For many years I’ve had a concern for the ecosystem that supports us, and the security of the energy supply our civilisation depends on. This prompted me to leave my career in software and electronics in 2005 to retrain to work in renewable energy. Since then I’ve felt that I was making a positive contribution to reducing human impact on the planet, and mitigating climate change, but I recently discovered I had spent this time in a state that climate psychologists call disavowal.
Disavowal is defined as being aware of climate change and its effects, but finding ways to remain undisturbed by the implications. It is essentially a mental defence mechanism, allowing a person to continue with everyday life in the face of a serious threat, and can apply to things like war or terminal illness just as much as it can to climate change. For me, this meant focusing on the impacts of climate change as relating mainly to sea-level rise, which is inherently gradual and not yet a major problem in the UK, though of course some other countries are being hit hard already. What I was subconsciously ignoring was the fact that extreme weather (storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves) are already with us, and that they are already affecting food production.
The moment of awakening came for me when I read about Deep Adaption, a concept defined by Prof Jem Bendell. He sets out the gravity of the situation we’re in with climate change, insect die-off and the various other threats the ecosystem faces, and argues that we have already left it too late to “save” our society as it is. Radical change might allow us to preserve some aspects of our civilisation’s achievements, but we’d have to act in a fast and determined way, and be clear about what we were going to let go of in order that some things can be saved. His writing brought together many things that had been lurking at the back of my mind but I’d not really faced up to. This was the moment my disavowal on climate change was challenged.
People respond to their disavowal being challenged in various ways, with anger being common because they feel threatened. Another response is anxiety, perhaps bordering on a personal collapse. This was my route, and I plunged into reading everything I could about the current state of the climate crisis. But the more I read, the more I realised that there was little I could do about it. Personal action to save energy, use renewables and eat local food can only go so far – big systemic changes in our society and economy are needed if we want to survive, but governments and corporations are focused on “business as usual”. This was all pretty depressing.
So when I became aware of Extinction Rebellion (XR) in October 2018, I jumped at the chance to do something that just might make a difference. I was in London for work, and at lunchtime headed down to Parliament Square with some colleagues to see what XR was doing. I expected to stand and listen to a few talks, but we ended up sitting in the road with 600 other people, blocking the traffic and potentially liable to being charged with obstructing the highway. Since then, several more of us from Rye have joined in with the London Bridge blocking in November 2018 and the more recent London action in April 2019.
Blocking roads and causing traffic jams may seem like a strange thing to do, given that it annoys a lot of people, but the fact is that political campaigns, petitions and organised marches over the past couple of decades have made no difference – CO2 emissions are still rising, and hit a new record high in 2018. So through XR we’re taking to the streets and using non-violent direct action to publicly challenge government and put climate change in the news headlines.
The action in London in April 2019 made history, doing things that no protest movement had done before. The metropolitan police noted that they had never before made over 1,000 arrests relating to a single ongoing incident, and what’s more not a single police officer had been injured during this – which was also unheard of. It’s also worth noting XR is global, with actions taking place in more than 30 countries last month.
XR’s demands are simple yet challenging:
1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
The final point is an interesting one, as it recognises that changes radical enough to deliver the second demand require proper consultation with society, and this means involving a cross-section of normal people rather than relying and the relatively unrepresentative selection of MPs sitting in Parliament.
It’s hard to say where XR is going next – having paused the action in London and across the world, the rebels are now dispersed back into their towns and villages, where action will continue across the country to raise awareness and keep up the pressure on government locally and nationally. But one thing is clear – this movement is not going away. The rebellion is less than a year old, yet already has over 100,000 people signed up and has raised over £500,000 in donations to fund the kind of action taken last month in London. People are scared and grieving about what the future holds, and angry that government hasn’t acted, yet by taking a non-violent approach they are presenting a challenge that is difficult to refuse.
If you’d like to join up to the local branch of Extinction Rebellion in Rye, please visit our website https://www.facebook.com/groups/ExtinctionRebellionRye/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s comment: Since this article was written, it has been reported that A Government spokesman has said: “We can confirm a private meeting will be held between the Environment Secretary (Committee on Climate Change chairman) Lord Deben and representatives from Extinction Rebellion. We know the impact climate change is having on our environment and welcome discussions on how we can tackle it”
It would seem that the ‘rebels’ have made their point.
Image Credits: Mike Pepler.