Extinction Rebellion protests

Photo: This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll @thisaintrock

Over the last thirty years, scientific reports of wildfires and floods have by and large enabled us to make a bargain with ourselves: ‘I’ll settle for some bad weather over giving up burgers and flying.’

During that time, too, the West has undergone staggering social change. In 1987, when I was a struggling teenager, according to the British Social Attitudes survey 75 per cent of the British public said they believed homosexuality was ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ wrong. Fanned by a hostile media, violence against gay and lesbian people was common, people were legally fired from their jobs because of their sexuality and others were barred from funerals of long-term partners by homophobic parents. Most of the media was homophobic. Some was explicitly racist.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other issues are still pernicious problems (trans people are the current media punchbag), but society has changed massively. We have, thankfully, become significantly more civilized: the concept of ‘equality’ is mainstream in the West; diversity is taken up by major companies; footballers wear ‘rainbow laces’ to show support for gay people; schools – with some exceptions – teach kids that everyone should be respected; the MeToo movement has shaken society. The accepted view is that our society is progressing and will continue to do so.

Yet there seems to be very little concern about climate change and the ecological crises we face. When I post about, say, a bed-and-breakfast owner who has turned away gay people, there will, understandably, be thousands of tweets about it. But post about the breakdown of the natural world, and few engage with anything like the same passion.

However, none of this is guaranteed. In 2014, the first gay woman to come out in British public life, Maureen Duffy, on receiving an award from gay magazine Attitude, said, ‘We can never accept that all is well. We’ve come a long way… but don’t take your eye off the ball.’ 

Quotation

Already, the flames of the far right are being fanned. The climate crisis is petrol on this fire. As a gay person, I am terrified.

Unfortunately, many of us who are concerned with social justice and identity politics, including the wider left-wing movement (as well as, of course, the right), have made what is looking every day more like a fatal mistake. We have not given any thought to how the express train of ecological breakdown will smash through this delicate diversity we have spent so much time building brick by brick.

We have forgotten that all of these important issues – in fact, every issue – resides within the most important issue bar none: ‘the planet’. With a broken planet, we will have no gay rights, no feminism, no respect for trans people, no attempt at fairness and justice for people of colour. What we will have is a fight to survive and a lot of violence.

Extinction Rebellion banner

Photo: This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll @thisaintrock

Unfortunately, many of us who are concerned with social justice and identity politics, including the wider left-wing movement (as well as, of course, the right), have made what is looking every day more like a fatal mistake. We have not given any thought to how the express train of ecological breakdown will smash through this delicate diversity we have spent so much time building brick by brick.

We have forgotten that all of these important issues – in fact, every issue – resides within the most important issue bar none: ‘the planet’. With a broken planet, we will have no gay rights, no feminism, no respect for trans people, no attempt at fairness and justice for people of colour. What we will have is a fight to survive and a lot of violence.

It’s only recently that voices such as that of British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough have talked of the collapse of civilizations and societies, or what food insecurity will mean for us, and for generations to come. In February 2019, Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam put it bluntly: ‘War, mass mental breakdown, mass torture, mass rape.’

In all this, our relatively new societal values will be threatened. Those who have had to fight hardest for their rights – gay men and lesbians, trans people, people of colour, women, and those who have traditionally taken up their fight – will inevitably once again become prominent targets.

After all, there is still extreme hatred of ‘difference’ out there. For instance, on the day same-sex marriage was brought into law in England and Wales, comments in an article in one mainstream British newspaper suggested that ‘we need a civil war to stop it’. The rape threats that any women of profile receive online, and the racism that is so common, speak to something that has been lying dormant in the murky depths of our society but is now stirring again. 

Quotation

We have not given any thought to how the express train of ecological breakdown will smash through this delicate diversity we have spent so much time building brick by brick.

Brutality is only kept at bay by the rule of law and by there being a critical number of educated people, in work, healthy and with enough money and food to keep them invested in society. When people cannot feed their families, then the façade of law and order evaporates. When Sir David Attenborough talks of the collapse of civilizations, this is what it means: violence that most of us in the privileged West cannot even comprehend.

There is a terrible precedent. Berlin in the 1930s had a flourishing queer community. A man called Magnus Hirschfeld campaigned for rights at his Institute of Sexual Science and conducted the first gender-reassignment surgeries. Then came economic crisis and the Nazi rise to power: Hirschfeld’s institute was ransacked, his books and research burned, gay men were put on lists, arrested, imprisoned and some sent to concentration camps. Millions of Jews, Roma and others were murdered.

These are the most appalling of times, made all the worse by the fact that most people seem to have no idea of how bad things really are.

Already, the flames of the far right are being fanned. The climate crisis is petrol on this fire. As a gay person, I am terrified.

This keeps me awake at night. It’s one of the reasons why I was at the launch event of Extinction Rebellion, was on the bridges in November and in the streets in April and why I will continue to encourage all people, especially my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and all who are concerned about social justice, to join us. If we don’t, then, for gay people, the bad days of the past will soon be with us again – and that may be the least of our worries.

 

This is an extract from This Is Not A Drill by Extinction Rebellion, which is out now. 

 

  • This Is Not A Drill

  • Extinction Rebellion are inspiring a whole generation to take action on climate breakdown.
    Now you can become part of the movement - and together, we can make history.

    It's time. This is our last chance to do anything about the global climate and ecological emergency. Our last chance to save the world as we know it.

    Now or never, we need to be radical. We need to rise up. And we need to rebel.

    Extinction Rebellion is a global activist movement of ordinary people, demanding action from Governments. This is a book of truth and action. It has facts to arm you, stories to empower you, pages to fill in and pages to rip out, alongside instructions on how to rebel - from organising a roadblock to facing arrest.

    By the time you finish this book you will have become an Extinction Rebellion activist. Act now before it's too late.

  • Buy the book

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