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Tag Archives: extinction

Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion

Benedict Cumberbatch. Olivia Colman. Fine actors. They believe in Extinction Rebellion, or perhaps, rebelling against the prospect of extinction. The environment thing, humanity as a damnably scandalous, ecologically damaging species. But they also believe in taking sponsorship from the very same entities who are doing their best (or worst) to engage in matters of existential oblivion. So the circle of contradiction, even hypocrisy, is complete.

The matter has come to the fore over overt expressions of support for XR’s two-week effort of disruption in London by the entertainment set. Severable notable sites have received the attention of the climate change protest group. The Treasury building has been sprayed with fake blood. The London Underground train system has been disrupted. Protestors have glued themselves to trains, to floors and even mounted trains. Roads to Westminster were blocked, sit-ins staged at City Airport. Over 1,700 arrests have been made.

Phil Kingston was one such figure, not exactly a rabble rouser or hardened rioter. The 83-year-old glued his hand to the side of a carriage at Shadwell and was concerned for his grandchildren. “I’m also very concerned about what’s happening in the poorer parts of the world who are being hit hardest by climate breakdown.” Being Christian, he expressed concern about “God’s creation being wrecked across the world.” Kingston was also jointed by a rather eclectic sampling: a vicar, an ex-Buddhist instructor, and a former GP.

The incident, which involved aggressive scuffling between commuters and the protesters, was acknowledged in a statement from the movement as something divisive. “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.” Others were keen to pick holes in the rationale of the protest: Why, for instance, get at an electric train? Within XR, things are far from uniform.

Such protestors were a rather humble lot, but it did not take long for the bigger fish to join the shoal. Cumberbatch added his voice of support, his grin flashing as it was snapped by cameras in front of the Extinction Rebellion hearse blocking traffic to Trafalgar Square. Behind him were the conspicuous words hovering with spectral, foreboding promise: “Our future.”

The criticism of this was not far behind. Cumberbatch is the very conspicuous “brand ambassador” for MG in India. (Previously, Jaguar counted him among their celebrity proponents). The MG GS sports a particularly thirsty engine, and the actor is featured in an advertisement doing rounds in one on, of all places, Trafalgar Square. MG India’s Hector SUV has also boasted Cumberbatch’s smooth persona.

Academy award winner Colman has also found herself at odd between protest and brand. Having openly expressed her support for the movement, questions were asked by some of the more barbed wings of the British press whether there might be a clash between being on a British Airways inflight video, and disrupting flights.

Over the summer, Oscar winning actress Dame Emma Thompson was also ribbed for flying from Los Angeles to London to participate in an Extinction Rebellion protest. Her explanation to BBC Radio 4 was that the objects of her job, and being a protester, might not always converge. “It’s very difficult to do my job without occasionally flying, although I do fly a lot less than I did.”

Those bastions of supposed establishment wisdom, such as The Spectator, were chortling and derisive. Toby Young was keen to highlight how purchasing vegan baguettes at Pret a Manger was inconsistent with anti-capitalist protest. He also expressed, at least initially, concern at how law enforcement authorities had, generally speaking, been models of restraint before XR enthusiasts. Had there been “a group of Catholic nuns protesting about changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the riot squad would have been straight with the tear gas.” For Young, it was good to laugh at these modern millenarians infused with the spirit of apocalyptic terror.

The issue of celebrity encrustation, however, was bound to come by and find voice. And the engine room of entertainment turns the moral message, however hypocritical, into entertainment. Bite the hand that feeds you and call it a show. Having anticipated the rage, the celebrity big wigs have turned vice into a virtue. An open letter with a hundred names or so, from Sir Bob Geldof to Sienna Miller, took to the barricades and distribution channels with an open letter of affected contrition.  “Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites. You’re right. We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints.”

What matters is the broad church of hypocrisy. “Like you – and everyone else – we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.”

Those behind the letter stressed the speed of change as their concern. “Climate change is happening faster and more furiously than was predicted. Millions of people are suffering, leaving their homes and arriving on our border as refugees.” Children, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, had also called upon “the people with power and influence, to stand up and fight for their already devasted future.” (Rather cocksure are these celebrities, they, who wield such, as yet unmeasured influence).

Unlike those critical journalists, the signatories cannot help but be just a touch smug. There was “a more urgent story that our profiles and platforms can draw attention to. Life on earth is dying. We are living in the midst of the 6th mass extinction.”

Much, and in some cases too much, can be made about the celebrity activist who undercuts the argument. “None of us,” explained Sarah Lunnon of Extinction Rebellion, “is perfect.” The argument is still worth making, and publicity still worth having. Unfortunately for the likes of Cumberbatch, the gravity of such messages can be obscured by the person as label. In revolution, becoming a label is not only counterproductive but deadly. Protestors like Kingston can just hold their head that much higher.

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Book Review: Surviving the 21st Century

Surviving the 21st Century Humanity’s Ten Great Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them is Julian Cribb’s latest book. I was halfway through Chapter Two when I thought, “This book should be mandatory reading for every politician around the globe.” Everyone, politician or not, can benefit and learn from the insights and information Cribb shares with us.

Cribb takes complex global issues and distills them into a crystal clear picture of where we currently stand. Surviving the 21st Century will not be as easy as our leaders would have us believe. After my thought of required reading for politicians, I read the dustjacket reviews. I know, I know – odd timing, convention suggests I should have read them first, but I prefer to make up my own mind.

One of the dustjacket reviews by Professor Clive Hamilton, author of Requiem for a Species and Earthmasters:

With astonishing breadth of knowledge and acute observational skills, Julian Cribb has given us a book that is a kind of report on the state of life on the planet. At the centre of life on earth, he tells us, is the creature known as homo sapiens – self-deceiver, degrader, destroyer, anything it seems but sapiens. And yet, if we peer through the gloom is that a spark we can just make out, the spark of wisdom?

Jenny Goldie, past president of Sustainable Population Australia writes, “This is an important book. Few others deal with so many confronting problems in an integrated way.” The added emphasis is mine. This is what I see as the greatest value of this book to any reader: scientist, politician, educator or layperson. Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas says, “… absolutely essential reading for all politicians and policy makers, voters and young people everywhere. … Grandparents should read the book with particular care.”

Ten Greatest Threats

Cribb takes the ten greatest threats to human existence and suggests we do “the very thing we humans have always done best: understand and find co-operative solutions to life-threatening challenges”. He doesn’t just describe the threats, he offers solutions.

Cribb got me in the first chapter, Homo suilaudans. The Self-Worshipper. He describes how we ended up with the sapiens tag simply so the father of taxonomy could avoid a massive dispute (or possibly worse, given the era) with the religious fanaticism of his time. Heaven help anyone who suggested humans were not some form of divine special creation. Cribb asks the question, did this actually set a terrible trap for humans? Perhaps it did. “A name is who you are.” Or who you think you are, or want to be. As this book so clearly describes, we are not wise. Not at all.

A Topsoil Fact

Some of the facts Cribb covers I was already aware of. But I have learnt much. One learning that I found particularly interesting involves topsoil. Cribb relates how today’s crop varieties are developed to grow in modern, degraded soils. Such crops are lower in micronutrients and higher in carbohydrates and this situation is a major driver of the global obesity pandemic and other diet related diseases. I look at such things from a personal perspective – is this likely to be contributing to the ever increasing and as yet unexplained incidence of auto-immune conditions? I share this to illustrate we are ALL impacted, all readers will find relevance. All of the threats are relevant to all of us – it is our survival at stake.

The water situation globally is horrifying. Deforestation. Population growth. Bringing all these problems together is what Cribb does so well. Big problems, readily solved. If we use some wisdom.

I don’t want to share spoilers – this book is one each reader needs to discover at their own pace. I could not read this book in one session. It is damn scary. It is also immensely encouraging because while the facts are disastrous, Cribb clearly shows there are ways we can get through this. Ways to ensure surviving the 21st century.

If we stop being Homo delusus.

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.” – Voltaire (Surviving the 21st Century, p 171)

Like, you know, “clean coal”.

Fund Science

One conclusion I came to is the current trend of many in power ignoring science, of slashing funding for scientific endeavour, has to stop. That, my friends, is up to us, the voters.

I’ve never demonstrated or marched – been tempted a few times over the years, but never did. On Saturday, April 22, I marched. For science. I’m interested in surviving. I want my grandchildren to survive. I publish this review on ANZAC Day. My father fought in World War II – he didn’t fight so we could become extinct – at our own hands.

March for Science

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