A guest blog by Extinction Rebellion activist Hazel Bober.
I’m a teacher and mum of two young children and I’m heading to Glasgow this weekend (Nov 5th) to join protesters demanding that world leaders commit to climate action at COP26. Here are some of the questions and comments I’ve had from friends and family members about COP26 and climate activism, and my responses.
What is COP26?
COP is the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This conference, in which world leaders gather to discuss and plan their response to the climate emergency, takes place every year but was postponed last year due to COVID. This year will be the 26th annual summit, hence the name COP26, and will be held in Glasgow from 31 October until 12 November.
Can you tell me a bit about the climate emergency?
We are currently not on track to meet the emissions targets set out in the Paris agreement in 2015. The aim of these targets is to limit global warming to an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees celsius. This figure is important because climate scientists agree that beyond an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius there will be dangerous and devastating consequences for humanity. As the planet warms we can expect more extreme weather – such as flooding cyclones and droughts. We will see rising sea levels as glaciers melt and in turn mass involuntary migration. Ultimately our food and water supply systems will be stressed and could collapse globally, increasing conflict and war as resources become more scarce. It is important to note that many people are already experiencing these effects of climate breakdown and that the most vulnerable are the people causing the least emissions. In summary, right now, we are not on track for a climate-safe future, but we still have a choice about how bad things get.
Why will you be going to COP26?
I’ll be joining thousands of people on the streets of Glasgow in protest at the lack of action being taken by world leaders to drastically curb C02 emissions. To put it simply, I’m terrified for my children and for future generations, whose future is unsafe. We really have such a limited time to turn things around, and our world leaders are not committing to the drastic measures we need. We know that we absolutely must keep fossil fuels in the ground to try to limit future harm, and yet the UK government is considering expanding our fossil fuel industry by authorising a new deep coal mine in Cumbria and a huge new oil field, in Cambo off the coast of Scotland. If these projects go ahead, they will commit the UK to reliance on fossil fuels for many years to come, at a time when we urgently need to invest in and transition to renewable energy sources.
I agree with the cause but I don’t like the tactics – I don’t approve of things like blocking roads…
That’s fair enough, but I think it’s important to consider the context – we are at an absolutely pivotal point in human history where it is a make or break for humanity, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s also worth considering that many rights have been won historically through non-violent direct action – this was a key tactic of the Civil Rights movement and of the Suffragettes, but many people disagreed with their tactics at the time. It’s also important to note that you can still be part of the climate movement without engaging in this type of action. I joined Extinction Rebellion in August and was surprised to learn how many different interest groups there are within my local Sheffield groups, such as an art group that make banners and signs, a samba band, a rebel gardeners group who do outreach through seed giveaways and a group for young families. Being part of the climate movement, and in Extinction Rebellion, makes me feel like I’m part of a community that is engaged in the fight for climate justice and for a safer future for children and families.
Isn’t it too late already?
My brother and I discussed this when we met in London in August to join Extinction Rebellion’s Impossible Rebellion. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had just released a report making it clear: climate breakdown is ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activity. The report sets out different future warming scenarios according to how much emissions are cut now. I’m not a climate scientist but it’s clear to me that if global temperatures exceed the 1.5C threshold, an average temperature increase of 2 degrees is far preferable to 3 or 4 degrees, in terms of what this means for our planet’s ecosystems and for humanity’s chance of survival. In addition, because the poorest and vulnerable will be hardest hit by climate collapse, we need to keep fighting for what’s right and for climate justice, even if we believe climate breakdown can no longer be completely halted. As my brother and I talked, we saw a large banner with the words “Act now because it’s too late”, which I think is a really powerful message and an answer to this question. Human activity has already made things bad. But if ‘business as usual’ continues it can make things much, much worse. It means now is the time to act, not put hopes in future targets and pledges.
I want to take climate action but I feel a bit hypocritical as I drive a car and use a tumble dryer…
Many people are doing, or aware of things that we can do, in daily life to care for the planet, but at this stage, we really need to focus on system change rather than individual actions. The individual actions we take are defined and limited by the system we live in – an example of this from my own life is that I prefer not to have a car, and when I lived in Singapore, which has reliable, cheap and efficient public transport, it was very easy to do this. As a family we now own a car, as living without one in Sheffield is much harder, especially with young children. In summary, please don’t focus on your individual “environmental sins” or on judging the environmental actions of others- we need your time and energy in the environmental movement instead so that together we can create the systemic changes that make it easier to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. An example of this would be improved public transport services in Sheffield.
I want to get involved. What can I do?
A great way is to join an environmental group and there are lots of inspiring ones in Sheffield. I would highly recommend Extinction Rebellion Sheffield, but there’s also Sheffield Climate Campaign Umbrella Group and Sheffield Friends of the Earth to name but a few. There may be environmental groups within your local community – Greener Greenhill is one that is local to me. Also, talk to your friends and family about the climate crisis so that caring for our planet and creating a safe future for our children becomes part of our daily conversations. Now is a great time to get involved; with COP26 there will be lots of events in Sheffield in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the climate crisis, including a protest in the city on November 6th as part of a global day of action. Change becomes more likely a greater number of people show their support for a cause by taking part in such action. See you on the streets!
For more information on Extinction Rebellion Sheffield visit www.xrsheffield.org
The Sheffield COP26 Climate Justice Protest is on Saturday 6 November at 12 noon at Devonshire Green.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Sheffield Star on 2nd November 2021