Edited by Clare Farrell, Alison Green, Sam Knights, and William Skeaping.
Review by Peter Reason
There cannot be many followers of Shiny New Books who are not aware of the activities of Extinction Rebellion. Reports of the shutdown of London bridges and the later occupation of five major London sites for ten days, and of the related Youth Strikes for Climate, have been in all major media. So too have been the addresses to Parliament, to Davos, and elsewhere of the young activist Greta Thunberg. Local councils across the country have been declaring ‘climate emergencies’. It is quite likely that readers of this review will have family members or friends involved in direct action, even arrested, and so may be wondering what this is all about. This small volume is an excellent way to get informed.
The book starts with the Declaration of Rebellion: The science is clear that we are in the sixth mass extinction of species and face catastrophe if we do not act; the political system is inept, governments has failed to act effectively and so has broken the social contract to protect the people; it is therefore our duty to rebel, non-violently and with ‘ferocious love’. Sam Knights, one of the editors of the book, continues with The Story so Far—how the Rebellion was conceived by a small group of people aiming to create a campaign of civil disobedience to transform the way we talk about climate and ecology and compel governments to act; and how this has grown into a decentralised mass movement. Knights introduces the three key demands of the Rebellion:
- Governments must tell the truth about the climate and ecological situation
- Governments must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025
- The government must create and be led a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Part One of the book then aims to ‘tell the truth’: brief chapters about the impact of climate change as it is taking place round the world, not in the future, but at this moment. This includes accounts of the science, of the view from subsistence farmers in the Global South, from a Californian firefighter literally at the hot end of the struggle, of how the ultra-rich are seeking to insulate themselves from the catastrophe at the expense of the rest of us. All this set out in short, clear chapters.
Part Two, Act Now, describes the rebellion and the principles behind it. Here is a clear account of the civil resistance model, a vision of radical social change that draws lessons from past movement: It must be a mass movement, focussed on the capital and government, breaking the law and creating a new narrative, going on day after day. It has to be fun and engaging. And above all it has to be non-violent, not just passively, but actively non-violent: ‘violence destroys democracy and the relations with opponents which are vital in creating peaceful outcomes to social conflict’.
In Part Two is also a practical handbook, with stories of what it is like, as a law abiding citizen, to be arrested; how to support those who have been arrested; how to feed and water the rebellion so activists can stay on the streets; how to engage with media; how to engage art and other creative practices in activism. It also has a view on politicians, on economists, on the zero-carbon city, and so on.
Extinction Rebellion has had a significant impact. It has been helped by the strange weather, by David Attenborough’s BBC documentary, by the new IPCC and other reports. As one who has been teaching, writing, researching around issues of climate change for over thirty years, I for one am convinced that there is a sea change in attitudes.
As Archbishop Rowan Williams writes in his contribution to the Afterword, ‘It might just work. It is just possible that sustained pressure will bring about a modest change of heart among decision makers and ‘wealth creators’ and so serious adjustments might be made’.
But don’t hold your breath! The vested interests sustaining ‘business as usual’ are strong. Extinction Rebellion are campaigning for a truly radical change in our civilization. Not business as usual; not some sustainability tweaks to business as usual, but for radical change. Is zero carbon emissions by 2025 realistic? The reply is, ‘It has to be, if we and other creatures on the planet are to survive.’
You may not agree with everything about Extinction Rebellion; you may worry about what your friends, your children, are up to; you may think the Rebellion is misguided, or wrong. But at least you can understand the situation that has led many responsible citizens to the position and actions they have taken, learn something of the clear principles behind the Rebellion, understand why they are taking the actions they are. This clear and straightforward book will help you do this.
But be warned. This book is dangerous. It might well change minds!
Peter Reason is a writer who links the tradition of travel and nature writing with the ecological predicament of our time. His most recent publication is On Presence: Essays | Drawings, with artist Sarah Gillespie http://peterreason.eu/OnPresence.html. His writing includes In Search of Grace: An Ecological Pilgrimage (Earth Books, 2017) and Spindrift: A Wilderness Pilgrimage at Sea (Vala Publications and Jessica Kingsley, 2014). Find Peter at www.peterreason.eu and on Twitter @peterreason.
This is not a Drill: The Extinction Rebellion Handbook (Penguin, 2019) ISBN: 978-0-141-99144-3, paperback, 160 pages.BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link.