Sometimes, I find it difficult to speak to people about the climate crisis. I find myself flailing. Failing. About to give up. I find it takes effort to start with what, to me, seems obvious.
To explain that people are dying now, right now, in parts of the world that we choose not to think about. In parts of the world that we have exploited for centuries. And that we really don’t care. Because the people who are dying now are people of colour. Are the poor. Are the disabled. Are the oppressed and the powerless.
And then to explain that people are dying here in the West too. That children are dying in our capital cities because the air is unclean. That the way we have structured our economy is not only forcing millions of people into abject poverty, but killing our children. That we are not listening to the science. That the difference between an extra half a degree warming is the death and displacement of hundreds of millions of people. That this is not me being alarmist, or extreme, but the scientific consensus.
And then to explain that our political and corporate class are incapable of action. That the big fossil fuel companies are privately planning for warming on a scale that would see complete societal breakdown. That it would see the seas rise and the world burn. That they know this. That they have known this for decades. That they continue to fund campaigns of disinformation. That they are complicit in the murder of activists all across the globe.
And then to explain that nothing has worked. That the ruling class - the people who have brought us here, to the brink of destruction and the end of the world – must be stopped. By us. By the people. The people who must now rebel, revolt, and break the law.
To explain all that. And then to finish. And to look at all their faces. My mates in the pub. Staring at me. Like I’m totally insane.
You know, sometimes I think that action is the easiest part of this. The science tells us that we have just over one decade to avoid runaway climate change. So, in the face of criminal inaction by our governments, non-violent civil disobedience seems not only logical, but totally and utterly necessary. It is, after all, a rational response.
Explaining is undoubtedly harder. But, if we are going to get through this, then it is also absolutely essential. All revolutions begin with a simple idea: the greatest challenge of any campaign is to find the words to articulate it. To create a shared language with which to organise the struggle and shape of the shared imaginary of the movement.
In doing so, revolutionaries and radicals have always relied on important literary interventions, from manifestos to pamphlets. They have recognised that the struggle for social and economic justice is an ongoing struggle that must be fought on both the streets of a city and in the pages of a book.
The struggle for climate justice is no exception. It should now be clear that in order to reform our broken economy we first have to rebuild our broken democracy. That means systemic change, like the introduction of a national Citizens’ Assembly, but it also means a revolution of democratic debate and a new era of democratic engagement. We have to open our minds to new ideas, and leave behind the terrified intransigence of factional party politics. In order to do that, we need to give ourselves the permission to talk about it. And, crucially, to accept that we might get things wrong along the way.
We need to talk about science. But we also have to talk about equality and about justice. The climate movement is a movement led by the young. Led by women. Led by people of colour. And that is no accident. The people leading this movement are the people most affected by the crisis we all face. And the people with most of the answers.
We must listen to these voices and be led by those who have already contributed so much. To economists like Kate Raworth, who has pioneered a new way of talking and thinking about the economy; to academics like Vandana Shiva who has led her field in putting climate change on the agenda; to activists like Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, who has been representing the indigenous people of Chad for years and fighting for their right to survive.
In the future, we must explore and build on these fresh new ideas and these old forms of wisdom. But we cannot start those important conversations without the permission to have them.
People are tired of waiting for the permission to act. We are taking to the streets, demanding radical action to tackle the climate emergency, and our protests have already forced significant concessions from government.
But we cannot stop there. We have to turn this revolution of action into a revolution of thought. We need to allow ourselves to talk, and act, and think, and feel.
We cannot stop doing so until justice is served. A better world is possible, but only if we dismantle the oppressive systems of capital and control that are – in no small part – responsible for this crisis.
As the former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed says in our new book released today with Penguin Books, This Is Not A Drill: “The working people who stand to lose most from the end of the fossil fuel age, should be the first to gain from the new, clean economy. When we can march through the streets, hand in hand with the miners and the rig workers in a protest for climate action, then we will have unlocked the politics for transformative change”.
Perhaps our book will inspire you to act. I sincerely hope it does. But I hope, more than anything, that it inspires you to start talking about it.
The reason you are powerful, is not because you know more than anyone else, but because you are human. And you must not be afraid of that. Because, if we are to survive this crisis, then the future will have to be humble, gracious, and full of love. It will have to be emotional and tender. It will have to be human.
So, don’t be afraid to talk. Or to cry. Or to scream. Or to dream, and get carried away by your dreaming. Because that is the future. You are the future. And your emotions are important. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Speech is a form of action. Use your words like a banner. Like a protest. Like a roadblock wrapped around a roundabout. Read. Think. Talk. Act.
Act like the world is ending. And the right words will come.
‘This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook’ was published in June 2019 by Penguin Random House