Joining a climate movement like Extinction Rebellion is not a political statement – it’s an existential one, writes Luke FitzGerald.
“Neo-puritanists”, “Crusties”, “Elitists”. These are just some of the publishable pejoratives levelled against the Extinction Rebellion movement recently. In the age of political mudslinging, it’s all too easy to throw around incendiary words with little accountability and less thought as to their meaning. Sometimes, though, doing so might feel justified.
After all, Extinction Rebellion is comprised of people. Doctors, mothers, lawyers, commuters, protestors: people, all. And, as evidenced by actions and reactions on the London Underground yesterday, people make mistakes. In my opinion, Extinction Rebellion made a mistake. And when mistakes are made, it’s not about doubling down on them; it’s about apologising, amending, and reflecting on the need to do better and to be better. After all, people, of all beliefs and backgrounds, can bring about positive change when they work together – not fight over trains.
To the extent that we can, let us step out of this fray for a moment. Breathe air that is not heavy with the lingering aftertaste of partisanship and polarisation. Many would tell you our discourse was not always as suffocating until, of course, things changed. I would venture to say most people preferred it this way. Yet other things, too, have changed – and they are inescapable even out here. Amidst the political din, they cannot be ignored.
Objective data tells us that we are in the midst of a mass extinction. Planetary temperatures may rise by three degrees within many of our lifetimes, precipitating at least partial civilizational collapse. In another world, in a different time, perhaps such disruptions to the fundamentals of our existence would not be dragged into the arena to battle it out alongside Brexit or the ministerial scandal du jour. Now they are, and it is this absurd reality, of all things, that we accept as a given.
Liberal, conservative and the rest
At its best, Extinction Rebellion leaves political baggage in the cloak room where it belongs. Liberal, conservative, or anything in between can take a ticket. It recognises that the prosperity of the human species is, ultimately, a shared fight, no matter how much we may bicker. When I joined my group in Stirling, I did so with a disdain for politics. I have never joined a party, believing that ideology traps us in circular arguments. If I’m honest, I wasn’t convinced the people I would meet would feel the same way. I wasn’t sure if I would be spared the divisive rhetoric we have come to associate with climate change.
People will undoubtedly tell me that we cannot divorce the issue of climate from politics; that a holistic, apolitical worldview is misplaced, if not naïve. But the group I met were not politicians. They were not spokespersons, nor were they policymakers. They were the group put by the wayside of late: people, ordinary, regular people of all types. People who cared about the future, and that of their children. People who cared about their community.
Nobody was commanded to get arrested. People were asked what they wanted to do. Some planned to restore community gardens. A group used their annual leave to protest. Others marched with youths to the local council and witnessed it declare a climate emergency. These were individual choices, born not of some elite notion of saviourism or pleasure in disruption, even when it seems that way. They come from the stark reality that the world is changing, and that, together, we too, must change – or be left behind.