Why I chose to be arrested during the Extinction Rebellion protests


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By Ellie Strangways, Fourth Year French and Politics

I am graduating this summer and yet I was in custody last month. Here is why I believe I was right in choosing to be arrested with Extinction Rebellion.

On Sunday 14th April, a group of 15 Bristol students, including myself, took the bus to London to participate in the Extinction Rebellion mass civil disobedience.

As some of you will have seen on the news, Extinction Rebellion are an activist group promoting non-violent civil disobedience to combat government inaction towards the climate crisis. Different local groups from around the country occupied five major sites in London - Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament square and Piccadilly circus - for 10 days, shutting down central London.

Our group of students were primarily based in Oxford Circus. Within five days of the protests, police turned up in their hundreds, following calls from Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, to use 'the full force of the law' . By the end of that day, I was sitting in police custody where I was kept for 14 hours.

I want to make it clear that these arrests were voluntary and could have been avoided. During my time in custody, I wrote the majority of this article, about why, despite being in my final year of study and entering the job market this summer, I believe I am justified in breaking the law in a peaceful manner, in order to get our voices heard about the climate crisis.

The recent IPCC report, published by the UN last year, predicts that we have merely 11 years left until we pass a tipping point with the climate crisis. The report states that if we do not maintain temperature rises to below 1.5 Celsius, perilous conditions will ensue including immense droughts, mass flooding and the consequent mass migration.

This report demonstrates that we are currently facing an existential threat through climate change. Noam Chomsky recently stated that: "It is impossible to exaggerate the awesome nature of the challenge we face: To determine, within the next few years, whether organised human society can survive in anything like its present form. Global warming is already a prime factor in destroying species at a rate not seen for 65 million years. There is no time to delay changing course radically to avert major catastrophe."

Having spoken to a lot of the public this last week, I have realised that despite scientists from around the world confirming the devastating effects that human activity is having on the climate, a worrying number of the human population are still 'climate denialists'.

With right-wing politicians such as President Trump fuelling the climate denial conversation, I would like to echo the idea raised by David Attenborough who pointed out that even if you do not believe in climate change, there is an undeniable fact that the planet is currently undergoing a mass loss in biodiversity, like we have never seen before. This coupled with plastic pollution will lead to an inevitable existential threat in itself.

With these ideas in mind, our generation is faced with two pathways.

The first is to allow the climate disaster to happen, leaving an uninhabitable planet as our legacy. The second option, however, is to react, and fight for what we believe in, to ensure a better world for both our futures and the future of our children. It is clear, however, that for the second option to even be feasible, we have extremely little time to act.

With the declaration of the Climate emergency announced, Bristol University is leading the way on the climate change debate. However, we need the students, a section of the population that is arguably the most privileged, in terms of lack of responsibilities and free time, to be at the forefront of this fight. The biggest threat to our future is our own complacency and the belief that someone else will sort this out for us.

The science around climate change has been around for decades, however, our government has been systematically ignoring it, favouring profit over people. I solemnly believe that we have the problem-solving skills to address this issue, however, we need mass civil disobedience in order to be heard.

We are at a deciding point in our history. What legacy will our generation leave behind? Will it be one of denialism, hopelessness, and the selfish plunder of the earth or will it be one of hope, compassion, and change?

This question can only be answered through the actions of the population. I therefore, urge students to stand in unity against the climate crisis. We have the ability to change our future, but only if we act together.

Featured image: Epigram/Will Charley

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