Yes, this episode is mainly about the Big One, the four day event from XR held over last weekend from the 21st to the 24th of April.
The Big One - XR in London
This was an essentially non-disruptive demonstration and it went off without problems. I went down for the Friday and I have to say I started with quite low expectations. Extinction Rebellion were still talking about 100,000 people, although admitting that only 30,000 had signed up. London was wet and cold when I arrived and the sound stage on College Green didn't work very well. It just wasn't loud enough and people at the back kept shouting “speak up”. Happily it was fixed later in the day.
To start with, College Green was only half full, which emphasised my misgivings, but of course the whole thing was a multi site event, with groups picketing every ministry. By lunchtime there were many more people and the sun had come out. Whitehall was closed for a procession. The Crimson Ladies were there if that's what they're called. They made the front page of Saturday’s Times. I've seen them at previous events. This time there were the yellow men as well. Dressed in yellow, each with a black hat, a large moustache, carrying yellow paddles showing banned aircraft or the planet on fire. Carefully choreographed and synchronise gestures they paraded along. I’ve put a number of pictures on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
There was drumming. There was a lot of drumming. There was the Whitehall march, the MOD picket, and another group in Parliament Square. Every group seemed to have its drums. Every ministry was picketed and so was 55 Tufton Street, the registered office of organisations, like the Taxpayers Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs - no friends to climate activists. Oh, and there was singing as well.
We marched on and caused a traffic jam outside the Department for Transport. Others went to the Treasury. Others went to the Home Office. Every ministry was picketed, and that was just Friday.
I addressed the crowd!
The high spot for me was when somebody handed me a microphone outside parliament and I addressed the crowd for five minutes. I have to say I love an audience and they did love me.
Well that's not actually applause for me although they did cheer at the end. I told them about Earth Day. I told them about the problems that we've been warned of by James Hansen, Lord Stern, and Antonio Guterres, and many, many, many others. I told them that Earth Day projects were essential but were essentially within the context of the overall climate crisis. I talked about what governments were doing; what they weren't doing. I talked about three-word slogans like “don't look up”. Yeah that's a film. Watch it and if you've already watched it watch it again. “Take back control” which is a good idea although very vague. “Action not words”.
The actions from the British government at least seem to be focused on denial, on strengthening the regulations to hamper protest and indeed criminalise it. That was one of the motivations for this event by Extinction Rebellion. This event was announced as not an act of civil disobedience in any way, but a demonstration of concern from thousands of people. From that point of view, it was successful, insofar as thousands of people certainly turned up on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and on Monday, and some 200 organisations lent their support.
But before all this happened, I asked the question, would the media take any notice, would parliament take any notice? There were plenty of press photographers, braving the rain and there was that picture on the front page of the Times on Saturday, although the article was on page 15. Other newspapers covered the story but certainly not prominently. The overall impression of the media's reaction was this was just another demonstration. There are, after all, demonstrations almost every day in central London, and for many people I suppose that a demonstration from Extinction Rebellion was simply nothing new.
Did Parliament take any notice? Did they admit, yes, they should be taking urgent action to address this existential crisis, and urging all other governments across the world to do the same? You know the answer to that.
Public opinion is changing, businesses are announcing their green credentials, but the British government is not really doing enough quickly enough. Its plan to achieve Net Zero 2050 is roundly criticised, not least by the Climate Change Committee, the UK’s independent adviser on tackling climate change. But of course, it's not just the British government that we need to act, it's every government in the world. Most of them came to COP 27 and all the COPs which went before and all of them them made promises. They’re still beholden to big business and business as usual so of course those promises will be kept, only not just yet.
The United Kingdom still has a certain degree of international prestige. If our country decided to take a lead in tackling the climate crisis through accelerated decarbonisation backed with universal home insulation and transport electrification its example would be noted across the world. If we choose to do little other countries will be happy to share our complacency.
Abandoning Civil Disobedience
The big question about the XR approach, which has abandoned civil disobedience in favour of attempting to open dialogue, is whether it will make any difference, and if it does whether it will make any difference in time. Breakaway groups such as Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil have said that they will continue with civil disobedience, with obstructing roads and damaging property. Protesters who scaled the towers of the Dartford River Crossing were recently sent to prison for more than two years, because the judge said he thought that if they weren't locked away, they would do it again. There is no doubt they probably will do it again, because they see the danger from the climate crisis as infinitely worse than the inconvenience of closing motorways for a couple of days. Parallels are drawn with the suffragette movement, which campaigned for votes for women. Some suffragettes were violent and damaged property. Others were not. The state was certainly violent towards some of the protesters, those who attempted hunger strike, and were roughly force-fed.
Cynicism of War
When I spoke in the street last Friday I spoke about the cynicism of a world where countries are prosecuting wars, while many other countries sit on the sidelines and cheer for one side or the other. How can this be compatible with the aim of preserving the planet as humanity’s habitat, where all humanity can coexist?
Maybe it will take a sudden shock for governments to suddenly realise where priorities lie.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Andreas Malm believes in violent protest. He believes that only a sudden shock will cause governments to realise that action is essential. If that shock is a natural disaster by the time it comes, it might be too late. Malm is author of a book called How to Blow up a Pipeline. The synopsis goes like this:
“The science on climate change has been clear for a very long time now. Yet despite decades of appeals, mass street protests, petition campaigns, and peaceful demonstrations, we are still facing a booming fossil fuel industry, rising seas, rising emission levels, and a rising temperature. With the stakes so high, why haven't we moved beyond peaceful protest?
“In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel extraction to stop--with our actions, with our bodies, and by defusing and destroying its tools. We need, in short, to start blowing up some oil pipelines.”
The film of the book was released last week. There’s a link to the trailer on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
What should I do?
I have no appetite for violence or even for the civil disobedience which leads to arrest. Maybe I’m scared, or maybe I just want to draw back into the comfortable lifestyle which I’m fortunate enough to enjoy, because it’s comfortable now and likely to remain so for the rest of my life. Of course it won’t be comfortable for many outside the wealthy west. Already, in this month of April one in three people on the planet have suffered from a record Asian heatwave. In countries like India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Vietnam temperatures have been in the 40s. Anything over 39℃ for night after night is not survivable.
It won’t be comfortable for those living in 2050, a year that I, together with many of today’s politicians and decision-makers, am unlikely to see. Good luck to the kids and grandkids.
Maybe I should go out and blow up a pipeline. I don’t have the courage.
Instead I’ll continue to feed you sustainability stories, but I’m thinking hard that episode 500 might be time to call it a day. Don’t worry, we won’t reach that until after Christmas!
In Other News
The BBC reports that this month the global sea surface hit a new record high temperature. It has never warmed this much, this quickly. Writing in Earth Systems Science Data, the authors of the study warn that
“The Earth climate system is out of energy balance, and heat has accumulated continuously over the past decades, warming the ocean, the land, the cryosphere, and the atmosphere. According to the Sixth Assessment Report by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this planetary warming over multiple decades is human-driven and results in unprecedented and committed changes to the Earth system, with adverse impacts for ecosystems and human systems…The majority, about 89 %, of this heat is stored in the ocean,…The Earth energy imbalance is the most fundamental global climate indicator that the scientific community and the public can use as the measure of how well the world is doing in the task of bringing anthropogenic climate change under control…We call for an implementation of the Earth energy imbalance into the Paris Agreement's Global Stocktake based on best available science.”
Spread the Word
Yes, things are bad, but you knew that. We need to spread the word, to make our fellow citizens aware that there are solutions, but they're not based on business as usual, they can preserve current lifestyles and standards of living, but it involves doing things differently and doing them now.
Sustainable Speakers Club
This week I delivered the keynote at a meeting which launched the Sustainable Speakers Club. This is an online club, nominally Anglo Irish, but we had participants from all over the world including United States, France and Asia. Everyone is welcome to join to share ideas about sustainability and to share ideas about promoting the message as widely as possible through the power of the spoken word. The next meeting will be at 18.00 BST on Monday 29th May and I'll publish the link on the website in due course. I hope you’ll consider joining us.
Before I go, let's hear it for the patrons who support the Sustainable Futures Report. If you've not joined yet, now is your chance. Just pop across to patreon.com/SFR and sign up to support this podcast. Help me keep it independent and ad free, because apart from Patreon contributions there is no advertising, subsidy or sponsorship.
And that's it, so let me close by wishing you a very good week and reminding you that
that was the Sustainable Futures Report,
I'm Anthony Day,
and I'll be back next week.
Dartford Crossing Protest
Climate Change Committee
How to Blow Up a Pipeline