Amongst those who face the truth of global heating, ecological destruction and species extinction, there is widespread consensus around one radical new starting point:
to live sustainably on planet earth, we must live in connection with all other species in our shared ecologies. XR’s name references this foundational belief in both words: rebellion is needed, not just protest; business as usual would mean extinction. After more than three hundred years of so-called ‘enlightenment’, an Age said to be of Reason, the West is worst placed to make this Gaian change. Western culture is also most in need of it.
The October rebellion has concluded in 60 cities across the world. Creative non-violent actions have taken place, targeting thousands of climate concerns and hundreds of complicit institutions. Extinction Rebellion has inspired millions of people to challenge governments’ inactivity over climate emergency. By the end of the first week of action, globally there had been 53,490 media pieces featuring XR. Now those involved have returned home, having earned a well-deserved pause, part of what XR calls ‘regenerative action cycles’.
One returner at my local ‘welcome back’ meeting around a camp fire said he felt anxious and uncertain, needed to know when the next action was. I wondered whether XR’s ‘regenerative culture’ was in danger of turning into what rebels did in the pauses to recover and be ready for the next ‘action’. XR’s strategy committee, confronted with the possibility that droves of ordinary London citizens now oppose XR because of the disruption caused to their everyday lives, is now considering how to proceed. Perhaps the nature of an ‘action’ will change? How does ‘regen culture’ populate the pauses so that they become as important for change as the non-violent direct actions? It is an essential part of the change process and goes far beyond the ‘wellbeing’ role that is part of XR’s training for action, important though that is. For example, XR’S third demand that ‘Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice’ can be preempted by the creation of such Assemblies, as is in preparation in some places. Such a process can work if the citizens involved are in a profound process of change as part of that potentially overwhelming work. All these initiatives require substantial changes in the character of political action, for which non-violent direct action is just the start.
Profound change is required not only in all systems and structures (the imperative of limitless growth on which capitalism rests has brought us to this point) but also in cultures and selves. Instead of ‘enlightenment’, we need ‘ensoulment’, reanimating our relationships with the more-than-human world. If, for many of us, our contemporary world has looked increasingly threadbare of compassion, joy and creativity, the required changes are an opportunity that is already under way and has no endpoint. XR is good at apologising, reconsidering, consulting and adjusting. Part of regenerative culture in a climate emergency is that everything needs reinventing – not just the system out there but the dynamics of political action and our internalised modes of protest. This is part of what makes XR different from former political movements.
CPA recognizes that selves must alter in step with changes in the outside world as part of the process of affecting outcomes. Whether XR or CPA, we use our own lives and settings as experimental territory for how this may be done. Here – in common with all the lives where business as usual has been, or soon will be, disturbingly unsettled – we must invent different ways to live. Cultural and psychological change is a combined, habitually slow, generational process. Now it needs acceleration and affords less certainty than perhaps ever before. XR appears to be good at maintaining fluidity in uncertainty. That is a central tenet and resource also for CPA, a capacity we can help people to embrace, sustain and transmit.
CPA Therapeutic Outreach
CPA is not an activist organisation (many of its members are taking action through XR), but with the prominence of XR and other movements, CPA, through its outreach programmes, is responding to the rapidly increasing need for support to those affected by the ecological, biodiversity and climate crises, including through XR. We can help with the unending work of digesting the (almost) unbearable. For example, prominent on its website, XR has a post from the regenerative culture UK team offering advice, respite and support for rebels returning from the London action. Under the heading emotional support, they announce the transfer of their Emotional Support Network (‘supporting people through an emotional, psychological or spiritual process’) to CPA’s therapeutic support offering up to three free sessions. A link is provided to CPA’s website with its newly developed facilities for finding a therapist.
A thirty-something year-old, living on his or her own and self-employed, having faced the truth about climate collapse, becomes active in XR. Soon they are central to their local group, relied upon. They also sign up with XR central to give talks nationally and work to establish local assemblies. They cannot do enough. They are sleeping badly and experiencing periodic depression. Social life and leisure fade away. They know they are doing too much but cannot say no because it is never enough. They go to London. As well as the solidarity, creativity and friendship, they come face to face with frightening police charges and panic as they imagine being pulled into an unmarked van and disappearing.
It’s not just the inspiration and friendship that rebels return home with, although ‘regen’ was an ongoing feature of the rebellion. I noticed a tendency at the welcome back event to stay on positive territory, the shadow side staying hidden so as not too spoil the good vibes, the hopefulness and solidarity. It is for the exhaustion, the occasional despair and the being terrified that support is needed, along with restorative time in which support and reflection can happen. Climate movements need that person – and the millions in a similar situation – not to burn out. Climate emergency prompts urgency, which too easily results in manic activity. People are needed not only to power movements but to be part of a parallel regenerative culture that figures a way to live a joyful and fulfilling life in the now, valuing what we have. The alternative is the kind of not thinking that results in business as usual and/or depression. Rebels’ capacity to face difficult truths and thus continue to think in imaginative ways about the future is a precious resource: its cultivation is central to CPA’s purpose and expertise.
[“Digest”, providing food for thought. Here are some thoughts for you to chew over; you won’t be swallowing any of this hook, line and sinker; the climate news can feel like a stream of undigested facts; it’s hard to take it all in; needs time to digest.]