Tag Archives: Environment

Rebellion Reflections – October 2019

I’ve been delaying writing this ever since getting back from London. I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to write, or what’s going to come out after spending two weeks on the streets of our capital. Along with thousands of other activists I was trying to bring more attention to the climate crisis, and to catalyse the changes we need to make to avert catastrophe. Climate Breakdown is a very real and present threat, and I still don’t think the majority realise this, or have properly processed the fact that we can’t go on as we are. Business as usual just ploughs on like a runaway train, air travel keeps going up, we’re chopping down forests at even faster rates all around the globe, or they’re on fire,  the oceans are dying from over-fishing, and CO2 emissions continue to go up year on year. We have so little time left to alter our trajectory I often feel we’ve left it too late, and the task is impossible. It comes back to the same thing though; we’ve got to try, haven’t we?

Red Brigade at Vauxhall Gardens

Red Brigade at Vauxhall Gardens

I joined Extinction Rebellion (XR) a year ago when it first started up as a chapter in Norwich, and remain convinced that its motives and methods, along with other similarly aligned organisations, offer the best chance for bringing about change. I go through periods of doubt, questioning myself and XR’s tactics, after all I’ve only been an activist for a year. What do I know compared to people who have been doing this for decades? Without doubt we need to learn from our mistakes, reflect on our successes, and come up with new ideas, methods, and ways of reaching beyond our current member base and boundaries. In the space of a year we’ve achieved so much in terms of raising the profile of the climate and ecological emergency. In a year, in tandem with other movements such as the Youth Climate Strikes, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as the phenomenal efforts of Greta Thunberg, we’ve seen more happen than in the last 30 or 40 years of waiting for politicians to do something. Following traditional tactics such as writing to your MP just hasn’t worked; politicians continue to fail us.

There can be no doubt that non-violent civil disobedience has been successful up until now, but is that and mass arrests the be and end all of Extinction Rebellion, or do we have more in our repertoire? I think we do and we will learn, evolve and adapt in the same way wider society, government and business need to in order to survive.

So what to write in this blog? It might be a long one, just to warn you. I’ve already restarted it 3 times and that’s after only 2 paragraphs. I’ll try and give you a bit of a record of my journey through the October Rebellion, combined with my thoughts on what we’ve learned, and what we might do next. Writing this is as much about me processing my own thoughts as it is about relating things to readers. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and I welcome any constructive comments and criticism that will further develop my thinking. XR tries to be an inclusive movement welcoming everyone and all parts of everyone, but if you’re in the mood for trolling please look elsewhere.

As you may have gathered from the above photos I decided to cycle down to London. It’s been a while since I did a long ride, and I needed some head space between finishing work and joining the Rebellion. My touring bike needed quite a lot of work, and given I seem to have no spare time I employed the services of the Norwich Cycle Medic (http://www.cyclemedicnorwich.co.uk) to build new wheels and give everything an overhaul; very satisfied with the work done.

XR members receive lots of criticism from people for using cars, buses or even trains to get to London to join the protests. Frankly this criticism is tiring and nonsense most of the time, made by people who really don’t understand the relative scale of the problem. We have to work with what we’ve got, and at the moment that’s an infrastructure and transport system that is largely carbon based. Should we all just do nothing and wait at home for the axe to fall? One has to use the tools that are available, and until we can bring about the changes needed that involves fossil fuelled transport. The emissions generated from the relatively small number of people travelling to London, or from the traffic delays caused by the protests, are negligible when compared to everything else, and I feel are completely justified. Many of us, including me, don’t fly anymore, and try and minimise car use wherever possible, therefore a bus trip to London to protest really is minimal in the grander scheme of things. Focus should instead be on frequent flyers, especially on people who have to fly excessively for business, when meetings can be held effectively by virtual means these days.

On that note one of the best realisations, for me, from the October Rebellion, is that ‘we are all hypocrites‘. I loved this when I heard it. We are all part of the system, and all contribute to the problem. We need to accept this and move on. It can’t be any other way given what we have available to us. As someone who is acutely aware of the challenges we face I try to minimise my carbon footprint, alongside my ecological impact from other factors, but I still very much contribute to the problem. Until we have systemic change this will continue to be the case. And we need to be aware that our footprint in the UK is huge compared with that in many other countries; our rate of CO2 emissions massively outweigh that of poorer countries.

Global CO2 emissions by wealth

Global CO2 emissions by wealth

So when we attract the inevitable criticism telling us to go and protest in China, or the US, as ‘their emissions are so much higher and our’s are a drop in the ocean in comparison’, one needs to remember the above chart; we’re in that top 10%. Sure, China’s emissions might be high, but they manufacture a lot of the goods we feel the need to constantly buy, and then there’s the transport impact of those goods, our holidays, throw-away lifestyles etc. Our emissions are still huge compared with poorer countries, due to our lifestyles and the system we have to work within; throwaway culture, fast fashion, diet, habits and hobbies, excessive consumption in buying things we want but don’t need, marketing driving all this. Again, it comes down to needing systemic change, and for everyone to realise this. There’s also the fact that historically the UK, ever since the agricultural and industrial revolutions (which we led), has had centuries of high emissions to build our infrastructure, business, and lifestyles. Other countries are still trying to catch up, so given our historic footprint shouldn’t we do even more to curb our emissions, and limit our expenditure of the remaining carbon budget? I could go on, but let’s get back to London.

It took me two days to pedal to London, covering about 155 miles. It could have been about 10 miles shorter but I forgot about the MOD firing ranges in Thetford Forest and had to backtrack a bit, plus take a few unintended off-road routes. I only fell off my bike once, into a Hawthorn hedge – bit prickly. I overnighted in Cambourne with my brother and his family, before the final leg to Marble Arch, getting drenched as showers hit on Sunday morning. It was pleasant using canal paths for the final stretches, thus avoiding most of the traffic and air pollution. My heart leapt upon arriving at Marble Arch, where I’d camped for the April Rebellion, and upon seeing all the Rebels gathered for the opening ceremony; good to meet up with Ben too, an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time – really appreciated the catch-up. I rendezvous’d with the rest of the Norwich and Norfolk team, who came down in two coaches (excellent turnout), before spending the night in my bivvy bag in Hyde Park.

I should probably explain what we had planned, and the roles I’d volunteered for the October Rebellion. Groups came from all over the country, and we split up by region to occupy several different sites around Westminster. The aim was to bring the City to a halt by blocking the key routes in and out, and to a degree we were successful, at least initially. We wanted to target government, business and institutions, those that need to lead on systemic change. I took on the role of affinity group coordinator (we had several affinity groups formed of Norwich and Norfolk Rebels), and was one of the Reactive point people for our location, which mainly involved comms between the site and rebel support functions. I dabbled in a bit of media and messaging, including a lot of live-streaming and social media updates, and was one of the facilitators for site meetings; I do like some of the XR techniques for managing large meetings, and would like to use them in my day job!

Following the first night in Hyde Park we assembled and made our way to St. James’ Park (only got slightly lost) to take our objective; the ‘Love Rebellion’ site, named with the aim of providing space for regeneration, music and outreach. There were a few hundred of us, all East of England and Midlands groups. We stepped off the road. We rebelled for life. We took our site.

What happened next? It would take several blogs to relate events from the two weeks. I’ll try to be succinct (hah). As well as holding our respective sites around the City of Westminster there were lots of actions planned, with aim of putting pressure on the Government, financial sector, big business, defence industry, oil and gas industry, judicial system etc to highlight the Climate Crisis and bring about change. We always knew it was going to be tough, with the police having been briefed to take a harder stance against us after the April Rebellion. I think they must have been specifically briefed to not be as friendly, not to smile, intimidate us where possible, and keep interaction to a minimum aside from when trying to move us on our make arrests. They are however, only human, and being constantly around us were constantly in receipt of messages on the Climate Crisis. So many of them support us, but also have to do their job. We know a few have quit and since joined us, and several retired officers, some senior ranking, are now amongst our number. Policing us is an almost impossible task given cuts and the numbers involved. Officers were drafted in from all over the country; we had conversations with individuals from Wales, Manchester, East Anglia and beyond, and when they had the chance many expressed support. A few were in tears during some of our actions, after observing the numbers willing to be arrested, hearing the messages, and witnessing the Red Brigade.

Being in St. James’ Park we weren’t far from several other sites, including Trafalgar Square which became a focal point after several other locations fell. The ‘Burning Earth’ site was a wonder to behold, from the Hearse that blocked the road, to all the artwork, tents, assemblies and rebels.

I should mention the kitchens that fed us for much of the two weeks. They were amazing, and alongside the efforts of Hare Krishna kept our energy levels and morale up. The police were constantly trying to confiscate our infrastructure, however the kitchens kept going, springing up at new sites when we were forced to move, and churning out thousands of vegetarian and vegan meals over the two weeks; some tireless efforts by certain individuals, with much gratitude. Thanks should also be given to all the food donations made both my locals, but also from afar. It’s amazing when a Deliveroo rider turns up at a roadblock with 3 vegan pizzas, ordered by someone from the other side of the country with instructions to deliver them to hungry rebels; not specific individuals, just deliver to whoever is on the roadblock. Also, thanks to Ian who turned up post work and brought me a delicious Vegan burger – much appreciated. I also mentioned Hare Krishna; they fed us loads in April, and did the same in October, pedalling vast amounts of food around London – and it tasted great! Saying that I still managed to lose half a stone on the ‘Extinction Rebellion Diet Plan’, amazing what two weeks of rebelling will do for your waistline.

One learning about kit. We need to be cleverer about delivering kit to locations. It was too easy for the police to identify our vans, stop them, and confiscate items and infrastructure. We could drop kit at other points and walk it in, or split the loads more. The police confiscating stuff did backfire on them at one point when they took possession of much of the disabled infrastructure; ramps, toilets etc. Not their best PR moment, and putting at risk many of our disabled members.

In case it’s not clear many of the rebels present, especially those who travelled, opted to camp in London. This meant tent villages sprang up at our various sites, including on roads, alongside the bigger infrastructure. This got tricky when we had to move stuff quickly or the police started to confiscate items, with people losing or misplacing belongings, and some cold and uncomfortable nights for some; although we did bring in spare tents and sleeping bags. We still have a massive pile of lost property!

St. James’ Park was a brilliant site, and hub for so much activity, especially as we were joined by the Global Justice crew bringing with them more diversity and education on the challenges faced by populations around the world in the face of climate breakdown. I learned a lot about Global South versus the Global North, and again how privileged we are in the country. Privilege is something we all need to acknowledge to one degree or another. I’m grateful that I have the right to protest in this country, and to not be beaten up and imprisoned for it. I also acknowledge that I’m a middle-classed white male, with money in the bank and access to free healthcare, as well as a host of other benefits not available to others which I often take for granted. I’m not a victim of the institutional racism that impacts many people and other protest movements. I’m far less likely to be stopped and searched than a black or brown person. At the moment I’m unlikely to ever go hungry, lack water, suffer disease, or face the threat of violence motivated by competition for resources becoming more scarce due to climate breakdown; war will become increasingly driven by the climate crisis.

That’s not to say the latter points won’t happen in this country during my lifetime. I think think there’s a high risk they will as the impacts of the climate crisis escalate and are felt closer to home. At the moment if a harvest fails in one part of the world, which happens all the time, we can afford to buy food from somewhere else, but what happens when harvests fail across multiple locations at the same time, and we can’t buy our way out of the problem? The ‘Just in Time’ supply and demand chain will come unstuck at some point, and we will be impacted. I think this will happen a lot sooner that we think, and with terrifying consequences. What wouldn’t you do to provide food for your family when the supermarket shelves are empty and your children are hungry? We’re ill-prepared for such an eventuality, and it will hit us hard, with social contracts and community bonds breaking down. It’s one of the reasons I increasingly take a prepping approach to life.

But back to the privilege point; yes, I’m privileged, but should that mean I shouldn’t protest, absolutely not, I just need to learn and have my eyes opened to it. In fact wouldn’t it be selfish and neglectful not to use my privileged status and influence to protest? I need to think about this more and speak with people wiser than I.

At this point I’ll include a short film of the ‘Roo Rebellion’ turning up at one of the roadblocks next to St. James’ Park. Needless to say the sight and sound of a group of antipodeans dressed in kangaroo costumes, bouncing round the street, did a lot to lift and relax the mood. The police present couldn’t keep straight faces, despite their orders.

Despite all our efforts Love Rebellion site fell at the end of week 1, and we were forced to relocate. The police had orders to evict us ahead of the Queen’s Speech in Parliament, and apparently couldn’t let us remain due to the bomb threat risk. They needed to search the site, not because they thought XR had bombs, more that others might do and be using XR as cover.

There was so much colour and vibrancy at our site, from the artwork to the music and samba bands, the rebels themselves and the structures we built. We had a shift system set up to cover the roadblocks and actions, with the Swallowtails Affinity Group I was in covering the first night; that was a long night, rewarded by the appearance of an urban fox in the early hours of the morning. The camaraderie was outstanding, despite the rain and constant attention from police helicopters; the search lights irritated one lady to such an extent she took her clothes off and lay in the road. The police were trying to intimidate and stress us out.

We also had an excellent organisational and decision making system set up, with a council formed of point people from each team, as well as ‘random rebels’. The council was fed information, questions and requests from the Peoples’ Assemblies which took place on a daily basis. I wish we’d had more time to get it all up and running properly and really bed in but alas, we had to move. One learning is to do more prior to a large scale Rebellions to ensure rebels are aware of the structure, site groups, decision making processes etc. There were perhaps too many comms prior to October and key messages were lost.

We evacuated St. James’ Park over the course of an afternoon, trying to get our tents and kit out without it being confiscated, and over to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the London Borough of Lambeth. There were stirring scenes as Rebels linked arms to protect the kitchen, singing songs in defiance or instructions to move on or face arrest. We quickly hired vans, packed up, and prepared to move; my bike ended up with a lot on it! It was quite an exciting walk/ride over to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, with the police refusing to allow Rebels to cross the bridge. I merged in with a larger group of cyclists commuting from work, and made it across. Lambeth Council had said we could stay in their park as long as we didn’t cause any local disruption, and were respectful to residents etc. We were and are very grateful to them and residents for accommodating us, and also to the local cafes which we took advantage of several times; it rained, a lot. The gardens also had a piece of work planned to plant insect friendly bulbs towards the end of our stay, so we made sure we cleared the areas they needed to get to. It was nice to see a message thanking us for leaving the site clean and litter free – they said they wished all their visitors were like us.

Where am I up to? So much happened and I’m missing lots out, especially around the sense of camaraderie and the emotions that run through you as you see friends getting arrested, or when support turns up in the form of a samba band at an action that was looking flakey. We were in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for several days, during which time I also spent a couple of nights with a friend from school and his family (thanks John and Emma). It was great to take a break, grab a shower, and spend a bit of time playing with their kids; it is after all their future which is in jeopardy. The Vauxhall base gave us somewhere to launch actions from, combined with the other remaining sites still holding out around London; mostly Trafalgar Square at this point.

As with April the Norwich and Norfolk groups were active throughout the two weeks. We took part in several actions, including a protest outside a Government Oil and Gas summit – they were discussing how to encourage investment into an industry that is killing out planet. Perhaps the Andaz Hotel should reconsider hosting such events?

On the people being arrested front. It’s quite hard seeing your friends being taken away by police, especially when you’re not willing to be arrested yourself, as was the case for me; too many complications with my job at present. You’re left with feelings of guilt for not being with them and not putting your freedom on the line, and also concern for their wellbeing. I do worry that some people put themselves forward to be arrested without fully understanding the consequences; this could really impact their future career prospects, affect their mental health, affect relationships, and have repercussions they aren’t aware of. There is also a risk of glamourising being arrested, or making it seem like it’s expected of you, will boost your credibility or is cool.  Whatever anyone says I don’t believe it’s a pleasant experience, comfortable, risk free, or something to aspire to. Most people do really think before putting themselves forward to be arrested though, it’s not a decision taken lightly.

The Climate Crisis will however impact us all, and being arrested now for causing minor disruption has got to be worth it if it has a chance of stopping the major disruption and societal collapse, which seems almost inevitable at this stage.

We’re in the midst of the 6th Mass Extinction event. Extreme weather events are happening all the time. Conflict due to climate breakdown is happening now. Drought and famine are on the increase. Fires are burning out of control all around the world. People are dying now due to this crisis. We’re not changing course quickly enough, or at all in many cases, from the business as usual model that is destroying our world. Some relatively minor disruption and being arrested has got to be worth it in the face of all that. Surely people impacted by our actions can reflect on why we’re doing it, and conclude that being late one day, or not getting home when you expected, is nothing compared to what is coming.

Be the voice of the World when she is screaming

Be the voice of the World when she is screaming

On that note I experienced some interesting and varied reactions from people during the protests. There was an incredible amount of support from many, even from those stuck in traffic jams, but also some less agreeable and aggressive reactions from some. I can understand and empathise with those who we’ve irritated or delayed from something important. I’d hate to be responsible for delaying someone getting to a hospital appointment. Some just want to get to work, or get home, and we’re seen as targeting normal people just trying to get on with their lives; I will talk about the Canning Town tube disruption in a bit, just not yet or relation to this point. It still however comes back to it being, the majority of the time, relatively minor disruption for a very good reason (see above). I experienced first hand some very abusive comments, coffee cups being thrown, and the threat of violence; this was mostly during rush hour in the financial district. It’s interesting and perhaps not unexpected that the majority of this behaviour originated from middle aged and older white blokes, with no inclination to try and understand why we’re there, or the Climate Crisis. They’re often red faced, stressed looking, heart attack victim waiting to happen. You can also almost feel the waves of self-entitlement, elitism, and testosterone fuelled anger rolling off them. I’ve been trying to think why they’re so angry and I’m wondering if it’s because they feel threatened by us. Are we threatening their status and masculinity? Are we challenging them at some subconscious primal level? I don’t think it would matter if we were protesting about the climate or beer prices, I think think they’d still be aggressive and unwilling to interact reasonably. I reckon it’s often alpha males feeling threatened and reacting according to their evolutionary DNA. Perhaps it’s a competition thing, like two strutting peacocks facing off. Thankfully these sorts of responses are in the minority; most middle aged blokes were fine!

I wasn’t willing to be arrested, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t busy. I often ended up with various people’s mobile phones in my pockets that they didn’t want the police to confiscate! I spent a lot of time live-streaming actions to our Facebook account, or helping with comms to Norwich and Norfolk folks and between Affinity Groups; we ended up super-grouping our Affinity Groups in week 2 for the sake of efficiency. Another learning is around Affinity Group membership and structure – we probably need less groups for future large Rebellions, to ensure sustainability, resilience and support.

On the live-streaming front I used up far too much of my data allowance filming the Grief Funeral march processing from Marble Arch down Oxford Street, which I think took place on the Saturday; the film is on the Norwich FB page somewhere. Around 30,000 people marched through London in an array of costumes and props, however it was barely reported by the press; we suspect the BBC may have had instructions not to report on us, and I’m considering submitting a Freedom of Information request to learn if there’s any truth behind that. The Grief March was impactful and emotional, with a lot of support from the pavements. The Red Brigade brought a whole tube station to silence as they made their way through the city, remaining in character the whole time; they also provoked tears from many, such is power or iconography and silence.

I wasn’t involved in the action at London City Airport, however several Norwich and Norfolk XR members were, and were arrested as a result; they blocked an access point to the airport, on bikes. I did watch on the live stream as the partially-sighted former Paralympian James Brown climbed on top of a plane, despite being scared of heights. Another activist boarded a plane and refused to get off. Air travel is a major contributor to fossil fuel emissions, more than any other transport sector, yet the number of plane flights continues to grow. Another example of the seemingly unstoppable runaway business as usual train which needs to be slowed down and stopped somehow, or at least adapted and evolved to something less damaging. I think this was a good example of an action targeting the right place and people; high impact on the environment from plane travel, and the relatively small % of the population who can afford to fly for business and pleasure to an excessive degree.

The airport action also saw disturbing scenes of the police using ‘pain and compliance’ to restrain activists. There is film footage of this, and it’s not very pleasant with the activist in question gasping in pain whilst not, to my eyes, putting up any resistance. It reminds me that whilst we’d like the police to be on side, whilst they are ‘just doing their job’, and whilst we’re often very friendly and want interact positively with them it’s not always the right thing to do.

Many protest groups and individuals from black, brown, indigenous, ethnic or minority communities, have not been treated well by the police. Their experience of being stopped and searched or arrested, often unjustly, has not been good at all. Statistically they are much more likely to be stopped and searched, or arrested. Institutional racism is still thought to be prevalent in the police force, despite efforts to eradicate it. XR members chanting ‘we love you’ whilst rebels are being arrested can be counterproductive, even when it’s not actually directed at the police, but towards the activists being taken away; it can be perceived as being directed at the police and in the past has been. In addition gestures of love or kindness towards the police can alienate groups we want to be onboard with. Flowers sent to Brixton police station by an activist, with good intentions, to thank them for their kindness and care can have a very negative reaction in communities which have seen friends and family hurt or even die in police custody, in that station. I’m still learning about this, and might use the wrong words, however it’s clear we (XR) need to learn and change our approach in some areas to ensure we become more diverse and inclusive. We need to acknowledge the challenges faced by the non-white and the non-middle classed, people we’d love have in our organisation. We need them.

Into week 2. It was an early start on Monday for the ‘Banking on Breakdown’ day of action, targeting banks and financial institutions contributing to the climate crisis and ecocide; most of them one way or another. It’s that system change thing again, with capitalism and neoliberalism driving all the wrong behaviours. We rolled out of our tents in the early hours, after much planning over the weekend, and headed for the rendezvous at St. Pauls.

Initially we teamed up with a few other East of England affinity groups to put in road blocks in the financial sector of the City of London. It was a very wet start to the day, and our first roadblock was cleared after about an hour culminating in several arrests; some downtime in the cells for several friends. We regrouped at Bank Junction, outside the Bank of England, where the bulk of rebels were gathered for the day blocking the roads. I had a few good conversations with journalists and workers, who all got it at one level or another. After a quick discussion we decided to get together the Norwich and Norfolk Rebels we could find, along with several from Cambridge, and head to Canary Wharf to bring some direct action to a bank heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry. I cycled there on one of London’s cycle super-highways; they’re ace, and I didn’t get lost for once.

Rebels arrived in dribs and drabs via the Tube, or like me by bike, and a game of cat and mouse ensued with undercover police or private security teams (not sure which) as we moved around Canary Wharf trying to work out where we were going. It’s quite a disorientating place, and feels completely disconnected from nature. I think the security teams are quite used to protestors turning up, with actions regularly taking place outside Barclays.

Barclays invests billions in the fossil fuel industry, and is up there in the top world rankings for financing activity killing us and the planet; tar sands projects in the US and Canada are not a good thing. We blocked the main doorway for several hours, read the Declaration of Rebellion, and performed outreach activity with workers and passers-by explaining why we were there. It was very cold and windy at Canary Wharf, but numbers grew until we had a sizeable crowd involved. We asked if we could speak to members of the Barclay’s Exec Team to explain our activity, ask them to divest from fossil fuel based funds, and get some answers, but no-one was forthcoming. The one manager who did appear was only interested in how many of us were being arrested, and what for, and smirked the whole way through any conversations; really dispiriting. They’re more interested in driving excessive profits for a small number of very rich people, at the expense of everyone else and the planet.

It should be noted that many of the normal workers we spoke to were pleasant and interested in our message. Most of them very much get it, but are trapped by needing to earn money to support families, pay mortgages, conform to what society expects of us, and by a toxic system that doesn’t offer any other options. They don’t necessarily have another path open to them which is accessible or offers sufficient financial recompense to support their current lifestyle choices. The whole system needs to change, and we need to realise that means we can’t go on the way we are. It will mean big changes to the way we live and operate, and some of these changes won’t be comfortable at all, at least to begin with. I believe however that we can transition to a better method of living, with tighter knit better connected communities, working with nature and not against it, increased equality, more produced locally, and eventually a healthier and happier society; but different, very different. A topic for another blog, but if we don’t start making these changes soon, globally, we’re screwed.

The Barclays’ action culminated with the police arresting eight of our number, using solvent to remove superglue, or cutting tools to breakthrough lock-on tubes. I was on camera duty for most of the day, live-streaming footage, or doing a bit of outreach activity, or supporting the Rebels blocking the doorways. There was a bit of a wait for police vans due to everything else going on round the City, however eventually our comrades were carted off to Sutton Police Station; it was a fairly emotional end to the action, with more than a few tears and shouts of support to those under arrest for aggravated tress-pass and obstruction. The police were gentle, polite and respectful throughout, but we could tell they were getting tired and stressed by long shifts, relentless XR actions, and lack of resources their side. There were several occasions during the course of the October Rebellion where Rebels were de-arrested by the police, as they ran out of police vans or cell space, however this was not one of those times. The Barclays’ high ups obviously wanted to make a point, and made sure the police kept the arrestees in cells for the full 24 hours; money and influence talks. It felt good to have targeted what can be regarded, at least in part, as climate criminals. We targeted the right people, with 8 arrested for crimes incomparable to the destruction, climate breakdown and ecocide caused by investment into an industry we are all forced to use to one extent or another.

Our diminished group retreated from Canary Wharf to regroup at Bank Junction, which was still being held as part of the Banking on Breakdown day of action. We were all pretty tired so retreated for a round of vegetarian burgers.

Reduced in number but still going strong

Reduced in number but still going strong – Norwich Rebels regen time

We joined the end of the Bank Junction protest in a big march down to St. Pauls; lots of drumming, dancing and singing, with some lovely support from drivers and passers-by. It was, however, very wet!

The next day we had to leave Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a sad departure. I’m not entirely sure why the police decided to move us on, especially as Lambeth Town Council had given us permission to be there. I suspect they just didn’t want us to have a big base to operate and launch actions from.

We now know that the Section 14 order placed over London was unlawful, but at the time the police were using it to disperse us, confiscating tents and arresting those refusing to move. The Red Brigade turned up to support us on the final day.

We left the gardens in a good state, making sure we cleared up all litter. Clearing the site took several hours, during which we talked to the police, shifted kit into vans, and had a chance for a bit of a sing-song with the Norwich XR choir.

So that was it, all the main October Rebellion sites cleared despite our best efforts, however we’d lasted longer than I thought we might. Maybe we need to re-think out tactic of taking and using large sites during these big rebellions. They can be counter-productive, with people getting attached to them and not focussing on actions that can have more impact. Maybe we should do more to ‘move like water’, popping up in one place for an action before dispersing only to arise again in another. However having everyone together does build a sense of community and solidarity, allows for mass Peoples’ Assemblies and planning, and helps with our regenerative culture.

Another point on the sites front was that much of our organisation and decision making structure was tied to a physical location, in terms of people and roles. When sites fell, or merged with others, these structures seemed to partially breakdown. Maybe we need a more virtual network and structure next time, or processes to better integrate multiple sites into one. Things still worked, but they could work better, and we perhaps need better communication channels with the Rebel Support Office.

On the comms front we were using both the Signal and Telegram Apps, as well as WhatsApp and Facebook. This became quite confusing and overwhelming at times. It also starts to break down when peoples’ mobile phones run out of charge and there isn’t the infrastructure in place to recharge them, if for example the police have confiscated items. We might need to rationalise our comms channels, and work on the ‘less is more’ principle. We also need to continue using public facing channels such as Facebook to recruit more people to actions as a Rebellion progresses, and individuals decide to join us; they won’t have access to our more private channels. Lots to think about before next time.

After leaving Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens the remaining Norwich and Norfolk rebels dispersed across London, with me and several others moving to a sanctuary site; a church hall in Islington, for a few nights. They and several other organisations, mostly churches, opened their doors to welcome us, providing much needed floorspace, and even a kitchen to use in this instance. A few of our comrades, those arrested at the Barclay’s action, had to leave London for home or break their bail conditions; very sad to see them go. We met up the next day to regroup and head to Trafalgar Square to join rebels in defying the Section 14 ban on us gathering.

Hundreds gathered in defiance of the unjust Section 14 order, to listen to various speakers including George Monbiot, a representative from Friends of the Earth, religious and spiritual leaders, and environmentalists from all over the UK and beyond.

There were several arrests, including that of George Monbiot, as rebels occupied parts of the road around Trafalgar Square and Whitehall; this went on for hours.

In the evening we headed to the Shard, to bring attention to the role the media plays in the Climate Crisis.

The mass media often seem to either not report on the Climate Crisis, under-report it, or falsely report on it. It’s time they told the truth and gave these issues the prominence they need to wake up wider society to the challenges we face. On top of that they need to stop giving any media-space to climate change deniers, surely we’re past that now.

Another long day, but successful in demonstrating we will not be silenced, and again targeting organisations that need to up their game.

I think it was the following day we awoke to news of the Canning Town tube action, a protest most of us had voted against, and which I feel was badly timed, targeted the wrong people, and the wrong infrastructure; public transport that is at least part ‘green’. I wrote about it at the time, saying how it broke some of the media blackout we’d been experiencing, but sadly for the wrong reasons. Many of us have reflected long and hard on it in the weeks since. We know the theory behind XR and civil disobedience; that 3.5% of the population thing. We know we can’t be friends with everyone and that inevitably we will make mistakes, this action, in my opinion, being one of them. But we know we have to do do something to try and wake people up, and bring about change. Or should we just sit around, watch the world burn, and wait for our inevitable demise?

This was another learning for me from the October Rebellion, from some of the messaging and training out of the Global Justice movement, and from some of the reading I have done since. XR needs to perform actions, but I think we need to think harder about targets and timing, who it will impact, and the social science behind our tactics which may not have been interpreted correctly, or been used on a bit of a pick and choose basis. It felt right targeting industries that directly contribute to the problem. It did not feel right to be targeting normal working class people trying to go about their lives, a lot of whom are struggling to make ends meet. This was very counter-productive, and damaged our reputation and some of the good work done to date. We need these people in our movement and on side, as we run out of time and start to witness the terrifying impacts of climate breakdown. These impacts are likely to affect poorer people first, and sooner that we think.

Some of the social science being used talks about needing 3.5% of the population on side and activated in order to bring about change. However the evidence for this seems to be from societies where the 3.5% were oppressed or repressed, often violently. With the majority of XR members being white and middle classed, we are not being oppressed or repressed, and certainly not violently. In fact actions such as the Canning Town tube debacle, although well intentioned, are in danger of turning us into the oppressors in the eyes of those affected; normal working class people who aren’t feeling the impacts of climate breakdown. So instead of rebelling against a system that is killing us, we could end up being rebelled against by the very people most at risk from the challenges ahead. We need to target the powerful, not the powerless.

I sincerely hope more people continue to rise up and join Extinction Rebellion, but we need to work on diversity and inclusion. We need to engage at a grassroots level with, and learn from, the communities we are trying to recruit from. We also need to learn from other past and current movements with similar aims. They must look on with dismay at some of XR’s tactics and apparent disregard for the impacts on minority communities, but we’re only a year old and very willing to learn. I hope that over the next few months we’ll think more about this, evolve and adapt as an organisation, and come out stronger.

There are loads of areas upon which we need to reflect. Topics still causing me some confusion and painful thinking include our practice of not blaming and shaming, as well as being apolitical or ‘beyond politics’. On the first point I think it’s definitely wrong to blame normal individuals who have no current choice as to their way of life, however what about government and business leaders supporting the toxic system which is at the root of the problem? And likewise on the political front, especially with a general election coming up, should we come out in favour of a party more likely to bring about the changes needed? I know politicians have been failing us for a long time on the climate and ecological front, and will no doubt continue to do so, but shouldn’t we more openly support those at least trying to make a difference? Maybe XR should continue not supporting one party over another, whilst individual members can of course do so. I do think we need to encourage members from all sections of society, and supporting one party might inhibit this. It could sow division and even intimidate potential members into not joining us. But if one section of society, and let us for arguments sake call that Tory party members leaning more the right, is blatantly putting our futures at risk, then shouldn’t we come out against them? I want an inclusive and diverse movement, but don’t know how we achieve this in some areas, and am not entirely sure we want or need to be inclusive of some people.

Phew, that was a long section without any photos. If you’re still going, thank you and well done!

Thursday was my last full day in London. I was beginning to feel pretty tired and was missing the quiet of the countryside, and fresh air. I was still enthusiastic about the Rebellion but events such as the Canning Town action had knocked all of us off centre, and we’d lost quite a few of number by this point; to arrests or from just needing to go home for work or to support families. Whilst rewarding it can be draining trying to keep things going, comms flowing, and people supported. I am very grateful to certain individuals who helped keep me grounded and supported.

On Thursday morning I joined the non-XR protest versus the mega-ming corporation BHP. This all forms part of what I’ve been learning over the last few months. BHP run huge mining operations that extract valuable minerals from countries such as Chile, Brazil and Columbia. These minerals are used to make things that we all buy. The companies behind these operations, such as BHP, make huge profits at the expense of the people who live in these areas. Locals are subject to unfair wages and unsafe working conditions, and the the mines are destroying huge swathes of natural habitat and ecosystems upon which indigenous people still rely, and from which we all ultimately benefit in terms of biodiversity and oxygen production. The protest was to demand justice for people impacted by BHP, and the lives and land devastated by its activity.

It’s all tied up with the concept of neo-colonialism, the more about which I read the more I begin to realise how complex and huge the challenge is. The Global North is profiting from, and aiming to maintain its current excessive and high consumption based lifestyle, at the expense of the Global South. People in the Global South are being exploited, killed, threatened and evicted from their homes, or imprisoned, to support the sick profits of huge multi-national companies and ultimately our comparatively cosy but selfish lifestyles. We need global justice in the face of such activity, unless we really are complete arseholes that are happy for this to go on just so we can live as we do now.

And this for me is the crux of the matter. We can’t go one as we are now, and we can’t transform to a ‘green economy’ that replaces everything we have now with apparently sustainable alternatives. It’s just not that simple. For example to replace our current energy production units with solar or wind power needs precious minerals, many of which are mined in the Global South. The same with electric cars, and the next generation of mobile phones. In the UK are we willing to destroy the Global South via neo-colonialist practices, or are we willing to change? The massive carbon budget expenditure needed just to build all this new energy producing infrastructure, or electric cars, could in itself push us over a climate breakdown tipping point from which there is no return. From what I’ve researched there simply aren’t enough available resource to transform the whole world, and replace everything we have now with ‘green’ alternatives, and this couldn’t be done without massive CO2 emissions, or further devastation of the Global South. Therefore, logically, we need to move to a different sort of society, economy, way of life, or we will destroy ourselves.

Or maybe we just all start praying the gods or aliens will save us, ‘cos that’s always worked in the past.

After the BHP protest I nipped round the corner to support veteran activists outside the Supreme Court. Today XR wanted to highlight the impact of the ‘defence’ industry, arms trade, and war on climate change, and elders had gathered outside the court, gluing themselves together in protest.

Pretty amazing to watch the older generation standing together in uncomfortable conditions, putting their freedom on the line, and then being led away to police vans. Much respect.

We spent the afternoon in the City of Westminster walking from one protest area to another, sometimes arriving just as one finished due to rapid response by police. We all got pretty wet as the heavens opened, but thankfully dried off when the sun came out. Later that afternoon several of use decided to join a critical mass bike ride, with hundreds of other riders. I had the use of my touring bike, whereas others hired Santander bikes.

The critical mass bike ride was unlike anything I’d ever been on before. It was huge. There were banners and costumes, so many riders, and multiple sound-systems. I was completely envious of the most impressive sound system; a rickshaw with DJ decks and huge speakers. We definitely need something similar for Norwich critical mass rides.

We pedalled off from Hyde Park on a ride that must have taken about an hour and a half. The sound system boomed, we rang our bells and rode past Marble Arch, down Oxford Street, down Regent Street, around roundabouts, past Buckingham Palace and down to Parliament Square. It was exhilarating, with much support from the pavements.

I’ll say one thing, two weeks of rebelling in London, including riding your bike a lot, does an awful lot of good as far as improving one’s knowledge of where everything is and how it all joins together.

Here’s a bit of film from the Oxford Street section.

We ended the critical mass ride at Trafalgar Square, where Rebels had gathered for a mass meditation session. This ended with some uplifting singing and bouncing. Pretty groovy day all in all.

So that was me mostly done. I’d survived two weeks of being an ‘uncooperative crusty’ (thanks Boris, we’ll own that one) in London, and spent my last night back at the sanctuary space in Islington. The next day I took my leave of the remaining Norwich rebels and caught the train back home; I was too tired to cycle all the way back!

That was not the end however of the London Rebellion, with two more days of actions and activity scheduled, including the ‘Red Hand’ march; following pictures courtesy of friends or the Internet.

What was the Red Hand march?

‘We will raise our red hands, taking responsibility for our actions – we all have blood on our hands. We march in admission and recognition of the part we play in the injustice of this emergency, and the ongoing suffering of thousands of people around the world due to climate and ecological breakdown.’

There were hundreds on the march again, which stopped at several government departments to demand plans are quickly made to tackle to climate emergency.

By this time I was back home in Salhouse, recovering but also missing my companions of the previous two weeks. One builds such strong friendships during these actions, which will no doubt endure for years to come. I know XR has much to learn, and challenges we need to overcome. I’ve discussed some of them in this blog, and will continue to mull things over, analyse our actions and future strategy, talk about it all with other Rebels, and we’ll work out where we go from here.

Travelling Lobster made it home

Travelling Lobster made it home, somehow with a squirrel that ended up in my panniers, courtesy of my niece and nephew

I know there are course corrections we need to make, such as diversifying our actions and tactics; it can’t all be about mass arrests, and we need to find a way of engaging with other segments of society. We also need to look at the bigger picture; climate breakdown cannot be viewed in isolation, it needs to include social justice and equality.

Back home, peace!

Back home, peace!

This has been an epic blog to write over the course of about 10 days. I could have broken it up, however as mentioned at the start writing it has been part of the reflective process for me, and one thing kinda flowed into another. I may well pull out individual bits and expand upon them in future. There is still a lot I need to think about and learn!

Thanks for reading, and stay turned for more Norwich and Norfolk actions. Why not come and get involved yourself?

WE ARE ALL CREW

Rebel for Life

‘Rebel for Life’. I love that phrase and the double meaning. Simple, with a big impact. That’s what we’re trying to do in Extinction Rebellion: Rebel against a system which is causing catastrophic climate change. The climate breakdown we’re experiencing now will impact all life on Earth within our lifetimes, and exponentially so within the lifetimes of our children. The evidence is irrefutable, and yet our leaders don’t seem get it. In fact most people don’t seem to get it, but that is changing.

Rebel of Life

Rebel of Life

Extinction Rebellion is a movement I have become part of over the last few months, and is something close to my heart. It’s great to finally meet and work with a group of individuals who feel the same way, and who are awake to the challenges we face; all the grief, anxiety, anger and despair, with the same aim of trying to provoke the changes desperately needed.

Traditional methods of driving change just aren’t working. Writing to your MP is all well and good, but what if they don’t listen, and are unwilling to educate themselves. Petitions get ignored, and scientists sidelined by powerful lobbyists backed by fossil fuel companies.

We attempted to get Norwich City Council to declare a Climate Emergency, however this was downgraded to acknowledging a Climate Emergency, with no increased commitment to reducing carbon emissions within a sensible timeframe. More political shenanigans by Labour councillors unwilling to face reality. Yes the council have done some good stuff on the climate front, but it’s nowhere near enough. In some ways I can’t blame them, as they truly believe they’re doing the right thing, but that’s because they’re not properly awake to the challenges we face yet. This is deadly serious. We need to adapt now, and that adaptation has got to be deep with fundamental lifestyle changes for all.

Thanks to the Green Party Councillor Denise Carlo for tabling the motion so eloquently, and to the backing of the Green Party Councillors present. A shame the Labour councillors don’t get it and are more concerned with political jockeying and short-term goals. It reminded me of why I’m loathed to watch Question Time anymore.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 12 years to drastically cut carbon emissions if we’re to be in with a chance of limiting global temperature rises to below 1.5’C. Rises above that will see drastic increases in droughts, flooding, food shortages and extreme heat and weather events. We’ll see mass population displacement and migration, with the associated social, political and economic problems these bring. The bad news is we’ve almost certainly passed the point of limiting temperature rises to below 1.5’C, and we’re already seeing all these problems. It’s happening NOW.

And yet politicians, business leaders, and people in general don’t seem to want to acknowledge the Climate Emergency, or do anything about it. Even if a Climate Emergency is declared it’s only words, often not backed up by deeds, with policies driven by the idolization of unfettered and unsustainable economic growth; policies that often only benefit the superrich.

Again in some ways I can’t blame them. It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the problem and the impacts it’ll have. Much easier to live in denial and not wake up. And that’s what a lot of our so-called leaders want us to do: Don’t wake up, continue being compliant little consumers who can be exploited, whilst they sit amongst their riches secretly building emergency bolt holes for when it all goes wrong; yes, that’s happening, the world’s elite aren’t stupid.

The Norwich chapter of Extinction Rebellion took action last week, at the Norfolk County Council annual budget meeting, to try to drive home the point that change is needed. We strongly oppose the building of the new Western link road due to the increased carbon emissions that will result from both its building, and use.  The money would be far better spent on other projects such as public transport, social housing, renewable energy schemes, and measures to prepare for sea level rises that will sink places like Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. The leaflet we produced explains more.

Climate Emergency flyer for Norfolk County Council protest

Climate Emergency flyer for Norfolk County Council protest

We disrupted the council meeting for around 5 hours by occupying the council chamber and making our voices heard through colourful and at times harmonious chants. I went along to help record the protest and broadcast updates via social media.

We don’t take this sort of action lightly, however as the leaflet says we’ve had enough of asking politely and not being listened too, of being sidelined, ridiculed and ignored. Our leaders are failing us, even though they don’t seem to realise it, and need to be woken up. We won’t take the destruction of planet and our futures, as well as the human caused 6th mass extinction event, lying down. Again, this is happening now and it’s not hard to find out about it; look at how insect numbers have plunged, the levels of biodiversity loss, sea ice diminishing to the point of blue ocean events in the arctic, or the fact that between 150 and 200 species are going extinct every day – a rate that is around 1,000 times greater than the background or natural rate.

Four of our number were arrested at the protest, and willingly so, a small price to pay for getting the message out there. Kudos and my personal thanks to them all.

Council protest - 11 Feb - XR Norwich activists in action

Council protest – 11 Feb – XR Norwich activists in action

I should say the police were courteous and gentle, and we have no complaints about how they conducted themselves. They’re just doing their job. It’s a shame our politicians aren’t.

The four people arrested were charged under a law dredged up from the archives, something created in the early 20th century to deal with movements like the Suffragettes. Oh…the irony. The county council even had a Suffragettes exhibition on display in the building, but obviously were blind to the parallels.

Following on from last week’s protest a group of Extinction Rebels also visited a South Norfolk district council meeting last night, to table a question requesting the declaration of a Climate Emergency. The request was refused by the council, with their action on cleaning up graffiti, fly tipping, and road advertising all being cited as reasons why they’re doing enough.

Cleaning up graffiti…they really don’t get it to they. How can that possibly help any of us in the fight versus catastrophic climate breakdown? This kind of ignorance is what we’re facing, and why Extinction Rebellion advocates non-violent direct action. We’ve got to rebel to stand a chance, following in the footsteps of movements like the Suffragettes, or individuals such as Gandhi; when the political system fails us it is our duty to rebel against it, and this is surely the biggest crisis faced by the human race to date.

We did invite Councillor Kay Mason Billig, Deputy Leader of the South Norfolk District Council, to meet with us to discuss the benefits of declaring a Climate Emergency. Councillor Billig politely refused, confirming there was nothing more she could do to assist with this request seeing as the council had refused it. She did wish us well with our campaign though…which is nice…she clearly doesn’t get it.

Time is running out

Time is running out

On a positive note did you witness the children striking for their future on Friday? It was truly moving to see thousands of pupils strike from school lessons to protest against the lack of action on climate change, a movement started by the inspiring Greta Thunberg (please watch her TED talk, and follow her on Twitter). Hearing their voices eloquently calling for change was amazing to watch, and I’m very much looking forward to the next #SchoolStrike4Climate on March 15; this is going to grow and grow.

Some politicians such as the progressive MP for South Norwich, Clive Lewis, came out in support of them, whilst others, including our Prime Minister, derided the action saying pupils should not damage their education by skipping lessons, and could face detentions and disciplinary action. As many pupils have said it’s their future being destroyed, and it’s time for change. Sacrificing a few hours of lesson time is more than worth it, and what is the point of learning if there is no future? Full credit to these children, they’re doing more than most adults for the cause.

I believe Theresa May said something along the lines of children and teacher time being wasted. I’m not sure she really has a leg to stand on after seeing the parliamentary shambles of the last few years. They have also wasted at least 30 years by not doing anything to avert this crisis; these facts have been known for decades.

I’m at the point of complete disgust and despair at most of our politicians and leaders, with a few exceptions such as Caroline Lucas, or Clive Lewis. Talking to them just isn’t working, and neither are letters or petitions. Direct action seems our only recourse.

We are all going to have to change our lifestyles in order to stand a chance, and for our children to stand a chance. The changes needed will be far-reaching; a topic for another blog, and for a Citizens Assembly to try to work out. I certainly don’t have the answers.

The question I was asking myself today was why do most people in this country, and in more developed countries across the world, seem to value their often luxurious and consumptive lifestyles more than they love their children? Why won’t they make even simple changes like using a car less, rejecting fast fashion, or cutting down meat consumption? I don’t get it. Many indigenous cultures claim we have forgotten how to love our children. I think they might be right.

You can follow Norwich Extinction Rebellion activity via our Twitter account, @NorwichXr, as well as our Instagram and Facebook accounts. Please feel free to come along to one of the weekly general meetings which happen most Thursdays; details on Facebook, or message me.

Rebel for Life.

Climate Emergency declaration

Next week a motion is table at the Norwich City Council meeting, at 19:30 on 29 Jan (City Hall) to declare a climate emergency. Fingers crossed it gets passed!

climate emergency motion poster 2

If you support this, and live in the Norwich area, you could write to your local counsellor to ask them to support it too. Here are some suggested words:

“As you are one of my local councillors I am writing to ask that you vote to support the motion to Norwich City Council to declare a climate emergency (Item 8a in the agenda for the Full Council on 29.1.19.
I am sure you are fully aware of the danger of mass extinction if we do not take action immediately to stop global warming. The UN says we have 12 years left to prevent vast areas of the earth becoming uninhabitable.
Other councils, from Bristol to Milton Keynes, have already voted to acknowledge this emergency and take action, including calling on the Government in Westminster to provide the powers and resources for local authorities to address this threat. I urge you to support Norwich in joining them, and joining in the action we desperately need.
If you would like more information about positive actions and the climate change situation, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Please let me know how you intend to vote”

Let’s hope Norwich follows the example of other councils around the country, and perhaps Norfolk Country Council shortly after that.

 

Extinction Rebellion

I’ll start this post with some autumnal pictures. It’s my favourite time of year, incorporating beautiful colours in the countryside, crisp and bright days, and the Norwich beer festival; always a must visit.

Walking or cycling through the countryside, breathing in the fresh air, is a true delight. And  there’s always the joy of jumping into piles of leaves, or taking in a magnificent sunset. I don’t have any recent sunset pictures, as sometimes it’s good just to take it all in without having to photograph it. I do have the privilege to cycle past Whitlingham Broad on my way to work each morning though, which always offers a calm moment before the day starts in earnest.

Each year I wonder if we’ll see the same next year. What will have burnt, been blown down, or perished from either drought, habitat destruction or any one of a number of other human caused blights? The wildfires in California, or the increased frequency of ‘once in a hundred years’ storms, are just a few examples.

There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of an environmental crisis now. The symptoms of Climate Breakdown are everywhere to see and this is just the beginning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or Climate Breakdown as it should now be called, says we have just 12 years to avert catastrophe. I hope this is true and we’ve not already passed the tipping point.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

I’m not going to include lots of links to evidence, to scientific commentary or opinion, as it’s easy to find on the web, however if you have any doubts this is true, or are in denial, I recommend doing a bit of research (I can supply some pointers upon request).

A lot of us have had enough of this now. Of the failure of governments, corporations, and indeed most of the people on the planet, to do anything to avert the impending catastrophe. We are failing future generations of children, and indeed all life on the planet. We can’t however dwell on the past too much, or start blaming previous generations, that won’t help.

For what has probably been several years this has been weighing heavily on my mind, and I’ve experienced a full range of emotions on the subject which I now realise, with the help of friends and wiser people than I, are down to grief. You’d have thought I’d have recognised the symptoms given previous life events. Sadness, a bit of denial, despair and depression, anger, and now hopefully acceptance. You can’t move on and do anything constructive about an issue you’re grieving about unless you can accept it’s happened or happening, and the truth. If you’re going through this yourself I can thoroughly recommend looking up Joanna Macy, the deep ecologist, and the work that reconnects. It helps.

On a side note I’m really starting to think that a lot of the mental health problems we’re seeing at the moment might be related to all of this. At some level, even subconsciously and especially amongst children, are we all recognising the problem and threat? Is this why levels are depression and anxiety are soaring?

Last night I decided to go to a talk organised by Extinction Rebellion. It was a game-changer as far as I’m concerned. The talk was hosted by Rupert Read, a Green Party politician, academic and reader of philosophy at the University of East Anglia where I studied. He gave the same talk at Churchill College in Cambridge recently, and I’d really recommend everyone listen to it, challenge it if necessary, and try to understand it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzCxFPzdO0Y

If you do nothing else, or don’t ready any further, please watch at least some of this!

Yes, this stuff is really scary, terrifying. I was beginning to think that very few other people saw it the same way I’ve been seeing it. It makes one feel very alone, and question whether you’re one of the ‘crazies’. I don’t feel that way anymore. They expected maybe 50 odd people to turn up last night. There were around 120 of us crammed into the room, a brilliant turn out given it was only organised the week before. There were people from all walks of life too, lest you think it was just fringe hippies and malcontents. Finally a group of like-minded I can relate to, who are as worried as I am, and who are willing to try to do something about it.

We really do have just years to try do something about this. It’s something that will not just potentially cut your children’s lives short, it could do so for your own life, or at least future wellbeing. As Rupert says in his talk there are three possibilities at the moment.

  1. Complete breakdown of civilisation, which will start within our lifetimes – there won’t be much of anything left, we didn’t do enough, quickly enough
  2. An alternative civilisation – a partial collapse of what we have today, but things are left intact to some extent, we just about did enough
  3. A successor civilisation – we transform our current civilisation now, and quickly, bringing about the chance for massive improvements and a better way of life for all on the planet

I reckon number three is the sensible choice to strive for, if it’s not too late, but it’s also the hardest route to take, and possibly the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a species. To make it work it’ll need everyone to get on board, completely change their lifestyles, and priorities. It’s harder than previous challenges we’ve faced on subjects such as equality, voting rights, and discrimination. We are after all talking about people who are currently rich, comfortable, and enjoying a life of comparative luxury (most people in the UK relative to other parts of the world) needing to set much of what they currently value aside. However, if we can start to transform civilisation we’ll be in with a chance, and we could end up being in a much better place than we are now on many counts.

People may ask isn’t the Paris Climate Change Agreement supposed to avert all these problems? Doesn’t the IPCC report offer hope? The answer to that, in brief, is no. The Paris agreement is effectively burnt, especially if the US pulls out. It doesn’t go far enough and won’t prevent the temperature rises that are going to cause so many problems. These reports and agreements don’t take into account things like feedback loops from ice-melt and the permafrost thawing. If methane emissions soar (releasing the dragon), which is entirely possible, we’ll see the release of massive amounts of a greenhouse gas far worse than CO2.

It would appear therefore we have years to try to fix this, and we need to get as many people involved to completely change the way we live, consume, travel, grow our food, enjoy our leisure activities etc. I’m not sure this is possible but surely it’s got to be worth a go? It really is time for people to wake up to this, for people to start talking about it and for action to start happening on a major scale. And we have to approach this in the right way, not with accusations and trying to force people to see your point of view, but by providing information and the facts, and asking them questions, so they can reach their own conclusions, go through the grieving process, and come out the other side to add a positive contribution. This is much bigger than Brexit, or the NHS crisis, yet it’s not anywhere near the top our governments agenda. They are letting us down.

That’s where Extinction Rebellion comes in (@ExtinctionR

https://rebellion.earth

Governments and corporations aren’t doing anything quickly enough, or anything at all in many cases. They need to start listening and the only way to make that happen appears to be via non-violent direct action, which is what Extinction Rebellion is trying to organise. We need to stop the destructive spiral that is going on at the moment and make change happen.

I’d invite anyone reading this (there’s got to be at least 2 or 3 people who got this far), to check out Extinction Rebellion yourself. Spread the word. Get involved and consider non-violent direct action to make the government listen. There are ‘Holding actions’ we can undertake to slow things down. There’s going to be some good stuff happening in London this weekend. This has the potential to be huge, and even if it doesn’t work I don’t want to be in situation in 10 or 20 years time wishing I’d tried to do something. It’s got to be worth a shot whilst we still have a chance hasn’t it?

In the meantime though, I might do a bit of prepping, just in case…

Writing to my MP

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of the year to write to my local MP, Keith Simpson, concerning issues that I feel strongly about.  I figure you can’t complain if you’re not willing to do something about it, and also it’s going to help me keep sane in a world that increasingly makes less and less sense.

I may still write to him about being paid to cycle to work and how the Government could contribute to this, but I need to do some more work on that; they already indirectly contribute via things like cycle to work schemes, I’m just not sure they work very well. In the meantime I’ve sent the below, and am looking forward to seeing what he has to say.

Dear Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP,
I hope this email finds you well, and like me looking forward to it getting a little more spring-like soon. It was good to see you in the local press recently alongside the announcement that the last bit of the NDR will be opening soon.
I am writing to you concerning the increasing number of housing developments that are being planned around Norwich, which are starting to eat up more and more green field sites. I understand there is a housing demand, however I want to make sure this demand is being satisfied in a well conceived and sustainable fashion, without too much impact on the environment and our beautiful countryside, something I’m sure you can agree with.
To let you know a little about myself. I moved to Salhouse just over a year ago, and am loving living in the countryside after being in Norwich since I moved from the South East to go to UEA in 1993. I now work for Virgin Money as a Project Manager.
I recently read an article in the EDP (http://www.edp24.co.uk/edp-property/councillors-approve-380-homes-sprowston-1-5459687) which claims that a housing development in Sprowston will only have 10% of affordable homes, despite the Joint Core Strategy policy having a target of 33%. I would like to know if this is true (the EDP isn’t always 100% accurate), and what the reason for this deviation is. Is it a case of the developer saying they won’t have a sufficient profit margin if the affordable housing ratio goes above 10%, and if so has this been independently verified? I understand this development falls within the Broadland district.
My concern is that whilst we have a housing shortage, and need to build more homes, what’s the point if people aren’t going to be able to afford them? People may also overstretch themselves on the borrowing front, leading to bad debt and repossessions should interest rates go up, which seems inevitable in the short to medium term. My suspicion from reading other articles on housing plans is that very few will meet the recommended percentage of affordable housing. Perhaps the strategy needs to be revisited on this, or pressure put on developers to change their plans?
I also recently wrote to the Broadland Planning department concerning a small housing development that is being planned for the field behind where I live (Application 20180360). I know they don’t reply to individual emails, however I’d like to make you aware of the points I raised, especially considering Salhouse again experienced issues with flooding this winter. I have copied in the relevant section of my email of 31 March 2018 below.
1) Access to the new development via Barn Piece Close. I’m not convinced the road is big enough to be used by vehicles accessing the additional site. It’s quite narrow, and access on to the main road could start to become an issue with the increased number of cars. There could be a risk this turns into an accident zone as cars don’t exactly travel down Salhouse Road to the mini roundabout slowly. Also the dead-end close has children who play in it at the moment, and safety issues might result from increased traffic. Is there an alternative route into the site that could be considered, perhaps directly from the main road?
2) Mains sewerage capacity. I read in the parish magazine about issues with the village sewerage system overflowing, and not really being fit for purpose for the current number of homes. Is there not a risk the increased number of dwellings could cause more overflow problems. Should the sewer system be improved and expanded prior to any new development being considered? The sewer system recently overflowed again, thus proving this is still an issue.
3) Other utilities. Aside from sewerage, are other utilities such as gas, water, broadband, electricity etc of a sufficient capacity to supply the new homes, with no loss of service to the existing homes in the vicinity?
4) Further expansion. Would this development pave the way for even more development in the immediate area, which would exacerbate the above points even further?
5) I assume the standard ecological surveys ref bats, newts etc will be completed? We have enough threats to the UK’s biodiversity as it is. I would really prefer to see more brown site development going on.
I realise development on brown field sites can be more expensive, and that affordable housing is not going to be as attractive to developers seeking to maximise their profits. However, with the challenges first time buyers and lower earners face with getting on the housing ladder, and the threats our countryside and environment are up against, would it be possible to initiate a review of the planning policy to ensure it is benefitting everybody, and doing what it can to protect our rapidly diminishing natural spaces and biodiversity.
A supporting argument for this may also be that the housing market is slowing down due to fears of interest rate rises and lack of affordability. Hopefully this means we have the time to review plans and make sure we get them right?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
James Harvey

 

I’ll share any response I receive. I have a feeling this may be the first of many pieces of correspondence to Keith, however I’ll always try and make them constructive.

In my next post I’ll get back to plans for summer cycling trips; bike-packing in Scotland on the horizon.

Get paid for cycling to work?

I thought the ‘Beast from the East’ was behind us when I went out for a pedal round the Norfolk countryside on Saturday, and to begin with that appeared to be the case. The snow was contained to small patches in fields, and I merrily splashed down narrow lanes full of melt-water. What remained of the previous week’s blizzards was quickly disappearing, with rivulets of water joining together to form larger streams, and in some cases torrents, flowing quickly downhill. Beneath the retreating snow crocuses and other spring growth were appearing, soon to replace the snow drops. The birds were in fine voice, celebrating the snow’s retreat by collecting twigs for nests and generally getting jiggy with it.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my Ridgeback Panorama used for my Bike around Britain tour in 2013. My Oxford Bike Works Expedition Bike is off the road at the moment awaiting wheel repairs and a general post winter rebuild. It’s good to be back on the Ridgeback, despite it being a bit creaky these days; it brings back good memories and the larger wheels mean I’m a bit speedier on the morning commute.

So, the Ridgeback and I were speeding along, having taken in Woodbastwick, Ranworth, South Walsham and several other small villages, when we turned down a road near Burlingham which obviously hadn’t seen much sun.

No road closure signs required

No road closure signs required

Determined not to be defeated by this impasse, I decided carrying my bike over the still significant snow-drifts was the way forward. The drifts must have been at hedge-height level prior to the thaw.

Ridgeback portage required

Ridgeback portage required

I made it to the other side with feelings akin to those Amundsen must have felt on reaching the South Pole in 1911, however perhaps shorts hadn’t been the best choice of clothing for this outing, and my shoes were on the damp side by the time I hit tarmac again.

As well as weekend rides I’ve been using my Ridgeback for the daily commute, determined not to have to resort to driving which tends to leave me in a grotty mood for the rest of the day. I was snow-bound for a few days during the Beast from the East episode, and not being able to get out for a ride left me feeling irritable and fidgety. It took me a while to realise it was because I hadn’t been having my daily dose of exercise. Cycling has so many benefits, as I’ve extolled before, that I find it difficult to understand why you would drive if you have an alternative. Here’s 10 reasons to get on your bike:

  1. Health and fitness – stronger and better endurance, helps you lose weight, and keeps me prepped for my next tour
  2. Reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancer, and no doubt many other diseases. Some studies have shown it’s better for your lungs than driving, as you avoid more fumes. It also appears to help maintain brain function due to better blood flow, reducing the risk of dementia
  3. Boosted immune system; read an article this week about pensioners who cycle regularly having the immune system of people in their 20’s
  4. Keeps you looking more youthful – or so I like to think
  5. Improved mental health – from exercise, being outside in the fresh air and nature, and taking some time-out each day
  6. Cycling has less impact on your body than, for example, running, so you save your knees! I know this to be true because I went for a run for the first time in ages on Saturday, and still haven’t completely recovered
  7. Less polluting than other forms of transport, so better for the environment and more sustainable. We really need to reduce our CO2 emissions
  8. It’s actually quicker than driving in cities, and you find places you’d never see in a car. It improves your navigational skills and sense of direction to boot
  9. You can eat more cake; other foodstuffs are available (and frequently taken advantage of)
  10. Improves your sex-life; apparently it’s all about muscle groups

There are other benefits to be had, however if that isn’t enough I don’t know what is? If you’re still not convinced how about being paid to cycle to work? In New Zealand one business owner has taken it to a new level and is paying his employees $5 a day if they commute by bike for 6 months, rising to $10 a day after that, paid as an annual basis. He’s paying for it out of business profits, and says it’s covered by the improvement in employee productivity and better health.

Here’s a link to the article on this:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/07/new-zealand-cycle-cash-10-a-day-employees-work-company?CMP=share_btn_tw

This got me thinking about whether we could do this in the UK. People are often more motivated, at least initially, by monetary incentives rather than the 10 benefits listed above; I know, weird isn’t it, you’d think you’d cycle for those alone with any money being a bonus. If companies can’t afford to do this themselves perhaps the government could offer grants to at least partially fund it. Their incentive to do this would be less stress on an already straining-at-the-seams heath service, as well as improvements to the transport network due to less road erosion, and less traffic jams. It really has to be a win-win for everyone. I suppose the government already pitches in via cycle-to-work schemes, which give you tax breaks, however there have to be the opportunities to encourage cycling.

I’m wondering how I can turn this into some sort of business case to present at work, however it might be a bit tricky to assign an actual £ value. Got to be worth a go though, as my gut instinct says the benefits of a more motivated, healthier and happier workforce would outweigh any costs.

And perhaps instead of all the money being paid in a bonus to employees they could opt for some or all of it to be paid to charity instead, with Gift Aid on top of these donations.

I’ll do some more work on this and maybe float the idea at work. It would mean we’d probably need more places to lock bikes, and maybe more showers, but these things are all doable. In the meantime if you have any suggestions or comments please let me know, all gratefully received; let’s get more people self-propelled!

Where do we go from here?

I love it when it snows, and after several years of nothing significant the ‘Beast from the East’ brought buckets of the stuff over the past week. The only draw-back, from my point of view anyway, is that it makes cycling a little tricky; I don’t have any studded tyres.

Imagine if we could control the weather; but would that really be a good thing? The potential benefits around, for example, a predictable climate for agriculture, sunshine for the tourist industry, or rain for drought hit areas all sound good. But what about the impacts we couldn’t foresee or chose to ignore?

Controlling the weather in one region could adversely impact another geographical area, where perhaps they didn’t have as much money or influence. This downstream area could get hit by extreme weather, or mass species die-off events could become more common-place, such as the Saiga antelope catastrophe in Kazakhstan. In excess of 200,000 of this endangered species died in 2015, when human-caused climate change increased temperatures to such an extent it’s thought they triggered a bacteria present benignly in the antelopes at lower temperatures to cause hemorrhagic septicemia (blood poisoning and internal bleeding), with thousands dying within a few days of each other.

An increase in life-threatening diseases due to climate change could happen to human population centres, and some would argue it already is. For example Nigeria is currently experiencing an outbreak of Lassa fever, which in extreme cases has symptoms similar to Ebola, and has no vaccine. There are some theories that the increased frequency of this disease could be down to changing weather patterns.

So no, I don’t think we can be trusted to control the weather responsibly. We’re already doing it indirectly via human-caused climate change due to fossil fuel burning. The recent snowy weather resulted from unseasonably warm air being drawn up to the arctic, the Jet Stream slowing down and disrupting the polar vortex, which forced cold air and blizzards down to the UK. Whilst we experienced temperatures well below freezing in Norfolk, it was above freezing in parts of the Arctic, melting yet more of the already at record lows sea ice. This is explained much more eloquently and in far more detail on this website – well written and easy to understand; definitely worth a read.

Where am I going with this? I’m pointing out we often don’t really understand, or are unable to predict, the consequences of our actions on the planet.

As I mentioned in a previous recent blog post I’ve been pondering where we’re going as a species, and why we keep pursuing unsustainable growth and consumption, whilst the world literally collapses around us. Climate change is becoming a very tangible symptom of our labours. Surely we should be petrified for the future of our children and grandchildren, if not the other species we share the world with. Yes, the planet will survive us, however will anything else on the Earth be left by the time we check out?

There are lots of examples of as yet un-checked unsustainable activity in the present day, which we seem to be in denial about. All these have either obvious, as well as I suspect as yet unpredicted consequences. Here are a few examples.

  1. Human population growth. The world’s population is growing at around 83 million or 1.1% a year, although this rate has slowed down since peaking in the 1960’s at about 2.1%, and is predicted to fall further to around 0.1% by 2100. The graph below shows how dramatic this growth has been in the last 200 years. The impact this puts on the environment, especially as more of the population start to live ‘western’ lifestyles, is unsustainable. 
  2. Agricultural land use. As this article in the New Scientist from 10 years ago says; humans are living completely beyond their ecological means. We knew this a long time ago but still pump fields full of fertilisers and pesticides, which in the long-term degrades the land and makes it less productive, as well as poisons the underlying substrates and surrounding countryside, reducing biodiversity. That coupled with soil erosion means scientists are predicting we only have a limited number of harvests left, maybe 100, due to our unsustainable farming practices. The good news is this should be reversible, given the right techniques and less reliance on chemical fertilisers. The big agrochemical companies, such as Monsanto, don’t really want you to know this for obvious reasons. Check out this video from Dr Elaine Ingham if you want to find out more, a real eye-opener.
  3. Fishing. In many areas of the world we’re literally stripping the oceans bare of life to feed our appetite for seafood. Huge industrial trawlers and dredgers indiscriminately take everything, and even if by-catch is thrown back it’s probably not going to survive. Studies have shown that fish numbers have halved since the 70’s, with some species being hit particularly hard such as tuna and mackerel; a 75% decline in numbers. Continued unsustainable fishing practices driven by consumer demand, coupled with horrific plastic pollution and coral reef bleaching, paint a grim picture as far as recovery is concerned. If however large areas of our oceans are designated as marine conservation areas, such as the Arctic, perhaps they’ll stand a chance.
  4. Meat eating. There are hundreds of articles out there, such as this one, describing the impacts of raising livestock on the environment. As demand grows due to an increasing population and new markets, the impacts will grow. These include a large contribution to the greenhouse gases causing climate change, increased pollution due to run off, increased water use, and more land being needed to for livestock resulting in deforestation. The amount of land needed to feed a human on meat is about 20 times more than needed for a vegetarian diet. This is clearly unsustainable. The answer seems obvious, eat less meat and dairy products, with the associated health benefits as side-effects.
  5. Fossil fuel use. We continue to burn vast amount of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, in order to generate energy, heat our homes, or power transportation. The CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning continue to increase, despite the Paris Climate Change agreement being signed in 2015. Burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.  We have perhaps 100 years left of these primary fossil fuels, which means we’ll have used up what the world has to offer over the course of about 300 years, reserves that took millions of years to create. This has to be one of the best examples of unsustainable human-based activity, however with continued research and development hopefully alternatives such as electric cars (go Tesla!), renewables, or fusion energy will increase or come online soon.

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

Those were a few examples of unsustainable activity, which seem to make less and less sense to a growing number of people, especially the younger generation who don’t understand how we could, as a race, have been so ignorant, and how we continue to pursue these activities. I think they’ll be an accounting at some point, and the history books won’t look back kindly on what will come to be regarded as criminal practices. It can be summarised quite simply…

Infinite economic, industrial and agricultural growth is unsustainable and therefore impossible when based on finite resources, coupled with environmental constraints

…not sure one can argue with that. A basic example of this can be found from studying the growth of a bacterial colony in a petri dish. The colony starts off slow, then grows exponentially using up the finite resources available, then dies off once the agar jelly runs out. A simple example but with obvious parallels to humans and the Earth.

There’s a lot of hope out there in terms of alternative more sustainable options, however these are reliant on:

  • Public take up of the alternatives, and a willingness on everyone to make sacrifices to ensure long-term sustainability
  • Funding for the research and development of these initiatives
  • The same initiatives not being blocked due to profit seeking by the incumbent industries, who wield so much power and influence
  • Politicians actually listening to their constituents and scientists

I’ve been reading recently about shifting baseline syndrome. Over time knowledge is lost concerning the state of the natural world, as people don’t perceive the changes taking place. Today’s younger generation won’t for example remember that gardens used to be full of butterflies, or that birdsong used to be so much louder, or that rhinos were once commonplace in Africa. It has to be a concern that the environment and biodiversity will continue to decline due to unsustainable activity, but people won’t realise the extent of the decline because they have no first hand experience of what things used to be like.

Over the last 25 – 30 years: (Source: WWF-UK Living Planet Report)

  • 80% of freshwater species have declined
  • Over 50% of populations of land species have declined
  • 40% of our forests have disappeared to agricultural land with 15 million trees lost each year just for soy production
  • 1 in 6 of the planet’s species are at risk of extinction from climate change

I hope that education will fill this gap, and Deep Ecology will start to become part of the syllabus; humans are just one of many equal components that make up the global ecosystem. We’re not above or apart from it, we’re a part of it, and could not only survive but thrive if things are done the right way.

I don’t know how we change public opinion quickly enough to make the changes needed to ensure we can survive and thrive. Most governments don’t seem to give it a high priority, or are swayed by lobbyists driving their own commercial agendas, and whilst industry is changing it’s debatable whether it will happen quickly enough. It’s bizarre that we can continue so blithely down this path when you can for example see the ice melting, species dying, diseases increasing, the plastic in our oceans, antibiotic resistance rocketing, and extreme weather events due to climate change happening. I can only assume most people are in a massive state of denial, and refuse to wake-up, because to do so would cause a mental breakdown.

The underlying causes of all this have to be the drive to consume (we’re all indoctrinated to do so from an early age via marketing), what we are taught to regard as being successful in life, the pursuit of unreasonable profit and therefore money by a relatively small percentage of the population, and the often mistaken belief that more money will make you happy. After being on my bike for six months travelling round Europe, I realised you need very little in order to be happy. It looks increasingly like we need an alternative model from capitalism, which no doubt had its place in the past, in order to endure. That’s maybe a topic for another blog.

If you don’t already know about it Earth Hour takes place this weekend, where people are encouraged to turn their lights off from 20.30 in a show of solidarity for the planet. Here’s a link to the WWF website which has more detail on it – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Well done and thank you if you made it to the end of that one. As usual my opinions are my own, however I hope that many of you will agree seeing as the evidence around all this is so easy to come by (see sources), and that you’ll conclude that we need to stop now and make some changes. I think everyone really can make a difference, because trends and movements spread and grow when they make sense. Let’s rectify this:

People and nature in Venn diagrams

People and nature in Venn diagrams

As always, safe cycling, and please feel free to comment with any feedback, opinions or interesting links to further information.

Sources

  1. BBC – Lassa fever: The killer with no vaccine – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43211086
  2. Robert Scribbler – Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change interacts with the Polar Vortex – https://robertscribbler.com/2018/02/28/sudden-stratospheric-warming-and-polar-amplification-how-climate-change-interacts-with-the-polar-vortex/
  3. World Population Growth by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina – https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth
  4. Unsustainable development ‘puts humanity at risk’ – https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12834-unsustainable-development-puts-humanity-at-risk/
  5. Youtube – The Roots of your Profit, Dr Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, founder of Soil Foodweb Inc – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag&t=3511s
  6. Huffington Post – Ocean Fish Populations cut in half since the 1970s: Report – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/crucial-marine-populations-cut-in-half-since-the-1970s-report_us_55f9ecd2e4b00310edf5b1b2
  7. The Guardian – Animal agriculture is choking the ​Earth and making us sick. We must act now – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron
  8. The Guardian – Fossil fuel burning set to hit record high in 2017, scientists warn – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/13/fossil-fuel-burning-set-to-hit-record-high-in-2017-scientists-warn
  9. Wikipedia – Deep Ecology – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology
  10. WWF – Earth Hour – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour