My first wake up call to the ecological crisis was in 2014, when read an article that referred to the Club of Rome’s 1972 report, ‘The Limits To Growth’, which brought home for me what many people already knew: that the current, dominant economic and social system is profoundly, pathologically unsustainable, and its imminent collapse will be very painful. I think it was no coincidence that this wake up call coincided with the death of a dear friend, who was also a maternal figure for me. Personal grief has a way of making us vulnerable to wider grief, and often a close death is the first time people contemplate their own finitude and suffering in the wider world.
The opposite can also happen, sometimes simultaneously, where we get so caught up in our own pain that we just don’t have the capacity for wider empathy. Around the same time that had this reckoning with the ecological crisis, met the woman who became my long-term partner, and, in committing to this relationship, lost significant parts of my family. So, I understand from my own experience how the intimate and social traumas that accompany queer existence can affect our ability to engage with social justice issues. Some people quickly find their way to organised efforts for collective liberation, and so admire that. In my case, there was a significant lag.
While confronting my own white, American privilege and acknowledging oppressions based on gender, class and sexuality became really important, dealing with how these issues interlocked with wider liberation struggles was beyond my capacity. It took time before could acknowledge the powerful links between patriarchy, global capitalism, white supremacy, Western Judeo-Christian world-view supremacy, and the ecological crisis. Annihilation ‘out there’ was more than my nervous system could take on while dealing with annihilation ‘in here’ in my intimate life, due to the loss of family, and also the loss of self through a reconfiguration of my identity. This grief can feel every bit as cataclysmic as the grief that created Extinction Rebellion (XR) in the UK, and could not have arrived at the latter without processing at least part of the former.
Four years after reading about ‘The Limits to Growth’, I came across Jem Bendell’s paper ‘Deep Adaptation: A Map For Navigating Climate Tragedy’, and pretty soon afterwards watched Dr Gail Bradbrook’s talk, Heading For Extinction And What To Do About It (Gail’s video had only been published for a couple of weeks then). I would say these are good places to start, for a sense of where XR is coming from. After seeing that video, found the XR website, saw that there was a call being organised for people in Ireland, and this is how most of us first connected back in October 2018.
Carolyn Moore organised a rally in Dublin in solidarity with the UK’s launch of XR in November; there was a public meeting some weeks later, where a steering committee was voted, and was one of that group. At the start of things, think we all had a new sense of possibility and excitement, knowing that there was now a way to connect with others who are concerned, angry, afraid, grieving, and who want to move through all of those intense emotions into action. We also shared a deep anxiety over the business-as-usual lack of response to the IPCC report that had just been published. I, like others, was compelled by the fundamental focus on direct action and the simplicity of the three XR demands, which, in the Irish context, became:
1. That the Irish government declare a state of climate emergency and launch a media campaign to educate the public about the seriousness of the environmental crisis and steps that will be necessary to combat it.
2. That the Irish government immediately implements the recommendations of the 2018 Citizens Assembly report on tackling climate change as a first step towards the implementation of policies that will reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.
3. That all policy changes be in keeping with the ideas of a just transition, where the most vulnerable are not expected to sacrifice the most. That this just transition be made within a global context.
There are now, thankfully, so many more resources available, analyses of the IPCC report, Ireland statistics, explanations of positive (nothing positive about them) feedback loops, such as the albedo effect, or, the scariest one to me: methane release from permafrost and the Arctic sea shelf.
However, this information is only useful to the extent that one can process it, which is why we need each other. Extinction Rebellion Ireland have adapted the XR UK’s talk and have been actively creating space for people to get educated, get socially active, and also to be supported in whatever they’re going through.
Learning about and giving talks about climate breakdown and near-term civilisation collapse, not surprisingly, brings up grief. This is natural and appropriate, and we really need to acknowledge it. To move through grief doesn’t really mean to get beyond grief, there’s always more, but it does mean finding joy and resilience in the midst of grief. Moving through grief to whatever action is appropriate for you, is really empowering. For this part of the process, some resources have been incredibly helpful for me: Joanna Macy’s recent book, Active Hope (And The Work That Reconnects), Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics And Climate: A New Story, Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, collectives like Queer Nature and White Awake, and activist-academics such as Kyle Powys Whyte and Kathryn Yussof. Indigenous people around the world have been confronting the prospect, and the reality, of annihilation for at least 400 years, and the perpetual-growth-based global economic system we live in has always relied on the enslavement and labor and disposability of black and brown humans.
Awaking to global ecological crisis, then, is a reflection of my privilege, as well as my responsibility to decolonize my grief and to strive to make my involvement in environmental activism overtly anti racist. It’s also a responsibility to heal patriarchal harm transmitted through familial patterns, and especially through women’s lineages. I didn’t have the empathic capacity for much else before was able to address this. It was Kyle Powys Whyte who articulated so clearly for me recently in a recent article that the current ecological crisis is, in fact, rooted in systemic ruptures in relationships between humans, between humans and the sacred, and between humans and the earth. There’s need for repair on so many levels, but in times of crisis, we often forget about repairing human relationships.
As someone who has been attending Quaker meetings for about four years, the regenerative culture aspect of Extinction Rebellion is where my heart is in this movement, and would love to see us focus as much on this element as we do on direct action – both are equally important. Statistically, spiritually-grounded movements (the Civil Rights movement in the US, Gandhi’s radical pacifism and Standing Rock are just some prominent examples) have greater staying power than those that don’t acknowledge spiritual needs. To this end, am also part of a growing Active Hope Network that seeks to facilitate workshops across Ireland based on Joanna Macy’s work.
‘Mayday: The Fight To Save Our World’ takes place in Project Arts Centre, Dublin on May 1. Tickets for the event are available at www.projectartscentre.ie.