The climate and ecological emergency consuming the world, usually, defies the imagination. It is so life-altering yet so gradual – exploiting the human tendency to ignore things that are radically outside our own experience.
Yet, thanks to the Coronavirus, we have been given a small taste of what is to come. The short COVID-19 pandemic is like an accelerated version of the long climate emergency. The UK’s vulnerability has been exposed, along with the incompetence of its Government, and the generosity of its people.
So, myself and other activists have decided to use the Coronavirus crisis as impetus to boost our climate change campaigning – putting pressure on the powerful to counter the impending climate and ecological breakdown.
For my part, that involved spending last night in prison – my first arrest with Extinction Rebellion, and my first arrest for 17 years – following non-violent direct action with the Extinction Rebellion Writers Rebel group on Wednesday.
Our assembled crowd featured 20 high profile novelists, poets and screenwriters, assembled outside 55 Tufton Street, Westminster – the home of several right-wing pressure groups and ‘think tanks’, many of which deny climate change.
The usually quiet Tufton Street might not seem an obvious target, yet that is exactly the point. The shady groups housed there exercise power without responsibility. They are ideological groups, posing as respectable intellectual institutions, with links to big oil companies and agribusiness – not to mention members of both Houses of Parliament. And their offices are within spitting distance of Parliament.
As writers like George Monbiot and Zadie Smith shared their words last night – many of them beautiful, poignant and profound – it was hard not to hear the echoes of the half truths, fantasies and misinformation that have been whispered into the right ears by those who inhabit the brick monasteries of Tufton Street.
People like who work for Tufton Street think tanks pretend that civilisation as we know it is not coming to an end. They deny the gravity of the existential threat that we all face.
Extinction Rebellion activists are the opposite: we are the world’s face mask, filtering out toxic ideas that are built on profit motive rather than science.
Clearly, I can’t be arrested every night, but what comes next is just as serious, and perhaps even more impactful.
It includes probably a court case, and a bigger platform for us to expose the lies spread by big money think tanks and pressure groups.
COVID-19 has added urgency to this cause. Whereas before, global crises were far-flung fantasies, now the beast is among us. And the departure of one crisis won’t shut the door to others. The opposite is true: it will merely invite its friends.
Indeed, the more we allow climate and eco destruction, the more likely it is that pandemics will become the new normal.
Governments and businesses need to stop mistreating animals, stop habitat-destruction, and seek – on an emergency basis – to arrest climate change.
Economic globalisation and human hyper-mobility need to be scaled back. Our vulnerability to pandemic stems directly from our physical hyper-connectivity, a connectivity that benefits only a tiny percentage of the world’s population (about 80% of the world’s population have never flown).
If you want a future, if you want to stop or at least slow down the horrors of pandemics and climate disaster then, remember, Extinction Rebellion and movements like ours, are our world’s face mask.