'Are you interested in going to jail?'

Climate protesters
Climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion are asking how far people are willing to go to protect our environment.

Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action and accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.

How do you fancy being plunged into the grim abyss of the latest climate science only to be politely asked if you are interested in going to jail?

Hundreds of people across the UK have recently had this experience while attending talks about the Extinction Rebellion.

Led by the group Rising Up, Extinction Rebellion is breaking the mould of traditional communication about ecological crisis. It argues that it's time to tell people the truth and ask them to act accordingly.

'Biological annihilation' 

Scientists are increasingly breaking ranks to emphasise the existential threat we are facing.

Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research for twenty years and a senior advisor to  the European Union, said: “Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action and accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.” 

The Extinction Rebellion is urging people to face up to this hellish reality, particularly the “biological annihilation” of this mass species extinction event.

We acknowledge the grief and fear this can cause. But our experience suggests that working through those painful feelings can lead to a new determination to do whatever it takes to make this a lesser catastrophe and to save what we can.

So what does it take? We don't lack imagination or ideas - there are many policy solutions out there - but what do we lack is political will in a democracy captured by the interests of profit.

Conscientious protesters 

We can turn to the social sciences for information on how to generate political will. The evidence is overwhelming: change comes when people are willing to commit acts of peaceful civil disobedience.

They must be disruptive and sacrificial and whilst a critical mass is needed, it is a relatively low number of people. Fifty people in jail for a short time, such as a week on remand, is likely to bring the ecological crisis into the public consciousness.

A few thousand arrests in a short space of time could cause a political crisis. Just a tiny percent of the population in active support of a rebellion would probably see an end to this destructive political system.

Consider the power this would give to individuals. We can choose to be one of a relatively small number of people who are willing to stand up in a principled way and help decisively change the  direction of humanity.

Peaceful civil disobedience can be a dignified way to express your dissent. Actions could involve peacefully spray chalking buildings or blockading transport infrastructure, while being willing to face the consequences of being a Conscientious Protector.

Stepping forward 

The Extinction Rebellion talk is online. We are presenting evidence and a plan. We are asking you to please watch it and then ask yourself if you are willing and able to offer your service.

Dr Kate Marvel from NASA’s Goddard Institute said: “To be a climate scientist is to be an active participant in a slow-motion horror story.

"As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope […] Audiences want to be told that everything will be alright in the end [...] The problem is, I don’t have any. We need courage, not hope.”

I hope enough of us find our courage.

This Author 

Gail Bradbrook is a member of Extinction Rebellion

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