XR Buddhist Kaspa has written a response to the IPPC report on his temple’s website:
On Monday morning I sat and watched the beginning of the live-streamed press conference from the IPCC. I listened to a couple of speakers and then I couldn’t listen any more. I stood up and decided to get on with the day’s work. I went into the bedroom to change into my painting clothes, collapsed onto the bed and sobbed.
It was Sunday lunchtime. The heat was blazing. I was sitting with half a dozen XR Buddhists in meditation on Smeatons Pier.
Down on the beach below Rob Hopkins (author of ‘From What is to What if’) was giving a talk about imagination and longing. There was a crowd of rebels listening attentively. XR flags occasionally lifted up and flapped in the light breeze.
I was travelling light and hadn’t bought a meditation cushion or bench. For a while I simply sat cross legged on the hard concrete. Then my back started to ache. I tried taking off my shoes and using them as a cushion. That didn’t help my back at all and my bare feet pressed up against the rough surface of the pier. Then I thought ‘Is my head burning?’, glancing down at the time on my phone and wondering how far through the meditation time we were.
Despite all of this physical discomfort, this was one of the most peaceful and settled experiences throughout my weekend. Despite how few people were looking up at this row of XR Buddhists, or walking by us on the pier, for me this was one of the most significant actions.
There was something very powerful about finding some of what Suzuki Roshi called Big Mind in the middle of, on the one hand, a noisy crowded weekend of protests, and on the other a keen awareness of the suffering that the climate crisis has caused and will continue to cause.
That weekend I had witnessed the prayers and intention setting of the opening ceremony, marched with a thousand others through the streets of St. Ives, waved off the march through Falmouth and spent a decent chunk of time wandering around in the heat with a group of rebels looking for the best place to stage a theatrical action that didn’t happen. I sang with the song-holders, chatted with other rebels and kept an eye on social media and the news for photos and stories of all the actions that I missed, from Ocean Rebellion’s dawn mermaid action to Surfers Against Sewage’s paddle out for the planet. I found time for hanging out with friends on the beach, for sitting in the park with the dogs, and for more than one ice-cream. I watched Satya cover herself with a sheet and become a corpse for the XR Doctors’ action.
I spent the following week at home noticing guilt, shame and powerlessness washing around inside me. Had any of this made any difference, I wondered? Had I done as much as others? It’s easy for me to feel responsible for the whole of the climate crisis. Of course that’s not true, but I wonder what purpose that belief serves?
I have heard a distinction made between useful suffering and useless suffering. Useful suffering is the unavoidable suffering that is grist to the mill for practice and leads to fellow-feeling and compassion. This is birth, sickness, old-age, death etc. Useless suffering is the creation of a mind trying to avoid ‘useful’ suffering. It is unhelpful beliefs about ourselves and the world: this shouldn’t happen to me; I’m this sort of person, or that sort of person; or – like me in Cornwall – it’s my job to fix it all.
It is helpful to think of two kinds of suffering, but in my experience both types of suffering (suffering in the world and in our minds) are inevitable and both, if approached in the right way, can be a pointer towards love. We all suffer with birth, sickness etc. and we all create belief systems that don’t serve us.
If we can notice this in a loving way, with some kindness and spaciousness, we discover something about the human condition. Feeling tender towards our body/mind and their troubles, we begin to feel tender towards the body/mind of others.
This kind of attention brings wisdom. When I get curious about this habit of taking responsibility for all, I discover a couple of things. This habit has good intentions but mistaken beliefs: if I do a good job of being the responsible one I won’t get into trouble. Maybe that was true at one time, but it isn’t true now. I also discover that it keeps me away from paying closer attention to the real harm that I cause (through my carbon footprint etc.). In this role this habit again has good intentions but a mistaken belief: I’ll keep Kaspa safe by keeping him away from these truths, otherwise he will be overwhelmed by shame and guilt. Ironically it serves this purpose by using one dose of shame and guilt to avoid a different one.
As I maintain a loving attitude through this investigation, the habits reveal these truths to me, and they begin to relax and let go. In the light of loving kindness and wisdom the delusion begins to dissolve.
As these habits loosen their grip, really useful questions appear: are there ways in which my actions cause harm? Are there things I can change in response to seeing that? And where is the best place to put my energy, being the kind of person I am, in the crisis we are all facing?
The weekend following the Cornwall actions I co-led a mindful walk on the hills and took part in two XR Buddhist events: a debrief for the G7 actions and a mantra chanting session. Through spending time in those spaces I was reminded again that it is Buddhist practice alongside activism that is the most meaningful to me, and the place where I can best make a contribution.
I am reminded again of that moment on the pier, when I experienced a deep sense of peace and a knowing both that this was a significant action and that regardless of the impact there is always something to take refuge in: Buddha, the Pure Land, Nirvana, emptiness. The love and wisdom we find there is unconditional: we are welcome there, and it does not depend on anything in the world for its existence.
In actions like this I am given a glimpse of the completion of the Bodhisattva vow (to save all beings) and of the Bodhichitta (the heart of awakening). Often we think of activism and practice as separate: we act, and then we return to practice to digest the action, and then we act again and then we return to practice and so on.
When our hearts are awakened we naturally make an appropriate response to whatever we find. In the Buddha wisdom, compassion and action arise spontaneously, together and without selfish calculation. Usually our activism and our Buddhist practice support one another. Ultimately they become the same thing.
Often the form of XR Buddhists’ actions reflect this understanding, as we meditate in the road, or in a bank, or whilst winding our way through a busy protest in walking meditation.
Recalling that useful question: where is the best place to put my energy? I find the answer here. I am called to create the conditions for this kind of activism and for this kind of practice: where a deep care for the earth and Buddhist practice and taking action come together.
As to the effectiveness of our actions? On the one hand we are encouraged to let go of results, and I bring to mind how profound and meaningful these actions are in the moment of acting and trust that that is enough, and on the other hand I look back over the past three years since the foundation of Extinction Rebellion and see how far the national conversation on the climate crisis has moved and I am given some hope.
Kaspa Thompson is currently co-coordinator of XR Buddhists. He is a Buddhist teacher at Bright Earth Buddhist Temple, and a psychotherapist.
I only marched for three hours through London with this banner, alongside Jewish and Christian friends.
I danced to the beautiful men playing in the funky brass band behind us. I tried to catch the eyes of the stopped taxi-drivers, a few furious, but most smiling. I waved back to the children in high windows at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Elsewhere, manure was heaped onto the pavements outside the newspapers who are hiding things from us all. Paint was fountained onto the walls of their office. The pavements were stencilled with thousands of words: Tell. The. Truth.
It is tiring to tell the truth. Who are we to speak up against four billionaires? A rag-tag bunch of grandparents, eco-hippies, young people frightened for their futures. How DARE we?
Because of your desperate need, dear Earth, I have learnt that it is possible to challenge those who make the rules. To work in our small ways, alone and together, to bring attention to injustice and to uncover abuses of power.
Some of us have been called to risk prison through their non-violent activism (I am sending them so much love). The rest of us have other jobs – playing the trumpet, handing out leaflets, having brave conversations with our family or colleagues, writing posts on Facebook.
If we listen carefully to your call, sweet Earth, we will discover that you never ask too much of us.
Today I will drink coffee, do some weeding, and watch some easy television. Maybe we were a little thorn in the shoe of those four billionaires yesterday. Maybe they will swipe us away for now. We will keep going.
We will keep going because we love you, darling Earth.
Satya Robyn co-leads Bright Earth Buddhist Temple, she is a psychotherapist and writer and member of XR Buddhists.
We recently changed the name of an XR Buddhists Telegram group from ‘Anti-oppression’ to ‘Healing Oppression’. I like the new wording. It says that we are not just standing against something, but working to change something and that work is the work of healing.
What might a Buddhist approach to healing oppression look like?
First, a little context. Although there are some ways in which I have experienced oppression, as a white middle-class man in the global north much of my life has benefited from this system of oppressed and oppressor.
What is the cause of suffering? In the twelve link chain of dependant arising that the Buddha described, the ultimate cause of suffering is ignorance.
What is the ignorance that leads to suffering? It is our lack of awareness of selflessness, emptiness and interconnectedness.
What are selflessness and emptiness? Selflessness is what remains when we let go of greed and ill-will. We discover that there is a basic human goodness underneath everything else. We discover that there is a place of love and compassion deep within us. Emptiness is knowing that this is true for all beings: knowing that there is an underlying reality to life which is kind and loving and wise and connects us to all other living things. The experience of this teaches us that we are loved, and that we are capable of loving all beings.
Much of the time we are separate from this truth. We burst into a world of suffering and impermanence, feel the pain of separation, act with greed and ill-will from that place of pain, and then those actions and impulses become habitual.
Buddhist practice and teaching encourages us to trust that this pain and separation is not the only truth: that despite the very real and painful suffering we experience (and that some people experience more than others) the reality of love and connection is more fundamental. Occasionally we are gifted a deep embodied experience of this.
What is oppression? Oppression is the playing out of greed and ill-will and ignorance from those with more power to those with less power. It happens in interpersonal relationships, and across whole groups of people. From very obvious harmful words and actions, to more subtle behaviour that favour some groups over others, to the creation of structures that reinforce that favour and division.
Oppressing others is one strategy for trying to overcome the pain of separation: the belief that if someone can get more power, more status, and more wealth over others then they will feel better. Or that if they can hurt others and treat them as worthless then maybe they will feel worth something themselves.
I guess that strategy must work a bit, or at least people believe that it will, because we keep seeing it over and over again.
As well as creating profound suffering for whole groups of people, this oppression also has a direct impact on the climate crisis. The greed of the powerful and wealthy leads to more and more extraction of fossil fuels from the Earth. This extraction feeds the greed of the wealthy; it increases the carbon in the atmosphere and harms the lives and communities of the people on the land where the extraction is taking place.
There is fundamental goodness, there is greed, ill-will and ignorance and there is the deep wounding of being oppressed. We all contain some mix of all of these, and some people are more oppressive and some are more oppressed.
There are four important ways to work to heal oppression.
The first is to turn inwards: to maintain the practices that keep bringing us back into the deep truth of connection and love, to investigate the ways in which we are still acting from greed, ill-will and ignorance, and to ask if/how we have benefited from oppression, and how we are perpetuating it. The practice of staying connected to love allows us to have the courage to ask ourselves these difficult questions.
The second is the work of developing and keeping loving kindness to others. Sometimes this comes easily and naturally, and sometimes this feels like more conscious work. As a Pure Land Buddhist emptiness and selflessness come to me in the form of Amida Buddha. Emptiness and selflessness are not just abstract ideas, but something relational with a life of their own. I trust that the love of the Buddha is flowing towards me. That it is flowing towards each of us. The more deeply I trust in this (supported by the occasional experience of really feeling loved) the more that love for others naturally appears. Other Buddhists might call that acting from emptiness.
The third is to be willing to deeply listen to the stories and experiences of oppressed people, and to support the processes of grieving in those communities when that is appropriate. It is important to have spaces where experiences of oppression can be heard, understood and held with loving kindness. All of us experience oppression and woundedness to some degree or another. Having the space to be heard in this way is important for all of us. Healing our wounds comes from having those wounds witnessed and understood and met with love.
The fourth is paying attention to and working to dismantle the systems that work to keep oppression alive. From how roads were built in the U.S. to separate off black neighbourhoods, to the defunding of legal-aid in the UK, to anti-trans legislation, to criminalised homosexuality, to…
As we begin to become aware of these systems, we can work together with those groups of people that have been oppressed to dismantle them, and to create systems that are built on the fundamental truth of connection and the fundamental attitude of love for all beings.
There already exist resources to help us do the work outlined in each of these areas, both within our Buddhist traditions and in the social justice movement. I hope that by keeping all four of these areas in mind we can walk the path of healing oppression.
Kaspa Thompson is a Buddhist Teacher at Bright Earth Buddhist Temple, a psychotherapist and member of XR Buddhists. He is also facilitating Buddhist Action Month for the Network of Buddhist Organisations.
22 March 2021: Protesters including XR Buddhists Nick Clarke and Zoe Solomans outside the Namibian High Commission in London highlighting the risks posed by oil drilling licences granted to Canadian oil company ReconAfrica.
Licences for oil exploration (with a 25 year licence for oil production if oil is discovered) cover an area of approximately 35,000 sq kms of which about 25,0000 are in Namibia. In total this is an area larger than the size of Holland! The boundary of the licenced areas include the main river flowing into the Okavango Delta which it abuts for about 270 kms and up to the edge of the Delta. The Delta is an oasis in the middle of the Kalahari desert, so large it can be seen from space and home to the largest remaining wildlife populations in Africa and a UNESCO world heritage site. It also remains the home of the San people, so ancient that all modern humans can trace their DNA to them. All of this is under threat from the inevitable pollution from oil drilling.
Drilling is being conducted by a Canadian company, ReconAfrica. A number of its chief officers have a background in fracking, from its founder Craig Steinke and including its VP of Drilling (who pioneered fracking in the US) and its current CEO. The company believes there are 125 billion barrels of oil in the region. If burnt that would release 1/6th of the worlds remaining carbon budget!
This is a project of such insanity it is hard to find the right words. All of these plans were under the radar until drilling began this year. However the world is waking up.
Activists in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Germany and Canada are challenging these plans. In the UK we are linked to them and are uniting under the banner of ReConOut! This network includes people within XR (with a strong XR Buddhist and faith flavour) and from the region. ReConOut were at the Namibian High Commission to present a letter to the Namibian High Commissioner, HE Linda Scott describing their concerns. You can find a link to this letter below.
At this action Nick Clarke said: “Today is World Water Day and I am joining with activists across the globe highlighting threats to water systems. The Okavango Delta is a jewel of biodiversity, its value is beyond all measure and its waters sustain the livelihoods of more than a million people. Oil exploration inevitably risks polluting the Delta. If we were to burn the amount of oil ReconAfrica believes is there it will contribute to catastrophic levels of climate change risking billions of deaths and the collapse of our human societies. In solidarity with activists in Namibia, Botswana and Canada and indigenous peoples of the region I am imploring the Namibian government to think again and look for sustainable alternatives to meet its economic and energy needs. We understand this would come at a cost and we demand industrialised countries support Namibia to fund these alternatives.”
Moving forward the network will be focussing on G7 leaders as they meet in Cornwall in early June. These G7 talks will include much on climate change and plans for the COP climate talks in Glasgow in November. ReconAfrica has corporate links with the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. The failure of industrialised countries to regulate their companies, to allow further oil exploration at home and globally, to not meet their commitments to fund alternatives to fossil fuels for countries in the global south to meet their energy and economic needs and the UK cancellation of much of its overseas aid… these and others are all issues it will be demanding leaders address. The Drilling in the watershed of the Okavango Delta needs to be urgently stopped: it is profiting shareholders in the global North and the wealth of a small company above the lives of millions in the short term and all of life in the future and sacrificing a priceless pristine ecosystem. In challenging this project we can also show how it exemplifies so many issues that must be addressed globally.
ReConOut will be starting with actions in April and May, building momentum towards the G7 talks and then on to COP.
My action (as part of the Oily Hands protest on 28 August last year) was aimed at encouraging the University of Cambridge to divest from climate-wrecking fossil fuel investments. I did this because there is a climate emergency, which the University of Cambridge is not treating like an emergency. I believe my action was necessary and morally justified by the situation, therefore not criminal. If you break down a door to rescue someone from a burning house, breaking the door is not criminal damage. I’ll also be arguing that what happened was not ‘damage’, and giving evidence that I didn’t intend to cause damage. I’ll be referring to the right to protest, and to cause some disruption, which so far has been respected by the police, and arguing that my action was legitimate and proportionate protest in that sense.
You might possibly sympathise with wanting to do something positive about climate breakdown. But you may think that the situation does not justify tactics like chalk-spraying on a wall, that other means were open to me, my action was not a lesser evil, justified as an attempt to prevent a greater evil.
So what about these tactics, including things like chalk-spraying on a wall? I appreciate that many people don’t like XR and its tactics. But there is a background which makes these tactics necessary. There has been 30 years or so of petitions from environmental pressure groups, of the Green Party struggling to be heard with a political system and media heavily dominated by big business which is almost entirely hostile to green issues. 30 years of almost no substantial action on climate breakdown by governments of both ends of the political spectrum. But the climate situation, attested to by David Attenborough and the climate scientists, is desperate.
I’m not going to throw lots of facts and figures at you. And I’m not in any way minimising the suffering of anyone in the current pandemic. Coronavirus has rightly been front page news every single day for the last year — but we need at least that kind of response to the threat of climate breakdown. In fact the magnitude of suffering on its way to us from the breakdown of Earth’s living systems is far greater than what we have experienced over the last twelve months.
So the situation is desperate. But what about these activist tactics such as chalk-spraying a wall? There is research commissioned by the very reputable Wellcome Trust (1) showing that people don’t like XR and its tactics, but that those same people do know and remember what XR is saying — a lot more than they know and remember the messages of other campaigning groups. This kind of activism is unpopular but has raised people’s awareness and people’s minds are changing. Since our action, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College separately have both announced plans (2) to divest from fossil fuel investment. And in his statement Professor Stephen Toop (Vice Chancellor) explicitly recognised that morally this is the right thing to do. But this is only after 5 years of campaigning by many people. Climate change has shot up the agenda in this country in the last few years, for example the wave of local councils declaring a climate emergency after XR’s actions in April 2019. There are many reasons for that, it’s not just down to XR. But would all this really have happened without the pressure from activists?
So there is evidence that conventional tactics have on the whole not worked, that these more direct tactics have had a positive impact, and that they are needed. I sincerely wish these tactics were not needed, but they are. And I sincerely regret if anyone felt hurt or offended by my action. I did not do this lightly. But what are the consequences of not speaking out on this issue? This is an emergency, the alarm needs raising because action is not happening at anything like the scale or urgency that is needed. In an emergency, you need to get peoples attention, even if that means annoying them.
You may think that comparing my action to breaking down a door to rescue someone from a burning house is far-fetched. But climate breakdown is an immediate threat to human life. The climate scientists have found that people have been dying due to climate change since 2003. And that includes deaths due to climate change in this country since 2010.
I’d like to address the issue of damage for a moment. I used chalk spray, which is very soluble in water, because my clear and deliberate intention was to make a statement without causing damage. I believe that something that can be thoroughly cleaned with water and a little abrasion cannot legitimately be described as damage. I’m a dementia healthcare assistant whose gross hourly pay rate is £9.89 per hour. Whatever the financial cost is of cleaning the wall, I believe it should be met by Trinity College, having profited for so many years from its deeply unethical climate-wrecking fossil fuel investments.
A word about protest. The police and criminal justice system have so far recognised that there is a right to protest, and even that that protest might disrupt other people to some extent. My action falls within that category. Peaceful legitimate protest should not be criminalised.
Lastly, I’d like to tell you a little about myself. I’d like to point out how ordinary I am. I’m not alienated from society, I’m one of the majority of ordinary people in this country who want serious action to be taken on this threat to all our futures. My first real job was 6 years in the Home Office in Westminster (mainly in the probation service policy unit). I chose the Home Office because I believed in law and order, as I still do. I value public service. I’m an ordained Buddhist, and I’ve been a carer for the last 10 years – for the last 6 years on a dementia assessment unit. I care very much about ethics.
Having said that, I’ve no wish to say I or we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. I’ve no wish to polarise or demonise. I know the world is complex, and I know from personal experience that there are some very fine and ethical people working for the University of Cambridge. But the law should be about ethics, and appropriately holding people and institutions to account for their actions. The University of Cambridge has been (and is still being) criminally irresponsible and should itself be on trial. What I did was legitimate and proportionate protest, not a crime.
On 1st October 2020, Cambridge University publicly pledged to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030. Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor, stated: “The University is responding comprehensively to a pressing environmental and moral need for action with an historic announcement that demonstrates our determination to seek solutions to the climate crisis.” University of Cambridge pledges divestment from fossil fuels by 2030 https://www.cam.ac.uk/news/cambridge-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels-with-net-zero-plan
I’m not sure a typical activist exists – but it’s definitely not me. It was quite late in life before I can claim to having strong eco concerns and I also arrived late to Buddhism. I’m afraid I worked in the City as an IT consultant for many of the banks funding the eco crisis. I did fairly well from it, and looked after my family, including frequent flights to the Caribbean to see the in-laws. I can’t say I had a sudden ethical awakening and left the city because of it. But some sort of unknown, little understood crisis was emerging in me. I left my well paid City job to work repairing wooden boats, maybe being in the outdoors and on the water so often brought me back to my youthful connection with nature.
Just six years ago in 2015 during a difficult life period, the rumbling internal crisis caught up like a Tsunami and severe anxiety led me to Buddhism in 2015. In 2016 I read the book “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein and was incensed to learn about all the Ecocide going on. I had no idea what to do with that feeling. My poor wife’s ears. I continued to meditate, my anxiety subsided in some ways but rose in others as my concern at the injustice of what was happening increased. I floundered for a while, I’d seen so many petitions etc come and go over the years. I gave up meat and made many other personal changes. I have many more to do, I am quite the hypocrite still. I eventually discovered XR and also Joe at DANCE and went along to an incredibly noisy Barclays meditation protest in Trafalgar Sq the same day XR occupied the bridges. As a newbie at some point I found myself locked outside the Bank in adhoc liaison with a crowd of Police while Joe, Mark and Rowan meditated on inside. I just told the police to wait, these people will surely need the loo soon.
Taking action worked wonders on my anxiety, I was alive again, a human in touch with the cries of the world. My local XR group grew and we did lots more actions locally and together in London. Waterloo bridge supporting the Wellbeing tent was one of the highlights in my life. The prospect of blocking four lanes of traffic in Marble Arch – one of the scariest. ‘Go in with your knees knocking, it’s good spiritual practice’ I was told by Rowan.
But my background and personal circumstances meant that my high levels of anxiety returned, occasionally this turned to depression. So eventually I started to step up self care, meditating more regularly, more personal ethical lifestyle changes helped the despair a little bit. I found the excellent guide by Vessantra called “20 steps to avoid overwhelm” very helpful. A year later I eventually gave up my Facebook addiction. While posting stuff about the eco meltdown felt good in some ways it was probably stressing others. I tried to balance it for a while with hopeful and humorous Facebook posts. Now I rarely look at it and I feel so much better, less distracted, more focused. The world still goes on, I do need to establish a less distressing and balanced way of keeping abreast of news and contact with friends.
On and off I tried my luck to get my lovely local Sangha to take on board environmental concerns within the context of Dharma but this was a struggle so for a while I decided in practical terms to separate my Dharma practise and Eco efforts. Inside me they were inseparable. I’m glad I now have this sangha too.
I was invited to take up Samba drumming with my local XR, this was hugely therapeutic – music, outdoor practise, friends and laughter. Making a noise to protest was a strange contrast to sitting quietly in protest outside a bank. Even the Parliament Sq arrest for I can only guess drumming out of time was enjoyable.
We all know what we face in the world but at times we must have fun.
I did a workshop with Parami along the lines of Joanna Macey’s ‘seeing with new eyes’ where we role-played eco concerns. I was paired with a young girl, 17 who I could see was really very scared for her future, as an older guy with a past life far from ethically perfect – I felt ashamed. That memory drives me. I never feel I do enough activism but I have to balance that with my own well being. I’m not an academic which can limit my confidence in speaking out which frustrates me. I’m currently doing an excellent course on having difficult conversations which may help with that perhaps.
In part helped by Catherine Ingram’s article called ‘Facing Extinction’ I started to grieve for the world I knew and loved, I started to accept that much of it was gone or going. Bizarrely this helped. Grieving helped ease the tension in me of what we faced. I started to let go.
I of course still feel the urgency and the weight of what we face but I’ve come to realise this – I may not have the genius and appeal of Star Treks 7 of 9 but like her I need to plug in and regenerate on a regular basis. Our self care is equally if not more important than the activism. Be kind to yourselves and dare I say – May we all “live long and prosper”
Today I received a conditional discharge for my third arrest on September 3rd last year. Here’s the mitigating statement I included with my guilty plea. Onwards, dear friends. Our Dear Earth needs us. With love & grief <3
“I have been a law-abiding citizen all of my life and I respect the difficult job that the police and our courts have to do. I made a conscious decision to break the law as a part of the Extinction Rebellion protest as I have felt increasingly desperate about the climate and ecological emergency.
As we know, climate change is already having catastrophic effects across the world. Governments are continuing to fail to meet their own targets of carbon reduction, and the effects of this are spiralling to a frightening degree. After spending a long time with climate science and observing the actions of our own government and big corporations, I no longer have faith in these institutions to handle this emergency. They are not making the radical changes that are necessary to mitigate the worst of the effects of climate heating and ecological devastation, and their actions continue to be woefully inadequate.
I understand why it is difficult for these institutions to take the radical actions they need to take, and, I can no longer stand by and witness their lack of action. In the tradition of other movements demanding radical change, I stand with Extinction Rebellion and their strategy of non-violent direct action, as I strongly believe that these last-resort strategies have the best chance of effecting the kinds of changes we need to effect.
I know that this doesn’t make Extinction Rebellion popular with large sections of society, especially those resisting drastic change and those with the most to lose. I know that this uses up precious police and court resources. I deeply regret the inconvenience and distress that our disruption causes to the public.
I also believe that this disruption is ethically necessary in the face of the much huger catastrophes that await us if the current levels of emissions continue – food shortages, mass migrations, more catastrophic extreme weather events, extinctions… We all know about this crisis, but we turn away.
I can no longer turn away. I am willing to accept the consequence of my actions, which I carried out in the name of our precious Earth.”
Satya Robyn is a Buddhist teacher, writer, psychotherapist, and you can find out more about her love letters to the planet at www.dearearth.co.uk.
I have recently retired after for 26 years in the NHS as a psychotherapist. I am also a mindfulness teacher in the Buddhist tradition. Over the years of my practice I have developed a familiarity with my inner life which ensures that I do not act impulsively. My decision to occupy the road on the 18th October was based on a long period of reflection, research and discussion with friends.
My reasons are as follows:
That we are in a situation of climate and ecological breakdown is now established beyond any reasonable doubt. The IPCC report in 2018 stated that: ‘only rapid far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ will hold any chance of reduce the effects of climate disruption, which includes armed conflict over resources, famine, flooding, mass extinction of species including insects and coral reefs, increasingly frequent weather events such as wild-fires, hurricanes. This is not some dystopian science fiction, or a wild alarmist shouting about end of the world, but the conclusions from thousands of research papers around the world by our best scientists over many years.
The crisis is not just happening at some comfortable distance or happening in a remote date in the future. From various studies across the world in the last year we know that we have already lost 75% of insect species, half of all wildlife, half of our tropical forests, and 24 million people were forced to move due to climate instability this year and this set to increase hugely. To take a couple of statistics in detail: we have now lost 90% of our nightingales, and 75% of our butterflies. Will our children grow into a world without butterflies – without the song of the Nightingale? What kind of a world is it that does not respond in the face of such tragedy?
I am alarmed and dismayed that in the face of this widely known and well-documented and proven evidence, that our Government’s response has been utterly inadequate.
As a psychotherapist I am only too aware of the potentially lethal costs of denial of reality. Just as an alcoholic or a drug addict continues to destroy themselves whilst claiming they have everything under control, as a species we are sleep-walking toward the precipice. In the face of this I must ask myself what am I called upon to do? What truly matters? I have 2 children in their early 20s who on our current trajectory stand to inherit an impoverished, nightmare world ravaged by famine, storms, mass migration and war.
What am I to do as a parent, as a Buddhist, as a human being? What is the path of compassion, the path of wisdom in our current terrifying predicament? If there is anyone in this courtroom who has a better solution than the action I took on the 18th October, sitting in peaceful meditation on Oxford street, please tell me. I have been an activist for most of my life and believe me, have done everything else: petitions, planning responses, marches, letters to my MP, street actions. All worthy in themselves, but the evidence is clear to me: they were not enough, not nearly enough. My decision to engage in non-violent civil disobedience was not an easy choice, but I can see no other.
I would like to submit the defence of necessity. On this I note the following definition from Archbold (2019) .. (17- 117):
Stephen, Digest of the Criminal Law, p. 9, says that an act which would otherwise be a crime may in some cases be excused if the defendant can show:
(a) that it was done only in order to avoid consequences which could not otherwise be avoided and which, if they had followed, would have inflicted upon him, or upon others whom he was bound to protect, inevitable and irreparable evil;
(b) that no more was done than was reasonably necessary for that purpose; and
(c) that the evil inflicted by it was not disproportionate to the evil avoided.”
To take each in turn:
a) That my actions were taken in order to avoid ‘inevitable and irreparable evil’ is I think beyond reasonable doubt. I can think of no other disaster in the history of our civilisation that comes close in scale and magnitude to the tide of horror and suffering which is gathering pace as we steadfastly look the other way.
b) I submit that sitting in the road was reasonable in that it was a given that all previous strategies to raise the alarm have failed to change our course.
c) I hope it is self evident that the evil inflicted – which was at the level of inconvenience to the public – was not disproportionate to the evil avoided . Here we are comparing the possibility of some inconvenience to some members of the public with the certainty of incalculable suffering on already occurring on a global scale and which is set to intensify.
And so to conclude I submit that the defence of necessity applies in my case.
And from a personal perspective, non-violent civil disobedience is the path I have chosen, and did not choose lightly, but only after reflection and an examination of the evidence from my own experience of activism and from the evidence of its historical efficacy.
My conclusion, to summarise, is this:
As a society we are out of time.
And I am out of options.
Joe is a a vipassana meditation practitioner and teacher, psychotherapist and long-time activist.
I am 67 in March and up until 2019 I have been a law-abiding citizen. I have spent my working life in business and organisations as a leadership professional focusing on Leadership Responsibility and business practice, with a strong belief that principle centred businesses could contribute to a sustainable and safe future.
However, when in 2019 I became aware of the compelling scientific evidence around the immediate climate crisis, I realised that it was too late to rely on business to drive the agenda for change, particularly in view of the wide spread ignorance and denial of scientific evidence.
It was then I decided to actively see what I could do to help build awareness of our predicament. I am pleased to say that we now are living at a time where awareness of the climate crisis is widespread. However, response to that knowledge falls short and it was this that dro.ve me to add my voice to those with growing concerns that we are moving past key deadlines that will radically impact our environment and future generations
In the UK I would like to be able to say that our Government is responding accordingly, and indeed we are hearing the right words being spoken, but unfortunately in many instances the actions are directly contradictory to what was being said(see below).
This was made evident to me when, just before my arrest in September, I visited the HS2 camp at Jones Hill, and unfortunately directly witnessed this hypocrisy. I also witnessed it again at the Euston Square site in London and it was then I decided that I wanted to use my legitimate right to protest by sitting in protest on Lambeth Bridge.
Below I have listed the factual evidence of the duplicitous statements made by the Government and the reality in terms of the HS2 project
“At home we are putting biodiversity targets into law; removing deforestation from our own supply chains” (Boris Johnson )
“We are going to make sure the natural world stays right there, top of the global agenda” (Boris Johnson 2020)
“Left unchecked the consequences will be catastrophic for us all” (Boris Johnson 2020)
“Extinction is forever” (Boris Johnson)
Fact: HS2 is currently the biggest deforestation project in Europe
Fact: HS2 will not be carbon neutral in its 120 year lifespan-HS2 Review
As well as destroying our natural ancient woodland heritage, there is scientific evidence, endorsed by David Attenborough, which points to a direct correlation between pandemics and the displacement of virus carrying smaller mammals through deforestation and biodiversity breakdown.
Our PM’s recent words reflect the urgency of the climate crisis and yet continuing projects like HS2 directly contradicts his own declarations. Opposition from the public to HS2 is increasing daily and a growing number of MPs are also beginning to question its legitimacy and need.
In summary I felt compelled to call out and hold the government to account for not living up to it’s strong and public commitments and for actively pursuing such projects that demonstrate that their words are merely that, just words – but ones with damaging consequences.
Paul Wielgus combines his Buddhist and secular mindfulness teaching with Eco-Dharma practices such as Joanna Macy’s ‘Work That Reconnect’; he is currently engaging in an enquiry into Buddhist attitudes to racial justice and related issues.