Wandsworth, London, December 2022
About nine weeks ago, I did a 20-minute speech on the crisis. Just like the 100+ public talks I have done over the past year.
Destroying sovereign states, creating billions of refugees, shitting on our children’s inheritance, and wiping out what’s left of the natural world justifies concrete acts of civil disobedience. Obviously. Scarlet Howes from The Sun newspaper made a recording, she gave it to the police and made a deal. The Sun would get to film my arrest when the police came into my flat. I was not there when it happened. They took my laptop and other stuff like they do every few months. They changed the locks and left a note for me to come to the police station.
They arrested me. 36 hours in a police cell. The interview by the police involved 200 Questions. 200 times I said “No comment”. Not one question on me talking about James Hansen, ex-head of NASA, and his colleagues’ latest memo confirming the world will pass 1.5 degrees in 2024. Not one question on me saying that the worst episode of suffering and injustice in human history more than justifies nonviolent disruption under English Common Law. Right of Necessity. Some evidence cannot be collected. Police procedure has become politicised. You might call it that.
Five minutes in court. The magistrate put me on remand. For a speech. “Anything else?”. She does not look at me. “Chop chop, time is up”. No time to lose, at least when it’s her time.
In the prison cell, it feels like 90 degrees. My Romanian cellmate and I are down to our underpants. Outside it’s the hottest November on record and the heating is on full blast. There’s no water in the cell. For three days, the toilet won’t flush. The plumbing’s down on the whole wing.
I talked to a prison officer who seemed important. “There’s no water in the cell, I suggest you make some phone calls”. It’s only my second day. I’m trying to be polite.
We’re soon down to our last half-litre of water. Water’s “on the way”. Me and the Romanian look at each other. He doesn’t speak English, but we’re both thinking “This is when we start to panic”. That night, shit is being thrown out of the cell windows. Literally.
I got moved to another cell with a career criminal, Eddie – he’s had 19 years inside. He tells me the latest, a young guy of 21 has just hanged himself. After he’d had breakfast, apparently. “Poor fucker”. And he’s not the only one. Eddie’s been here for months and he’s settled in. Then he’s given one hour’s notice that he’s moving to another prison. He’s not happy, but he knows there’s nothing he can do.
My next cellmate is a drug addict. Three times a day, the smell of burning paper, smoking out the cell. It’s spice and he’s told me the deal. It gets up my nose. I’m watching England play and in five minutes I’m on my back on the bed. I can’t move my body, I can see but I can’t process what I’m seeing. For the next three hours, I’m thinking “Am I going to die?”. If I do then no one’s going to come. If you press the “emergency button” it’s an hour before it’s answered. “Emergency” here means emergency as in “Climate Emergency” as declared by the British Parliament three years ago. Some things are connected.
My cellmate breathes so heavily that I cannot think. When he coughs it’s like he’s going to die. I tell the prison officer “He’s going to die”. He says he’ll sort it out, as they do. Later that day the prison officer sticks his head around the door. “You alright?”. That’s it. On telly, it’s about Chris Kaba, shot dead by the police. It’s June 2023 before they find out what happened. Years before they get any justice. Black Lives… right. You “alright”, Chris? A week later, my cellmate finally gets moved.
I’m supposed to be able to get three visits a week. After hours of waiting on the phone, and a dozen rejections, finally my partner gets to see me on week six. The same week, I got my first visit from a solicitor. No, they don’t have a full transcript of my speech. No, they don’t think there’s any other evidence. No, they don’t advise me to appeal to end my remand. “Because it’s you”. I’m a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion. Did the design for Insulate Britain. The tabloids say I’m the leader of Just Stop Oil. We all have to make a living, right? But unlike the tabloids, it’s not a living selling lies.
The hottest ever November turns into the coldest December since… whenever. The slits in my window won’t close. It’s -7 outside. I get chapped lips, chilblains, and aching legs. I can’t sleep, I’m too tired. The prison officer won’t give me any tape to close over the gaps between the slits. “No, you can’t take your coat back into the cell after getting to court”. Finally, 2 workmen turn up. “It says you’ve got hypothermia”. They don’t blink. They get a big pair of pliers and twist the dial with two hands. The slits close. They’d gotten stuck.
Really hot, really cold. Freak weather? No, it’s weather-blocking, stupid. 50% of the ice in the Arctic has melted. The cold air slips into the hot, the hot into the cold – winds slow down. It all started 15 years ago, I was a farmer then. 7 weeks of rain every day from June for 2 years running – I lost all my summer crops. Weeks of -15 degrees – I lost all my winter crops. I’m not a farmer anymore, but I’m still here. Others committed suicide. But it doesn’t get on the news.
When all the ice is melted in the summer (in the coming years, according to peer-reviewed papers) it’ll get 1000 times worse and billions will starve. Then it will get in the news. (Adam, this is the bit where the reader doesn’t “Look Up”, right?).
Yesterday the heating broke down. Yes, there is a pattern here. As I write this, I’ve got a t-shirt tied around my head and a blanket over my shoulders and legs. I put my hands down my trousers between writing paragraphs.
The English gulag.
On telly is the cost of living crisis. Kids are sitting in front of the TV covered in blankets, the heating only goes on for 20 minutes a day. Nurses are going on strike. In A&E’s waiting rooms, patients are sitting on the floor while their children are in pain in their arms. In schools, the roofs are leaking and sewage comes up into the corridors.
The English gulag.
Do you think I’m talking about prison? The joke’s on you. This country is a gulag. A million times a day people give each other that look of “This place is so fucked”. It’s just that we in prison are on the worst wing. But your cell doors are locked too. It’s just that your cells are bigger than ours.
I went for an “education interview”. A prisoner says “Aren’t you one of them protesters? Well, tell them, when you get out, that three prisoners have committed suicide in here. Tell them that.”. He’s a caged Tiger, his eyes say more than his lips.
I’ve just finished Jeffrey Parker’s “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century”. In the 1600s the world’s population fell by a third. Due to the climate-war-disease complex, it’s all one thing. Slaughter-rape-suicide-desolation. “Our descendants will never believe what miseries we suffered”. Except we will because it’s about to happen again. Except for this time, it’ll go on forever. Co2 is being put into the air 8 to 30 times faster than at any time in the earth’s history.
The rumours are coming down the line. Except they’re not rumours, they’re facts. As they discovered in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943, they are going to have us die unless we stop them. The atmosphere is a gas chamber. It literally is a gas chamber. Except this gas chamber covers the whole world and there’s no escape. A few years back when I wanted to say this in public, my PR advisor threatened to resign if I did so. The most important truths can never be allowed to be spoken.
Merry Christmas, Scarlet Howes, and all the best for the new year.
A few years ago, when I started my research at King’s College London, my supervisor told me I was the best PhD candidate he’d ever had. A few weeks later, he was already getting annoyed with me. He said if I continued to speak the truth, I would make myself “irrelevant”. He didn’t say exactly that. They never do, do they? But that’s what he meant.
Three years later, I started Extinction Rebellion. The biggest global climate influencer of 2019. 200,000 people joined in six months.
So listen to me. This is important. To all those caged tigers reading this. Truth is the most beautiful thing in this world. It’s irrelevant whether it’s “irrelevant”. Acting the truth every day. That’s what we exist to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.
To sign up for civil disobedience, please email [email protected]