL? Imagining a Future for our Scorched Planet.

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In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a lot of batshit crazy. I suppose I should feel privileged to live in a time of such unprecedented global challenges.

We were taught about global warming in school. It was all a bit flakey back then because the fossil fuel corporations had just started distorting and disputing the climate science. A school of science which incidentally they had pioneered. The basic principles were understood long before I was born. #ExxonKnew

When I started primary school, we were being taught that the apocalyptic climate collapse we’re witnessing now might happen in a few hundred years but if we recycled more and changed our light bulbs and used catalytic converters and stopped using CFCs everything would  probably be OK.

By the time I started secondary school, they were saying this cataclysmic tragedy might unfold in about a hundred years and we should probably all recycle more to be on the safe side. By the time I finished, they were saying maybe 50 years, if we didn’t take more meaningful action.

As I got older, they  revised it down further, saying probably within our lifetimes. Then the IPCC report. The World Scientists’ Warnings to Humanity. TWENTY THREE years of annual international climate conferences (COP24 will be in December this year). All too little too late and still held back by an industry determined to protect it’s short term shareholder interest.

Now, everything’s collapsing around our ears and it has become difficult to imagine a future in which organised human life on planet Earth is viable. Or life at all for that matter.  It turns out most of the recycling we’ve been diligently doing has been going to landfill and incinerators all these years. Increasing numbers of people believe that we’ve already passed the tipping point. An uninhabitable planet is now baked in to the mix.

Corporate media have starting to make the most monumental U-turn in history: We should now accept that an increasingly chaotic climate is the ‘new normal’. We should be preparing for more heatwaves and sea level rise of 60m. (normally I wouldn’t link to sky news but it’s interesting that even they are now starting to accept the stark reality). It has become undeniable. Much of humanity’s minds are being blown. Like frogs in boiling water, slowly realising our shared fate too late.

The Global heatwave is symptom of early stage cycle of civilisational collapse

Extinction_RebellionThe world’s ‘leaders’ (such as they are) have procrastinated and lied and squabbled and squandered decades that could have made a difference. The farcical folly of the greenwashing industry; recyling going to landfill and incinerators,  ‘catalytic converters’,  ‘carbon trading schemes’ and so on tell us all we need to know about their ‘leadership’ on the issue.

You need only look at the brutal corporate policing of protests from Standing Rock to Preston New Rd to understand how intractable the problem is.

The fact that at least FIVE pacific islands have already been lost to rising sea levels is not yet commonly known or understood. I had hoped that this news might have woken up more people when it happened. Two years ago.

Imagining Hope

I’m suppose I’m lucky to have been engaged with the problem of catastrophic climate collapse and human extinction for quite a long time. I’m not as panicked by it as people who are just coming round to the concept now, so I can at least offer a relatively calm perspective.

An aside: Jaron Lanier tells a great story about how the difficulty we have in imagining a decent future is actually the responsibility of silicon valley tech engineers, who couldn’t draw heads properly with basic polygons back in the 90s. Long story short, they settled on a formula for 3D VR that relied heavily on lone survivor, post apocalyptic scenarios, so they’d have less heads to render. The gaming industry became massively influential on mainstream culture, thus most imagined futures in contemporary culture became post-apocalyptic. It’s a bit of a stretch, given the collapsing everything but a funny story regardless…

Besides sharing funny stories, it seems the most useful thing I can do now is signpost to the best advice; coping strategies and solutions that have been shared with me in my few years on this earth.

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. Choose love and hope over fear and hate. Be kind and respect yourself and everybody else. Remember there are good people. Be one of them. Look out for each other. Be as patient, understanding and forgiving as you can possibly be.
  2. Knowledge is power. Don’t be misled by false hope. Train yourself to think clearly and critically. Challenge yourself to properly inform yourself. Speak and act out against lies and injustice. Focus more on the solutions not just the problems.
  3. Schedule your time effectively. Monumental changes are developing ever faster. Keep your ear to the ground but be wary of the hypnotic, paralysing power of the spectacle. Be as adaptable and fluid as you can be. Remember to make time to rest, practise self care, enjoy and share any lulz that come your way. Lulz are increasingly few and far between.
  4. Engage your friends, family, politicians, businesses and communities on the challenges we’re facing.
  5. Get active. Organise or join existing survival networks. Develop and maintain low-tech futureproofed communications systems, within and beyond your networks. Plan. Prepare.
  6. Expand class consciousness, unity consciousness and the practice of empathy. Be autonomous and take leadership from the most impacted. Don’t fall into the Tyranny of Structurelessness.
  7. Engage in peaceful, non-violent acts of civil disobedience to lobby for meaningful reform of corporate power. Occupy, strike, resist. Join the Extinction Rebellion.
  8. Consume less and as ethically as you can. Vote with your money. Spend less. Reuse, repair and recycle more. Buy local. Boycott the fossil fuel industry and other unethical corporations, starve them of capital. It’s only one plastic straw, bag. bottle. etc but it all adds up. Reject the fossil fuel lifestyle. If you take unnecessary journeys by fossil fuelled cars, buses or planes, stop now.
  9. Go vegetarian, or vegan if you can. Most people can do the former quite easily already. The latter is becoming easier and more accessible over time.
  10. Get off-grid, or switch to a green energy supplier. Grow your own food. Set up independent systems to harvest and filter rainwater.
  11. Go WWOOFING. There are world wide opportunities on organic farms all over the world. Small scale organic agriculture is one of the best solutions to a great many of the problems we are facing. I found WWOOFING to be a great way to relax and rebalance, peacefully cultivating nature while learning and being radically r3VOLutionary!
  12. Be urgent, but calm. Consider what is the most helpful thing you can do in the here and now. Do what you can. Don’t give yourself a hard time about the things you can’t do, or the things you can’t do yet.
  13. Share feasible solutions, love and hope with as many people as you can. Let it out if you need to but remember everybody’s struggling to cope with it all, consciously or subconsciously. Be sensitive.
  14. NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK
  15. Keep it lit, no matter how hopeless it looks.