I spent three days with Extinction Rebellion in London. In the light of the IPCC report that issued a “code red” warning for humanity, the recent horrific weather events, some of which have been widely reported like the New York flooding, and others which have been largely ignored like the drought in Madagascar, the overwhelming scientific evidence that we must act now if we are to save humanity and our fellow creatures on this planet from disaster and the continued policies of Governments and Corporations that are speeding our demise rather than trying to protect us, I feel it my duty to do what I can to protect our futures.
So what are my reflections on these three days? I witnessed extraordinary bravery and sacrifice from rebels. Over five hundred people were arrested for peacefully protesting including four from Sheffield. I witnessed shocking violent behaviour from police and a totally over the top police presence. XR will no doubt be blamed for the massive policing bill, but the enormous police presence was unnecessary for non-violent protestors.
The public reaction was surprisingly positive. I had many conversations with passers-by, explaining what was happening and why people were getting arrested. The public mood has definitely changed as far more people are now very aware, and indeed frightened, of the climate emergency we are facing. They were sympathetic to our action and concerned by the Government’s failure. Occasionally I experienced anger from the public, but this was a tiny minority and was more concerned with our tactics than our aims. The one time an ambulance needed to get through the crowd the protesters quickly moved aside to let it through.
Occasionally people would challenge me with arguments they have seen in the right-wing press.
“Why don’t you go and protest in China or Brazil” was a common one. Well for someone who hasn’t flown since 1990 due to climate change, this is obviously not going to be possible! But we did go and protest at the Brazilian Embassy, where we got the message over loud and clear to the representatives of Bolsonaro’s regime that they must respect the rights of the indigenous people in the Amazon and stop destroying their home, the Amazon rainforest.
“What about China” is not an excuse for our Government and financial institutions to continue investing in fossil fuels. The new Cambo oil field, Cumbrian coal mine, airport expansions and road-building schemes mean we are running fast in the wrong direction. If you look around the objects that are close to you at the moment it’s a fair bet that several of them were made in China. We have cut our emissions by outsourcing manufacturing to China so they now get blamed for our consumption. The Government also lie to us about our emissions as they refuse to count shipping and aviation in the figures.
“Why do you have to cause so much disruption” was another frequent comment. If there was a way to influence the Government without disrupting people, believe me, we would be doing it! I have been writing letters to MP’s signing petitions, going on marches, boycotting companies and changing my own personal lifestyle for 40 years, but it has not worked. So now like the Suffragettes, Extinction Rebellion has adopted disruptive tactics to get its message across. Indeed more people have now been arrested in this country protesting about climate change than in the long campaign to win women the vote.
We are sorry for the disruption we cause but see no alternative. A Financial Times journalist wrote “XR will always be annoying. So is the repeated beeping of my smoke alarm when its battery is flat. That’s the point. It means I change the battery, and hopefully makes sure my home doesn’t burn down. On balance, I’m glad it’s there.”
I was pleased the focus of the protests were the City of London. If the City was a country it would be the world’s ninth biggest emitter of carbon and businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange or financed from the UK account for about 15% of global carbon emissions. The most moving protest was when XR Doctors staged a die-in outside the offices of JP Morgan, which is the biggest funder of fossil fuels in the country. One doctor said before he was dragged away by security, “I’ve realised during my 10 years in medicine that it is much easier to try and keep people well than wait for them to get sick. At the moment we are making the planet sick and we are making our people sick and our eco-system sick. It needs to stop now, which is why we are saying stop all fossil fuel funding immediately.” The doctors say they have a duty of care to their patients to demand this.
How do I feel after the protests? Encouraged that so many beautiful people are willing to stand up to the system and demand change. Angry that the media have not given it the coverage that it deserved. Terrified that the Government and Corporations still show no sign that they intend to take the climate and ecological emergency seriously.