A guest blog by Finn Davison
On October 11th, Dr John Grant and the Sheffield branch of Extinction Rebellion held a free, open-to-all, community climate talk at Hallam University. He urged attendees to take action and get involved with activism groups such as XR.
In the wake of a never-before-seen 40 °C British summer, it is natural that many people turned up to the talk curious and concerned about what is increasingly recognised as a climate emergency.
Dr Grant, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam on climate change, autonomous housing and urban food production, was not one to shy away from the stark realities of said emergency.
“And if you think 40 °C was brutal – and it was, people died, fires started – spare a thought for what happened in Pakistan this year, and what happened in northern Canada last year, which recorded 49 °C.”
Regardless of the recent climate-caused events, the road to Dr Grant’s involvement with XR and community-based outreach has been a matter of decades for him.
This is where Extinction Rebellion came in, and the government didn’t.
“I started my scientific journey on this back in 1986. In 1988, Jim Hansen, the head of NASA, was 100% confident that climate change was happening, and that we need to do something about it. From my point of view, that was it. When a top scientist at NASA says that, you don’t debate the science anymore, you just pursue the solution. So, that’s what I did.”
However, expecting to compete against the sort of resources oil and gas companies have, who spend “$100 million dollars a day on their activities” has left him feeling somewhat dejected, having “foolishly for 20 years believed that all I needed to do was to get the science right, tell people the science, people would understand, and then they’d go ‘alright what do we do?’”
“So, here I am, 30 years along my journey of starting to study this. And I remember in 1992 when everyone agreed that greenhouse gasses were serious, and we should do something about it. But since that time, the amount of carbon humans have put in the atmosphere has doubled. That is not taking this seriously.”
“Our governments are confused, distracted, and quite honestly, in many cases paid for by these large corporations … I honestly think many people within our political system want to do something about this, they just can’t see because the system is created to maintain stability. It is created to not allow change.”
“Extinction Rebellion showed me that direct action can break those chains around government, so they can blame us for having to change to make things better.”
And blaming them they are. Recent moves by Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to limit protesting rights and harsher penalties for activism groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion could hinder pressure on the government to make changes or take it seriously. Such as in 2019 when Extinction Rebellion and other groups amassed 10,000 people in London for protests that eventually resulted in Parliament declaring a climate emergency.
Dr Grant, who was present at the 2019 march in London, remembers: “I was for the first time in my life on the wrong side of a police line. It was the most terrifying and uplifting experience of my life, without a doubt.”
The next ambitious plan is to repeat this, but with a much larger number of people. More people will equal more action. Hopefully. But it is difficult to be heard through a cacophony of crises in the face of adversity, a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, and a war.
Being heard looks like one of the biggest challenges yet. But if successful can make people realise that “we are not extreme, we want to give people that voice, we want to protect this planet and the residents of it.”
Part of their plan is “mobilising this project called ‘3.5’. Because it turns out when you reach 3.5% of a population that is looking for a change, you have a very good chance.”
These figures can be alluring to someone like Dr Grant, who describes himself as: “still a scientist, I still work to the solutions for this. I also believe now, we have to show people around us that it is an emergency and as such we must act like it’s an emergency. So, writing papers at my university that imply business as usual isn’t acceptable. And it isn’t.”
“Business as usual”, as described by Dr Grant, will result in “3 billion people moving over the next 50 years” – a grim reality.
But he’s begrudgingly hopeful that “we have a window to secure this future, but this window is shutting fast. So, we have to go for the big win now, we have to get the government to get their act together somehow. We need ambitious strategies that include renewable energy and reducing the amount of energy we consume as a society. We do have the solutions – this is not a technical problem, this is a problem of action.”
If you would like to take action, contact the local Extinction Rebellion group online.