We Could Not, So Help Us God, Do Otherwise

When he stood trial with his co-conspirators for burning draft cards with homemade napalm, thus preventing the drafting of many young men into the Vietnam war and making a mockery of the liberal imperative that property damage is always bad, the American Catholic priest Father Daniel Berrigan read out the following:

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlour of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.

For those of us within the Extinction Rebellion movement who are people of faith, that same drive characterises our decision to take action.  We cannot, so help us God, simply allow the Earth and its inhabitants, human and non-human, to go up in flames because of the greed and hubris of a few rich people and the indifference they have fostered in our population. 

Late last year the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we have just 12 years left to prevent catastrophic and irreversible damage to our planet, yet the UK government’s environmental record is abysmal: they haven’t just done nothing, they’ve actively rolled back progress.  It should also be noted that the IPCC are considered a somewhat moderate voice – things may, in actual fact, be considerably worse even than the IPCC are saying.  Indeed, for many people globally, it is worse, with climate change and the carbon economy accounting for nearly five million deaths each year, the vast majority in the global south.

There’s a lot more that could be said about the ramifications of climate change, but I hope by now the point is clear: this is the biggest life or death situation we have ever faced, but our collective response has been nowhere near good enough.  This is why I have spent the last week in London blocking roads with Christian Climate Action and locking myself into arm tubes with XR Edinburgh, and why nearly a month ago I and four others were banned from the Scottish Parliament building for unfurling banners at First Minister’s Questions and asking Nicola Sturgeon whether she would “establish a citizen’s assembly to address the climate emergency”.  Mercifully I have thus far been spared arrest, but hundreds of others have not.

Extinction Rebellion is undoubtedly an imperfect movement: it has faced criticism for a number of different reasons, some well founded.  I went into it with serious concerns and some of them have still not been alleviated.  Much like the Church though, Extinction Rebellion is trying to be a mass movement, and much like the Church, there are always going to be elements with which I do not agree.  To me, Extinction Rebellion is the love of neighbour in action.  It is a flawed love.  A love that gets things wrong.  But it is also a love that seeks positive change through inclusive action.  It is a love that brings much needed attention to the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and it is a love that is mobilising people who have never even been to a protest, let alone committed themselves to arrest if necessary.  On the balance of things, Extinction Rebellion is a good thing.  Even if it doesn’t work, it may spark something which does.  Indeed, time is so short that if it doesn’t work, if the government fails to act enough or at all, Extinction Rebellion’s conception of non-violent direct action will have failed, and this is not something many will wish to see.  So let’s not mistake word for action.  Make no mistake about it: this is the last chance for our deeply flawed political system to come good on its claim to protect its people and planet.  If it doesn’t, the consequences will be unimaginably worse than a few blocked roads in central London.

Written by Adam, an SCM member and climate activist. For more on Extinction Rebellion's work and how you can take action, see https://rebellion.earth/