It's Friday, 19 July, the end of the week of Extinction Rebellion’s Summer Rebellion. XR has three demands of government:
To tell the truth, that there is a climate crisis
To take action to solve the climate crisis
To set up as citizens’ assembly
The government has taken note of these demands and promised action and a citizens assembly, but in Extinction Rebellion’s view it's not doing nearly enough. Hence this week’s action in London, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds.
Hello I’m Anthony Day, and this is your latest Sustainable Futures Report. Since I've been talking about the climate crisis for more than 10 years and the environment crisis for much more than that I felt I had to support XR’s action. I went down to Leeds to show solidarity, although not to be arrested. Here's what I heard and some of the people I met.
Interviewer: It's Monday morning. I'm in City Square in Leeds. It's the start of the Extinction Rebellion Summer Protest. Although there aren't many people here so far, but then it's not 9:00 yet.
Where have you come from?
Female 1: Sheffield.
Interviewer: And why did you come here today?
Female 1: So I heard about their sort of actions in London in April. And then I heard about the stuff happening in Leeds, so I just wanted to get involved.
Interviewer: So why is Extinction Rebellion and its aims important to you?
Female 1: Because I think a lot of people are interested in climate change and they're aware of it, but I think if we actually want to make a difference we need to do some sort of action.
Interviewer: Right. And this is going to lead to some sort of disruption I imagine, like it did in London?
Female 1: I think so, yeah.
Interviewer: And you think it's justified?
Female 1: Yeah, definitely. I think most of the like major movements in the last fifty to a hundred years, the only way they've actually resulted in achieving some of their aims is by doing some sort of disruption.
Shortly after this we were told that our objective was the Neville Street bridge. We were told to set off but not as a group, and we should cover up our yellow T-shirts so the police would not see us coming and stop us. I walked down to the bridge and there was no one there, so I walked backwards and forwards across it a few times and then a few other people turned up, including some I’d already met in Queen’s Square. There only seemed to be about a dozen of us and the police seemed to be expecting us as two very nice police liaison officers quickly joined us. We’d been warned about talking to them because apparently they get very charming and friendly and all they're trying to do is to find out what's going on. There wasn't much danger of that because I certainly didn’t know what was going on and I don't think many others did. In fact the police were friendly and reasonable throughout the day. XR’s policy is non-violent protest by civil disobedience and everything went very smoothly.
With only about a dozen people I thought there would be no chance that we would block the road, but all of a sudden people were sitting in lines at either end of the bridge and the traffic stopped. We then heard that “The Convoy” was on its way, including a white van pulling a boat on a trailer. Then it arrived at the lights, but the police diverted it away. That's it, I thought. The police will be tracking it on CCTV all the way around the city and they can stop it wherever they like. But then 10 minutes later it appeared at the lights again and this time the police brought it forward, moved their car and let us park it right in the middle of the bridge. The tyres on the trailer were quickly let down and the wheels were clamped. There it was, a big yellow boat in the middle of the bridge. “ACT NOW” it said on one side, and “PLANET BEFORE PROFIT” on the other. You can see some pictures on the Sustainable Futures Report blog. I spoke to the driver.
Male 1: I'm here because extinction rebellion has declared there is a broken contract between the people and the government. We're here to wake people up. We're here to raise awareness and push climate breakdown up the public and political agenda.
Interviewer: And that's why you've just parked a big yellow boat on the bridge.
Male 1: And we've brought a big yellow boat on the bridge. This is the mushroom, this is Project Mushroom. So in all of our conversations we've been talking about the mushroom. This is a symbol, it's become an icon of the rebellion. The first one was in Piccadilly Circus in London. Each of our boats are named after female environmental protesters that sadly have been killed in the process of peaceful demonstration.
Interviewer: What do you hope to achieve by this?
Male 1: Certainly we hope to achieve... We are definitely going to achieve the fact that the public will notice, we've had a lot of air time on the media. We've been on the best pages of the local papers. All of the local businesses have had to have meetings to discuss how we might disrupt their business. This is fantastic because they're talking about it. We apologize for the disruption. We can think of no other way.
We've written to our counselors, we've written to the MPS, we've done petitions, we've had huge marches in London and elsewhere. Nothing has happened. This is an emergency. We have to do something different. We have to force the radical change that we need. We cannot have business as usual, which is all that's being offered to us at the moment.
Interviewer: And you're here all week?
Male 1: We're here all week. We're going to be on the bridge as long as we can. It depends on negotiations with the lovely boys in blue, otherwise we will have separate demonstrations during the day, throughout the week.
I met many different people. I met a nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a seasoned protester, students and people of all ages. Once the boat was in place tents were erected including the well-being centre. The sound system was installed and people danced. Why are you here? was my most common question.
Interviewer: Okay, so three people with a poster saying "Planet Over Profits," sitting here on the bridge, completely blocked by this nice yellow boat. What brings you here today apart from sunshine?
Female 2: This is our first time at Extinction Rebellion. We've seen some of our friends from college and stuff go to it. And we just thought we need to get involved really because something needs to change and we think we're doing all we can.
Interviewer: So why do you think it's important?
Female 3: I think it's important because it's happening quite rapidly and no one's really like looking at it or realizing the effects...
Female 2: It's still being treated as something that's debatable, rather than something that's..
Female 3: I feel like a lot of people in power are just not involved...
Female 2: Addressing it.
Female 3: -- and not addressing it. Because, obviously they get money, so it effects them if they do address it.
Female 4: And I think a lot of people, like big companies aren't realizing that greed is going to be really harmful and it's not directly harmful to us yet, but that it's really harmful to people in the developing world as well, where climate change is having a big impact. And I think it's important that because we have the resources to show our support, we should do that for people in the developing world. Because soon enough it'll be us who's getting affected.
Interviewer: What do you think will be the result or what do you hope will be the result of today?
Female 2: System Change.
Interviewer: But in practical terms, system change. Who's going to change it?
Female 3: Well, I just hope other people see it and then realize that other people are realizing and doing something about it and then do something about it, like they do a similar thing or just gather more people.
Female 2: They need to know that it can't be ignored for much longer.
Interviewer: So have you done anything like this before?
Female 4: No, this is the first time.
Interviewer: And would you do it again?
Group: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, yeah.
There were lots of banners and posters. On the boat it said ACT NOW on one side and PLANET BEFORE PROFIT on the other. Other messages you included ONE PLANET ONE CHANCE - DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING - (I quite like that one) - I'M STANDING HERE WATCHING THE WORLD FALL APART - WE CANNOT SOLVE THE CRISIS WITHOUT ADMITTING IT IS ONE - BUILD OUR FUTURE NOT THEIR FORTUNES - FOOD NOT FUEL.
Then I spotted another one.
Interviewer: So here we are on Neville Bridge in Leeds, which is blocked with a big yellow boat. I'm talking to a gentleman who is one of our supporters with a panel which says -- "If You Are Not Part Of the Solution, You Are Part of The Problem." Well, I think we'd all agree with that. Why are you here?
Male 2: Well, I've been active in climate change matters for many years, for the reasons which are now obvious to more and more people. Being older, I'm very conscious that my son and grandchildren, if I ever have any, they're going to suffer the consequences of our inability to change society fundamentally, in order that we can avoid the catastrophe that's coming. I at 78 will probably be okay, roughly, but my son won't be at 35 and his children certainly won't be. So I feel genuinely very angry about that.
Interviewer: And have you done this sort of thing before?
Male 2: Yeah, well, I was just saying I was in a prison at Faslane for direct action.
Interviewer: Oh really? A while ago?
Male 2: This was about five years ago.
Interviewer: Okay, okay.
Male 2: Which was fairly unpleasant. But, not particularly expecting to get arrested today, but you never know and if I do, I do.
People were asked before they came to the demonstration whether they were prepared to be arrested. There was a lot of advice given about the consequences of arrest, in terms of legal penalties, threats to employment and effects on the family. There was a 36 page document circulated on this and “bust” cards reminding people of their rights, giving them the number of a solicitor to call. In some circumstances you can refuse to be fingerprinted or to give a DNA sample. It all depends on the power under which you were arrested. In fact, as of Wednesday, there have been no arrests and the boat is expected to remain on the bridge until Friday. West Yorkshire Police has taken a very different view from the Metropolitan Police at the time of the demonstrations in London at Easter. This police force has come under criticism from people whose buses have been disrupted or who have been stuck in traffic jams, but the force has taken a balanced view and said that people have a right to protest. This is very different from what happened at Easter where well over 1,000 people were arrested and the Metropolitan Police said it was determined to prosecute them all. They are currently going through the courts which is putting tremendous strain on the legal system. The Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary hinted that they would seek legal powers to make demonstrations more difficult. So far nothing has been done and let's hope that as long as demonstrations are responsible and non-violent they will continue to be tolerated.
Here’s another comment:
Interviewer: It's a nice day to be out. Why are you here?
Female 5: To jump up and down a bit, to make my presence...
Interviewer: To support Extinction Rebellion?
Female 5: Yeah, absolutely.
Interviewer: You've got your yellow...
Female 5: I'm full yellow.
Interviewer: Why do you think it's important?
Female 5: It's a movement I think that is prepared to make some big sacrifices for a big change, which has to happen. You know, there is no question really, our future at the moment is so limited and short, I'd really think that it's really important, really important.
Interviewer: So what do you think will come out of this? What's the objective of protesting here today?
Female 5: It's to to raise awareness and it's to make the government councils, government, everybody, look really seriously about what the facts are and what is actually going to happen. Because too many people are in denial. I imagine there's so much money wrapped up in huge conglomerates and companies that there needs to be a separation and people need to be accountable.
And then I met the doctor.
Interviewer: My name is Anthony Day.
Male 3: Anthony Day, nice to meet you.
Interviewer: And I'll give you a little badge so you can find the Sustainable Futures Report, just Google that.
Male 3: Oh, okay, I think I've heard of you actually.
Interviewer: Oh good. So you're here as a rebel doctor.
Male 3: I am.
Interviewer: So why are you here? Why are you here as a doctor?
Male 3: Climate change poses the greatest threat to health currently and probably ever in the history of humanity.
Interviewer: In Leeds?
Male 3: In the world. And even in Leeds with famine, water shortages, war, migration, which are all probable outcomes in the trajectory that we're going in terms of how hot it's going to get. We're going to have quite a lot of society break down and how we provide healthcare, how we prevent disease and illness in that sort of a situation, that sort of circumstance it's really, really difficult. And we don't know how that would work or how that would look.
Interviewer: So do you think coming to this protest here today in Leeds, you're going to make a difference?
Male 3: Absolutely. I think the more people who are sort of engaged and actively pushing for system change, the more likely it is that we will get there.
Interviewer: You don't think you'll just annoy a lot of people who are backing up in their cars because they can't get across this bridge?
Male 3: I'm sure it will annoy a lot of people, but I think a lot of people will actually be very sympathetic to what we're doing. And the recognition that this is short term annoyance and nuisance for really a longer game that we're playing here, and you really need that thorn in the side to really remind each other of everyone else what a problem this is. And ignoring it will only make the nuisance and annoyance hundreds of thousands of times worse.
Interviewer: Okay. Are you prepared to get arrested?
Male 3: That's something which depends on the action, depends on the call. It depends on the situation. It's something which I need to consider very carefully because of my profession, but we shall see, watch this space.
The bridge remained open to pedestrians at all times and at lunchtime and at the end of the day a lot of office workers were crossing. Some of them failed to make eye contact, many of them accepted a leaflet and some of them took pictures as they walked across. I overheard one of them saying, “Well of course all these people drive”, and she was probably right. And that Emma Thompson, remember she took a flight from Los Angeles to be at the protest in London. How can she be serious about climate change and cutting CO2 emissions if she takes a transatlantic flight? Yes, all these criticisms are justified. All of us, however much we are committed to tackling climate change, we still do things which create a carbon footprint. The key issue is that however hypocritical anyone may be does not change the fundamental science. We have a climate crisis. We have to find ways round it.
As you probably gather, I'm recording this on Wednesday and the protest has two days to run. I'm planning to go down to the bridge on Thursday afternoon, not least because three ladies have promised to sing to me. I hope they do, and I shall certainly share it with you. Whatever I learn on Thursday afternoon will be too late for Friday’s deadline so I'll certainly cover it next week, or I might even produce a special edition if there’s something important to report. In the meantime thank you once again for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and there will be another edition next week.
I hope some of the people that I interviewed this week have managed to find the podcast and to listen to it. Welcome if you are indeed a new listener and thank you very much if you're one of my interviewees.
I'd just like to take a final moment to tell you about Patreon. The Sustainable Futures Report is always free and has no sponsorship, subsidy or advertising but if you'd like to support me and help me cover the costs of hosting this podcast, paying for the music and for the pictures which illustrate the blog and for the transcriptions, then hop across to the website www.patreon.com/sfr where you'll find full details.
Next week’s episode will probably be about electrifying transport and after that I will publish the forum discussion which a number of patrons of the Sustainable Futures Report Took part in last week. By then I should have it transcribed.
So once again, thank you very much for listening.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
Till next time.