This is Not a Drill
an Extinction Rebellion Handbook

Penguin paperback in stock at Bookbuster, £6.99
Review by Tim Barton

Here’s a topical book, right at the height (so far) of Extinction Rebellion’s rise to the ubiquitous on High Streets across the UK – and beyond.

I confess to some initial cynicism about this movement, although I took the route Karl Marx chose with the Paris Commune and celebrated it anyway.

This book has gone some way to easing me toward an optimistic assessment of their intent and ability to lobby effectively for change. The book features around forty contributors, some very famous, and drawn from across the globe. It is presented in two parts, following three introductory texts, including one by Vandana Shiva, no less: Part one addresses the issues facing us, under the heading Tell the Truth. Part two, Act Now, is the prescription for action and change section, after which another three texts conclude the book – one by one of the very few religious leaders I respect, ex-archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Throughout, the style of the presentation follows a long ‘Penguin specials’ tradition of featuring agitprop artwork and slogans. Artists include David Shrigley and Nan Goldin. The effect is sometimes reminiscent of MacLuhan & Fiore’s 1960s classic The Medium is the Massage. Indeed, the spirit of ‘68 suffuses these pages. Though please, don’t mention the dead Penguin! – a tricksy quirk too far for me, but don’t be put off…

For me, the best chapters appear in part one. It offers an excellent primer on what those paying attention know, and have known, for years, sometimes decades; but that many will be new to, and shocked by. These deal with climate change issues; indigenous peoples’ fight for survival; and a selection of pieces taking a look at coping and post-collapse psychology. These last are an oddity to me, and frankly I think court quietism as a likely reaction of some readers, but the truth hurts so that has to be expected. The chapter ‘Doom & Bloom’ is especially irksome in its emotionally aloof approach, but I would firmly recommend reading it for its diagnoses if not some of its conclusions regarding coping.

Farhana Yamin writes the chapter ‘Die, Survive or Thrive?’ – there is a great balance here, between awareness of the difficulties of moving the status quo away from business-as-usual and the need to ensure a response, which when it finally comes, as it must, doesn’t simply gird the loins of the rich, but is carried out justly. ‘We need a socially just transition for everyone on Earth, not just for workers trapped in the toxic industries that need to be phased out, but for everyone at the sharp end of austerity and ecological destruction.’ Douglas Rushkoff – a Mondo2000 magazine ‘Alvin Tofler for the 21st century’ whose work I’ve been following since the mid-90s – writes in ‘Survival of the Richest’ on related themes, recounting a scarifying tale that should make your hair curl – the rich have every intention of pulling up the drawbridge and letting us all drown, and the picture painted here is only slightly more nuanced than that bald statement. It is a must-read.

Part two covers actions, arrest, how to run a roadblock…, but also ideas around a new economics (Kate Raworth’s chapter is interesting and radical), zero-carbon policies, and the need for a wider paradigm shift. Writers here include Caroline Lucas, Danny Burns and Cordula Reimann (the latter pair were part of the group organising the Anti-Poll Tax movement in 1990).  Reading through the book, it is impossible not to come away impressed with the breadth and depth of thinking here: this aims to be no flash in the pan.

The weakest parts for me were the XR ‘Declaration of Rebellion’, which begins ‘We hold the following to be true’, echoing, I guess, Jefferson, in the American Declaration of Independence (I found it grating, but don’t have a beef with its content); and, the final page, ‘The Social Contract’. Both are tricksy, and the latter seems to have missed the bus, as in the rest of the book the spirit of anti-State anarchism and grass-roots democracy via citizen assemblies is invoked: the writers here are offering a far more radical (and necessary) vision.

Read this book! But, more, Act On It!

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