Nature Rebels

By Allan Rowell

 

It occurred to me that the title of this essay is a double-entendre, (a phrase with two meanings): ‘Nature writ large, rebels’, and also a ‘group of people rebelling for Nature’ – either way works.

As human beings we are a part of the natural world, though many of us have forgotten this simple truth. As such it is entirely appropriate to describe Extinction Rebellion (XR) as the natural world rebelling through us and equally appropriate to describe XR as a group rebelling for Nature, for, as Buddhism, other ancient spiritual teachings and in recent years science confirms – We are One – one people, one life force, one planet.

As someone with an interest in permaculturetransition towns, the local food movement, and nature conservation, I believe that XR (more specifically the websites of XR and Rising Up) can become a ’lighthouse’ for others new to these interests to educate themselves about what the real problems that we collectively face are. It is increasingly clear that the large conservation NGO’s struggle to deliver this information, as they would be ‘biting the hand that feeds them’.

XR Grass

Looking forward from Rebellion Day on the 17th November 2018, it may not be sustainable to ask people to allow themselves to be arrested again & again, marvelous as that is for sparking public interest. I’d like to see groups of activists taking part in re-wilding projects on any scale, from small areas of grass on housing estates, to public parks or other areas of green spaces in their local areas. Re-wilding can be seen as a rather grand idea, at its largest scale it envisions vast tracts of the uplands reforested, reintroducing locally extinct wildlife.\

My own interpretation of re-wilding is a much more local affair. Given the reduction we now see in insects including pollinators there is little doubt that there is a crisis going on in our countryside: mono-cropping practices and chemical fertilisers & pesticide use have combined to produce an enormous threat to these species, but also the other members of the ecosystem that feed on them. We need to regenerate these ecosystems in our local urban areas offering suitable habitats to the remnant populations of these species, until they can return to a safer countryside once sanity returns to the world.

 We must also face up to the fact that our current civilisation is very likely to collapse in the not too distant future. We need to plan & take action for this now by planting fruit trees & other perennial plants in our local areas. Try not to worry unduly about this, it may not happen in your lifetime, think of it as supporting those generations who will follow this civilisation, do it with love for life in your heart.

rewilding

Apple trees recently planted in local park by ‘friends of group’

As it happens this is all occurring when there is increasing opportunity for groups & individuals to participate in the planning and deployment of new habitats in public parks & other green spaces. The reduction in funding from the government to local councils means that the councils are struggling to afford the costs of upkeep of these areas, and friends of parks groups are popping up everywhere.

What has been seen as appropriate ground cover for these areas has historically been grass, manicured lawns – green deserts for many wildlife species. What is now required, at least in part, are areas of wildflowers creating habitats for threatened insects, and feeding areas for birds & other wildlife. Taking part in projects like this will also educate our children & grandchildren in skills that they may well need in their lifetime.

Think of it as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for urban greenfield sites, where 5 metre wide borders around playing fields are sown with wildflower meadows and fruit trees. These things can be done through official channels, or otherwise. One method that I’ve found effective to deter council staff from cutting newly sown wildflower meadow is to place tree stumps around the area.

leaves

Tree stumps spread around wildflower meadow

Another essential habitat are trees; these are necessary for birds to nest in, but are also additional habitat for insects, providing veritable larders for some species of birds. There are many conservation NGOs already promoting the planting of trees, but as with other NGOs they struggle to inform about one other crucial reason to plant more trees, this no doubt is another case of not ‘biting the hand that feed you’.

Carbon sequestration (meaning: to seize). Growing trees takes carbon the primary greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and holds it both within the structure of the tree and also within the soil. The whole world needs to plant more trees over the coming decades on a massive scale, but as with rebellions, everything must start with small steps.

 

Love Life.

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Making our power visible in the face of extinction

By Matt Byrne

I am alarmed by climate change. As I put my children to sleep, it is the one thing that truly makes me fearful for their future. The rest we can work out or stumble through but this one is bigger than us –  we need help. I can feel the alarm, hammering away inside my chest, as I hold them closer for a fraction longer before placing them down in their cots for the night.

Humans have been altering the climate for thousands of years. The advent of agriculture in the Holocene geological period (around 11,560 years ago) created the conditions to keep planet Earth in an extended interglacial. The widespread adoption of farming helped stave off the glaciers, so to speak. Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and we see some geologists arguing that we have now entered the Anthropocene period, in which mankind’s impact on the environment is the dominant force[1]. The last 100 years have seen a 1 degree centigrade rise; the heating is speeding up and we are stepping on the accelerator. I am alarmed.

Yes, we need a movement; yes, we need to resort to civil disobedience to push for change in a society where it is not truth but money that speaks to power. Those of us without access to bulging wads of cash have another currency – mass mobilisation. The question is, when so many people think that reversing climate change is an issue that is simply too big for them, on an overwhelming scale, how do you get them onto the streets? Or at a minimum, supporting those in the streets and taking the small but necessary steps towards improving the health of the planet today and every day. How do we get past the denial, the doom, the stasis?

About eight years ago I accompanied indigenous groups in Colombia reclaiming land that they had lost to paramilitary forces. Once evicted, the lands were used for palm oil plantation. The choice they were given, if any, was often a legal fiction, to have “shares” in the new palm oil company. The groups returning to their lands would mark out plots, defend it with a sign and a single piece of wire or string, a humanitarian fence if you like, to reclaim their land, their space, their freedom and dignity. It took a lot of courage and trial and error but collectively they overcame.

So, how do you get your mother, your granny, your friends, your enemies (maybe more importantly your enemies) to overcome their fears and onto the streets with you? Perhaps psychology has the answer. The unwieldy but cleverly titled book What we think about when we try not to think about Global Warming. Towards a New Psychology of Climate Action (Stoknes)[2] offers us four simple strategies to go about it:

  1. Be social. Make climate change urgent by showing its impacts on your community closer to home. The melting of distant glaciers or forest fires in California will not stress you too much if you live in Exeter. Climate change is closer, though, if we sense it in the air we breathe.
  2. Be supportive. There are positive things we can do. Prophecies of doom can and do discourage and overwhelm people. A greener earth is a healthier earth, a greener economy creates new jobs and drives creativity. Rewilding and reforestation are easy for most people to be on board with, we can be ecosystem gardeners. That doesn’t seem so terrible does it? Now, get your shoes on!
  3. Be simple. Yes, march and while on the way, recycle and refresh yourself afterwards with a water saving showerhead. There are hundreds of small nudges that can shift people’s behaviour greatly, if we identify them, we can share them.
  4. Share stories. We thrive on stories, and great stories can and do shape our identities. Find your heroes and tell everyone about them.

We need to act because all the scientific research and evidence in the world does not seem to be shifting people or policy. If that isn’t evident from the muted response by governments to the most recent IPCC report, or the downright blatant rejection by others, see the UK’s and Australia’s responses in both word and deed.

One reason is because there are two types of power here – hidden and invisible. Hidden power is the back door dealings, the lobbying, the horse trading, the old boy’s network. Such vested interests do not need evidence to operate. Invisible power is more insidious, causing the relatively powerless to internalize and accept their condition.[3] The #MeToo movement is a great and welcome example of invisible power becoming visible.

We need to act. We need to move. Moral psychology has developed the analogy of the hive. We are 90% chimp and 10% bee. In our minds, we each possess a hive switch[4] and once flipped, it allows us to transcend our individual self-interest and feel the power of the collective, the power of the group, to be part of something larger than our individual selves. We have all experienced the flipping of the switch, be it through the simple awe of nature, the ecstatic energy of dance at a rave, or through the traditional use of hallucinogens (such as Ayahuasca) to mark the transition to adulthood. In a group dynamic the flipped hive switch fosters love, trust and equality. It offers us another strategy to cement the movement through collective actions – let’s bring back raves,  forest sit-ins, you name it! I would get outside for that and I think we could convince a lot of other people to do so too.

[1] For more I recommend this; Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin’s The Human Planet. https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/298/298037/the-human-planet/9780241280881.html

[2] https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/what-we-think-about-when-we-try-not-to-think-about-global-warming/ or the ubiquitous Ted Talk summary is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/per_espen_stoknes_how_to_transform_apocalypse_fatigue_into_action_on_global_warming

[3] You can download Duncan Green’s book How Change Happens for free here: http://how-change-happens.com/

[4] You can read about the hive in Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind. Why good people are divided by politics and religion” https://righteousmind.com/ The last chapter will make you rethink conservatives!