opinion

OPINION: 'I'm an Extinction Rebellion protester, and I'm not sorry for shutting down your city.'

I am 40 years old. I have four young children. I work full-time as a clinical neuropsychologist. And I fully support Extinction Rebellion protesters shutting down streets and blockading bridges across the country. Why? Let me explain. 

For the past 10 years or so I have become increasingly concerned about climate change. I’ve been recycling. I started composting. I use a keep cup. I sign online petitions and go to rallies. I thought I was doing everything I could. I was wrong. 

The lightbulb moment for me came earlier this year just after the election. I had been hearing about the ‘climate crisis’ as it was now being called, and so I started reading more about it. I discovered the experts are united in telling us that we are facing a world where billions could die over the next 80 years if we do not act decisively within the next eight years. This is their best-case estimate. The worst case is human extinction

Watch news coverage of the Extinction Rebellion protest in Australia. Post continues after video.

Video via Channel 7

I despaired. When well-meaning friends and family asked my children ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’, I would leave the room in tears.  

And then one day, I read this Australian Breakthrough paper which outlines the likely scenario for 2050 if we do not change the carbon-emitting path we are on. Increasingly severe bushfires and floods, more frequent heatwaves and droughts, food and water shortages resulting in skyrocketing prices and sea level rises displacing billions of people. 

And the author of the foreword to this report? Admiral Chris Barrie, former chief of the Australian Defence Force. Hardly a raging leftie.   

The images this report conjured for me were so terrible, so jaw-droppingly unjust, and it was imagining my own children in this future that spurred me into action.

climate change strike sydney
Climate change protestors have been arrested around the country this week. Image: AAP
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In 2050 when this dystopia is predicted to be reality, my youngest child will be 34 years old. Will she have a career? Have children? Will she enjoy any of the privilege I’m now acutely aware of having had in my own life? Will she even have enough food and water to eat?

After a very dark few weeks processing this information, I realised that my individual consumer choices were not enough, because we need systemic change, and we need it now. I realised that no one is going to ride in on a white horse. We must save ourselves by sending a clear message to governments that we will not tolerate inaction.

Sir David Attenborough tells us that in addressing the climate crisis “we cannot be radical enough”.

And that’s when I found Extinction Rebellion (XR). XR was founded by a group of academics in the UK who researched social change across history. They found that mass non-violent civil disobedience was the most effective way to create social change. Examples include Gandhi, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and closer to home, the Franklin dam blockade in Tasmania, where more than 1200 people were arrested, resulting in the Franklin River being left to flow naturally. 

Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo speak to a 15-year-old girl who organised a school walk out for climate change. Post continues after podcast.

So, I joined XR. I’ll be honest, it was a bit confronting at the start. I saw lots of people who seemed much more, well, out-there than I am. I wondered if this was the movement for me. But when I looked further, I found lawyers, teachers, doctors and fellow psychologists. I saw young people, older people, and people with young families. People who are just like me. I discovered that although I wasn’t in a position to get arrested, there were many other roles within the movement that I could do: behind-the-scenes work like admin, writing, finance, arts, psychological support and food services. Also, front-line work like arrestee support, or being a body on the streets during blockades and simply moving aside when the police ask me to. 

With a group of other parents, we started XR Families Victoria. All this week at Carlton Gardens in Melbourne we’ve been running family-friendly activities like nature play, story time, arts and crafts, and environmental philosophy workshops. 

I still feel incredibly anxious about the climate crisis, but being a part of XR, particularly my work with XR Families, has left me with a sense of community and connection. My children support me in my volunteer work, and they get involved where they can. They know that there is a crisis, but they also know, because they see, that individuals can make a difference. 

And no matter what happens, whether we make the required changes or we do not, I will be able to look each of them in the eye and tell them that, once I knew, I did everything I could. 

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