We met in the space outside the Tate Museum. After introducing ourselves we had a short grounding meditation and then walked to the top of Fleet Street. There we donned placards with motives depicting how Barclays Bank’s investments cause ecocide. We proceeded down Fleet Street to a slow drum march which was very moving.
On arrival outside the first Barclays Bank to be opened in the UK 3 rebels sat inside and 6 on the street outside. One rebel lead us with a mudra meditation and we sat for half an hour with one person doing outreach.
After the action we continued our March to a quiet park near the Thames and did a short Regen exercise.
I would definitely take part in this type of demonstration again
Living in a time of ecological and social crisis I am aware of the need to be an active part of a movement seeking to change lifestyles and the economy to being sustainable and life affirming. For me Extinction Rebellion is the international movement that can support these changes.
As a teenager I was so bad at facing difficult things that I had my GCSE results sent away to a family friend so that I didn’t have to face them. I was acutely sensitive to failure and rejection and strived to remove myself from situations where they might be present. But as I grew into my twenties I found turning and facing unpleasant things was incrementally easier the more I did it.
Deep into my thirties it came as a surprise to me to have this childhood coping mechanism re-emerge. When did this turning away appear? When I should have been preparing for a trial. I had been charged with a breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act, or as I called it ‘meditating in the road’. Instead of preparing my defense I found myself watching a lot of Homeland, and it also seemed far easier to watch long legal commentaries on the state of Britney Spears’ conservatorship than to prepare my own defence. To try and make progress I fell back on the bargaining that got me through my university coursework. Back then 150 words would get me a cappuccino, today writing a couple of cue cards would get me a whole episode of spy TV. I kept thinking that in the final week before my trial I’d be motivated to work on my defence, or in that final weekend, or the day before, or on the train ride to London. But motivation never really materialised.
I managed to do bits and pieces. I decided I wanted to talk about heatwaves and drew on the Climate Change Risk Assessment from the Climate Change Committee, and particularly their briefing on the risks associated with higher temperatures. I wanted to make the point that while my motivation to act was the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable and those who had contributed least, there are very real impacts felt here too.
The solicitor who had helped me with the plea hearing was kind enough to be quite direct with me about my chances in the trial. I had no effective legal defence. I had the sense that she was rather worn out by these activists pursuing legally incomprehensible strategies. And yet having a trial felt very important. After a long career of public silence in the civil service, the opportunity to state my truth out loud was important to me.
However I felt quite confused about my own defence. Was I guilty? Had I set out to break the law on purpose? Was the aim to get convicted? And if so, what sort of defence statement should I make? I was holding in my head two slightly contradictory ideas: 1) that civil disobedience is a plausible tactic to enact change – and that can involve breaking the law – therefore I am guilty; and 2) I’m not guilty because this is an emergency – a moral argument, but not one the court accepts.
A few things helped me in the run-up to the trial: Lucy Chan gave a lovely talk about Fierce Compassion at one of our meetings, and it helped me to connect with embodied compassion (something that I’d been struggling with); I took the Quan Yin statue I’d acquired after the last Rebellion with me to London for the trial; and I thought of my favourite chapter in Satya’s book Dear Earth about being held in the lap of the Buddha. As I made my way to court in a slightly cramped taxi, I remembered reading about the concept of bombu nature – that we are all foolish beings – and that cheered me up! Here I was, clasping my foolish folder of papers in my sweaty hands, my foolish cue cards, my foolish defence. And I would go to court and meet the foolish judge and the foolish prosecutor, and we would have a foolish trial.
I was found guilty in a hot, stuffy courtroom on the 13th of July. The Judge had been reasonable and polite. In his judgement on the case he gave us a gentle 30-minute schooling on how the law does and doesn’t work. I had been worried about breaking down in court before the trial, but on the day I’d found myself nervous but steady. The only moment I felt a slight prickling behind my eyes was when the judge pronounced us guilty. The upshot of all of it was a nine-month conditional discharge and £322 in costs.
On the coach back to Bristol I texted my friends and family updates on the trial, and assurances that I was feeling buoyant. “I’m a bona fide criminal!” I told them. I’m still processing what that means.
The socialisation I received about crime and justice as a child – that only bad people are guilty of crimes – will take time to unlearn. I can hold in my head statistics and arguments about failures of the criminal justice system, including its systematic bias against Black people and other ethnic minorities. I know and respect many activists who have broken the law. I am inspired by historical examples of people who chose non-violent civil disobedience. I still think about Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail. I was energised by John Lewis’s idea of ‘good trouble’. And yet, despite knowing all of that, my having a criminal record still seems novel and unlikely.
What happens next? I don’t really know, but the world is still not paying enough attention to the urgency of climate change. I still believe in non-violent civil disobedience as a tactic for creating change (though not the only one). I think there are more sacrifices I can make.
But, if the Crown Prosecution Service is reading this, the answer is I’m definitely not going to get in more trouble. Or at least not for the next nine months.
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.
XR Buddhist Satya was one of hundreds of rebels who chose to sit alone in a road today, to highlight how afraid they are of the consequences of not acting urgently enough in the face of the climate crisis.
Satya writes: After weeks of preparation, anxiety grabbing me in the stomach whenever I imagined this moment, I felt calm as I walked into the road this morning and stopped the traffic.
I had no support from the public. The boy who mocked me. The old woman who muttered obscenities at me. The man who drove his car within a centimetre of me and then rolled down his window to hiss in my face, ‘dumb bitch’. I get it – I was the crazy lady, stopping them from getting where they needed to go. Ranting about apocalyptic futures. What does any of it have to do with them? How dare I?
I don’t need people to like what I’m doing. I need them to open their hearts – just a tiny crack – to the true horrors of the climate and ecological emergency. We won’t reach everyone. But maybe one member of the public wondered why I would be desperate enough to do such a thing. Maybe one parent thought about their daughter’s future. Maybe you, reading this, will take action of your own.
Today hundreds of us across the UK were alone together as we blocked busy roads, our hearts pounding. We will keep raising the alarm, until the truth is told and until urgent action is taken. We refuse to be by-standers. We will SPEAK UP.
Local Press: The action received good local press in Worcester. See photos of other rebels in Worcester, and read their quotes in the Worcester News.
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”
14 Cambridge people of faith sat in socially-distanced contemplation on Parker’s Piece throughout today to reflect on the environmental crisis and call for @DanielZeichner MP to support the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill.
Thanks to the wonderful Jez (@jezpete) for these photos and to the lovely Buddhists of Cambridge for taking part in this action.
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.