Why Rebel? – by Jay Griffiths

Where I am

I have become a grandfather for the third time. I now have three grandsons. Looking at Jake, born so very recently, I am aware, as I must be, of the world, and all that is in it. I remember the banner I saw three years ago in London, saying just one word: disobey. I recall another banner saying: tell the truth.

Now or never

Today I read not just of death in the Ukraine, of children the same age as my eldest grandson, Wallace, not yet five years old, killed as they sleep, but of the latest report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Report makes clear, in the words of one of its authors, Jim Skea, a professor at Imperial College London, that “it’s now or never”. Without significant and immediate action to reduce the emission of Greenhouse gases, global warming will continue and reach a tipping point beyond which there will be irrevocable climate breakdown.

The start of my Green Education

I saw amazing things over three days in London in 2019. I saw tented villages in Whitehall:  I saw nuns being arrested by police with riot shields on Lambeth Bridge: I breathed air free of diesel in Trafalgar Square. I saw Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, Lawyers for Extinction Rebellion – people of all ages, young and old, wanting a different future.

The Extinction Rebellion events in London in October 2019 began my Green Education. I had always spent my life obeying. But there is now a time to disobey, and to demand to hear the truth spoken.

A beautiful and wonderful polemic

Jay Griffiths’ book. “Why Rebel”? is a beautiful and wonderful polemic. I would like to see it pressed into the hand of every minister purchased by a fossil fuel multi-national company – I would like to see it pressed into the hands of those who wish to profit from building a Waste Incinerator on the Isle of Portland, and into the hands of those who wish to drill for oil at Aethelhampton.

The Waste Incinerator, sited as it will be in a deprived Portland Community, will pollute the Jurassic Coast. The oil extracted from Aethelhampton will yet further warm our planet, will edge us just a little more to global desolation.

Jay’s polemic comprises different chapters (previously published as free-standing essays) – each one of which caused me sorrow and stung my heart with indignation.

She writes like a poet and seer in great, sweeping, passionate sentences – this is not a work of sober analysis, although the facts are there, in terrible detail, to confirm all she says of where we are headed.

Solar flares of fascism

The first chapter highlights aspects of something I sensed happening in England, and had certainly seen happening elsewhere – in Brazil, America, India, The Philippines – the creeping cruelties and inhumanity of what Kay calls “the solar flares of fascism”.

Jay sets out clearly things we are now drearily familiar with – the use of lies, disinformation, the rise of racism and the cynical use of othering, the abuse of power, the contempt for restraint, the mangling of language, the contempt for democracy – all of which she illustrates through reference to Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson, Farage: the whole grisly crew.

She explores the phenomenon of the alt-right and the malign influence of those she calls “libertarians” – Steve Bannon, James Delingpole, Claire Fox (now a life peer), Milo Yiannopoulos.

She paints a grim picture of unfettered capitalism extracting all it can from the world, so that “some … live like gods by making others live like cattle”. An “idiot divinity”, she says “has been unleashed upon the world”.

The idiot divinity and its hirelings

This “idiot divinity” has no time for warnings about the Climate Crisis – its hirelings rubbish Climate Change activists and deny and twist their message.

Delingpole, who has written for The Spectator (sadly changed from the days of Steele and Addison) has described environmentalists as “mutant slugs”.

Pritti Patel has described Extinction Rebellion activists as “an emerging threat”, and that their campaign of civil disobedience was a “shameful attack on our way of life”.

I remember, when I spoke to those taking part in the 2019 London Rebellion, a very elegant woman telling me that she had been amused to hear that Boris Johnson had described her and her friends as “uncooperative crusties”. She was a solicitor and assured me that she had not been sleeping the night before in a “hemp smelling” bivouac.

A cry from the heart

Each chapter of Jay’s cry from the heart lays bare the enormity of what is happening to the earth – the mass extinctions of birds, animals and living creatures – the destruction of rain forests and the bleaching of reefs. She describes the heart-breaking destruction of indigenous peoples and the casual disregard of their wisdom and history.

Rio Tinto Zinc, for example, obliterated a cave sacred to indigenous Australians, which had demonstrated 46,000 years of continual occupation from the last Ice Age to living memory – blew it up in a matter of seconds.

She makes clear the absolute blind folly of this despoilation of the earth. Each chapter concentrates the mind and deepens the sorrow and indignation.

The conclusion is quite clear – we need to hear the truth of what is happening – unless things change, then the world will burn.

Politics of kindness

Jay makes clear, I think explicitly – although she cloaks what needs to be done in poetry – that a system change is needed – that the politics and ideology of kindness, empathy and compassion require an end to capitalism and the rule of rich old men.

More courage than I had

At last Jay showed more courage than I was capable of in 2019. She gets arrested and charged with failing to comply with a Section 14.

Jay makes a powerful, passionate and evidenced defence in court.

Judge Noble has no option but to convict her but says:

“This is going to be my last Extinction Rebellion Trial for a little while. I think they only allow us to do so many before our sympathies start to overwhelm us. When I started, I was fully expecting to see the usual crowd of anarchists and communists, all the dreadful things the Daily Mail says you are. I have to say that I have been totally overwhelmed by all the defendants … Thank you for your courtesy …your integrity … (and) your honesty … You have to succeed”.

We have to succeed

Chris Bradey