Environmental politics has been given a much-needed shot in the arm, reports Bill Perry
Sitting talking to XR rebels being released from police stations over the past few days I have had some wonderful conversations. People who have travelled from Wales, Scotland, Bath, Bristol or from across London. Young and old, students, forestry workers, farmers and many others. We all have stories to tell: about the critical mass bike ride and samba drummers in Parliament Square last Thursday, the pink boat and resisting its removal on Friday, or holding Waterloo bridge on Saturday. We smile and talk of our shared experience of the rebellion.
Then we talk about the climate crisis, the mass extinction we are in, the threat to humanity. It's worse than we think. The IPCC predictions didn't include the impact of methane that will be released as the permafrost melts. Climate refugees are already drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Honduran farmers leaving their failing crops are in immigration camps in Texas. All of this is urgent. Our rebellion is vital. XR and the youth climate strikes have finally shifted things. The conversation is where it should be now.
Within this movement there are lots of debates about what should be done. I have heard people argue that we need strong government. But at a time when global governments are giving 5 trillion in subsidies a year to the fossil fuel industry the need for more, not less, democratic control of government is posed.
Or frugality is proposed as a solution. Is this more austerity for the poor, or a more fundamental shift to an economy that isn't based on waste? These are to be debated. The pink boat in Oxford Circus had a banner on its side that said ‘System Change Not Climate Change' and this is an idea that is now gaining more and more traction.
As is the idea of a 'Just Transition'. The transition to clean energy must not penalise the poor. A transition that dismantles the machinery of war and waste that is destroying our environment could and should also raise the living conditions of billions of people in the global south at the same time.
Thousands of us have taken and held sites for days. Around a thousand people have been arrested and more are prepared to. This is a movement that is calling out the seriousness of the threat we face and it is asking people, and empowering people, to take serious action. As this phase moves to its end there is a serious job to do when we go back.
There is organising to be done in our workplaces and our communities. Let's target the corporations and the 1% who are responsible. Let's make concrete demands that show what a Just Transition means. Let's demand free public transport, new building standards, the rewilding of large areas, nationalisation of the Honda plant to make electric cars or hydrogen buses, the stopping of the demolition of council estates that pours carbon into the atmosphere.
This movement is brave and imaginative, and it puts the question of what kind of priorities we want for society as central: of what and how things should be produced. These are powerful questions. We need a powerful movement to answer them. This movement has started.