On Monday I was one of five Christians arrested for a nonviolent direct action outside the UK government Department for Energy and Climate Change. You can read more about the action itself here, but I wanted to explain more about what it was about for me.
I want to begin by saying that I am neither proud nor ashamed of this action – this is part of what I feel just needs to be done. Neither was this done out of anger or desire for revenge – it wasn’t damage for the sake of damaging something or causing trouble. But it seems the message of the urgency and importance of real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions is not getting through in conventional ways, and hence the need for a bit of drama. We’ve marched, we’ve petitioned, we’ve written to MPs, we’ve written to ministers, we’ve met our MPs and lobbied, we’ve campaigned and voted in the election, we’ve moved investments and supported businesses who are calling for progress… we’ve used all our democratic powers, and yet still those who are meant to represent us are doing the opposite of what we are calling for, systematically dismantling all the policies we had fought for that would help to make this country sustainable and keep us from a dangerous future. There hasn’t been nearly enough of an outcry about this, and whilst we are doing our best through the usual democratic means, we need to break this loud silence and get across that this is absolutely unacceptable, anti-progress and anti-democratic.
I believe strongly in peace and non-violence, so I will not behave aggressively towards others. I will not be violent, I will not insult, I will not make personal attacks. I believe those working for the department are there for good reasons, and many of whom will be there because they genuinely want to change things for the better, and I respect that. If you work for the department and want to tackle climate change, I do this for you, not against you – I want you to be freed to do your valuable job! What I want to call out is the fact that policy is tying the hands of those inside and outside the department who are trying to make progress, and that not enough is being done, inside or outside the department, to challenge this.
Jesus was not quiet in the face of harmful hypocrisy. In Matt 23 He takes on the religious leaders in public, using strong language to call out the harm that they were actually doing behind their good, religious exterior. He called them whitewashed tombs – attractive on the outside, but full of death inside. He didn’t do this out of hate, and nor was it His first move, but it had got to the point where it needed to be said, both for their benefit, and for the benefit of the watching crowds, opening their eyes to the truth and freeing them too to stand up to wrong. In the same way, I hope, we are following up years’ work of attempts at dialogue and persuasion through normal democratic processes, and have now arrived at a point at which we feel hypocrisy simply needs to be exposed and dealt with if we have a chance of moving forward; I believe it is costing real lives! And we do this publicly; the message is not solely for the government, challenging them to stop pretending to take climate change seriously and really act on it instead, but also for the watching public, Christians especially, as we want to encourage others that this is the time to stand up and act for what is right, doing whatever it peacefully takes to avert a dangerous future for all.
For me, it’s about death and life; what’s inside, and where are we heading? What’s happening is we have a government speaking life when it suits them, yet practising death. It’s a hypocrisy that needs to be exposed – you cannot simply talk and expect the climate itself to listen to the words. What it ‘sees’, and what matters, are our actions, and our actions scream loudly, drowning out our fine words, that we think only of our own very short-term interests and are content to go backwards to the age of fossil fuels even if it costs our own futures. I count myself in this. I like comfort, and I’m a part of this hypocritical system myself simply by being a British citizen, and living a fairly normal life as a carbon addict – but I am doing my best to move away from a climate damaging lifestyle, in my actions as well as my words, and more than that, I am trying to influence my country more to move in that direction too. I am here in a way doing something that is costing me my own life – I have dreams and plans for my life, and they certainly do not involve doing things like this, gaining criminal convictions and losing my freedom to live the life I wanted to – but I hope, contributing to something bigger that will protect life. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the fact that we get to resurrection via death – in this life as well as ultimately; I hope I can make the sacrifices, embrace the death of my dreams and comforts, in order to truly live for something that lasts, and to leave a better future for others. I want to be the reverse of a whitewashed tomb, to live with evident sacrifice and discomfort where necessary, maybe even be seen as a bad person, but beneath it all, to be bringing life. Far better than to be seen as good and sound like I care, when actually continuing to act in a way that brings death.