This is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, by various authors, 13th June 2019. Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0141991443, 208 pages. RRP £7.99 (paperback)
‘It just might work.’ These are the opening words of Rowan Williams’ Afterword to this book. Having discussed some of the issues he continues with, ‘So it might not work.’ Finally he concludes with a slight twist to his opening words: ‘It might just work.’
This sense of precarious optimism runs right through the book.
The first part of the book is headed TELL THE TRUTH and contains 12 articles by different authors attempting to set out the truth of their situation. It includes a chapter by Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives from 2008 – 2012 in which he describes living in a country where the highest point is six feet above sea level. His section is titled We Are Not Prepared to Die. There is a report on how climate change over one man’s lifetime has made it almost impossible to carry on living in an Indian village. And there is an anonymous account from a Californian firefighter. These, and the other contributions to this section do not, and should not, make comfortable reading.
The second part, containing 17 contributions, is headed ACT NOW. There is a re-imagined understanding of economics by the academic and writer Kate Raworth together with excellent contributions from Caroline Lucas MP and Clive Lewis MP. Both parliamentarians are clear that what we need is nothing short of a change of system. Clive Lewis writes that we must ‘[m]ake finance servant to the economy and the ecosystem’. Rowan Williams is right to be sparing with his optimism.
But action is also very prosaic and this is a Handbook. There is a section on Going to Jail, another on Courting Arrest, and some helpful information on Police, Arrest and Support written by the Legal Team. It also seems that a Rebellion, like an army, marches on its stomach. Apparently vegan food is best, not for any ethical reasons, but because by and large refrigeration is not needed. You can’t get much more prosaic than that.
As an antidote to the madness of our times, I have been re-reading the Brother Cadfael œuvre. This describes a world more immediately dangerous than ours that is full of fallen, some very fallen, human beings. But there is an overarching idea of original blessing which gives meaning to ordinary lives. Because of original sin, people inevitably fail to live up to the idea of original blessing (not least in the Benedictine Order) but the idea itself is universally accepted. At bottom, this idea is what This Is Not a Drill is searching for. The book comes very close to a Christian view of the blessedness of Creation and our place in it, but refuses, or sees no need, to say that the blessedness of Creation is meaningless without a concept of God to give the blessing. To succeed, Extinction Rebellion needs this religious understanding of the world as much as Religion undoubtedly needs Extinction Rebellion. Together, we just might make the difference between might just and might not.