INTERVIEW WITH SARAH LUNNON, SPOKESPERSON AND ACTIVIST, EXTINCTION REBELLION
Q. What insights do you have about comparing the mobilisation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the global response to climate change?
Neither Covid nor the Climate and Ecological emergency can be considered Black Swan events. Experts have consistently warned us of the risks of both over the years - however it appears the world is ill-equipped to prevent or mitigate for either.
Having said that, many governments have taken far-reaching measures to address the Covid pandemic, nationalising wage bills, accepting huge economic impacts, re-purposing industries and infrastructure. In effect mobilising. This is because the cause and effect can be seen. Our citizens are dying or will die tomorrow and so we must act.
The public health crisis presents an immediate discrete and discernible danger, the risks from climate change are gradual, cumulative and distributed. This requires present action for future reward - what Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, called 'the tragedy of the horizon'.
It is worth learning the lesson from our lack of planning and resilience to Covid. By refusing to invest in minimising the risk, the required emergency response has cost us so much more, has hit the most vulnerable the hardest and is likely to have huge non-linear impacts on our society via a global depression.
Q. How has and will the pandemic impact Extinction Rebellion’s approach to climate action?
It may mean that people will not want to join us on the streets in such numbers, travelling and staying with large numbers of people you do not know, a reticence to cause disruption to over-stretched public services.
This means that any actions and or mass gatherings will have to be planned with this in mind - the Trafalgar Square action is an example of a ‘social-distanced’ action, the Black Lives Matter continuing demonstrations indicate that if the cause is considered important enough, the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting, then mass non-violent direct action will be supported.
It is also worth considering the scale of government action in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. We have seen that governments can take radical action, that the impossible can happen and if it is considered important enough the sacred cow of ‘GDP’ will be sacrificed.
We have seen what can be done. It lays bare the fact that 30 years of inaction on the climate and destruction of our natural world has been a choice.
Q. Media coverage of Extinction Rebellion in 2019 focussed on shaming activists for disrupting daily life rather than on the urgency of climate change. What needs to happen for the media to cover climate change protesters in a professional way that takes the issue seriously?
If we knew we would be doing it. If anyone out there knows can they please let me know.
If the media had been reporting on the unfolding crisis we might not be in this mess.
However, I do understand, the siren call of denial or the temptation to play down the destructive impact our current economic system is having is very strong. In many ways, it’s a less traumatic place to live, rather than facing up to the possible collapse of your way of life everyday.
Q. Panicked COVID-19 media coverage regularly demonstrates the strategic value of inciting fear as a means to hold viewers’ attention. Would Extinction Rebellion benefit from heightening their tone and presenting a more detailed narrative about the reality of climate change?
Extinction Rebellion seeks to tell the truth about the future we face, whatever happens we know that the climate is going to be impacted for centuries to come.
We know our coral reefs are going to die and it now appears that the Arctic Sea ice will disappear before the end of the century.
How this will play out in our lives cannot be known as a scientific fact, but we can look back at what happens when resources become limited, when societies face scarce food and water.
We are already labelled a doomsday cult, but it’s interesting that you feel we should or could present a more in depth narrative about the future earth faces.
Q. The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in England and elsewhere are drawing attention to structural inequality. Does Extinction Rebellion plan on harnessing the momentum created by these protests? Could the BLM protests mark a shift in the way our society views social justice activists?
The BLM protests have shifted the public conversation about race in the UK and shifted that conversation within XR-UK.
The structural inequalities of race are a product of the same system that is causing the collapse of our natural world, our only life support system. BLM's recent protests have given more weight to those voices within the wider environmental movement making this link. And any action taken by XR should make the link between climate justice and racial and social justice.
Like Covid, the climate crisis will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations of the world and amplify the injustices already present.
Because of this, it is our duty to act and demand change, as citizens of the countries causing that impact. Those of us in ‘developed countries’ who, for the time being at least, are protected from extreme weather events and environmental degradation.
Q. At this juncture, what do you think are the necessary conditions for us to get the level of climate action we need to address the climate crisis?
Those of us who recognise the truth have a duty to keep taking action. In XR we are strictly non-violent, but we have to confront our government which is failing to protect us and our world. In recognising that they have broken the social contract we will no longer obey their laws.
Q. If you directed a training school for climate activists what are the primary skills you would focus on teaching and why?
Oh my - I would teach them the science so they understood why they needed to act. I would teach them the history of social movements so they recognised that they stood on the shoulders of giants. And I would teach them how brave they are by being prepared to turn up and take action.
Q. What advice do you have for people who wish to become climate activists but feel overwhelmed by current events?
Find some other people and join them, online or in person. Do it today and Act Now.