This is Just Reflections first ever interview! I’ve tracked down someone who took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests and asked him a few questions as I wanted to find out more (it wasn’t that hard as he sits next to me at work).
Dido: Thank you for agreeing to this! Can you explain why you took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests?
I’ve known that climate change is a big issue for a long time. When I was at school I used to make what I thought was a really clever joke telling people that they needed to switch off lights when they left a room if they didn’t want to drown. A joke is never really funny when you have to explain the punchline, which I always had to do – the electricity for the lights was generated from burning fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels increases C02 in the atmosphere, which increases the greenhouse effect, which will warm the planet enough to eventually melt the ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, resulting in massive flooding! 40 years later the joke still isn’t funny, but this time it’s because everyone knows about climate change but we still leave the lights on!
Last year I went with a few friends (from a group we have at my Church called Just Living) to a Green Party meeting where someone read out a statement about Extinction Rebellion. It was the first time I had heard about them. The statement pointed out that all the talk we make about climate change doesn’t seem to make a difference to how people and the government act. Everyone knows about the problem but no-one seems to do anything about it. Now is the time for action – non-violent direct action. They drew parallels with the civil rights movement and talked about how we need to undertake acts of civil disobedience to force people and governments to act. There is a moral imperative to act in disobedience as the issue is so important to the survival not just of humanity, but to a lot of life on the planet. It was a powerful message, but I had reservations; were we really going to change people’s hearts and minds by blocking roads and annoying them? I cycled home pondering these things in my heart, but I didn’t actually do anything about it for quite a while.
Dido: Can you describe the demonstrations? What did you do?
I missed the bridge protests last year as I was visiting my son at university, but I went to the Blood of our Children demonstration in March this year. I was deeply touched by this protest which involved pouring litres and litres of fake blood on to the streets outside Downing Street to symbolise the catastrophe that awaits our children if we don’t act now on climate change. It was incredibly moving – the visceral sight of so much ‘blood’ flooding into the gutters, the poignancy of the funeral atmosphere, the powerful and profound speeches. Afterwards I walked down to the Tate to see the documentary photographs of Don McCullin. It was a really upsetting exhibition – image after image showing the terrible things that humans can do to each other. I couldn’t stop crying. And I kept thinking how important it was to stop climate change becoming the cause of more suffering. As the speeches at the demonstration pointed out, it will be the poor who will suffer first, millions of people. We can’t let that happen just to preserve our own comfortable lifestyles.
I also attended the recent protests in London around Easter. Once again I was more of a supporter than an active participant. I brought along my reservations and unease along with my support, thinking, “Well, I have to do something!” I went down to Waterloo Bridge with my daughter (taking photos for an A-level project) and as a small act of disobedience we added a couple of plants from our garden to the growing garden on the bridge. Fired up from the first day of protest I bought some spray chalk and was prepared to re-appropriate the congestion charge road markings at Marble Arch, transforming the two Capital Cs into a message about Climate Change or Cutting Carbon. But when I got there someone had beaten me to it! I got my money back on the spray paint. The next day with a pack of chalk sticks and the help of my son I did help to transform a BUS LANE marking on Waterloo Bridge into the message BUST PLANET. I was amazed that everyone who passed stopped to take a picture! We were only re-chalking someone else’s faded work, so couldn’t really take credit either as wits or true activists!
The atmosphere at the protests was amazing, it was like a week-long street party. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Rebels had all been asked to commit to a ‘no drugs or alcohol’ rule and I’m sure that helped. The few interactions with blocked drivers that I witnessed were firm but very polite.
On Easter Monday my wife and I were took part in a citizens’ assembly at Marble Arch, a kind of open democracy where small groups discuss their ideas and feed them into the decision-making process. Extinction Rebellion are advocating this as a way to involve everyone in coming up with ideas on how to tackle the climate emergency. Our Easter Monday discussion was just to decide on the direction of the protest after the first week.
Dido: Do you think the protests have had an effect?
To be honest I didn’t expect too much from the recent protests. I still had my reservations on whether inconveniencing people helps to change their minds, especially stopping public transport. Also I wasn’t expecting a few thousand rebels to make much of an impact. I’d recently been on the anti-Brexit march where the streets of London were blocked by literally millions of people, in a procession stretching all the way from Marble Arch to Parliament Square, and that march was completely ignored by politicians. I suppose that’s the Extinction Rebellion’s point – direct action can make more impact than big marches. I think the protests resonated through strong imagery like the garden bridge, the pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus and through the commitment of the thousand plus arrestees. The timing was perfect too, with David Attenborough’s TV programme, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report, and Greta Thunberg’s visit all happening at the same time. So the issue of climate change really did come into the public’s attention – and Parliament’s attention. Parliament acknowledged the climate emergency, reacted positively to the idea of citizen’s assemblies, and even admitted in the last week that the Heathrow expansion needs to be looked at again in the light of climate change.
I don’t know if this will result in real political action, but I’m much more hopeful now.
Dido: You’ve already inspired me to swap to vegan pizza and vegan ice cream! (The Ben and Jerry’s cardboard-packaged, vegan, fair trade ice cream was very popular at dinner with Family Pilgrim!) What else can we do as individuals in the fight against global warming?
Eat all the food that you buy (food waste is one of the major contributors to global warming – methane does more damage to the atmosphere than CO2,).
Eat less meat (none if you can)
From farm to fork, meat production emits way more damaging greenhouse gases – methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide – than a plant-based diet!
Eat less dairy (none if you can).
Don’t fly (greenhouse gases emitted higher up in atmosphere cause even more damage than if emitted on the ground).
Reduce your consumption (of everything!)
And of course switch the lights off when you leave a room… it’s no joke!