I Pledge My Allegiance to the Struggle for Survival Against Catastrophic Climate Change


Golfers in September 2017 playing a round at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington State, while a devastating wildfire raged in the tree-lined hills behind them (Photo: Beacon Rock Golf Course on Facebook).

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It’s several weeks now since Extinction Rebellion (XR) occupied four sites in central London — Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch — bringing traffic largely to a halt and noticeably reducing pollution, and raising climate change as an urgent matter more persuasively than at any other time that I can recall.

In the first of three demands, they — we — urged politicians and the media to “Tell the Truth” — no more lies or spin or denial. Tell the truth about the environmental disaster we face. When XR formally launched at the end of October, the timing was right: the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had just published a landmark report, in which, as the Guardian described it, “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.” The authors of the report added that “urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target”, which they called “affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the [2015] Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.”

The same week that Extinction Rebellion shut down much of central London, the BBC broadcast ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, an unambiguous documentary by David Attenborough, more hard-hitting than anything he has ever done before, which made clear to millions of people the scale of the environmental catastrophe that we’re facing.  

And then, at the end of XR’s week of actions, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old Swedish campaigner whose School Strike for Climate movement (also known as FridaysForFuture, Youth For Climate and Youth Strike 4 Climate) inspired huge numbers of schoolchildren worldwide to follow her example, and to take time off school (or to stop going altogether) to campaign for urgent action on climate change, spoke to campaigners at Marble Arch, gave a powerful speech to Parliament, and met political leaders (although Theresa May was a no-show), the upshot of which was MPs approving a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency on May 1.

Words, of course, especially from the mouths of politicians, are generally unreliable, as Greta Thunberg has noted. In her speech to the British Parliament she pointed out that “nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises”, and she has done a great job of repeatedly stating that politicians have been uttering fine words but doing nothing since before she was born. 

In fact, confirming how weaselly and untrustworthy politicians are, on the same day that a non-binding declaration of a climate emergency was announced by MPs, the High Court approved the creation of a third runway at Heathrow, an act of environmental insanity that had been backed by 415 MPs to 119 back in June 2018. As the excellent Zad Forever website explained in a recent post, “Local residents, Greenpeace and London’s Mayor had tried to block the building of the third runway, but the court ruled against them. The third runway could destroy 950 homes, acres of agricultural land and produce more CO2 each year than the entire country of Kenya.”

The path to change

I’m no stranger to environmental awareness. I was only seven when US activists declared the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, but I grew up at a time of great fear about nuclear annihilation and the perils of nuclear waste, and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were both prominent in my youth. 

Instinctively counter-cultural, I took an interest in the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, and was impressed by the ecological aspect of the new age traveller and free festival scene. 

In 1989, I read Bill McKibben’s bleak, black-bound book The End of Nature, which awoke me to the perils of what was then called “global warming”, but also threw me into what, with hindsight, was some sort of existential depression. 

The ‘90s focused environmental awareness even more sharply. In the countryside (and occasionally the cities), anti-roads campaigners occupied trees to prevent pointless roads from being built, with a reverence for ‘Mother Nature’ that was inspiring, while, in the cities, ‘Reclaim the Streets‘ took back the streets from cars and lorries, reclaiming the land as traffic-free public space. 

These movements, in turn, fed into the anti-globalisation movement of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and, finally — after the West had become obsessed with terrorism and war on Muslim countries — XR’s predecessor, the Occupy movement, which also seized public space to provoke a conversation about our future. 

However, while the anti-globalisation and Occupy movements had largely focused on the perils of capitalism, it has taken until now for the environmental crisis to be the focal point bringing all our struggles together. 

War is environmental disaster, the west’s major companies are environmental rapists, driving life to the point of extinction around the world, and our shallow, self-obsessed materialism — for new clothes whenever we want them, for whatever food we want whenever we want it, for our phones and computers, for unlimited travel by car and by plane — also spells environmental disaster.

To be blunt, capitalism is environmental disaster, as another long-term campaigner, George Monbiot, spelled out two weeks ago in the Guardian, in an article entitled, ‘Dare to declare capitalism dead – before it takes us all down with it.’

In January, a key moment for me was when I was asked by Chris Hedges to appear on his ‘On Contact‘ show on RT to discuss Guantánamo — one of the great focal points of the west’s post-9/11 warmongering, with its unsubtle warning about the suppression of dissent via lifelong imprisonment without charge or trial. 

At the studio, I met up with an old friend, Dahr Jamail, who was discussing with Chris his revelatory new book The End of Ice. I watched from the Green Room as the interview was recorded, and Dahr spelled out the alarming changes taking place, and I then watched him and Chris — two grown men with a deep reverence for nature — talk about the speed of our planet’s environmental collapse, and the necessity of coming to terms with an unprecedented disaster that is already happening, and whose worst effects we can only hope to mitigate if we immediately change the way our entire global capitalist system operates. Afterwards, I told Chris, as we prepared to record our interview, that suddenly everything except this struggle seemed irrelevant. 

That transformative event paved the way for glimpsing the possibility of mass collective action during the XR/Attenborough/Greta Thunberg week, and, as a result, I wanted to make sure that I made a very public pledge about committing myself to what, it seems to me, and, increasingly, to millions of other people in the UK and around the world, is the one great struggle of our times — to prevent the worst effects of a man-made environmental catastrophe that is already unfolding.

This is a struggle that cannot be put off even until tomorrow, and that requires nothing less than a complete overhaul of the way our entire capitalist system operates.

What now?

So what now? Well, it’s obviously good that governments are starting to wake up to the scale of the crisis, but there is still no sign that any government is prepared to do what is required. In the UK, for example, the government, currently, is only committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. Introducing the motion for a climate emergency, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the government to commit to achieving net zero emissions before 2050, but that is an impossibly long timescale, and we simply don’t have time, as Extinction Rebellion recognise. Their second demand is for net zero emissions by 2025.

Or, as Greta Thunberg explained to MPs:

But perhaps the most dangerous misconception about the climate crisis is that we have to “lower” our emissions. Because that is far from enough. Our emissions have to stop if we are to stay below 1.5-2C of warming. The “lowering of emissions” is of course necessary but it is only the beginning of a fast process that must lead to a stop within a couple of decades, or less. And by “stop” I mean net zero – and then quickly on to negative figures. That rules out most of today’s politics.

So while we’ve made a start, we’re still nowhere near where we need to be, which is to immediately stop “business as usual”, and to rethink everything. There will need to be more education, and more direct action, but, in the meantime, conversations have started that are not going to stop, and alliances are growing. 

Shutting down central London was inspiring, as suddenly the pollution was cut, and we regained public space, which we could run autonomously — the joke on Waterloo Bridge was that it was the “Garden Bridge“, but it hadn’t cost anything. As a result of the occupations, everyone realised how much we need to cut traffic, and it also became obvious that most journeys aren’t necessary; that, as I saw it, for example, an entire “food logistics” industry is moving billions of pre-prepared sandwiches and canned drinks to corporate outlets, or moving insane amounts of unnecessary “fast fashion” to corporate clothes shops.

It could all stop — and it must, because everything about it — the plastics, the packaging, the huge journeys undertaken — is environmentally deranged, and we need to start factoring the environmental cost into every aspect of how business operates.

Because I’ve been involved in housing activism for several years, another aspect of the shutdown that particularly impressed me was the sudden lack of lorries involved in all aspects of the building industry, which normally choke up roads across the capital on a regular basis. This was a welcome relief, but a bigger environmental picture for me involves stopping the orgy of cynical council estate demolitions (which are environmentally ruinous, as well as socially unjust) and the reckless creation of endless speculative towers for private buyers, on the basis that the entire industry needs to become carbon neutral.

If this is something that interests you, then please get in touch. Eventually, perhaps, XR’s third aim will be taken seriously — for people’s assemblies to be set up to effect change — but for now we need to find more ways to get the word out to people who need weaning off the materialism and sense of entitlement that are so central to our current debased culture, and more commitment to direct action, whether through XR’s arrest and disruption model, or through the school strikes — or, indeed, through other means.

The main thing, however, in the wake of yet another apocalyptic report —the UN’s first Global Assessment study since 2005, featuring the work of 400 experts from at least 50 countries, coordinated by the Bonn-based Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which warns that around one million species “already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss” — is for more and more people to grasp the urgency of the situation in which we find ourselves, and to realise that the crisis we face is so immense that we can no longer put off taking action and demanding an urgent and unprecedented system change.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, my response to the unprecedented climate emergency that is ongoing and that demands action from all of us to change the prevailing economic system that, if it is not stopped, will continue to wipe out species and eco-systems at a shocking rate, and will lead to ever more catastrophic climate change, which threatens humanity’s very future.

    I’ve been aware of pressing environmental concerns for most of my life, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt compelled to make this very public pledge to act — via an encounter with the environmental author Dahr Jamail in January, and, more recently, via the actions of Extinction Rebellion, the words of Greta Thunberg, an apocalyptic BBC broadcast by David Attenborough, and by scientist-led reports from the UN revealing the scale of the man-made disaster that we face if we don’t change course now.

    As the environmental campaigner George Monbiot recently declared, it is time for us to “declare capitalism dead – before it takes us all down with it.”

  2. Tom says...

    I live on one side of a park barrier that’s designed to keep water from flooding over. Also here are two large reservoirs. If the water ever came over the barrier, my area would be completely flooded.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    The number of people at risk from rising tides is truly shocking, Tom, when you start looking into it. Here’s a Guardian article from November 2017 looking at specific population areas: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2017/nov/03/three-degree-world-cities-drowned-global-warming

  4. Anna says...

    It’s amazing how many people keep ignoring this subject. For those who have not yet read Dahr Jamail’s amazingly inspiring book, here’s a couple of links to encourage them :-). An Intercept interview a few days ago and a piece he wrote for TomDispatch in January :

    Having reached already 70 yrs of age I probably will be spared the ecological Bing Bang, but with every hurricane and flood-of-the-century I acutely realise how this lack of concern about man-made climate disruption (to quote Dahr) together with the similar lack of concern for the 60 million-plus presently displaced persons, adds up to a mind boggling world-wide disaster of unprecedented scale. Now thousands are drowning trying to reach Europe – that Apartheid island of wealth and prosperity which refuses to make a little space for those fighting for their lives – in a few decades they will be countless. Ever more desperate refugees from all kinds of man-made disasters, with ever less places to escape to. Faced by ever higher walls to protect our privileges.
    And all our ‘democratically elected’ politicians can think of to make this a better and safer world, is raising military spending.

    Apart from trying to limit my own personal carbon footprint, I clutch at positive examples and try to promote them. For this year’s World Refugee Day I’ve chosen a documentary film (with Q&A with at least one of the protaginists) about Italy’s Riace, a small deserted town in Calabria which since some 20 years has taken in hundreds of refugees, the first of whom was a bunch of Kurds who, as the town’s mayor said, ‘were brought to their beach by the wind’, as their boat in fact had been heading for Greece. A wonderful example of integration which even resulted in segregated garbage removal with on its donkey cart the great motto ‘Riace collects and does not reject’.

    Now Salvini (with tacit EU consent od course) is trying to kill such inspiring efforts, not to mention the local maffia which hates to see any government support going to such initiatives instead of to its own coffers through corrupted private contracts for abominal ‘refugee shelters’. But they’re fighting back and so are the mayors of a number of Italian cities who refuse to enact Salvini’s orders, against all odds ! Fantastic examples of constructive civilian ‘disobedience’. See this little video (with english subtitles) for inspiration :- ))) https://readers.fpmagazine.eu/il_signor_sindaco_e_la_citta_futura_gianfranco_ferraro-p16631? and read this for their present struggle : https://adventure.com/how-refugees-saved-riace-the-tiny-italian-town-that-could/ Our world is so beautiful …

  5. Anna says...

  6. arcticredriver says...

    Andy I know you have a son. I have no kids myself, but I hang out with my best friend’s adult son. A few years ago I apologized to him, on behalf of my generation. I told him I was afraid that when he was a father, or a grandfather, his kids might come to him and say something like:

    “Grandad, my teacher told us that my generation won’t be allowed to have any children of our own, because climate change has gotten so bad there simply isn’t enough resources for them to grow up. She said that, if only a couple of trillion dollars had been spent to combat climate change, around 2003, when all smart people realized what a serious problem it would be, the worst consequences of climate change could have been ameliorated. So, grandad, what did you guys spend three trillion dollars on, instead of fighting climate change.

    The heartbreaking answer is that we spent that $3 trillion on a very damaging wild goose chase, hunting for Saddam Hussein’s non-existent vast and ready arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    Thanks for this excellent article.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your comments, Anna. As I noted, meeting Dahr and watching him and Chris Hedges discuss ‘The End Of Ice’ was a wake-up call for me. I do hope people are reading it in significant numbers, and taking it on board. It led me directly to realising that we must try to change our course, and that direct action may be the way. I also realise that those of a less combative nature might concentrate instead on acceptance rather than an assault on our rulers, but I do think the latter ought to be considered widely; otherwise, there’s a fatalism about letting the greedy kill us all that is too much for me to bear!
    Thanks for the links. Great interview in the Intercept, and lovely and heart-warming to hear about Riace.
    As you say, my dear friend, “Our world is so beautiful.”

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the supportive words, arcticrerdriver. We’ve been on a long journey together, you and I, with our shared concern for the damage Guantanamo does to our values as part of this warmongering you discuss, distracting us from what we should have been doing instead, which is taking care of the planet that we have, instead, been so horribly abusing.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just the warmongering. The majority of our fellow citizens have allowed themselves to be manipulated by our leaders and by the advertisers working for the ever greedier and more desperate capitalist system that is the main driver of catastrophic climate change into becoming completely detached from nature, and pretty thoroughly absorbed in a life of endless self-congratulatory self-gratification; because, you know, “we’re worth it.”

    I hope we can – somewhere deep inside us; buried, in so many cases – find the wisdom to change course, and to commit ourselves to it wholeheartedly, but I’m not holding my breath. Sadly, the blanket lies used to pacify and/or distract people have, unfortunately, been horribly successful.

  9. Damo says...

    Unfortunately Andy it’s human nature to live in denile not take action and not react until the point of no return well we’re at or almost at that point by then there will be no sorting it out Hello beyond thunderdome.. The most pressing thing right this second is FUKUSHIMA the continuas leaking will kill this planet faster than climate change which is equally as urgent If our great great great great grandchildren want to even be born let alone live in a clean world then everything must stop and anyone who stands in the way of environmental protection well they are removed it’s them or us

  10. Damo says...

    Watching the news watching the dangerous inadequate trump and the shadow people behind him literally champing at the bit for war with Iran… Jesus christ.. When are humans gonna stop this.. All the horror all the destruction all the death.. Humans have learned NOTHING.. Nothing

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the reminder about Fukushima, Damo – the nuclear disaster that few people want to think about. I found a scientific article here that might be of interest – ‘Nuclear Pollution in the East China Sea from the Fukushima Disaster’ by X. San Liang and Yineng Rong: https://www.intechopen.com/books/coastal-environment-disaster-and-infrastructure-a-case-study-of-china-s-coastline/nuclear-pollution-in-the-east-china-sea-from-the-fukushima-disaster
    Every second, however, the impact of the lives of billions of people is still actively contributing to climate change, and, unlike Fukushima, we can do something about it – at the very least, trying to push our governments into action by disrupting “business as usual.”
    On another note, we perhaps need to get some street fighting practice in. Martin Kettle is warning in the Guardian that ‘The political landscapes of Brexit Britain and Weimar Germany are scarily similar’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/16/brexit-britain-weimar-germany-far-right-democracy-contempt-politicians

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, and it’s John Bolton who’s particularly to blame for the push for war with Iran, Damo. It was worrying when Trump brought him onboard, because some of us remembered that, under Bush, he was a particularly despicable character, and it’s been his damed dream for 20 years to start a war with Iran: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/16/john-bolton-trump-iran-nuclear-deal-danger
    The big question, I suppose, is: why do ordinary people not see through all this bullsh*t? Is the reality that a significant number of people are happy when they’re at war? Are our souls that dark?

  13. Damo says...

    I don’t know Andy I sometimes think our souls.. Are.. That dark and what a sad thing to think the actions and behaviour of our so called leaders and people’s inaction to throw them from power??!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s that perennial human dilemma, isn’t it, Damo? Is there inherent evil in the world, or are we capable of better?

  15. Anna says...

    I case you missed it Andy, you might enjoy this : https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/earthrise/2019/05/people-voice-fight-environmental-future-190519055155405.html

    As for me, I was happy to find that we have a EU parliament candidate who’s objective is fighting the climate crisis. Little hope he’ll get elected as he’s nr 3 on a new list, but you never know 🙂 and I will for once feel that my vote matters. The fight continues !

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the link, Anna. That looks very interesting. I must admit that the Sunrise Movement wasn’t even on my radar, so I’ll definitely have to check them out.
    For the European elections on Thursday, I’m anticipating that, here in the UK, the Greens will get more votes than ever before – but of course we’re in a total mess because of Brexit. It’s horrible to think how many people will be voting for the execrable Nigel Farage. Milkshakes at the ready!

  17. Anna says...

    I hear ‘banana & salted caramel’ are the choice ones :- ) ?

    Incredible how ‘That Woman’ after messing up your country as Interior minister and PM, manages to even mess up her departure in such a way, that instead of finally one way or another getting Brexit over-and-done-with, the few remaining months will – once more – be wasted, this time on infighting about what other two-legged disaster will take over from her. Tusk must already be on the direct line with hell to make sure those reserved places for the Brexit sellers are getting prepared for use.
    As far as I can tell from across the fog, it seems that the options have now narrowed down to no-deal Brexit or no Brexit ?
    Do hope it will be the latter … Cutting ones losses instead of Mayish stubbornly ploughing on in the wrong direction.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Good to hear from you. As you’ll see, I’ve been on environmental and housing issues today, and barely even thinking about May’s departure. It will be no loss to see the back of her, but I do wonder if her replacement will kill the country, or if I dare hope that trying to fulfil Brexit will not only finish their career (bye bye Boris?), but also the Tory party too. After all, Brexit with a deal seems impossible, while a no deal Brexit is so unthinkable that it also seems impossible. The madness continues.

  19. 2021 Is The Year Of Catastrophic Climate Change, But Capitalism Doesn’t Care – OpEd – Eurasia Review - Bingxo says...

    […] flames, which prompted me to use the photo to accompany an article I wrote in May 2019, entitled, I Pledge My Allegiance to the Struggle for Survival Against Catastrophic Climate Change, inspired by the campaigning of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, and by the the […]

  20. 2021 Is The Year Of Catastrophic Climate Change, But Capitalism Doesn’t Care – WebInvestigator.KK.org – by F. Kaskais says...

    […] which prompted me to use the photo to accompany an article I wrote in May 2019, entitled, I Pledge My Allegiance to the Struggle for Survival Against Catastrophic Climate Change, inspired by the campaigning of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, and by the […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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