On April 29th 2019 Prof Bendell gave a talk at the anti-fracking demo at Preston New Road, where he called on more insiders to take inspiration from the Extinction Rebellion and take risks to Tell the Truth about our climate crisis. The video of the talk is here on Facebook. The following is the transcript.
It’s good to be back in the Northwest, after the launch of the international rebellion against extinction in London. There I spoke from the pink boat of truth about the need for our politicians and media to wake up to the scale and urgency of the climate emergency. Today I’m here outside the shale gas fracking site of Cuadrilla because this project was only conceivable because people were afraid to accept the truth on climate change. Afraid to see the truth for themselves, so unable to tell the truth to others and therefore unable to act as if that truth is real.
Seeing people give up their freedom on the streets of London and elsewhere sends a strong signal to people everywhere that it is time for taking personal risks in the pursuit of truth, love and transformation. Extinction Rebellion has opened the space for truth telling.
So I’m here to thank all you activists, for also helping us all to create that space. And I want to say some more about what that truth-telling could involve now.
The truth is that climate change is unfolding faster and harder than we were told was likely. Seventeen of the eighteen hottest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000. We have woken up to the warm dawn of dangerously hot century. The colourless blanket of carbon gases wrapping our planet is trapping so much heat that forests are catching fire and harvests failing. Already there have been more forest fires in the UK in 2019 than ever recorded. The last highest year was 2018. Also last year we saw how chaotic weather could begin to threaten our own lives. In the UK and in many European countries the production of grains and open-air vegetables fell by over twenty percent. The climate emergency is therefore about all of us, and the future of our food and water. Yet humanity is heading in the wrong direction, with carbon emissions rising last year faster than ever.
That is why it has been so important to protest fracking at this Preston New Road site. We should not be building any new fossil fuel extraction facilities anywhere. The excuse that gas is better than coal is like saying ketamine is better than heroin. We need to get off these fossil fuel drugs entirely. The fracking process can also release fugitive methane. It is a greenhouse gas many times more warming than CO2. And that’s before we consider the poisoning of our water table. To risk such poisoning at a time when the country is facing a new era of unprecedented water scarcity due to climate change, is frankly absurd.
So the only reason this fracking project can be here is because people have been lying to themselves and each other about how bad things are. So the time has come from more people to take risks in their own lives to come clean and tell the truth about what they know of our situation. It is time for people in senior jobs across our society to come clean or step down. By which I mean come clean on the scale and speed of our crisis and what that means we must now focus on now.
That includes people who care about climate change. But who are in denial about how bad things are and the risks they now need to take. It is time for more of our Climate Experts to come clean about how bad things are. In particular, the members of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), who will issue new advice later this week. They advise the government and are meant to be somewhat independent. In the past, they have justified ongoing fossil fuel development, such as fracking shale gas and airport expansion. They have ignored emissions from aviation, shipping, imports & exports. The CCC assumes that Carbon Dioxide Removal & Negative Emissions technologies will work at a huge planetary scale. That is a convenient fantasy for them but is a travesty for the children who will have to live with the reality. It is time for the CCC to tell the truth on the perilous situation we are in, and the need for emergency responses to protect food and water.
In the past 6 months we have seen some of the climate experts in established institutions be clearer on the alarming situation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC last October finally rang the alarm bells. It told us we have to cut carbon emissions by 18% a year, globally, each year for the next 12, just to have a chance of avoiding catastrophe. And soon the UNISDR will report on risks to global food production from the destabilising of our weather. But we need more experts to step forward and tell the truth, so as to build the public will for the scale of changes that are needed to reduce the harm from climate change.
Academics like me also need to tell the truth to ourselves. We work in a profession that is meant to identify knowledge and share it. Yet we get stuck in silos so have a very partial perspective on public issues. We focus on publishing in specialist journals that reach so few people. After criticism for that lack of impact, the response is now to pursue impact only in ways that can be easily documented and that government can approve of. In my case, I realised my old work in sustainable business was becoming meaningless in the face of rapid climate change. It was only when I decided to follow my concern outside of my comfort zone and publish for the goal of sharing my truth that did I have a significant impact. Instead of a handful of experts reading my paper on Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy, now over 400 thousand downloads later, many people are reading it and waking up to the emergency we are in.
Since my paper on climate went viral, I have been contacted via email by many hundreds of people. Some of those people have been insiders in organisations with privileged information on our climate crisis. People within NASA, our Royal Navy, and food security institutes. They have told me that the information they have means that the situation is as bad as I am saying or even worse. And therefore, that I should keep going. Well I’m not a journalist or Wikileaks, so its time these people and other insiders with similar views, speak out for themselves. The climate crisis is such a risk to humanity that there has never been a greater matter of principle for which to be whistle-blower. So please, join us in telling the truth.
For years I was told by colleagues in the environmental movement that we should be positive and not be too alarmist. That we should inspire action with a positive vision and tales of success. However, decades of that green positivity coincided with humanity releasing more carbon than ever before. Although my work reflected my despair, and has triggered despair in others, that has been transformative. It has meant we have left behind our concerns with conforming with assumptions of what is appropriate and pragmatic. Our despair took us into truth and radicalised us. That is the personal story of so many of the activists in Extinction Rebellion and will make it such a resilient and transformative movement.
The success of XR has caught the attention of business people who are engaged in public issues. Some have expressed their support. But the clearest form of support would be to admit what hasn’t been working. Since the 1990s business people have been engaged in voluntary activities to promote sustainable development. Its time to tell the truth that for all the effort it hasn’t worked at achieving the changes at the speed and scale that would make a difference to either carbon emissions or biodiversity loss. To tell the truth that it was wrong to think we could achieve the necessary change within the existing system. Instead, it’s time to throw their weight behind systemic reforms, and that should include a redesign of our monetary system so that we don’t require economic growth just to keep our money circulating. Without such change, our efforts at reducing carbon are like swimming up stream.
The question of what to do is more difficult if you work in a company like this one, Cuadrilla, or other companies involved in the current problem. Everyone has bills to pay and so it is difficult to know what to do. If you are working in a fossil fuel company or a bank, or a multinational selling stuff we don’t need, then you must be wondering what to do. Perhaps the stories your CEOs have told you about how your company is doing OK are now wearing thin. So, what do you do? You could look for another job. But you could also start telling the truth in your offices and meetings. And if you need the job but can’t have those conversations, then here is another idea. Show up at work and do absolutely nothing. Let us see rebellions inside oil companies, fracking companies and banks where staff show up and spend the whole day watching youtube, reading novels, and even having fun wasting their colleagues time. Because rebellion can take many forms. And we are not in this the blame and shame but to invite everyone to find a way of participating in rebellion in their own lives.
Ultimately what XR has brought to light is that climate change is a political challenge. It is positive to see a response from politicians, both locally and nationally. But to those politicians now declaring a climate emergency, we also need to talk about telling the truth. Because declaring a climate emergency would itself be a lie if it is not backed by measures that give it meaning. Our climate emergency requires us to respond at speed and scale, across all of society, and to prepare for what’s coming. It must be recognised as a whole-of-government agenda where both reducing and adapting to climate change are central concerns of all departments, as well as a standing item in cabinet meetings. So, to the politicians declaring an emergency, I ask you to now tell the truth. The truth about the coming disruption to our food production and imports, our fresh water supply, and our essential services. About what we need to do to reduce the disruption. About how that will entail sacrifice. From us all. And that this will be hard for most of us to accept and respond to. But that this is the conversation the country has to have. And have now.
Only then will pressure build on government to take significant action. Because there is a lot to change. The UK government has given the go ahead for a new north-sea oil field that will amount to one quarter of a billion tonnes of CO2 across the life of the oil field. The UK government has also just overseen planning permission for a new coal mine. Perhaps it didn’t realise how bad our situation is? Well since the IPCC report in October there are no excuses. It said we have to make massive cuts right now, each year for the next 12 years to have a chance of avoiding catastrophe. The government has done little to nothing to respond to the IPCC report.
So this is my message to the Prime Minister. You may not care much about the environment, but climate change is now a matter of national security. It is disrupting food production and water supplies. It threatens the future of Britain as a stable and prosperous country. Its time you heard the truth and told us the truth.
For the Prime Minister, it is time to come clean or step aside.