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'Why joining Extinction Rebellion protest The Big One in London in April is so important'

The Indie's Green Watch columnist Louise Tennekoon writes about environmental matters in Bishop's Stortford...

I wasn't planning to write about climate change this month, but then the latest UN science report came out and I realised that I couldn't not write about it. The report makes clear that we are on course to breach the threshold of 1.5 degrees within the next decade. This is not an arbitrary number. It's the threshold beyond which science tells us we get into big trouble.

And it means we need to accelerate our action – industrialised countries need to get to net zero emissions by 2040, 10 years earlier than previously thought.

This isn't scientists moving the goalposts, it's the inevitable consequence of kicking the can down the road. The longer we leave it to get serious about carbon emissions, the more there is to do in less time.

In the words of Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the UN: "Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once." That's a pretty compelling slogan, not just the name of an Oscar-winning film.

You may be wondering how we got here. We understand the science. We know how bad it's getting and that it's going to get worse. We have the alternative technologies we need. And yet we keep burning fossil fuels and global temperatures keep going up. Check out the graph below to see just how clear this trend is post 1990.

Global average temperatures (63188888)
Global average temperatures (63188888)

What's getting in the way of us sorting this out? According to environmental psychologist Dr Renee Lertzmann, the problem is rooted in the fact that we don't process information around climate change very well because it has such an emotional charge. It brings up fear, anger, guilt and grief, feelings that we are not very good at dealing with. We tend to go into fight/flight/freeze and do everything we can to shut those feelings down. We can see this all around us in denial, blame, over-consumption, climate anxiety, despair.

Shutting the feelings down takes a whole lot of energy. Lertzmann believes "the more that we can acknowledge openly and explicitly how we are feeling about what's going on, the more we quickly can free up a lot of that energy to be strategic, creative, all of the capacities that we are needing to unleash right now".

That's why I think spaces like the Stortford Climate Café are so important. It's not about sitting in despair. It's about getting together with others to find some acceptance of the feelings that climate change provokes, so that we can free ourselves up to get on with the job of making a better world. The group meets on the second Thursday of the month at the Apton Centre. Email Joe Mishan at joseph.mishan@phonecoop.coop to find out more.

I've written before about my struggle to find the right balance between personal action and systems change. There is one place where the two overlap perfectly: on the streets.

Non-violent direct action has been around for decades. Greenpeace has been doing it since 1971. More recently, Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil have won admirers and detractors in pretty much equal measure.

I admire their courage, their single-mindedness, their willingness to sacrifice their time and often their freedom to bring climate change to our attention. But I hesitate to join their ranks because I don't want to get arrested. And I don't want to piss too many people off as I worry that it alienates them and turns them off what we are trying to do.

Having said all of that, I also believe there comes a time when the only thing left to do is to stand up and be counted. If this strikes a chord with you too then I have some good news.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) flags on Westminster Bridge in London. Picture: William Joshua Templeton/Extinction Rebellion (63188886)
Extinction Rebellion (XR) flags on Westminster Bridge in London. Picture: William Joshua Templeton/Extinction Rebellion (63188886)

From April 21 to 24, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is hosting The Big One. The plan is for 100,000 people to gather in and around Parliament Square in the biggest climate protest ever seen in the UK. This isn't about glueing yourself to anything, throwing paint, stopping traffic or disrupting the public. It's about coming together with other people who want a world that is fit for generations to come, to get the attention of our elected representatives. More than 30 other organisations – including anti-racism campaigners and NHS workers – will take part too.

Timed to coincide with Earth Day on April 22nd, the London Marathon on April 23 and the return of parliament after the Easter recess on April 24th, The Big One is for people who care but don't consider themselves activists, as well as those who are old hands at this sort of thing.

XR is liaising with the police to ensure the event will be peaceful, safe, inclusive and family-friendly. You can find out more about The Big One and join 20,000 others already signed up to attend at extinctionrebellion.uk/the-big-one/#is-this-an-xr-event.

This is part of a deliberate shift by XR, away from public disruption and sounding the alarm towards building a mass movement. There's powerful evidence to suggest that non-violent protest is the most effective way of shaping world politics. The fall of the Berlin wall, the end of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia – all brought about, at least in part, by peaceful mass protest.

Researchers from Harvard have found that if just 3.5% of the population join the protest it is likely to succeed - 3.5 % of the UK population is about 2.3 million people. So there's a long way to go, but The Big One is a great start. I hope to see you there.

If you want to do something here in your local community, why not get involved in the creation of a repair café? It's a place where you can take household items that are broken or damaged and get them fixed by local repairers for free. The Bishop's Stortford Climate Group is looking for volunteers to help with setting up and running the café. Lots of friendly support and mentoring is on offer.

A repair cafe. Picture: Repair Café UK on Facebook (63188890)
A repair cafe. Picture: Repair Café UK on Facebook (63188890)

If you would like to get involved, drop me an email at louise.tennekoon@stortfordindie.co.uk.

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