Merlin Betts considers whether there are better and worse ways to change the world

Extinction Rebellion are making waves here in the UK because they’ve disrupted traffic in Central London and sung loudly. The other day, I also saw one of the Rebels on a train picking up newspapers, to recycle them before they could be binned by an unscrupulous Southeastern clean-up crew. He compared the Extinction Rebellion movement to witnessing the Apollo 11 rocket flying into outer space. Or, at least I think that’s what he was saying. He had begun selling the movement to me and privately glowing with pride, while I was still half listening to music and proofreading press releases. I think we were at slightly crossed purposes.

I hadn’t even read the Evening Standard he wanted me to give up so it could become a paper cup. I hadn’t even given it a curious sideways glance. And, as he tapped his green hourglass badge, I remembered how much I didn’t want to be going into London. He was part of a movement he believed in. I was chained to something I didn’t much care about. Which is where we must make ourselves aware of the reality of these protests: it’s a pretty cushy deal leaving school or work to have a street party, save the world, get free bed and board in an easy prison. And it’s pretty damn tough for the poor fools trying to get to work through the roadblocks, so they can pay off the credit they didn’t really want to take out, to pay off the mortgage on an overpriced flat. 

Yeah, we’re probably killing the planet. But that isn’t going to convince a desperate 9-5 consumer(ist) to change their ways. What will convince them is a loving community to join, maybe a community that can offer them food, work and shelter without demanding their income and their soul in return. The fear spewing out at all of us through the media, is mostly just pissing us off. Crying havoc and extinction isn’t going to work any better. Civil disobedience – peacefully refusing to accept an unjust law – is better served not by protests and blockages, but by alternatives. The socialist clarion cry since Marx has been “seize the means of production!”, and that sounds nice, but it’s missing the point. You shouldn’t take the horrific factories off the industrialists, or take the corrupt government off the corrupt officials. You should set up your own production centres, your own society, and set them up so that they work fairly. 

We can do that here, locally. We can establish efficient farms. Drop meat production to increase overall food production, reduce farm-based climate pollution in the process. We can set up workshops for craftspeople to produce clothes and furnishings to take demand away from factories foreign and domestic, thereby cutting industrial pollution. We can collect and pool our own water supplies and renewable electricity sources. We can take over our own local councils, set up our own unions, co-operatives and societies. We can stop using plastic.

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