When our planet is under attack we have to stand up and fight back | Luke Buckmaster

What is crazier: dancing on a bridge to build political will for action on climate change, or continuing as if nothing is wrong?

Until a few months ago I never imagined blocking a bridge and watching grandparents being carried off by police.

Yet last weekend I was one of hundreds of Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) protesters who danced, sang and chanted on Princes bridge in Melbourne for several hours to draw attention to the climate crisis. The people who chose to be arrested (the police gave protesters plenty of warning and time to move on) included an assistant school principal, a clinical psychologist, a permaculturalist and a 73-year-old grandmother.

These are not the sort of activities I envisioned doing at this point in my life. In the words of that Powderfinger song, these days turned out nothing like I had planned. Then again, few people predicted the world would end up the way it has – other than climate scientists, of course, whose warnings have been ignored for decades.

Just last week alone, the UN called the climate crisis the greatest threat to human rights. A former Liberal leader, John Hewson, described it as “an emergency 30 years ago”. It was revealed Australia’s top bureaucrats have been preparing for “national-scale systemic climate risks”. Meanwhile unprecedented bushfires swept across the country and New South Wales launched an emergency relocation of fish.

And yet as new disasters unfold every week, our prime minister signalled that Australia will not make any new emissions reduction targets and continues to aggressively expand the fossil-fuel industry. Scott Morrison even refused to attend the UN climate action summit next week, even though he will be in America.

There are solutions to preventing the worst effects of climate change and they are so simple a child can understand them. But we need to face the fact that our compromised and cowardly political leaders are simply not listening, beholden to their mates and corporate sponsors.

Given the circumstances, my wife and I decided it would not be right at this time to bring a child into this world, and we are not alone. That is a terribly sad feeling, but nothing compared to what many of our greatest minds are telling us will occur if drastic measures are not taken: food shortages and mass starvation, a climate apartheid, the displacement and deaths of hundreds of millions of people, the continued destruction of the natural world, and the potential collapse of human civilisation.

When our planet is under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back. Some of our tools are protest and civil disobedience which can be powerful factors in building political will. History has many examples of civil disobedience leading to meaningful change, including the civil rights movement and the suffragettes.

What is crazier: dancing on a bridge to build political will for urgent action on climate change, or continuing as if nothing is wrong? Going to the footy might be easier than attending a protest. But the right thing to do and the easiest thing to do are rarely the same thing.

Initiatives such as reusable coffee cups and signing petitions are nowhere near enough. People who care for the future of the planet and our species need to change tack. Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

Feeling anxious and distraught (again I am not alone) I attended an XR presentation earlier this year called Heading for Extinction and What to Do About It. These are popping up all over the country. As an inherently cynical person (a film critic by trade) I admit that going in a part of me longed to poke holes in it. Instead I discovered a presentation comprising exactly what our political leaders continue to ignore: evidence and science.

The dramatic bits of Extinction Rebellion, such as mass arrests and road blocking, receive the lion’s share of media attention. Largely unreported is one thing that distinguishes this movement from many others: a strong regenerative culture.

In short, people look out for each other. While hundreds of us held banners, waved flags and chanted at the weekend, we were given water, nuts and delicious home-baked food by a range of people regularly checking to ensure everyone was feeling OK.

At the beginning and end of every XR meeting, attendees are asked to say one word to describe how they are feeling. The regenerative culture team runs initiatives to keep people happy and comforted, and a vibrant arts team creates colour and spectacle. Much of its work involves creative applications of the expired hourglass symbol, which has become the peace sign for a new generation. “With love and rage” is a common refrain.

As a result of joining XR my mental health has improved. I’ve redirected my anxiety about the climate crisis into other initiatives, such as (shameless plug!) building the first national index of climate change protests. Extinction Rebellion is hugely supportive: there are people to grieve with, to laugh with, to stand together with, to demand action with.

Everybody is welcome provided they adhere to a set of core principles and values and agree to these three demands. And everybody is needed. In Australia, Extinction Rebellion is building towards its “spring rebellion” which begins on 7 October and will involve rolling protests across the country.

I took my conservative 74-year-old Christian mother to the XR presentation. She is attending her first protest on Friday, standing up for her grandkids at the global climate strike. She told me that if I decide to get arrested she will support my decision. Now there’s a conversation I never thought I’d have.

Before the protest at the weekend, the group practised a song we performed many times throughout the day. The lyrics go like this:

People gotta rise like the water
Our future’s on the line
I hear the voice of my sons and daughters
Singing climate justice now

• Luke Buckmaster is film critic and writer for Guardian Australia


Luke Buckmaster

The GuardianTramp

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