What changes to current patterns of energy production and consumption can help us progress towards sustainability?

Abstract:
Current patterns of energy production and consumption are shaped by the greed and power of the fossil fuel industry and the relentless consumerism of late stage Capitalism. The resulting carbon emissions have risen exponentially and are causing catastrophic global heating, destabilising our climate and destroying the ecosystems we depend upon to feed ourselves and survive. In order to save our Earth from passing critical ecological tipping points there must be a deep adaptation of our energy production to renewable, low-carbon, localised sources. Consumption of energy must be dramatically reduced, necessitating a rejection of Capitalism in favour of a new societal model based around care and resilient local communities. Further research is needed into the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on the production and consumption of energy, and whether mutual-aid groups could be a prefigurative forum for transcending Capitalism in favour of a sustainable localism.

Word count: 3000

Since the Industrial Revolution the amount of energy that humanity consumes has grown exponentially. Coal, oil and natural gas have been ruthlessly and destructively extracted from every ecosystem on the planet, justified by the Capitalist logic of the “profit motive”. This glut of cheap fossil fuels has fuelled explosive growth in manufacturing and industrial output; enabled more intensive exploitation of natural resources; allowed us to consume more energy in our buildings; enabled cheap and fast transportation of goods and people; and fuelled ever expanding consumption of luxuries, services and products (Wall, D., 2015).

The cost has been an exponential growth of Carbon Dioxide emissions, which have had an increasingly irreversible and devastating impact on the stability of our global climate. The Earth’s teeming multitudes of life all exist within one planetary biosphere, a network of ecosystems held in balance in staggeringly complex synergy; yet we are only beginning to realise how little we understand these fragile interdependent systems as they break down before our eyes. Temperature rises caused by fossil fuel emissions are causing entire ecosystems to breakdown, leading to the fastest mass extinction event in the history of the planet (IPBES, 2019). We are rapidly approaching, or have likely already passed major ecological “tipping points” at which the temperature rises already locked in by current emissions will in turn likely cause vastly greater and more destructive heating. If heating is allowed to rise above 1.5 degrees these processes will accelerate exponentially – rendering our efforts to slow the rate of heating by reducing anthropogenic carbon emissions futile (Maslin, M. 2019).

This essay outlines how our current patterns of energy production and consumption are driving climate breakdown. It is concluded in the context of the imminent unraveling of the Earth’s biosphere “progress towards sustainability” cannot be defined as a gradual market-driven increase in renewable energy capacity. In order to maintain a habitable planet there must be an immediate transformation towards renewable, local, and carbon-neutral energy production. Crucially, energy consumption can only be understood through the hegemony of Capitalist consumerism as the prevailing imperative of society. A sketch is made of how reorganising our society around the care principle rather than the profit motive would necessitate reduced, redirected, and redistributed energy consumption whilst meeting the needs of all of humanity within the ecological capacity of the planet.

For the purpose of this essay, “current patterns” is taken to mean a pre-Covid-19 world. In the light of the Coronavirus Pandemic emerging data shows an unprecedented collapse in demand for fossil fuels, with potentially huge consequences for the future of energy production. I suggest that further research is needed into the prefigurative role new mutual aid networks could play as new forums for the transition to a climate resilient, care-oriented society.

The Paris Climate Accord commits the nations of the world to keeping global heating well below 2 degrees to avoid catastrophic consequences: an increase in deadly extreme weather; ocean acidification and the extinction of coral; soil erosion and pollinator extinctions destroying agricultural yields; coastal flooding displacing millions – these and countless other impacts are recognised as an existential threat to humanity (UN, 2015). However, In 2018 global energy consumption grew to 157,000 Terawatt hours, with 87% percent of this supplied by coal, oil and natural gas (Fig. 1). The UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2019 found that in 2018 global CO2 emissions from energy use and industry grew 2.0 per cent, reaching a record 37.5 Gigatonnes of CO2 per year (UNEP, 2019). The concentration of atmospheric CO2 has risen from a stable level of 350 parts per million (ppm) to over 420ppm rising, already causing an increase of 1.1 degrees in the average temperature of our oceans and climate above preindustrial levels (IPPC, 2018).

Fig. 1. (Smil, V., 2017)

This heating is triggering a cascade of feedback loops and tipping points the impacts of which are systemically under-accounted for within IPPC models. For example, as the permafrost melts it is beginning to release millions of tonnes of methane (a greenhouse gas between 30 and 100 times as potent as CO2) which would rapidly increase temperatures. This in turn would cause increasingly severe wildfires to turn the Amazon from a crucial carbon sink into a bigger source of emissions than human activity (Cia, Y., Lenton, T., Lontzek, T., 2016). If this happens then we will be unable to arrest the planet’s spiral into a “hothouse state” that no longer supports the complex web of life (Lenton, T. M., 2019). We have already disturbed the stable temperate climate that defined the Holocene geological era and enabled the corresponding rise to global dominance of Homo Sapiens. A combination of drought, soil erosion, extreme weather and the mass extinction of insect pollinators threatens multi-breadbasket crop failure, which would cause billions of people to die of famine, and lead to the collapse of human civilisation (IPBES, 2019).

A range of actors at the international level have pinned hope for a sustainable future on a transition to renewable low-carbon energy. Investment is rapidly bringing down costs and making the industry competitive with traditional fossil fuels (Ritchie, H., 2020). Over the last two hundred years there have been several revolutions in the makeup of overall energy production, such as in the nineteenth century when coal surpassed biomass in providing the largest share of the global energy supply and in the twentieth century when petroleum overtook coal. However, in these so-called energy “transitions”, the use of the older energy source continued to grow, despite rapid growth in the new source. This is because the total amount of energy consumed rose dramatically (fig. 2). Although renewable energy sources are growing to make up a larger share of overall energy production, they are not replacing fossil fuels “but are rather expanding the overall amount of energy that is produced.” (York, R., Bell, E.F., 2019). York and Bell characterise this trend as an energy “addition” rather than a transition, asserting that even a rapid decrease in fossil fuel energy production would not avert climate breakdown if it were not also accompanied by a significant reduction in the total amount of energy consumed. In order to achieve sustainability, the economic paradigm of Capitalism must be rejected in favour of a new system that drives the energy transition beyond the whims of the market, and consumes energy more responsibly.

Fig 2. (Smil, V. 2017)

The fundamental activity of Capitalism is the exploitation of natural resources and the creation of exchange value by turning them into a marketable form, be it a car, jet fuel, or burgers. This leads to the continual growth of the Global Gross Domestic Product (GGDP): the total value of all of the stuff that is produced. The profit motive of Capitalism dictates that it is rational that a business should reinvest the profits of economic activity into increasing the productivity and efficiency of the business in order to achieve more profit. The existence of highly competitive markets means that businesses that do not continually expand and reinvest lose out to rivals who can produce the same products cheaper and market them more aggressively, eventually leading to the domination of a small number of incredibly powerful corporate monopolies intent on driving up consumption (Raworth, K. 2018). It is in the interest of producers that the consumer’s needs and desires never be completely or permanently satisfied, so the consumer can repeat the consumption process and purchase more products. This is achieved through planned obsolescence, relentlessly advertising new things to buy, employing class-envy and encouraging people to take on debt. Since the 1970s, per-capita consumption has increased by 45%, global economic activity has increased by more than 300% and global trade by around 900% (World Bank, 2018).

Annual growth of national GDP was adopted first by the US during the Great Depression as a metric for assessing the health of the productive economy, but quickly came to dominate the political agenda as nations (particularly the US and USSR) competed to prove their economic system was best placed to achieve it. The growth imperative is reinforced by a range of international actors including the finance industry, banks, and the fossil fuel lobby. Financial speculators make investments on the stock market in companies likely to grow fastest and produce a larger return on investment, regardless of the usefulness or ethicality of their output. Banks underpin the Capitalist system by providing loans to businesses to expand and individuals to take out mortgages, creating value out of the promise that the money will be repaid with interest. Growth is therefore necessary to service these loans and prevent a wave of defaults collapsing the economy (Wall, D. 2015).

Every Capitalist business seeks to sustain a market for their goods, but the fossil fuel lobby have come to command the energy and economic policy of the entire world through systemic corruption and corporate lobbying, manipulating the entire world into addiction to their product by propagating a fossil fuel economy. Late capitalism is defined by this corruption. At the height of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the President of the United States is removing legal barriers for fossil fuel companies to exploit natural resources in some of the federal governments biggest national parks and environmentally protected areas, whilst the Senate uses the Coronavirus stimulus packages to give billions of dollars of giveaways to multinational oil, coal and natural gas cartels that sponsored republic campaigns (Deaton, J., 2020). This is an example of what Naomi Klein describes as the shock doctrine: whereby “Disaster Capitalists” take advantage of a crisis to push through otherwise unacceptable policies that rebalance power and wealth into the hands of elites (Klein, N, 2007).

Demand for fossil fuel energy has skyrocketed to cater to hyper-consumerism. Whilst domestic emissions have reduced on paper in developed economies in the Global North, this is only through the export of manufacturing to the Global South and the exclusion from official calculations of the emissions from the supply chains that produce and ship the products we consume. Despite the fantasies of global institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, there is no such thing as “sustainable growth”, because growth necessarily demands greater resource and energy consumption (Craig, M. 2017). Therefore, it is sobering, though sadly unsurprising, that the UN Environment Program’s latest emissions gap report state that “even if all unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement are implemented, we are still on course for a 3.2°C temperature rise by 2100” (UNEP, 2019). In effect, by refusing to recognise the irrationality of infinite economic growth on a finite planet in the Paris Agreement, our leaders have abdicated responsibility for maintaining a habitable planet for future generations. The most important act in humanity’s history must be the transcendence of Capitalism.

Fig. 3. (UNEP, 2019)

“The challenges posed by biodiversity loss and climate change are deeply interconnected and need to be addressed holistically at all levels. Reversal of recent declines – and a sustainable global future – are only possible with urgent transformative change tackling the interconnected economic, socio-cultural, demographic, political, institutional and technological indirect drivers of nature’s deterioration.”
(Dias, H. 2019)

To achieve the 1.5 degree limitation emissions must drop 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 (Fig 3.) (UNEP, 2019). The Exponential Roadmap Initiative Report on how to half Carbon emissions by 2050, comprehensively explores the specific policies required to transform our energy, industry, transport, buildings, and food consumption (ERI, 2020). To summarise, in a sustainable society energy will be treated as a precious resource rather than a cheap commodity – instead of being wasted on useless economic activity it will build the low-carbon infrastructure of our future, producing the photovoltaic cells and wind turbines that will revolutionise local renewable energy production. There will be a global network of electric public transport, and we must retrofit buildings with insulation and passive heat pumps (heating used 50% of final energy consumption in 2018) (IEA, 2019). Energy will be consumed in circular flows that mimic natural cycles through recycling, capturing waste energy, composting and carbon soil sequestration. All of this must be accomplished at scale: the energy transition will be defined by international development projects of a scope not seen before, creating millions of highly skilled jobs in the Global North and South and actively working to meet the UN sustainable development goals.

However, in spite of all of the potential for technological advances to increase the efficiency of industrial processes and reduce the impact of energy production, no amount of innovation can change the fact that we consume too much energy. Meeting our promises under the Paris Climate Agreement will necessitate a tangible drop in the energy available to the richest 10% of the global population, who consume 49% of global energy through car and air travel, eating more meat, and buying energy intensive products. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% only consume 10% of energy (Oxfam, 2015). The goal must be a society where life is given meaning not through ever-increasing material and energy consumption but through connection to our local communities. The 21st century will be shaped by new systems that are designed around care, rather than greed and self-interest, necessitating profound change in how energy, food and other material-intensive services are demanded and provided by governments, businesses and markets. These systems of provision are entwined with the preferences, actions and demands of people as consumers, citizens and communities. Deep-rooted shifts in values, norms, consumer culture and world views are inescapably part of the great sustainability transformation.

Perhaps surprisingly it was the father of Capitalism Adam Smith who said that our species is best defined by our “humanity, justice, generosity and public spirit” (Smith, A. 1776). In order to achieve degrowth a sustainable society will be restructured so that people’s needs for food, security, jobs and purpose are fulfilled by their local community. This would transform the way that people work, and subsequently consume energy. Many of the jobs that employ people today are “bullshit jobs”, that serve no useful function and contribute to reduced self-worth; or otherwise jobs in the service sector that depend on the steady availability of disposable income provided by useless work (Graeber, D. 2018). Citizens of a care orientated society would instead be provided a Universal Basic Income and be free to contribute to and share in the Commons, by volunteering in a community managed food cooperative; teaching a class on how to repair electronics; or providing care work – the opportunities for rewarding and valuable work are endless. The Andean cultural tradition of buen vivir, meaning “a fullness of life in a community with others and with Nature” is just one example of the strong tradition of sustainable regenerative living amongst indigenous communities (Gudynas, E., 2011). As we halt centuries of colonial violence upon indigenous land defenders, we must humbly draw upon the best practices of those who have lived in synergy with their local ecosystems for millennia, and promote education and respect for their long-standing wisdom regarding nature, conservation, and nature’s sustainable use (UNEP, 2019). Rousseau is an early proponent of such a transformed social contract, arguing “that one best realises one’s individuality in and through serving the common need” (Pepper, D. 1984).

Where perhaps several months ago such a vision would have seemed a hippy’s pipe-dream, we are witnessing a seismic shift in the realms of what is politically possible before our eyes. The decisions to impose lockdown across the world were taken on the advice of scientific experts in spite of the damage done to business interests, particularly the fossil fuel industry. This raises the hope that the public and global leaders will listen with renewed respect to the warnings of the IPCC and the IPBES and abandon GDP as a critical metric, instead turning to the expansive research into alternative economics developed since the 2008 financial crash. Kate Raworth presents an inspiring vision of how by abandoning a narrow focus on economic growth the productive and imaginative capacity of humanity can be harnessed to provide for the needs of all within the safe ecological boundaries of our planet, with Amsterdam becoming the first major city to adopt her influential “Doughnut” model of economics (Raworth, K. 2018). Around the world, mutual-aid groups have filled the void left by hollowed-out and dysfunctional states as millions draw together to look after the most vulnerable members of their communities and protect healthcare workers (Rickett, O. 2020). As lockdowns lift neighbours will come together and consolidate this new found solidarity – these forums may prove a historic proto-form of grassroots local democracy. The environmental action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) is already strategising how best to empower mutual-aid groups with the holocratic, self-organising principles that underpin their own internal decision making (Citizens Assemblies Working Group, 2020). Such new democratic forums capable of mandating a just ecological transition represent humanities best hope for effectively transforming our energy systems, and represent a critical research opportunity.

The last three decades of global climate policy have been defined by deep-rooted cognitive dissonance. Even as governments acknowledge the deadly severity of climate breakdown, they continue to hold up the Capitalistic models of energy production and consumption that is driving it. In 2019, the School strike movement and XR sounded the alarm that global elites were lying about how resilient, adaptable and sustainable the current system was. In 2020 the wildfires that devastated Australia and then the Coronavirus Pandemic have exposed how ill-prepared and ultimately disinterested Capitalism is in protecting the majority world from escalating waves of crisis. There has never been a more critical juncture in human history. We stand on the precipice of an apocalypse of our own making, but we have a credible, exciting, beautiful alternative to Capitalism and the political opportunity to demand it. To conclude, we must embrace a transition to renewable, local energy production and responsible, equitable consumption, led by the Global South and democratic grassroots activists. For the first time in decades, perhaps we should dare to hope for a better world. Perhaps then we will have the courage to build it.

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‘The Anglo-liberal growth model is fatally flawed but difficult to change.’ Discuss.

Sunrise over Campus East

Abstract

The Anglo-liberal growth model has been a disastrous project that has brought austerity, debt and wage stagnation to millions. In addition to the undeniable human cost of decades of economic policy orientated at protecting the finance sector, there has been an unforgiveable environmental cost that now poses a direct existential threat the future of human civilisation and all life on Earth. There will be myriad difficulties in any efforts to demand a just transition primarily from elite backlash, and more research is needed to study how to overcome this suicidal reactionary drive.

Word Count: 2369

“ ‘Economy’, like ‘ecology’, is derived for oikos – our home, the Earth. An economy that destroys our home is no longer an economy. It is a war against the planet, the people and our future.  ”

Vandana Shiva – Extinction Rebellion (2019) 

The Anglo-liberal growth model is the zenith of decades of savage neoliberal greed, propped up beyond its lifespan by corruption and ideological zealotry at the expense of the degradation of its supporting consumer class; and the ravaging of the natural world to the point of imminent apocalypse. Decades of growing emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) have accelerated the warming of our oceans and atmosphere, and will now likely push the planet past several crucial tipping points: the release of millions of tonnes of methane from the melting permafrost and CO2 from burning forests are on track to raise temperatures by as much as 4°C by the end of the century (IPCC, 2018). According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Global Assessment report released in April 2019 this would lead to irreversible breakdown of ecosystems and precipitate a collapse of global food supply systems (IPBES, 2019). It is now unequivocal that the breakdown of our climate imminently threatens not only the future of human civilisation, but also of all life on Earth (IPCC, 2018). 

This essay critiques the Anglo-liberal growth model for its inherent unsustainability and reckless ecological impact.  I begin an analysis of the uphill task of changing such a monolithic elite construction, highlighting an urgent demand for further research of both the intersectional movements that are increasingly rising up to challenge the establishment, and the emergent ecological paradigms in economics and International Relations. I conclude that there either a massive paradigm shift will reform the overarching public purpose of the state for enabling a just green economic transformation; or the continued dominance of commercial financial capital in economic policy will leave the UK paralysed to adapt to the proliferating existential threats. At this crisis point, change will be inevitable, even if that change is simply total collapse.

The features of the Anglo-liberal growth model as distinguished by Hay, are useful for highlighting its distinctly unsustainable nature:

  • Hegemony of an assertive neoliberal ideology, 
  • an elite policy community increasingly trapped within a narrow ideological framework, substantial deregulation of markets and privatisation of financial management, 
  • huge dependence on the supply of cheap hydrocarbons with disastrous environmental impacts, 
  • the systemic build-up of debt primarily to fuel consumption, an accumulation of risk within the economic system, with growth over time increasingly associated with exposure to that risk, 
  • the absence of a coherent theory of society or social well-being beyond the sum of individual, supposedly rational goal seeking;
  • the consequent embedding of inequalities between and within countries;
  • a limited view of global governance as little more than rules to manage competition between national economies

(Hay, 2013)

It is evident that Anglo-liberal economies are systemically vulnerable to inflationary shocks caused by, for example, a spike in oil prices or rising rates of loan default. Rates of GDP growth were powered by domestic demand driven by credit rather than earned income – there was real term wage stagnation that was disguised by the grossly overexposed housing market (Watson, 2010). The inflationary shock of the collapse of Lehman Brothers shattered the low interest rate–low inflation equilibrium causing mortgage repayments and ultimately default rates to rise. This triggered housing prices to fall, and a collapse in the consumption fuelling the boom (Ibid.). Treasury economists share a narrow orthodox intellectual background that left institutions blindsided by the failure of decades of received wisdom on the infallibility of the market (Craig M., 2017). So pervasive is the logic of the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy that after the crash the mainstream media were provided soothing explanations for the crash by the established authorities of the economic model that caused it, without being held to account (Simms, A. 2013).

The Anglo-liberal growth model depends heavily on a burgeoning financial sector, and is consequently hostile to progressive international action that would limit the ability of its banks to profit from resource extraction and the relentless neo-colonial growth imperative of the fossil fuel industry. This imperative undermines efforts at the global level to constrain the big polluters. Britain and the US export this lack of ambition on the global stage, exposing the mechanisms of the Paris Climate Accord as inadequate in ambition and enforceability. The 25th COP (Conference of Parties) showed that in spite of gushing rhetoric about the determination of young people demanding action on climate change, our leaders have effectively abdicated responsibility for mitigating extreme heating. They have chosen instead to leave it to those young people to find the solutions and invent the technology that will save the world from the mess they have created. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”  (Guterres, A. 2019).

Four days after the end of two weeks of Extinction Rebellion protests that paralysed Westminster, the UK Parliament became the first in the world to Declare a Climate Emergency and legally commit to Net Carbon Neutrality by 2050. On the face of it, this looks like evidence of the ability of existing institutions to pivot to more sustainable forms, and the ability of civil society to activate this change by pressuring their representatives to take transformative action. However, the 2050 neutrality target falls well short of the level of ambition that is required according to Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London because we will already have passed major ecological tipping points, rendering efforts to slow the rate of warming futile (Maslin, M. 2019). In spite of the warnings by the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that is “essential that the commitment [to net-zero] was comprehensive [and] achieved without use of international credits”, the government has legislated for offsetting domestic emissions by investing in tree planting and renewable energy projects in the Global South (CCC, 2019). Furthermore, emissions from aviation and shipping are not counted, ignoring the massive environmental impact of the UK’s import consumption. Our governments are making no steps to meet their own emissions reduction targets, which themselves Anderson is scathing of. “[targets] for example, of 80% by 2050 have no scientific basis. What governs future global temperatures and other adverse climate impacts are the emissions from yesterday, today and those released in the next few years… there is little to suggest that existing mitigation proposals will deliver anything but rising emissions over the coming decade or two” (Anderson, K., Bows, A. 2012). To continue with a consumption-based growth model the driving principle of which is the accumulation of profit at all costs is to sacrifice the lives of both the most vulnerable of the global South and of future generations. The political addiction to growth is a symptom of the relentless hunger of elites to extract every drop of Capital from the national economy before it succumbs to the overwhelming and unstoppable collapse of the biosphere.

The situation is now one of Emergency. When it comes to mitigating climate breakdown, the longer it takes humanity to reduce our collective Carbon footprint the more people will die: time is critical and with each day of inaction the more drastic and painful future cuts will have to be to avoid passing 1.5°C of warming and the associated catastrophic consequences (IPCC, 2018).  Scientists are calling for an urgent, coordinated reduction of emissions, necessitating an unprecedented reorientation of the entire global economy and our energy systems (Cia, Y., Lenton, T., Lontzek, T., 2016). But the current efforts of both the US and the UK to reduce emissions are hopelessly inadequate. Despite the lies of our government, “growth remains directly or indirectly ‘coupled’ to a range of growing ecological impacts” – there is no such thing as sustainable growth, because growth necessarily demands greater resource and energy consumption (Craig, M. 2017).

Against this backdrop, the question of whether or not it will be difficult to change the global economic paradigm becomes defunct. It is going to incredibly difficult. The feats of incredible Treasury action taken to prop up the failed institutions and broken economic fantasies of Anglo-liberalism in the aftermath of the 2008-9 financial crises expose the lengths elites will go to preserve their hegemonic structures and ability to accumulate capital. Creating a radically transformative new economic paradigm is the most pressing task of the UK and all peoples of the world. A new generation of economists are mindful of the words of Buckminster Fuller, the revolutionary 20th century inventor: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” In her seminal work Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth illustrates that by ending a focus on increasing GDP economics as a discipline could be refocused with the goal of “meeting the human rights of every person within the means of our life-giving planet” (Raworth, K. 2018). This requires a government willing to make meaningful economic interventions, stimulating “public infrastructure projects that are key to any reconfiguration of the economy… providing the public goods on which the transition to a new model of growth relies.” (Hay, C. 2013) There is a rich developing literature into under what circumstances ‘degrowth’ can become socially sustainable. 

The fight for a new economic model will always be a political struggle, not just a theoretical concern. In the last year Extinction Rebellion has mounted the most sustained and globally resonant criticism of the Anglo-liberal growth model with a campaign that draws on the long history of Non-Violent Direct and Action and Civil Disobedience as a method for achieving radical structural change from resistant elites (XR, 2019). In response to the April Extinction Rebellion protests environment Minister Michael Gove said the activists’ “point had been made”. He added it was time to have a serious conversation about what we can do to collectively deal with this problem. Mr Milliband said global warming would get far worse if the government did not act with greater urgency” (BBC, 2019). Given the radical implications of declaring that we are indeed in the middle of the sixth mass extinction and a climate crisis caused by Capitalism, this concession from key political figures of XR’s actions and gives some indication on how far the national political discourse was affected by the tactics of sustained civil disobedience.

However, the incoming Conservative government has abandoned any pretence of prioritising emissions reductions: Boris Johnson is pursuing a trade deal that aligns the UK with the climate-breakdown denying fossil-fuel state of the US and will contain no mentions of environmental protections (Doward, J. 2019). In the first weeks of 2020 they have bailed out the Fly.be airline, dismissing any argument that people should fly less (Despite aviation emissions doubling in the last decade). Furthermore, counter-terrorist police recently signposted XR as potential extremists in a Prevent document circulated to schools, warning authorities to look out for people who talk in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction, fracking, airport expansion or pollution”. XR are an explicitly Non-Violent organisation, and their inclusion in counter-terrorist guidance was justified by the fact that “Anti-establishment philosophy that seeks system change underlies its activism” (Guardian, 2019). This exposes the severity with which the mechanisms of the state are willing to repress any attempts to demand comprehensive climate action from below. Kallis is deeply cynical that anything less than a black-swan event triggering a full-blown crisis will lead to change: “Given the current political climate, opting for a voluntary ‘prosperous way down’ is extremely unlikely. The pursuit of growth has the features of a ‘collective action’ tragedy. The end result is likely to be ruin for all” (Kallis, G. 2017). 

In conclusion, the flaws inherent in the Anglo-liberal growth model may well prove to be literally fatal. The multiple environmental catastrophes we face as a result of decades of unchecked emissions increases threaten to cascade and overwhelm the ability of governments to respond. Dietz fears there is a systemic “underassessment of the overall scale of the risks from unmanaged climate change” because of the failure of growth models to factor in the impact of climate breakdown (Dietz, S. 2015). 

There is a rising body of civil society who are determined to achieve system change from below, in spite of the evident difficulties and reactionary establishment pressure. The question of how these movements can achieve this before the inevitable terminal crisis of our economic order leads to the breakdown of human civilisation must be the central focus of International Relations scholarship. 

Hay examines the wide body of literature on the aftermath of the financial collapse and concluded that our system is at a critical juncture: 

“if crises are judged as much by the transformations to which they give rise as by the accumulation of pathologies out of which they crystallize, then what we have experienced to date is not so much a crisis as a catastrophic equilibrium. Though the symptoms to which it has given rise are pregnant with the possibility of crisis, the crisis itself is yet to come.”

(Hay, C. 2013)

The end of the Anglo-liberal growth model draws near, and there are more reasons than ever for a renewed determination to ensure that what comes next will be better. 85% of Britons are now concerned about Climate Breakdown, a figure that had grown dramatically over the last year (Ipsos MORI, 2019).  There has been an explosion of awareness about the threats we face, and more people than ever are resolving to reduce their impact on the planet. The School strikers have shown that our generation has found its voice: we refuse to accept the insipid lies of a political elite who dare to tell us that everything will be okay, that they have the situation under control. Not only has the government’s economic ideology failed to address this rapidly unravelling existential crisis, it is they who are causing it in the first place by condoning the destruction of our natural world in the pursuit of economic growth. We have to Rebel to survive.

Bibliography

Anderson, K., Bows, A. (2012), A New Paradigm for Climate Change, Nature Climate Change volume

2, pp. 639–640.

BBC, (2019), Extinction Rebellion Protests: What Happened?, BBC Online, Available at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-

48051776?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c344m14wgy7t/extinction-rebellion&link_location=live-reporting-story [Last Accessed: 12/01/2020]

Doward, J. (2019), US Rules out any Talk of a Climate Crisis in Trade Negotiations, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/21/us-bans-mention-of-climate-in-uk-trade-talks [Last Accessed: 20/01/2020]

Extinction Rebellion, (2019), This is Not a Drill, Penguin Random House, London, pp. 1.

Guardian, (2019), Terrorism police list Extinction Rebellion as extremist ideology, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/10/xr-extinction-rebellion-listed-extremist-ideology-police-prevent-scheme-guidance [Last Accessed: 20/01/2020]

Hay, C. (2011), Pathology Without Crisis? The Strange Demise of the Anglo-Liberal Growth Model, Government and Opposition, Volume 46, Issue 1, Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/government-and-opposition/article/pathology-without-crisis-the-strange-demise-of-the-angloliberal-growth-model-1/01FBBE0BD12600517E23BDDC7DE7D2C9/core-reader [Last Accessed: 18/01/2020] pp. 1-31

Hay, C. (2013): The Failure of Anglo-liberal Capitalism, Springer, London, pp. 3

Hay, C. (2013): Treating the Symptom Not the Condition: Crisis Definition, Deficit Reduction and the Search for a New British Growth Model. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 15(1), Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-856X.2012.00515.x [Last Accessed: 19/01/2020] pp. 23-37.

Craig, M. (2017): Ecological political economy and the socio-ecological crisis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Craig, M. (2018): ‘Treasury Control’ and the British Environmental State: The Political Economy of Green Development Strategy in UK Central Government, New Political Economy, 25:1, pp. 30-45.

IPBES, (2019), Global Assessment for Policy Makers, Available at: https://www.ipbes.net/sites/default/files/downloads/spm_unedited_advance_for_posting_htn.pdf [Last Accessed: 17/01/2020]

IPCC, (2018), Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/ [Last Accessed: 16/01/2020]

Ipsos MORI, (2019), Concern about climate change reaches record levels with half now ‘very concerned’ Available at: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/concern-about-climate-change-reaches-record-levels-half-now-very-concerned [Last Accessed: 19/01/2020]

Kallis, G. (2017), Radical dematerialization and degrowth Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences Available at: http://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2016.0383 [Last Accessed: 20/01/2020]

Raworth, K. (2017): Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Penguin Random House, London, pp. 25.

Simms, A. (2013), Cancel the Apocalypse: The New Path to Prosperity London, Hachette Digital

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Is Democracy Good for the Environment?

My favourite Autumnal Jumper

      Abstract:

Against the backdrop of impending ecological collapse, some theorists have declared that Democracy is not fit for the purpose of managing a transition to a carbon neutral society, as evidenced by the failure of democracies to tackle climate breakdown so far. They have instead argued for a technocracy of elites responsible for benevolently reducing the world’s emissions with unaccountable macro-policy. I strongly refute these arguments as serving the interests of the Capitalist class that has created the climate crisis, and argue that there is no reason to believe that such an autocracy would be successful at tackling emissions. Instead, we need a radical ecological democracy that empowers all of the people of the world to adapt to a hostile changing climate without prejudice for geographical or temporal location, class or gender.

Word Count: 2707

Despite the commitments made by the nations of the world to limiting warming to 2⁰C degrees under the Paris Climate Accord, and recent pledges to Net Carbon Neutrality by 2050 from a small number of states, current efforts to reduce emissions are hopelessly inadequate. Wealthy democracies in the Global North have refused to take responsibility for the crisis they have caused, and the situation is now one of Emergency. When it comes to mitigating climate breakdown, the longer it takes humanity to reduce our collective Carbon footprint the more people will die: time is critical and with each day of inaction the more drastic and painful future cuts will have to be to avoid passing 1.5°C of warming and the associated catastrophic consequences (IPCC, 2018).  Scientists are calling for an urgent, coordinated reduction of emissions, necessitating an unprecedented reorientation of the entire global economy and our energy systems (Cia, Y., Lenton, T., Lontzek, T., 2016).

Obviously, that isn’t happening, and a small number of International Relations scholars have concluded that liberal democracy is unable to address the economic and social damage caused by climate breakdown because of its intrinsically uncoordinated system of bureaucracies, markets and corporations that shape policy. Their prescriptions range from Giddens’ view that policymakers should be constrained by an independent scientific authority that enforces a mitigation strategy (Giddens, 2009); to the more radical assertion of Shearman and Smith that a system of benevolent authoritarianism led by a technocratic elite of experts is the only way to overcome the chronic short-termism of democracy and transition to a Carbon Neutral economy (Shearman, D. Smith, J. 2007).

However, the fact that emissions reductions in democracies have not been much better than those in hybrid or authoritarian regime types does not justify abandoning democratic values in order to reduce emissions. I argue that making the normative case for the dissolution of democracy dangerously empowers the Capitalist elite who have caused the climate crisis, and now present themselves as the humanities only hope for a solution. Instead, only by transcending the corruption endemic in sovereign nation states by creating new global institutions that are fundamentally democratic can we deliver climate and social justice. I conclude that only a global democracy can resolutely uphold the Human, Social and Economic Rights of all people without overshooting the capacity of the earth to deliver them, and urge further research into how grassroots activists for democracy can mobilise to legitimate such a transformative demand.

The case against democracy is built on the grim reality of how dire the situation is. Decades of growing emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) have accelerated the warming of our oceans and atmosphere, and will now likely push the planet past several crucial tipping points: the release of millions of tonnes of methane from the melting permafrost and CO2 from burning forests are on track to raise temperatures by as much as 4°C by the end of the century (IPCC, 2018). According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Global Assessment report released in April 2019 this would lead to irreversible breakdown of ecosystems and precipitate a collapse of global food supply systems (IPBES, 2019). It is now unequivocal that the breakdown of our climate imminently threatens not only the future of human civilisation, but also of all life on Earth (IPCC, 2018). It is with this in mind that some have called into question the ability of democracy to handle the macro-policy level necessary to mitigate and adapt to locked in heating. White speculates that democracies are paralysed by short-termism because “political representatives are elected for short terms, offering little motivation to adopt initially costly, but sustainable energy policies geared to counteract the inevitable energy crisis” (White, L. 2015).

The UK Parliament became the first in the world to Declare a Climate Emergency and legally commit to Net Carbon Neutrality by 2050, only four days after the end of two weeks of Extinction Rebellion protests that ground central London to a halt. On the face of it, this looks like key evidence of the effectiveness of democracy in protecting the environment, as civil society groups pressure their representatives to take transformative action. However, the 2050 neutrality target falls well short of the level of ambition that is required according to Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London because we will already have passed major ecological tipping points, rendering efforts to slow the rate of warming futile (Maslin, M. 2019). In spite of the warnings by the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that is “essential that the commitment [to net-zero] was comprehensive [and] achieved without use of international credits”, the government has legislated for offsetting domestic emissions by investing in tree planting and renewable energy projects in the Global South (CCC, 2019). Furthermore, emissions from aviation and shipping are not counted, ignoring the massive environmental impact of the UK’s import consumption. Carbon reduction plans factor in the invention of a cheap and scalable form of Carbon capture in the future to legitimate irresponsibly weak emissions reductions today, just one of the methods of creative accounting used by states to get away with doing as little as possible to adapt their energy infrastructure.

This lack of ambition has been repeated on the global stage, exposing the mechanisms of the Paris Climate Accord as inadequate in ambition and enforceability. The 25th COP (Conference of Parties) showed that in spite of gushing rhetoric about the determination of young people demanding action on climate change, our leaders have effectively abdicated responsibility for mitigating extreme heating. They have chosen instead to leave it to those young people to find the solutions and invent the technology that will save the world from the mess they have created. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”  (Guterres, A. 2019).

Although democracies no doubt have a less than admirable track record, empirical data shows a correlation between the strength of a democracy and its efforts to protect the environment. Povitkina highlights that corruption reduces the capacity of democratic governments to reach climate targets and reduce CO2 emissions. (Povitkina, M. 2018). Corruption limits the ability of bureaucrats to monitor and enforce emissions policy (Lopez, R. Mitra, S., 2000); diminishes the capacity of the state to raise tax revenues towards environmental budgets (Tanzi, V. Davoodi, H. 1998); and allows business interests to influence political decision-making (Wilson, J.K., Damania, R. 2005). This influence is keenly felt in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, where urgent, explicit language in the Technical Summary was diluted for the Summary for Policymakers (IPCC, 2018). Lobbying interests and diplomats haggle out a suppressed narrative in which “the limitations of the present order, and the systemic risks it faces, are consistently de-emphasised” (Mann, 2018). By tackling corruption at the heart of our democracies we unlock the ability to take meaningful action on the climate crisis.

Shearman and Smith’s faith in Benevolent Ecological Authoritarianism is not supported by the performance of authoritarian and mixed regimes in protecting the environment.  The call for forgoing democratic accountability and entrusting management of global resources to an ecoelite provides the moral justification for what Mann calls the “Climate Leviathan”: a capitalist planetary sovereignty that employs technocratic dominance to adapt to climate breakdown without redistributing wealth and power (Mann, 2018). Indeed, the Paris climate Agreement lays the groundwork for deepening our integration into a Foucauldian panopticon that regulates the lives and resource consumption of ordinary people in the name of reducing emissions whilst supporting the ability of corporations to profit in a hotter world. The adaptive strategies of elites will have profound consequences for the protection of human rights. The US is fiercely criticised for the seeming absence of a coherent Climate Adaptation Strategy, but the reality is that its military has for decades been warning of civilizational collapse precipitated by hundreds of millions of climate refugees displaced by extreme weather, drought and coastal flooding. The construction of a militarised border wall with Mexico is a long-term adaptation to repel the victims of climate breakdown and continue with business as usual on the other side (Ehrenreich, B. 2019). This is the ideology of Policy elites who cannot be allowed to make decisions as to how many climate refugees will have to die before they are satisfied that population levels are sustainable.

Einstein said that “in the interests of science it is necessary over and over to engage in the critique of [our] fundamental concepts, in order that we may not unconsciously be ruled by them” (Einstein, A., 1953). For some, this quote legitimates abandoning democracy and the principle of equality in favour of elite rule. This view is particularly prominent amongst a cabal of Silicon Valley techno-billionaires who are actively preparing to use their extreme wealth to survive outside of the authority of any institutions that would control them by buying up property in New Zealand and other temperate regions with fresh drinking water – such as Peter Theil, the billionaire cofounder of Paypal (O’Connell, M. 2018). Theil is openly influenced by The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State, a Libertarian apocalypse pamphlet for the super-rich that “Out of the wreckage [caused by climate breakdown] will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a cognitive elite will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals commanding vastly greater resources who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.” (Rees-Mogg, W., Davidson, J. 1997). These are the forces that stand to benefit directly from a rejection of democracy. To embrace eco-authoritarianism is to embrace the rule of the strong and the rich disguised as the rule of the rationality.

When comparing the relative emissions reductions between autocratic or democratic nations it is a struggle to conclude who is worst: the principle failure of humanities response to climate breakdown has occurred in the arena of global interstate relations. Fundamentally, the global liberal order of competing sovereign states has failed. Not only has it failed to effectively respond to the climate crisis, is has principally caused it by allowing and subsidising corporations to ravage the planet. “Human Rights will be significantly compromised by the long-term consequences of unilateralism” (Patrick, S. 2010). Dutt argues that the quality of bureaucracy, democratic accountability and absence of corruption, as well as the strength of the rights and liberties enjoyed within a nation define effective mitigation. “The participation of civil society, the rise of environmental awareness through free media, and active collaboration in international environmental agreements – features common to democracies – play a crucial role in placing environmental issues on the political agenda” (Povitkina. 2018). There are encouraging signs that as concern about climate breakdown goes mainstream it is accelerating the rise of intersectionality between the diverse activists on the frontlines of ecological collapse. By refining the long tradition of Non-Violent Direct Action and Civil Disobedience Extinction Rebellion have reinvigorated the environmental movement and seek nothing less than a radical overhaul of our political system:

“When government and the law fail to provide any assurance of adequate protection of and security for its people’s well-being and the nation’s future, it becomes the right of citizens to seek redress in order to restore dutiful democracy and to secure the solutions needed to avert catastrophe and protect the future”

(Extinction Rebellion, 2019)

Extinction Rebellion’s third demand is for the establishment of a citizen’s assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice. Citizens’ assemblies are a form of deliberative democracy whereby a group of randomly selected members representing a cross-section of society are educated by experts and stakeholders; deliberate on policy options and make recommendations that shape government policy. This has the potential to cut out the corrupting influence of lobbying interests and empower citizens to shape the response of their community to climate breakdown. They have been successfully organised to advise the governments on other areas where moral consideration and consent from the public is needed to unify a national decision, such a whether or not to allow abortion in Ireland.

A landmark case in the Netherlands recently ruled that the government has a legal obligation to meet its emissions reductions targets because failure to act on Climate Breakdown breaches its citizens on Right to life and well-being under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – articles 2 and 8. (The Hague, 2019). This has set an inspiring example of how the judiciary should be used to achieve effective accountability in a healthy democracy. All civil society must now unite around the struggle for the achievement of Human Rights, which holds the best hope for saving the lives of billions of people and necessitates equal consideration given to protecting everyone from the threats of a destabilised climate, not just those in temperate and developed regions. It has been calculated that every tonne of Carbon Dioxide emitted has a future social cost of US$116 (in terms of escalating damage from extreme weather, rising health costs and infrastructure adaptation) (Cia, Y., Lenton, T., Lontzek, T., 2016). Imagine a judicial authority able to hear a class action lawsuit representing all of humanity and the planet demanding compensation from the major polluting companies for the crime of Ecocide, with renumerations based on the price of US $116 per tonne of historical emissions! Billions would be ringfenced for funding a just transition for the most vulnerable victims of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. 

There are significant uncertainties as to how a post-capitalist ecological democracy would work, although there is a rich literature that seeks to sketch a model, rooted in the longstanding theoretical tradition of a global government. The form of this model will differ from the Climate Leviathan because it will be led not only by a strong ethical and emotional foundation, but also because it is pragmatic and rational. Any attempt at responding to climate breakdown that does not tackle Capitalism will not stave off environmental catastrophe, it will merely delay the crisis at the expense of the most vulnerable. White argues that eco-democratic discussions need re-grounding with a focus on eco-socialism, to enfranchise and employ working classes with driving the just transition with creative labour (White, D. 2019). This means recognising empowering communities to rise to the challenges of carbon neutrality through, for example, community energy projects, sustainable agriculture and circular local economies. Indigenous People have been proven to be the most effective guardians of their environmental habitats, and it is crucial that they continue to be allowed to pursue their way of life (Nolte, C. et al., 2013). Rich local sources of sustainable wisdom will be ignored if an international climate action plan is drawn up between corporations, elites and the establishment to create a green-Capitalist Leviathan, and more indigenous communities will continue to face extinction.

Fiorino summarises the findings of his research into the ability of a radically expanded democracy to cope with climate breakdown: “The path lies not in suspending democracy but improving it: create better democracies with the capacity for collective action and a commitment to ecological values” (Fiorino, D. 2019). We need to give the Global South the political power to defend themselves against escalating apocalyptic threats that they did not cause, and only the strongest form of democracy will be able to force the massive levels of reparations to those imminently in danger of losing everything.

Blind warns us that the establishment is “designed not to re-invent itself” (Blind, A., 2012), and urges us to find new methods of uniting the international community in a more democratic forum, potentially bypassing the UN and its persistent deadlock. The mechanisms to hold big polluters and developed nations to account do not yet exist, and their form and how to achieve them remains an urgent priority for further research in International Relations. It is clear however, that they will only be won with mass mobilisation from below. Democracy may not be perfect for the environment, but the very real, very imminent alternative is the reign of a technocratic hyper-Capitalist elite handed free reign to do whatever they see necessary to preserve their own standards of living. No thanks.

Bibliography

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Cia, Y., Lenton, T., Lontzek, T., (2016): Risk of multiple interacting tipping points should encourage rapid CO2 emission reduction, in Nature and Climate Change, vol. 6, Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2964 [Last Accessed: 2/1/2020],  pg. 520-526.

CCC, (2019): Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, Available at: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Net-Zero-The-UKs-contribution-to-stopping-global-warming.pdf [Last Accessed: 15/01/2020]

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How has Extinction Rebellion influenced BBC media coverage of climate breakdown?

2818 words

Abstract

The severity of the threat of climate and ecological breakdown is now well understood across disciplines, and the study of Media Communication on Climate Change is an advanced discipline focused on the role of the media in responding to climate change, and its role in shifting political and social agendas in response. This essay deals with the BBC’s reporting of the Extinction Rebellion protests beginning in October 2018, concluding the sustained direct action increased the quality and depth of the BBC’s reporting on Climate Breakdown.

How has the environmental movement over the last six months influenced media discourse from the BBC in the United Kingdom on climate breakdown?

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the catastrophic consequences of 1.5 degrees of warming released in October 2018, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment report released in April 2019, both make for terrifying reading. The message is blunt: climate change (now ‘climate breakdown’), destruction of habitat, pollution and exploitation of nature will have catastrophic consequences for our civilisation: increased extreme weather events; total collapse of ecosystems; droughts leading to massive famines; displacement of millions of people; mass extinction of whole ecosystems and – without radical action – total societal collapse and potential human extinction (IPCC, 2018),(IPBES, 2019). Despite this, the natural world continues to be exploited at a pace that will lead to the most severe and inescapable crisis’. Carbon Dioxide levels continue to rise; international agreements to limit warming remain ineffective; and we are locking in inescapable and exponential temperature rises as high as 5oC by 2100 (IPCC, 2018). Business carries on as usual, as scientists’ despair.

This essay builds upon the work of the interdisciplinary field of Media Coverage of Climate Change (MCCC) to determine whether the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests that began in October have shaped the reporting trends of the BBC towards climate breakdown over the last six months. Following a cursory analysis of reporting trends on climate breakdown by the BBC the qualitative method of critical Discourse Analysis is used to dissect the change in language over the chosen period. The development of the space allocated within articles to XR’s demands, rather than controversy over their methods, is traced, in accordance with developed research methods of MCCC and critical Discourse Analysis. It is concluded that the sustained campaign of Non-Violent Direct Action has succeeded in generating significant discourse outside of the norms of media cycles on climate breakdown, and rich opportunities for further study into the factors that influence media reporting on climate breakdown are noted.

Literature Review

The last decade has seen the maturing of MCCC into a broad interdisciplinary research field, seeking to critically analyse the trends and framing phenomena within reporting on climate change. Of particular importance in the literature of MCCC is Framing, defined as “the process by which people develop a particular conceptualization of an issue or reorient their thinking about an issue” (Chong, D., Druckman, J. N., 2007). In relation to MCCC, different frames are applied to climate reporting with significant effects upon the emotional and political response of readers towards acting to mitigate climate breakdown, as “the complexity [of climate change] provides journalists, parties, and interest groups tremendous latitude in framing the issue to serve their interests and beliefs” (Dominik S., Merkley, E., 2019). Conservative media sources in particular tend towards portraying climate breakdown in a context of uncertainty that discourages action (Morton, T., Rabinovich, A., Marshall, D., Bretschneider, P. 2011). Research has shown that the presentation of climate breakdown across all media sources is saturated with false controversy and the legitimation of scientifically illiterate scepticism (Painter, 2011) (Corbett, J. B., & Durfee, J. L. 2004). Boycoff influentially argued that ‘balanced’ reporting offering up two opposing scientific opinions to an uncontroversial issue would influence public perception of climate breakdown (Boycoff, M. 2007). This was confirmed by psychology tests that found “ ‘false balance’ can distort perceptions of expert opinion even when participants would seem to have all the information needed to correct for its influence” (Koehler, D. J.,2016).

Recent analysis has suggested that there has been a positive trend towards climate reporting in broadsheets using present tense language and highlighting the dangers of inaction (Dominik S., Merkley, E., 2019). “Quoting contrarian voices still is part of transnational climate coverage, but these quotes are contextualized with a dismissal of climate change denial” (Brüggermann, M. Engesser, S., 2017). However, significant media attention is still given to the debate against climate change deniers, leaving less media attention for the more relevant debates about mitigating climate breakdown.

Existing literature in the field of MCCC has effectively described the changes in the frequency and language surrounding climate change journalism, particularly in Broadsheet publications both in the US and the UK (Boycoff, M. Boycoff, J. 2007). However, there is an absence of research focused on the role of social protest movements in influencing this change. Although there is a growing body of research investigating influencing factors on climate reporting, the focus of comprehensive meta-analysis of climate change reporting is generally focused on the impact of important environmental conferences and prominent extreme weather events (Schäfer, M., Schlichting, A. 2014). Given the embryonic nature of XR their explosive impact on MCCC in the United Kingdom is under-researched, and this is where my research hopes to add to the dialogue.

Furthermore, most Critical Discourse Analysis studies comparatively analyse articles from newspapers from each side of the political spectrum, such as the Guardian and the Telegraph. This is effective as providing balanced research, however the role of editorial political ideology in framing MCCC is exhaustively documented. (Schäfer, M., Berglez, P., Wessler, H., Eide, E., Nerlich, B.,O’Neill, S. 2016). Given the central political demand of XR is for the government to ‘Tell the Truth’ about the danger of the climate crisis, including by directing the BBC to make it an editorial priority, my research focuses on the change affected in the BBC’s reporting on XR over a six-month period.

It is worth noting the research of the field of mediatization and the role of the media in political agenda-setting given the role such theories have in directing the media strategy of pressure-groups such as XR. Essentially, “journalists do not entirely autonomously initiate new issues, but rather they play a role in strengthening and structuring the initiatives taken by political actors”, therefore there is profound relevance to the level of political action taken in the quality and framing of media coverage of an activist group (Reich, 2006; Wolfsfeld , Sheafer, 2006). The mechanics of this interaction between political power and the media is well worth the attention of future research, given the rapid success of XR in getting their demands on the political agenda.

Methodology

Qualitive Critical Discourse analysis can reveal the power dynamics that are enforced by language, which is not neutral but instead “loaded with assumptions about the nature of the social and political world and our understanding of it” (Burnham, 2008). This is particularly prescient in the case of the national broadcaster, as Van Dijk argues that “One needs to pay detailed attention to the structures and strategies of such discourses and to the ways these relate to institutional arrangements, on the one hand, and to the audience, on the other hand” (Dijk, K.A., 1995), because of the institutional relationship and power dynamics that exist between the BBC and the government.

Boycoff uses the depth of political economic and societal analyses within media articles as an indicative factor of high-quality Climate Breakdown journalism, and this provides the focus of my analysis of BBC articles reporting on the rise of Extinction Rebellion (Boycoff, M. 2007). Critical Discourse Analysis is also wary of deliberate tactics of delegitimization, erasure and hijacking quotations with editorial commentary (Schäfer, M., Berglez, P., Wessler, H., Eide, E., Nerlich, B.,O’Neill, S. 2016). I first provide the context for the BBC’s record on reporting on climate change, and then look at several different discursive characteristics of four different BBCs reports on the major XR actions, namely:

  • The length of the articles, as an indication of an issues’ importance
  • The amount of the article dedicated to covering XR’s demands and the wider context of climate breakdown
  • The depth of analysis of XR’s demands and achievements

These factors determine to what extent the article’s discursive narratives challenge or sustain unequal power relations (Boycoff, M.2007) specifically in regard to the extent to which XR’s demands face erasure or delegitimation. I hypothesise based on extensive observation of the media trends towards XR that they have successfully shifted the framing of their demands and encouraged more depth to BBC coverage.

Analysis

On the 31st of October 2018 XR declared a National Rebellion against the British government because of their failure to act to prevent catastrophic climate and biodiversity collapse, in an event almost universally ignored by the media. The group’s demands were clear: the government must “Tell the Truth” about the extent of the danger climate breakdown poses by Declaring a National Climate and Biodiversity Emergency; launch ambitious public infrastructure projects to reduce net-emissions to zero by 2025; and set up a citizen’s assembly to manage the transition to a zero-carbon economy (Extinction Rebellion, 2019). The BBC did not report on this protest.

However, within a week 22 XR activists were arrested at several demonstrations including a blockade of the Energy Department in London. The BBC article on the demonstrations was 875 words long; is notable for failing to use the group’s name Extinction Rebellion for the majority of the article (instead using the term “environmental activists”); and starts with an explicit defence of the establishment’s record on Climate Breakdown: “The UK is seen as a leader in policies to reduce greenhouse gases and will soon be considering tougher targets”. Whilst it does list XR’s demands, it took an overwhelmingly cynical outlook to them, dedicating significant attention towards a critical commentary on their achievability. The following extract is notable for the use of paradoxical assertive language as well as an appeal to uncited “experts”: “But experts say achieving a zero-emissions economy by 2025 isn’t in any scenario. It would need a revolution in transport, home insulation, energy efficiency, agriculture and more” (BBC, 2018); the sentence explicitly denies there are any scenarios that could achieve the emissions cuts, before immediately describing an entirely plausible set of infrastructure investments that are scientifically necessary to avoid civilizational collapse. In the words of Kevin Anderson:

“Long-term and end-point targets (for example, 80% by 2050) have no scientific basis. What governs future global temperatures and other adverse climate impacts are the emissions from yesterday, today and those released in the next few years… there is little to suggest that existing mitigation proposals will deliver anything but rising emissions over the coming decade or two” (Anderson, K., Bows, A. 2012).

The article uses an emotional appeal that draws on fear of police cuts and rising violent crime to delegitimise XR’s tactics, wondering whether “freeing protesters from cycle locks was a good use of police time” (Ibid.). Of interest is the ahistorical erasure of the heritage of Non-Violent Direct Action as a tactic, whereby the writer argues that Civil Disobedience was only legitimate during the American Civil-Rights Struggle because “these groups didn’t have the vote” (ignoring the fact that it was a collective of mixed race and privilege who were arrested and jailed during the Freedom Rides campaign). Finally, the article ends with a deeply watered down scientific validation for XR’s action: “Despite uncertainties in forecasts about the rate of heating, many senior scientists working on environmental change are genuinely alarmed by the huge risks mankind is taking”, but even this is couched with a dog-whistle reference a lack of scientific evidence on warming projections; the explicit choice of the word “many” (hiding the scale of consensus); and the adjective “alarmed”. For contrast, the New Yorker described the latest IPCC report as “a collective scream sieved through the stern, strained language of bureaucratese” (Kormann, 2018). The BBC was reprimanded in 2011 by a BBC Trust Committee for giving too much attention to climate sceptics, however in September 2018 they were forced to circulate an editorial policy memo on false-bias following an interview with climate sceptic Nigel Lawson which was found by Ofcom to be in breach of broadcasting rules for failing to challenge his claims that there was no warming over the last century (BBC, 2011) (Carrington, D., 2018).

The following week, Extinction Rebellion blocked five bridges in London and 82 activists were arrested. The BBC’s article was only 467 words long, despite the event capturing national media focus, and did not list XR’s demands. 161 words of the coverage was dedicated to a derisory opinion piece by Roger Harrabin, a BBC Environmental Correspondent, who wrote:

“XR thinks marching with placards has failed, so it’s aiming to make mayhem instead. But have the protestors picked the right target? The UK is in the leading pack of nations in cutting the CO2 emissions that are over-heating the planet… The protesters say the targets will be breached if the government spends £30bn on new roads, encourages fracking and looks to expand aviation even further. Climate change demands a seismic shift in society, they say. And they’re not seeing that yet.”  (Harrabin, R., 2018).

There is a notable improvement upon the first article in the construction of a dialogue between government policy and XR criticism, however the conditional language frames scientific facts as things that “XR thinks”, “the protestors say” and “they say”. This fails to adequately convey to the reader that in June 2018, the Committee on Climate Change concluded that “the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s” (CCC, 2018).

Within a few months XR launched the biggest wave of civil disobedience in British history, and catapulted climate breakdown to the top of a stagnant national political discourse dominated by Brexit. XR’s protests reached a crescendo on April 15th with an International Rebellion, in which over 1000 activists were arrested and a lesser number charged in a systematic Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) campaign, the aim of which was to force the government to the negotiating table and generate media attention. XR succeeded on both fronts. On 16th April, the BBC published a comprehensive 1,086 word article titled “Extinction Rebellion: What do they want and is it realistic?” which detailed all of the groups aims as well as relevant scientific debate. The most significant editorial shift is away from extreme language towards objective analysis, as well as a change in author and an obvious accompanying shift in tone: “Achieving net zero five years earlier than the Zero Carbon Britain plan would be an unprecedented challenge, akin to a wartime situation. It would not be impossible but it would depend on a fierce political commitment” (McGrath, M. 2019). There is a notable change from editorialising XR’s message towards using quotation marks to allow the group to present its own case. This shifts the overall article away from an opinion piece style towards a constructive and informative presentation to the reader, which is ultimately much more sympathetic to the reasons for XR’s actions, rather than an explicit focus and false outrage about the disruption the actions caused: in this article XR’s three demands are presented “as a solution to the “climate breakdown and ecological collapse that threaten our existence”” (Ibid.). By describing them as a positive “solution” rather than using aggressive framing, XR’s demands appear constructive and non-confrontational.

In a 726-word article describing the end of the International Rebellion, the BBC concluded with a summary of the impact the protests had had on respected political figures:

“Environment Minister Michael Gove said the activists’ “point had been made”. He added it was time to have “a serious conversation about what we can do to collectively deal with this problem”. Mr Milliband said global warming would get “far worse” if the government did not act with “greater urgency”.                  (BBC, 2019)      

This essentially is a legitimation from figures of authority of XR’s actions and gives some indication on how far the national political discourse was affected by the tactics of sustained civil disobedience.

Conclusion

My research indicates that the quality of the BBC’s MCCC increased significantly over the course of the six months of XR Non-Violent Direct Action. Research into the mediazation of politics and the role of the media in setting the political agenda would support the inference that the paradigm shift in media perception and reporting on XR helped establish its legitimacy as a political and social force and lead to their demands being achieved in Parliament (Van Aelst, P., Thesen, G., Walgrave, S., & Vliegenthart, R., 2013).

Further qualitative research would be useful to interview editors within media institutions to analyse the impact of protest on agenda setting. Gamson and Wolfsfeld’s early analysis of the relationship between activists and media found that because activists are dependent upon media for outreach, there is a “Fundamental asymmetry that implies the greater power of the media system in this interaction” (Gamson, M. Wolfsfeld, G. 1993). However, it is evident that new forms of communication including social media have shifted this dynamic, as news outlets react to the activism for fear of missing out on a story. Quantitative data analysis of social media surrounding the demonstrations, which was the primary form of engagement and outreach of the movement, would also be useful.

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My arrest

Arresting officer Ian was a brilliant man, who listened seriously to our reasons for taking such extreme action.

I am sharing the story of my arrest because I believe that anyone who is considering voting for me deserves to decide for themselves whether my actions were done with malicious intent, or in service of the wider cause of protecting our planet and the species we love from destruction, aided by this criminally negligent government.

My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

Reflections

The London Rebellion Day achieved exactly what it was supposed to. The arrests drew more media coverage than any other environmental protest in decades, and as of today 22 councils have declared climate emergencies and set meaningful carbon neutrality targets across the UK in response to our demands.

This is just the start. I am involved in a campaign in York to force the council to declare a Climate and Biodiversity crisis and set meaningful and brave targets to reduce our carbon emissions and protect the species we love. We are determined to force both the local council and the University of York to divest from fossil fuels and set a date for going carbon neutral. Extinction Rebellion groups now exist across the world, and our sights are set on the social, economic and political systems that legitimate the destruction of the planet and its species for profit, and enforce inequality and poverty on the poorest.

Getting arrested was the single most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my life. I made countless friends, found renewed purpose, and was motivated to run for council.


I now feel hope for the first time in years. When people who care come together and take action with bravery and determination, we are powerful. 

UoY Gardening Society: January

One of our first events, clearing weeds for a new vegetable patch!

Welcome to the University of York Gardening Society blog! This will be a monthly update on all of the work our team are doing in Derwent Provost Gardens to turn the area into a thriving new green space on campus. 

First I’d like to introduce the committee. I’m Patrick; President, co-founder and the Green Party candidate for Hull Road ward. I’m supported by Cameron, our Secretary, co-founder and the brains behind this operation. Eleanor is our ever-rational, ever-sassy, bobble-hat-wearing Vice President that makes sure rooms get booked and gardens measured. Ella is our Social Media Coordinator and the genius who is making us look like actual functioning people through the internet. Lucy, our Treasurer and resident vegan, is in charge of wearing cool jumpers, managing our offshore tax havens and “being an absolute legend”. Last but not least is our mascot, the plucky and ruthless-to-worms Ripper the Robin.

This month has been an amazing time for all of us on the Gardening Soc committee, as we have witnessed the birth and first shaky steps of our baby. We have grown into our new space (haha) and taken up with determination the massive project ahead of us. In Week 4 we hosted our first indoor event: a very successful ‘paint-a-pot-with-gardening-soc’ (props to Ella for some excellent iambic pentameter there). This involved painting and taking home little clay pots with a succelent in, and we were literally begged to hold the event every month!

The spades and forks are out, the ground is being dug and raked, the weeds are being cleared, ready for a spring of planting and a year of hard work to create an area bursting with colour and British wildlife. For anyone in York, we are in the Derwent Gardens, opposite Derwent Reception every Tuesday from 10am to 5pm. Follow our Facebook page for info and events: UoY Gardening Soc. This is going to be a wild ride, and I look forward to taking you all on this journey with us. 

All the best,
Pᴀᴛʀɪᴄᴋ Tʜᴇʟᴡᴇʟʟ

Pʀᴇꜱɪᴅᴇɴᴛ ᴏғ UᴏY Gᴀʀᴅᴇɴɪɴɢ Sᴏᴄɪᴇᴛʏ 
Gʀᴇᴇɴ Pᴀʀᴛʏ ᴄᴀɴᴅɪᴅᴀᴛᴇ ғᴏʀ Hᴜʟʟ Rᴏᴀᴅ ᴡᴀʀᴅ

Why I chose to get arrested with Extinction Rebellion

Apostrophe embarrassingly missing from ‘it’s’, but a pertinent sentiment from Dr Seuss non the less.

I’m going to tell you about why after wrestling long and hard with my conscience, I chose to get arrested at an environmental protest with the group Extinction Rebellion. Whatever your opinions, I hope we can find common ground over the need for rapid action to protect our beautiful planet and all of the species we love.

In a second article I will be covering the details of my arrest.

I have been involved in left wing politics since successfully campaigning in the 2015 election to oust Esther McVey (who was responsible for slashing benefits for the disabled during her time as the Minister for Work and Pensions) from my old constituency of Wirral West.

It took until my second year of university to truly make the link between the social values that I was so passionate about, and the overwhelming threat of climate breakdown. It is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who will be systemically killed by rising sea levels, heat waves, drought, extreme weather events, food shortages and the collapse of global infrastructure.

Flooding in York is set to become much more frequent and severe.

But it is not only those worldwide who will suffer. Rising sea levels will make catastrophic flooding in York much more frequent, with devastating consequences for local residents and businesses. Our much beloved local wildlife is also under unprecedented threat, and habitat loss has decimated many species – especially of insects, who play a vital role in supporting healthy ecosystems. Once these species are lost, they will never return. Our children might never see hedgehogs, red squirrels, or even butterflies. Personally, I find this devastating, as I’m sure you do too.

Yet our politicians are blind to this growing crisis.

I realised after the Labour party backed expansion of Heathrow Airport, which will massively increase CO2 emissions that are driving climate breakdown, that the necessary radical change needed to avoid mass extinction would  never come from within the main establishment parties. I despaired at the lack of meaningful careers in environmental advocacy ahead of me, traumatized by the scale of the threat and the audacity of inaction. In my personal life, going vegetarian and founding the University of York Gardening Society felt like meaningless in the face of these threats.

Then, by chance, in October I was invited by my friend to talk by the group Extinction Rebellion, delivered by two other Politics students, themselves inspired by a talk in Leeds only a month before.

They first set out the stomach churning science behind the existential threat of climate breakdown. They told the truth about the trajectory of global warming and mass extinction, and left a stunned audience faced with the hard consequences of the science we all thought we already knew.

Then, they asked us what we were willing to do in the face of the disaster. They explained their methods of Non Violent Direct Action, and it’s impressive record of achieving radical change. I knew that however depressing the odds of success, this was something I had to be a part of.

I am a white male, a student without family responsibilities, privileged in the UK with a police and legal system that will treat me non-violently and fairly. Others, in countries more urgently affected, do not have the luxury of safe protest. I therefore have a responsibility to act in every capacity I can to force our government to protect our people and our planet, even if that means getting arrested. There is a role for everybody to play though: from filming actions; being a legal observer; looking after the emotional welfare of protestors; or just good old fashioned sign holding. Nobody gets arrested with XR who isn’t fully prepared and planning on it.

My arrest



My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees people as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees people as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees people as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

Reflections

The London Rebellion Day achieved exactly what it was supposed to. The arrests drew more media coverage than any other environmental protest in decades, and as of today 22 councils have declared climate emergencies and set meaningful carbon neutrality targets across the UK in response to our demands.

This is just the start. I am involved in my local group on the Wirral that I helped set up, as well as in York. We are determined to force both the local council and the University of York to divest from fossil fuels and set a date for going carbon neutral. Extinction Rebellion groups now exist across the world, and our sights are set on the social, economic and political systems that legitimate the destruction of the planet and its species for profit.

Getting arrested was the single most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my life. I made countless friends, found renewed purpose, and was inspired to run as a Green candidate in the upcoming local election.


I now feel hope for the first time in years. When people who care come together and take action with bravery and determination, we are powerfu

For more information about Extinction Rebellion, check out https://rebellion.earth
Try searching Facebook for your local group, and if there isn’t one, get some friends together and start one!