Episode #65 Parents for A Future: Creating a world we’re proud to bequeath to future generations with Rupert Read
Suppose we all made this year the one where we choose to make a difference? We could take a sabbatical and join in the actions around COP26. Or we could go to work and do whatever it takes to make our business regenerative. Or we could join Parents For Future and build a world that we are proud to leave to our children.
Professor Rupert Read works in the philosophy department at UEA in Norwich. He’s author of numerous books and a hands-on, sit-in-the-streets climate activist. His latest book, Parents for a Future is a passionate, beautifully argued clarion call for all of us to do whatever it takes to move us onto a trajectory that will shape the future we need and want for future generations: a future we’re proud to leave behind.
This year in particular is a crucial turning point. As we emerge from COVID and move towards COP26 in Glasgow, the decisions we make now will shape this decade, which will shape this century, which will shape this millennium – and the future of the human and more-than-human worlds.
You can connect at @parents4afuture and #ParentsforFuture, so head for both of those and see what you can do to make this year the one where we changed.
Manda: My guest this week is a long term friend of the podcast. Rupert Read is a professor of philosophy at the U.E.A. in Norwich. He’s a former Green Party candidate, a key Extinction Rebellion activist lauded for having persuaded the BBC to change its policy in reporting anthropogenic climate change so they don’t rule out the climate deniers at every conversation. He’s the author of an astonishing number of books, including Extinction Rebellion, Insights from the Inside, which was published last year and most recently, and the reason we invited him back today, his latest published in February, which is called Parents for the Future, and does what it says on the tin. We had multiple technological failures trying to get this to work and we ended up recording on Zooms. So I apologise for the less than perfect sound quality at either end. Caro has, as ever, done her best. And we talked for about an hour as we tried to get things set up.
And I was still very struck by Donnie Maclurcan, the experiment that he told us about last week, where he had demonstrated that offering agency, however tangentially, before laying out the depth of the crisis was a far better way to help people to access a creative way forward. So with that in mind, we decided to start with Rupert reading out his rather lovely variant of Joanna Macy’s Widening Circles meditation. And I thought, if you’re listening to this in a place where you can take time to stop and do the meditations as we go through, you might find it interesting at the points when Rupert says so, meditate for a minute, just pause the podcast, do the meditation and come back. Don’t do it, obviously, please, if you’re driving, or operating heavy machinery, or chopping onions, or any of the things we’re taking your attention from, the task at hand would be unwise. Don’t do it.
But if you’ve got the time, give it a go. And if you’d rather do it later, it will be in the transcript on the website. And if you really want it as a meditation, as an extra download, I can do that too, and we can put that up on the website. So just let me know. So with all that in mind, without more delay, people of the podcast, please welcome Rupert Read. So, Rupert Reid. Welcome back for the third time to the Accidental Gods podcast. That definitely makes you a friend of the podcast. And I gather slightly tired this morning, because you were talking about nuclear power last night, and it sounded quite tense.
Rupert: Yeah, I was having a vigorous debate about the future and whether nuclear has any role in it, and really trying to lift people’s eyes to the longer future, the further future, which I think human beings are not great at thinking about and getting in touch with, thinking thousands of years ahead. It’s just not something we do very often.
Manda: Yeah, OK, and maybe we can get back to that idea of the long term precautionary principle, because we’re here because you’ve written yet another book, I am in awe of your output. And this is Parents for a Future: How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse. And we had thought, and I think it’s a brilliant idea on your part, that maybe we’d start with you reading us a bit of the book. So do you want to go ahead and do that?
Rupert: Yeah. So this is quite relevant to the way you introduced where I’m at today. Actually, this is an exercise of how to imagine yourself into the future. My book is peppered by a few of these exercises because I think we really struggle to do this. And it’s just so important if we’re actually going to manage to succeed in parenting the future and really, really getting in touch with future generations. So this is a way into thinking like a future person. It’s an exercise that was taught to me by my teacher, Joanna Macy. She calls it widening circles. Well, my version is slightly different, but it’s based on hers. And I’ll read out this little passage of the book where I lay out this exercise. This is a fairly simple practise, but challenging, and the effects of it can be profound. For it to be most effective, don’t do it by yourself, but with a small group of one or two people you trust to listen to you, and you to them.
Pick an issue with major long term ramifications, perhaps nuclear power, perhaps rewilding, or the attempted creation of artificial life. Take a couple of minutes to give your views or intuitions on the issue. Then close your eyes and contemplate quietly for a minute or so. When you come back from that meditation, switch, spend a couple of minutes and sincerely be doing the absolutely best job you can of presenting what you imagined to be a contrary view to yours on the issue. Make sure you do so in the first person. If you take this part of the exercise seriously, you may well find a remarkable opening or freeing up of your mind. This is valuable in itself. It also sets you up for the next even more demanding part of the exercise. So again, close your eyes now and meditate calmly for a minute, then switch. Trying to take up the point of view now of an other than human being whose interests are affected in some way by the issue in question. There are many possibilities here. If the issue you chose was rewilding, imagine yourself into the perspective of a lynx, perhaps. If the issue is nuclear, how about the point of view of a genetically damaged wolf, living free of most human interference in the ruins of Chernobyl? The real point is not what you come up with from that perspective. The real point is to make the effort to attain such a drastically different perspective, and the emotional change that may accompany it. Speak from the perspective of the being you have chosen. Don’t just speak about it. Close your eyes and meditate briefly again. Allow any emotions that you feel to be present. And now switch the last time, seek to take up the point of view of a distant descendant, someone born after you have died, someone you’ll never know. Let’s say your great great grandchild. Take a couple of minutes longer if you need it to tell your listener what you i.e. your great great grandchild feel and think about the issue in question. Speak as hesitantly or as forcefully as you need to. Look into the eyes of your listener. Try to connect with them, to reach them. You are speaking back from the future to now. What do the people alive now need to know about what you need? How can you best and most honestly reach them? Then take a final pause but this time, rather than closing your eyes, keep making eye contact with the listener. And see what happens.
Manda: That’s brilliant, thank you, Rupert. And those of you who want to find it when you’ve bought Rupert’s book, that was on page 111 and I am of the mentality that really likes numbers. So I’ve also noticed that the day of recording this, if you write the calendar in the way that we do in most of the world except America, the number of the days: four, three two, one. So anyway, page 111, we have that widening circle meditation, which takes us out of our own perspective and into the perspectives of other beings and other generations to give them a voice. And the times when I’ve done this, I’ve noticed how people are able to speak in ways.. they look almost shocked. There’s a sense of looking at someone and they are genuinely speaking in a way that is not them. And they have that slightly surprised look of where is this coming from? even as they’re speaking it. Have you found that with the work that you’ve done with people with us?
Rupert: Absolutely. It’s remarkable. Before anyone, before someone’s done anything like this, they’re often very sceptical. And if you try describing it to somebody, sometimes it can seem quite dry. I mean, hopefully the way I read that out is somewhat evocative, because the reality is when you actually do it, you feel like it’s real, like you really are somehow contacting or manifesting something very distant in space or in time or in being from yourself. One of the things I like about the exercise in the way that I got it there is that you move from your point of view to an opposing point of view, to an animal and then to a distant descendent. And I like having an animal before the distant descendent because some people feel that it’s easier to imagine a distant descendant than an animal. And actually imagining the distant descendant is really critically important and and crucial. And maybe it’s a little bit less hard than what they’ve just done if they’ve imagined themselves as the wolf or the lynx or whatever. The thing which I really, really want people to be able to make connexions and feel a reality beyond the human. But if anything, I want even more for them to be able to think across time, because at the end of the day, I think that we’re not too bad in thinking across space. We’re not too bad at taking seriously the fact that people are suffering in Bangladesh or wherever it might be, or that wild animals are suffering in some parts of the world. But I think we really, really struggle to think across long traces of time now, long tracts of time. And that is, I think, the most important thing of all that we need to do now. So the book is really about how, if we manage to really take seriously what our children are to us, and my argument is that what our children are to us is absolutely crucially the parents of their children, and so on indefinitely. That if we really manage to do that, then we will think across deep time, we will think far into the future. If we really manage to do that, well, then we have a chance of actually turning everything around. And if we don’t, then I think we probably don’t, if you see what I mean, I think this is a sine qua non, this ability to really take seriously the distant future in a way that we find hard.
Manda: Yes. And thank you. That’s a really succinct premise on which the book is founded, is that we all of us, whether we have children or not, are laying the foundations for future generations, both of humanity and of the more than human world. And what I found really deeply moving was the first few chapters which really took the reader deeply into that consideration of how much do I care about not just tomorrow or next year or next decade, but next century and next millennium? I’d like to explore a little bit about how you came to write this, because neither you or I is actually a parent. But before we get there, because I am likely to forget, it’s been that kind of a day, you have three data points, factoids quite near the start of the book, which really blew my mind. And I don’t like negatively blowing people’s minds for the fun of it, but I think it’s worth just reminding people where we’re at. Can you tell us those three factoids just to give people a baseline of how things are where they are?
Rupert: Yeah. So this section is called Three Numbers To Know, and the numbers are these. Firstly, that we’re exterminating other species at the rate of roughly we really have no idea of the exact number, but roughly one every 15 minutes, which is just way, way faster than they would normally be going extinct. And this is why we’re talking now about this as being the sixth great, in quotes, extinction in the history of the Earth. The second number is that if you burn a piece of coal, then you will generate 100000 times as much heat from burning that coal via the greenhouse effect as you generate from burning it directly. And if you’re thinking about other fossil fuels aren’t bad, yeah, that’s right. So for petrol, it’s only sixty thousand times as much. So the greenhouse effect is, if you will, 60000 times as powerful as the actual effect that we were looking for when we burn that petrol in our car engine.
Manda: Yeah, I think that one is worth unpicking a little bit because that really exploded various neural networks in me, that particularly, I think petrol, because we know that the internal combustion engine is an exceedingly inefficient way of using power to move us around. Most of it is heat and not motive force. And then the motive force is moving an enormous car as well as me. And I suppose somebody somewhere will have done the arithmetic of, you know, for every, I don’t know, half a mile forward, we are generating X amount of heat. But I remember in one of the other books that we’ve talked on here that for every litre that we burn in the car, we melt one tonne of Arctic ice. But what I really hadn’t realised was because of the greenhouse effect, because it’s trapping the heat in and giving it nowhere to go. We’ve got this factor of 60000 that the heat that makes my car move is 60000 times.
Rupert: The key thing, of course, is that carbon stays in the atmosphere a long, long time. Some of it will still be up there in a thousand years. So the point is all that needs to be doing is trapping a little bit of heat every day. And pretty soon it’s adding up to far, far more than that instantaneous heat you get when you burn the petrol, because day after day after day, year after year, century after century, that carbon is trapping more heat. That’s how you get to this astonishing figure.
Manda: Which is why, even if we were to get to zero carbon tomorrow, the overshoot of the carbon that we’ve burned up till now is going to carry on heating the planet, scorching the planet, parboiling the planet for generation after generation still to come.
Rupert: Yeah, although it’s in a way not quite as bad as that, and in another way worse, because actually a lot of the carbon won’t stay up there. A lot of it will get dragged down. And you may be thinking, oh, yeah, that’s OK, because it’ll get dragged down into trees that we’re going to plant. But actually, of course, the biggest sink is the oceans. So actually some of the carbon you put up there will have this effect of massively, massively heating the planet over time. But a lot of it won’t. A lot of it will go into the ocean. And what it will do there is acidify the ocean and kill the coral reefs and kill the plankton and so forth. So it’s not much better, if the carbon doesn’t end up roasting us, it ends up destroying the oceans. Yeah, and that’s super dangerous in all sorts of ways, including ultimately threatening the the oxygen in the atmosphere and so forth. Shall I go to the third number?
Manda: Please do. Yes.
Rupert: The third number is the easiest in a way. It’s 30 years, and that’s the amount of time that we’ll be making the situation worse if we don’t stop having a net carbon emissions release before 2050. In other words, right now there’s a lot of momentum for saying, yeah, we’re going to go net zero by 2050. And isn’t that great? And the point I’m making is, well, what that actually means is that we’ve got an emergency here as the first two numbers help to show. And we’re going to make the emergency worse for the next 30 years. And that’s a very strange way to to respond to an emergency.
Manda: It is. It’s also, my assumption when people like Boris Johnson, and I don’t like being judgemental, let me take that back, I’m judgemental all the time, And and I find it very hard not to want to scream when I see Boris Johnson. My lovely stepdaughter sent me a birthday card last year, and it’s just a hand lettered card that’s and on it says, one day you’re going to wake up and Boris Johnson won’t be there anymore. And it’s the only birthday card I’ve kept, it’s still on my desk. But I don’t think he has the slightest intention of no longer emitting carbon by 2050. I think it’s just a useful date that’s far enough away that they won’t be around anymore for it to be their problem. At least they won’t be in office. Have you, I know you went to university at the same time as our beloved leader, and quite a lot of their current cohort. In your capacity to reach them at all, have you ascertained any suggestion that they actually intend to do this, even if it were a useful thing to do?
Rupert: Well, that’s an interesting and difficult question. The sense I have from talking with Michael Gove and various others, I haven’t had a chance to speak to Boris for some years now, although I’m still trying to reach him. We studied philosophy together, and did debating together at Oxford. The sense I have from these characters is that they don’t find it very easy to imagine the reality of what I’m talking about now. In that way, they’re not necessarily that different from most of the population. But the problem, of course, is that they’re in charge. So I don’t know. In some sense, I think that they do have some sort of vague intention to do this. As you say, that there’s a serious problem in that these dates are far enough off that they won’t be able to be held to account. The question is, do they really have a sense of the reality and depth of the emergency? And at some level, I don’t think they do. And so, you know, I’d love to be able to get to speak to them more in a way that might help to get that sense of reality to sink in. But it’s difficult. It’s not easy. It’s very hard, I think, for us to just sit here now in even despite coronavirus still sort of relatively stable, so-called developed society and actually contemplate what the effects are going to be if we don’t change everything fast, what things are going to look like in a generation or two generations time. I think even you or I, Manda, find it difficult somehow to fully credit that what we’re seeing is real. And I think that our so-called leaders find it quite a bit more difficult. And that’s why another thing that I talk about in the book, which I know is also very dear to your heart, is the other ways in which we can make these things real to people. So I’ve got these imaginative exercise. I do this kind of logic with people about taking them through the the way that they have to care about the distant future if they care about their own children. And I talk about the the importance of art and imagination and culture and that kind of the importance, for example, of of scenarios being set out in ways that people can understand and relate to, which art should be very good at doing, which could get people to see what it would be like for everything to fall apart and what it would be like for everything not to fall apart, for things in some important ways to to get better and and how we might get from from here to there. And I think it’s hugely, hugely important that we have something like that. And I think there’s been far too little of that in the arts in recent times.
Manda: And have you had a chance to talk to people who might influence the arts to ask about that? Because it seems to me we have things like The Road and The Handmaid’s Tale and we have any number of future dystopias. It’s not hard to imagine how really unpleasant things might be if they go badly wrong. But as we were talking just before we started, a group of us are writing the television of how we could get from here to somewhere where we got it right. And it is proving quite hard to write, partly because we’re trying to bring in all of the viewpoints. But also there is nothing that I’ve seen anywhere that’s an actual demonstration of going from exactly where we are now. To somewhere that we’d prefer to be somewhere that would feel better to the majority of people, and it cannot be that you and I are the only people to figure this out.
Rupert: Really important question. So, as you say, we’ve got the dystopias. I think they’re great works. I write on them and teach them, like The Road. I don’t think that even for dystopias, we have any very clear pictures of how we might get there. So you’ve got films like The Day After Tomorrow, for example. But it’s not art. It’s not serious. And it’s not a believable scenario at all. So even of the dystopias, I don’t think we have clear pictures that would be given us to in the arts as to how we could get there really. And certainly not for the for utopias or for what I call for utopias, which is what I think you were talking about, ‘throughtopia’, shows you how you might get to this to this future, the kind of future that we need to be in. The closest I know to an actual throughtopia is Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, which I think is magnificent, and does some of it. So that gives one some some pointers. You ask how I talked with with creators of art, much about this. Well, some. And one thing I am going to be doing hopefully over the next couple of years is working with Steve Waters, the dramatist, who is a colleague of mine at UEA, on this. And we’re quite excited about that potential collaboration. But yeah, to make the point more generally, if there’s anyone out there listening who’s a novelist or who talks to filmmakers or whatever, there is a huge open goal here, and it could be literally critical to the future of humanity. So please, let’s get some footballs out and aim them firmly at this goal.
Manda: Yes. Yes, really. And if there’s anyone out there talking to filmmakers, we have a whole television script ready to run. We just need funding to get it made. Let’s take a step back and look at your book, because that is here. It’s a tangible thing that people can actually go out and buy as we speak. You and I are not parents, and you write quite eloquently about how and why those of us who are not parents should still can still be engaged in something that’s called parents for a future. How did you come to write this? What was your motivation? And what of all the things that you could write and are writing, what led you to this one?
Rupert: Yeah, well, thanks for asking that, because this book is very, very dear to my heart. It’s been a labour of love over many years. I mean, the gestation is a long time ago. Basically, I got the core idea a long, long time ago. The core idea of thinking maybe we don’t need people to actually fall directly in love with nature or the natural world or whatever at scale in order to to save it. I mean, I think it’s great to do that. I hope as many people as possible do that. I do quite a lot of that myself. But there’s a lot of people out there who will say to you, well, you know what? Yeah, you know, I like green spaces and I like birds and so on. But really what matters to me in my life is my own family or my immediate community or something like that. I thought, what if there’s an argument which can show those people that they actually need to be thinking wider than that? And it didn’t take me long at all to realise, well, there is. As long as you’re prepared to admit that we have, or even that just that we may have a really serious environmental crisis, and if you really care about your own children, well, if you really care about your own children, you’ve got to care about their children. It won’t work to be caring about your own children and simultaneously creating a future in which their children are going to have a shit life.
And this process of iteration down the generations, well, it goes on forever. So it turns out that in order to successfully care for your own children in a world which is under threat, you have to care about the distant future. You have to care about the distant future being a place where children can still thrive. And in order to care about that, you’ve got to care about the world. So whether or not you care about the world, whether or not you care about whether or not you care about life on Earth, it turns out you do. And that’s the core argument of the book. And, well, I think it’s absolutely compelling. And obviously my hope is that it’s the way that we may be able to convince a lot of people who don’t think that they have much in common with us that actually they do.
So, as soon as I got that idea many years ago now, I started to work on turning it into prose, and developing it, and somehow it’s taken a lot longer than a lot of the projects I’ve done in the meantime. And I think the reason it’s taken a lot longer is because I knew that this was probably the most important thing I was going to write ever. And I’ve really worked very hard on it. And I think the writing is high quality, if I may say so. It’s been very, very carefully edited. It’s, and I look at it, I compare it to my other books and I think, wow, this is as I had hoped and intended. This is a catapult and I’m very proud of the endorsements it’s got. And yeah, so this is my essay, my effort, my try at really making a big intervention for anyone who’s willing to hear, to open their mind a bit, to open their heart a bit. And yeah, it’s directed basically at everybody. It’s directed against parents and it’s directed against those who for whatever reason, like you or me, have chosen not to be parents. The constituency is a wide one and that’s what we need. And that’s what the bill, that’s what the book builds up to.
The idea that what we really need is a movement of adults. And we’ve had the children magnificently kind of coming out and rebelling. We need a similarly large or much larger movement of adults who understand, you know what? We can’t outsource this any longer. There is no cavalry coming to the rescue. Governments are not going to sort it, or at least they’re not going to sort it unless they get enormous pressure put upon them. And so that’s the idea of Parents for a Future, parents coming together and being supported by by non parents, to make sure that we can have a future for our children and for their children, because we cannot outsource this any longer.
Manda: Yes. And I just wanted to read one of the endorsements on the back. So, “If you believe that humanity is fundamentally about caring for ourselves and others, then this book is simply a must read.” So, yes, it’s huge. It seems to me this is absolutely getting to the core of our time. And I came to the book launch, the online book launch, obviously, because Covid, a couple of weeks ago. And you said there why this year was the defining year of this millennium. Can you just say that again first, and then we’ll unpick that a little?
Rupert: Yeah, well, so it’s two things, right? The first is the post Covid reset, which is starting and is going to be picking up speed during this year. The vaccines have come on stream. So I’m not saying it’s all gonna be plain sailing and I think there’s going to be a lot more deaths from coronavirus coming, certainly in the UK. But we are starting to emerge from the pit, as it were, of the coronavirus crisis. Economic growth is picking up in quite a lot of countries and is widely predicted to do so here in the UK. If we do not get this post-Covid reset right, if we don’t genuinely build back greener and slower and in fact, in some ways build back less, then we’re scuppering the entire decade, because the decisions that are made in this reset, they’re going to determine the course of this decade. And we know, and this brings us to the second thing that’s happening this year. We know that this decade is the decisive decade for climate action. It really is the last chance to say within anything like 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees, it’s the very last chance for that. And we’ve got the COP this year, the climate COP at Glasgow in the UK. And it’s a crucial COP because last year was postponed and because this is the one that is supposed to follow up on the supposedly successful Paris COP of 2015. So if we don’t get the post Covid reset right, if we don’t get this COP right, then we’re going to be on the wrong course for the 2020s. And that means we’re going to be on the wrong course for the whole century. And that’s the whole ballgame. That’s the whole millennium because that’s you know, whether we have the ice sheets or not and whatever. So it really is no exaggeration. Listen, I know environmentalists often say things like, oh it’s really crucial this year, this summit, whatever, this time… there’s no crying wolf here. This year, the course of the next 12 months will be determinative for the course of the decade, and the course of the decade obviously will be determinative for the course of the century. So what happens in the next 12 months matters hugely. We’ve got to get the post-Covid reset right, or at least not horribly wrong. We’ve got to make massive progress at or immediately after the climate COP in Glasgow.
So the responsibility on us is very strong. And what I am saying is we need this happening now, this parents’ movement, this coming into our full power of adults, it needs to happen this year. If we’re going to be striking, for example, as our children have struck, if we’re going to have days when we strike and say, look, you’ve got to get this reset right for our children, you’ve got to reset for our children, not do it in the short term is where you’ve got to think about not going from frying pan to fire. We’ve got to start doing that this year. We can’t we can’t say to ourselves something like, oh, but you have such a difficult time with Covid. Can’t we just, you know, fly off on holiday for a while and forget about it all and get back to normal next year? No, we’ve got to be serious about this. We’ve got to make an absolutely serious start this year. Otherwise, we’re saying, well, we’re saying goodbye to most of what we can still hope for, for the human future.
Manda: So how do you see that working out? Because we are still in lockdown. Lockdown in various ways will be carrying on until the summer solstice, possibly. COP is towards the end of October in Glasgow. If, is it November? Sorry. If every parent and grandparent and concerned adult in the country were to say, OK, Rupert, what is it that we need to do? How would you structure their actions between now and November?
Rupert: Well, obviously, I’d love them to to buy the book and read it and maybe give copies to their friends as one little concrete thing that people can do, for starters. Because the bigger picture, right, is that what I’m saying is what I want people to do is to be thinking about how they can cooperate with others to make some of this happen, to be ready for it to happen as we emerge from lockdown. That’s the real point that would, don’t just think right, from the middle of June, I’ll be just thinking about the summer holidays and just thinking, wow, isn’t it great that we’re out of lockdown and now we can all have a great time for a while and then next year we’ll get back to business? No, from – we need to be thinking how do we prepare the ground for doing stuff in the summer, in the autumn, in the winter, which is going to seize this utterly vital moment and make sure that the huge amounts of money and the decisions being made on infrastructure now are not all going horribly wrong and make sure that the COP is put under far more pressure than it ever has been before. And look, I’m going to level with people that the COP is on course to to fail us, to fail us really, really badly.
If you’re still kind of hoping that the diplomats and the politicians are going to get things sorted spontaneously this year, if you’re thinking oh, we’ve got Biden now I think is going to be OK, then you’re completely, completely mistaken. Unless they are subject to much more pressure and scrutiny than they’ve ever had before, then they are going to fail us badly in November. That is certain. And one of the things we need to do, to be frank, is we need to be ready for that failure. We mustn’t just kind of be doing stuff in the run up to COP and then go home with our tails between our legs when it fails, which it almost certainly will do. We just be ready to take advantage of that failure, to narrate that, to start to turn more towards transformative adaptation, towards dealing with the consequences of that failure. But if there’s going to be any chance at all of the COP not failing us, it requires us to prepare as best we possibly can during the summer and during the autumn for this mother of all opportunities.
So please, you know, don’t just think right, I get to to kick back and enjoy life now that this horror show of coronavirus is over. Remember that the coronavirus is part of the ecological emergency. It happened because of animal cruelty. It happened because of habitat destruction. It happened almost certainly because of dangerous climate change. And it was spread around the world because of our absurd and obscene dependence upon jet travel, upon air travel. You know jet planes are the real super spreaders. There’s going to be many more such pandemics unless we rein in these things. And this year is when that reining in absolutely has to start, if it’s going to start. So I say to people, connect with others, become part of the groups that are already working on this. There are groups such as Parents for Future, Mothers Rise Up. Of course, there’s Extinction Rebellion. There are the political parties. Maybe you can do something through them. There are different ways of doing this. I talk about this in the book, but whatever you do, please, whether it’s through your workplace, through citizen action, we need all of the above. Frankly, do make sure that you take seriously your responsibilities this year because it cannot wait.
Manda: And do you know if things are being planned, or do you know what things are being planned around the actual COP? Because it’s in the UK, it’s not like people have to get in a plane. We could you know, we could walk there. I know, I have a friend that I will be interviewing later in the year who’s made a figure of a giant polar bear, and he’s going on a pilgrimage from Shropshire to Glasgow, taking his polar bear with him. But ordinary people could descend on Glasgow. But my view on the outside of the kinds of people who are currently, hold the power in this.. on this planet, is that they don’t really care. That it’s really, really hard to make a difference. Millions of people marched against Brexit. Brexit is now just, you know, the last budget turned us into Singapore on the Sea, as far as I can tell. Eight free ports around the UK, which is just horrendous. The entire population of Scotland, pretty much wants Scotland to be independent. England doesn’t care. It may not be going to happen. Millions of people marched against Iraq even, made no difference. What do you think genuinely that we could do that will actually get them to listen?
Rupert: That’s a great question. You know what? They do care, they do notice. There’s very good evidence that Blair was quite shaken by the huge march on..
Manda: It didn’t stop him though, did it?
Rupert: It didn’t stop him. But they, what they try to do is they try to make it look as though they don’t get influenced, because then they’re worried that if they look as though they’re influenceable, then people will do more of it. And of course, that’s what we need to do, is to do more of it. What we needed to do in relation to Iraq with a lot more non-violent direct action. If there’d been, if a fraction of those two million had done non-violent direct action, that could have stopped the war. That it’s much harder for them to to deal with. So this movement that I want, Parents for a Future or whatever it gets called, part of it needs to be about direct action. But I also argue in the book that it needs to be super inclusive. So if there are people listening, thinking, well, you know, I really don’t want to get arrested or whatever, like I say, there need to be various ways, various levels at which you can get involved.
So short of committing yourself to possible arrests, there are things like getting really serious about change in your own workplace. We need to have every single business thinking now about how to go zero carbon a lot sooner than 2050. And what can you do through your business or your workplace, for example, to make that happen? And in relation to the to the COP, I want to put a date in the minds of anybody who may be willing to come to Glasgow or to other cities. And the date is this, the date is the end of the COP. So traditionally, what happens at the end of the COP is that usually there’s a treaty or something and the people who signed it celebrate, and everyone else goes home and says, well, that wasn’t really good enough. My vision is that at the end of the COP, we have huge prearranged demonstrations, meetings, potentially direct actions. And what they’re going to do is they’re either going to be celebrating an incredible success, or, and as I said, this is rather more likely, they’re going to be calling out an atrocious failure to protect our children, to protect our future. And if this happens, this will be something new. Manda, like I say, traditionally everything’s focussed on the build up to COP. And there may be a big march in the middle of COP.
I’m saying to people, please think about coming to Glasgow, not necessarily in the build up to COP, the start of it. Think about coming to Glasgow on November the 12th and being there to mark the end of it. And if we, if they know that in huge numbers, are we going to be there to mark the end of it, and if they know that we’re potentially willing to do non-violent direct action, some of us, and if they know that we are, that we are not going away, and that we’re watching, and that we’re absolutely serious, and that we’re in this for the long haul, that can make a difference. And I mentioned other cities. I want people to be thinking on that weekend, the 13th, 14th may be on Monday, the 15th, to be ready to do stuff elsewhere especially, but not only in London, To say we are watching, we are, well, possibly where we’re celebrating your incredible, glorious success. Thank you. And more likely, we’re calling out these critical ways in which you have failed us. In which you have lost all right to be taken seriously as our leaders.
Manda: Why are we doing that at the end, when they’ve made the decisions? Why are we not doing it at the beginning?
Rupert: Because that’s what we always do, Manda. We always do it at the beginning and during, and then…
Manda: They don’t take any notice. So let’s not.
Rupert: Yeah, what I’m saying is if we if we do it at the end and we say in advance, this is when we’re going to do it. Do you want to come out of there and have us all cheering you, or do you want to come out of there and have us all stopping you…
Manda: From the streets?
Rupert: Yeah, exactly. And in fact, I do have this quite creative idea which which is I’m just going to float here and hope that MI5 aren’t aren’t listening, which is people sometimes try to to block politicians from getting into events or that kind of thing, right, try to stop them from doing things. What about if we kind of turn that around? What about if we had non-violent direct action which encircles the COP and said, we’re not going to let you leave until you come up with something better than this. Stay in there, keep working, please, until you come out with something which is actually going to be enough to to save our common future.
Manda: Interesting. Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? It would be it would be very interesting. Because what I get to when I think about this, is I head back into Rob Hopkins’ concept that the public school system, the university system through which most of our elite elected representatives went, is a dis-imagination machine. It’s designed to reduce their creativity and to not give them the scope to imagine how bad things could be, or, how good things could be if we got things right. If we were able to shift at even the Green New Deal, which is the very, very, very far edge of anything that might make anything worthwhile, has, you know, yesterday was the budget in the UK, and and not a blink in that direction of any consequence at all. So I’m guessing that the dis-imagination machine is full bore. It’s also they have a different future in mind that they want to get to. And it is consume more, create more inequality, carry on exactly as we are doing, but ramp it up several orders of magnitude more. So scaring them into there’s going to be an awful lot of people out there is one thing, but if we don’t help them to embrace a different future in a way that they can believe in, and want, then my assumption is they’ll just turn the Glasgow police into the Met.
At the moment, the Metropolitan Police in the UK are by far the nastiest and the hardest. And my understanding from my few XR actions is that when the Met’s getting exhausted, certainly in 2019 when I was in London, my friends in the police said they were trying to get people from other police districts and departments to come and usually they go, OK, guys, overtime, and they’re flooded. And this time everybody stood back and folded their arms and went, no, thank you. We really don’t want to come. And that my friends who were doing actions in, say, Cardiff or Glasgow or Manchester, in Manchester particularly, the police, the bronze commander on the site turned up and said, we don’t want any trouble. You guys are staying in this pedestrian precinct. We’re just not going to harass you. Is that OK? And everyone was fine. And the police actually turned up on the Saturday night and said, don’t worry, we’ll look after all the stuff. You guys go home. You can come back tomorrow. Because basically we know that you’re right. That doesn’t happen in London. It might happen in Glasgow. But if Boris and his friends know that Glasgow is likely to be inundated, then they’ll just ship the Met up to Glasgow. It’ll get really nasty, and they’ll just be able to give the Mail and the Telegraph the hard right papers over here, lots and lots of column inches about how they are suppressing the nasty, evil terrorists. I am wondering, is there not some way? I’m not suggesting that we don’t do that, because at the moment it seems to be the only thing that we’ve got. But there must be ways that we can reach them. That aren’t scaring them into an action they don’t want, but are leading them into actions that they do want. How could we do that?
Rupert: Well, it’s a challenge. Like I say, I’m trying to get to these characters, some of whom I know personally, to have these kinds of conversations. It’s not easy to do so now, partly because of the coronavirus. I mean, in two ways. Firstly, there’s less in-person stuff happening right now. And secondly, their utterly catastrophic failure on the coronavirus has alienated them from folks like us, and and vice versa. And some of the criticisms I’ve made of them over the the mass manslaughter that they’re complicit in may have alienated them from me in a slightly terminal way. But, you know, why did they fail so badly on coronavirus? Well, it’s got a lot to do with their ideological preconceptions, which are to do with keeping the economy open, so-called at all costs, even when the cost is that you have to shut down the economy soon afterwards. I mean, it’s just unbelievably nonsensical, ultra short termism that they’ve been operating under, and their ideological preference for the private sector and and so forth. You know, this government is the worst possible government we could have in charge at this time. And it’s very difficult to hope to influence them in the kind of way that we really need to. I mean, they’re significantly worse than Theresa May’s government even.
Manda: But they’re the government we’ve got. That’s the thing. We’ve got to work with what we have.
Rupert: Absolutely. But what I would also say is that another thing we need to be doing this year is seeding more of the awareness that quite a lot of this, we’re probably just going to have to do what we can for ourselves. And so when I say, you know, we can’t outsource it to politicians any longer, and in particular not to this government in the UK, I think one of the corollaries of that is we need to be taking more power into our own hands positively. We need to be refashioning our own futures more. What does that mean? It means things like working through your businesses or workplaces. It also means things like doing stuff in your local community to refashion that, working with the local council.
Manda: Or standing for your local council and becoming elected. Because we have elections coming up. That would be good.
Rupert: Very important elections this May, assuming that they go ahead, which it seems likely they will. Very important elections because last year, which were delayed, a great opportunity to get more sane people elected. So, yeah, all of these kinds of things need to be done and we need to be taking them seriously. One way I describe this is that climate damage, ecosystem damage is here now. It’s not in the future. It’s here now. It’s going to get worse. We have to try to prevent it. But we also have to recognise what’s here and adapt to it, find ways of living with it. And we have to do that transformatively. We have to do that in a way that works to transform the system. And part of what that means is we have to engage in positive activity ourselves to model the kind of future that we want to see. And that may sometimes mean defying the authorities if we’re trying, for example, to create a sustainable food system in our local area, and the authorities are making it difficult for that to happen. So I’m saying we need to do transformative adaptation. We should start doing some of that on the ground and not thinking that we can leave it all up to government to find a way to the kind of future that we need, because it looks like that isn’t going to happen.
Manda: Ok, so if we were on with that for a bit, my experience of endeavouring to set up a regenerative food network locally here is that the authorities either don’t care, or are quite supportive. I think you’re right that the ideologues in the County Hall are ideologues, who.. somebody suggested putting solar panels on top of the Tesco’s, and they all voted against because they decided it would be unsightly. We’ve had huge support from people going, OK, look, there’s this grant and here’s a way you can do this. And yes, we will help you. So I think, you know, if you need to replace your local council, I think that’s really important wherever you are in the world, that local democracy is still accessible in ways that national democracy may not be.
Rupert: Yeah, potentially. Then there’s Flatpack Democracy. And of course, there’s the Green Party and there’s various options for how you can do it, do it. Well, I mean, obviously, if you can have a good chance of getting elected, you probably need to do more than just standing. You need to actually do a load of stuff, which is going to be challenging in the coronavirus situation. You may be campaigning, maybe campaigning online, that’s certainly one one positive way forward. I mean, really, part of what I’m saying in the book is, look, there are various ways in which we can do the kinds of things we need to do. What you need to do is to make sure that you pick at least one of those ways and take it really seriously. So the final chapter is called Your Money or Your Life. And what I propose there is that if you are convinced by the argument of the book, and I think it’s pretty hard to find any chink in the logic of it, if you are convinced by the argument of the book, then it means that you need to, in some way or another, commit yourself, really commit yourself to it.
And I suggest that a couple of obvious ways are either if you happen to be a person who is wealthy, to put a lot of your money, and I mean a lot of it, behind the kind of causes that could actually really change things in the way we’ve been talking about in this podcast. And if not, then doing the same kind of commitment through your workplace, or through the political system, or through an organisation like Parents for Future or Extinction Rebellion. One way or another, you have to find the way or ways in which you can commit yourself to it because it just isn’t enough anymore. We just can’t succeed in taking care of our children anymore by doing things like making sure they’re healthy and getting them into a nice school and so on. That just is not going to be enough to provide them with a decent life by the time they’re grown up, or let alone old.
Manda: And it seems to me that if anyone was ever going to take a sabbatical and really do stuff, this is the year to do it. And it’s, Covid may have helped us in a way that by the end of lockdown, people might be in a position at least to take the second half of the year off. And if not, it does seem to me that if everybody who cares at all went back into their workplace and said, I am not working another day for you unless we can work out a way whereby we not only become carbon zero, but actually become regenerative, what is it that we can do? We were talking to Donnie Maclurcan last week and we talked to other people, Alex Barker of the Be more Pirate Movement, of most of the hierarchies, of the businesses that they’ve spoken to really want to feel that they’re doing their bit, but they don’t know how. And it takes enough of the inertia of a business that is focussed on growing, it’s, I don’t know, its ability to sell widgets, to realise that we don’t want to just be selling widgets, we need to be doing this regeneratively. And if that means we don’t sell widgets, we do something else, then we need to do that. And that whatever government is doing, we could undercut them completely, if enough people demand that their businesses do that. And still the shop, you know, stop buying stuff that isn’t regenerative, if you can possibly afford it.
Rupert: I think the opportunities through workplaces are absolutely huge and that is a vital, vital zone. In terms of your idea about sabbaticals, I think that’s a super idea. The intriguing fact about Covid is that it has proved economically is that it has proved very difficult economically for a large section of the population, and for another large section of the population, it’s actually been quite lucrative. In other words, there’s a lot of people who have been getting their normal salary, but not spending virtually any money because they’ve been stuck at home. So I’m one of those people who’s actually, you know, got got thousands of pounds piling up in the bank because of this pandemic. You have a responsibility, folks. You have a responsibility to either put that money directly behind these causes this year or to use that money to enable you to take a significant amount of unpaid leave or whatever it is to do what needs to be done this year. You know, you have a responsibility.
Manda: Brilliant. So we’re nearly at the hour and that feels like a really good, solid place to stop. We’ve given people ideas of what they can do. We’re giving people a sense of the absolute urgency and how this year is the turning point. So let’s call it a wrap at that. Rupert Read, thank you so much for coming back onto the Accidental Gods podcast for the third time.
Rupert: Manda, it’s really been a pleasure. It’s been super.
Manda: So that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Rupert for the passion and the depth of his work and for his absolute commitment to changing the way that we see and do things, and for writing a book that gives us a way to move forward. Really, go and buy it. Give it to your friends who are parents or grandparents, or even people who aren’t. Because this is a book for everybody. As I hope he made clear, this year is absolutely crucial. If you’re ever planning to do anything in any kind of activism, this year is the time. This year defines what we do this decade. This decade defines what we do this century. What we do this century defines whether there is a future of humanity. It really is that essential. So do what you can. If you’re part of the Accidental Gods, the larger movement, the membership, and you want to set up buddy groups to support each other in any kind of action, we are absolutely here to help you do that. So go to the website, https://accidentalgods.life. If you want to join, if you’re already member and the buddy groups sound good, then just let us know and we’ll make it happen. Or you could sign up for one of the gatherings, there’s one weekend after next on the 20th of March, the day before the equinox, that is all about accessing, strengthening, building our trust in our intuition.
And I think the more we can learn to listen to our heart-mind over our head-mind, the more we are likely to be able to act. So if that feels good. Head over to the website and the events page and sign up there. Everything else: the links to Rupert’s book and the various Parents for the Future hashtags is on the show notes, on the website, in the podcast section. I am also going to put a link there to Narrative Arc, which is a new venture that I’ve set up with two friends, Rob Wilton, who’s also an author, Toby Pease, who is a production manager who’s been on all four of The Matrix films and is currently filming in Ireland on one of the biggest projects ever filmed. We are making television, we hope, that will give us a vision of a future that we actually want to get to. In the course of making this podcast in the last year and a bit, I have come to understand that frightening people is not the way forward. I know this is obvious, but it’s still what we do. And I still think the factoids, the kind of key numbers are useful, because we need to take seriously the urgency of this moment. But if we can’t envision a way forward to a future that we actually want to get to, a future that feels better than now, then we won’t get there.
When I think of the young parents that I know, the young mothers with two kids under the age of five trying to home school them because of Covid while holding down a job that they’re doing from home, I still struggle to see you guys engaging with this. I know that you would walk across hot coals carrying your kids to get them a better future, but I just can’t see you sitting in the road to tell the politicians that they’re screwing up. If you can please do it, because I do believe, Rupert, that it makes a difference. But I think it’s more likely that you will act if we can show you a future that you actually want to get to, where their future is better, your children, your grandchildren, and where you can see a route to get from here to there. So we’ve written a pilot episode, a full season outline, a full meta outline that will undoubtedly be fluid and change for a full 10 seasons, for a television thriller that takes us from where we are, or at least where we think we’ll be in 2023, to where we need to be, in a way that starts where we are and leads us in a way that engages as many people as we can, not just the kinds of people who are likely to listen to this podcast, however broad you are out there.
But the people who read the newspapers that we just don’t read, who watch the television that we don’t read, who listen to the social media that we don’t pay attention to. How can we bring all of you onboard together to craft a future that we all want? So that’s where we’re going, because we exist in the current economic system, and because we have planned this to be the highest of high end TV, and because we want to hold creative control, it’s going to take a lot of funding. The numbers make my eyes go square. So if you happen to know any billionaires who really want a more generative future, and really want us to understand how to get there, then please do send them that link. So with all that in mind, we will be back next week with another conversation.
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