"To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing." - Raymond Williams

Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction (wait, should that really need explaining..?)

by Shaun Chamberlin on November 18th, 2018

Shaun Chamberlin - Dark Optimism - Extinction Rebellion - Blackfriars bridge

I got arrested for the first time in my life this week. And I’m proud of it.

As long-time followers of this blog know, over the past 13 years I’ve tried everything I know to get our society to change its omnicidal course. I’ve written books, co-founded organisations, taught courses, worked in my community, lobbied governments, given talks, participated in grassroots discussion and action…

I’ve failed. We’ve all failed. As a global society we are accelerating towards oblivion, and taking everyone else with us.

And last week, someone said something that stuck with me. That if everyone around you is carrying on like everything’s fine, then no matter how much one reads or understands intellectually about a situation, it’s so difficult not to go along with that. Equally, if you’re somewhere and everyone else starts screaming and running for the exit, then you probably start running for the exit, even if you have no idea what’s going on.

Maybe there’s seemed to be a disconnect between the message we’ve been bringing – that this society is knowingly causing the harshest catastrophe in history – and the actions we’ve been taking?

Maybe if the wider public see that hundreds feel the need to go to jail over this, they might start to seriously ask why? With these stakes, it’s worth a shot.

That film was shot yesterday on Blackfriars Bridge, one of five bridges surrounding Parliament that we occupied as part of the Extinction Rebellion. The sheer mass of thousands of people meant that the police couldn’t possibly arrest everyone, so the bridges were ours for all the family fun you can see.

But when, at the hour we decided, we collectively moved on, many ordinary folk stayed behind and refused to leave in order to be arrested. If all we have left to amplify the message with is our liberty, then we offer it up.

And paradoxically – as I say at the end of the clip – in doing so we have discovered a new freedom. That following our conscience and refusing to be bound by laws that insist on inflicting death and misery is an act of liberty.

Hundreds of thousands are dying of climate change each year now. Most of the wild nature that existed fifty years ago is gone. What’s a little time in jail, by comparison?

As I sat in my cell, I felt peace. I knew that I was doing all I could for our collective future, and am proud to have that recorded against my name for the rest of my life.

Perhaps, as ever, Wendell Berry said it best,
“Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success, namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

Maybe we can’t stop what’s unfolding, but it would diminish us not to try. And yesterday was the first event I’ve attended that felt as though it might be a historic turning point.

Equally, it might not. That’s up to us.

One child held a placard saying “When I grow up, I want to be alive”.


Yep. See you there next Saturday.

(and there are plenty of crucial non-arrestable roles too)


I’ll leave you with the song that has been the soundtrack to my personal Extinction Rebellion.

It makes me cry every time.

  1.  Robert says:
    19 November, 2018 at 11:34 am

    Moving, Shaun. Very moving. Is it too little too late? I can’t believe so.

    Once again I’m reminded of Thoreau’s night in jail as a protest (however small) against slavery and the US invasion of Mexico. As the man himself wrote in Civil Disobedience:

    “A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.”

    Here’s to being a spanner in the works.

  2.  Shaun Chamberlin says:
    19 November, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Amen Robert. Telling a story with our moments that we’re proud to tell is never too late, or too little. It’s all we have.

  3.  Sam says:
    19 November, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Good work Shaun. Thanks for keeping up the fight. Time and time again I come back to your writing with my head in my hands, only to leave reingorated, refreshed and ready for another day on this crazy planet.

  4.  Shaun Chamberlin says:
    19 November, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Oh, bless you Sam. I will keep that comment close to my heart x

  5.  Dan Olsson says:
    20 November, 2018 at 12:47 am

    Hey, thank you. Just thank you. I’ll be there.

  6.  Kevin Hester says:
    23 November, 2018 at 5:08 am

    More great coverage of the Extinction Rebellion efforts in the not very united Britain.
    Professor Guy McPherson and I will be interviewing Roger Hallam from E.R. in the December episode of Nature Bats Last on The Progressive Radio Network.
    Guy and I have been talking about extinction on the show for over 120 episodes which can all be found in the archives at PRN.FM

  7.  Stuart Capstick says:
    23 November, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Shaun

    Long time no see. Great to see you involved in all this, think I spotted you at the declaration too. Found myself arrested for the first time in my life last weekend too, and I regret nothing. A strange mix of grief and defiance and last chances. Can’t make it tomorrow but I’m certainly not done yet.

    Very moving song by Ruth.

    Stuart, of personal carbon allowances research 🙂

  8.  Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction #ExtinctionRebellion #ClimateStrike #StopAdani #ClimateChange & #Airpollution are killing us.#auspol #springst #qldpol Time to join the revolution. | jpratt27 says:
    23 November, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    […] Press link for more: Dark Optimism […]

  9.  Shaun Chamberlin says:
    26 November, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Hey Stuart, good to reconnect mate. Yes, I was there as well, and yes, definitely no regrets.

    Looking forward to when our paths next cross x

  10.  Vince Fiorito says:
    28 December, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    As long-time followers of this blog know, over the past 13 years I’ve tried everything I know to get our society to change its omnicidal course. I’ve written books, co-founded organisations, taught courses, worked in my community, lobbied governments, given talks, participated in grassroots discussion and action…

    Did you vote?
    Did you run for office?
    Did you try to make environmental issues, election issues?
    Did you encourage others to “Be a #ClimateChangeVoter”?
    Did you volunteer for candidates who don’t need a petition to take action on environmental issues?
    Did you ask candidates questions during the election campaign?

  11.  Shaun Chamberlin says:
    29 December, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Vince, thanks. Always good to hear from others keen to think through the most effective approaches.

    To answer your question, yes, I have done most of those things. I don’t consider voting to be a particularly powerful way of trying to change society’s course, but on balance definitely worth the time it takes. I didn’t run for office because I’m really not cut out for that, and politician friends advised me that they anyway didn’t consider it a particularly effective path. I have huge respect for a few of those who are called to that though (like the wonderful Caroline Lucas) and do indeed actively support them.

    I also head up a longstanding campaign for the effective climate policy that we will need if politics ever moves beyond thinking about WHETHER to pursue radical emissions reductions to HOW to do so (https://www.flemingpolicycentre.org.uk/teqs/), advised the government feasibility study into said policy and co-authored the All Party Parliamentary report into it. It still got stomped on by the Treasury though, because they consider maximising economic growth more important than a liveable climate..

    In solidarity,

  12.  Start here - Pinned Post - Dark Optimism says:
    16 January, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    […] On my involvement with the Extinction Rebellion […]

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL