Extinction Rebellion in Sherborne: “I will not be a bystander”

Michael Fox, Sherborne

“I will not be a bystander”: Two years on from Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency, one person takes action in Sherborne along with hundreds of others around the UK.

On Half Moon Street in Sherborne at 11 am on 1st May, a local person stopped traffic for half an hour by peacefully sitting in the road wearing a sign that read “I’m terrified my children will starve because of the climate crisis”.

As he sat in the way of oncoming traffic, Michael Fox risked his life in order to speak out about Government inaction on climate two years on from Parliament’s declaration of an environmental and climate emergency.

But the sitter was not alone. Around the country, people just like him, terrified about the trajectory we are on in this climate and ecological emergency, also took action in their hometowns in the same way. As lockdown rules began to lift in the UK, people blocked roads from Aberdeen to Birmingham to Yarmouth and beyond, to say they will no longer stand by while the UK Government lies to the public about its tepid plans to tackle the climate crisis.

The action was part of an approach developed during the Covid-19 pandemic by members of Extinction Rebellion, in which people can engage in civil disobedience alone, yet united.

We have known for more than 30 years that humans are changing the climate, but our governments have fiddled around the edges rather than taking the radical action that was needed. Now we can see the result – fires in the Arctic, the tundra melting, and weird weather all the time. We need to act like our house is burning, because our planet is our house and it is literally on fire. I really am terrified that my children will starve because of inaction by our governments.

Two years ago today the UK Parliament declared an environment and climate emergency. And yet in February this year chief executive of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan said that the UK is hitting worst case environmental scenarios that if left unchecked would collapse ecosystems, slash crop yields, take out the infrastructure that our civilisation depends on, and destroy the basis of the modern economy and modern society. The Committee on Climate Change and the National Audit Office who are tasked with monitoring the Government are warning the public that their climate plans are failing to materialise. Our leaders are still not taking this seriously. It’s time for ordinary people to step up and demand action.

Michael Fox, 58, a community organiser from Crewkerne
Michael being clapped
Michael being clapped

As we begin to emerge from the lockdowns, Sherborne was typically busy for a Saturday morning.  A queue of cars built up in front of Michael, and several people got out of their cars to ask him to move.  Conversations started amongst bystanders about why he was doing this, and some were supportive of Michael’s decision to sit in the road.  

Several people shouted support and a crowd of students from a Sherborne school gathered to ask about his motives.  A woman with children thanked him for taking such brave action.  Generally, the mood was peaceful and calm throughout the action, and the police arrived after 20 minutes. Michael was arrested at 11.45 am and taken to Weymouth police station.  

The action comes amid growing unrest around the Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill which has seen movements, organisations, unions and individuals standing together to defy a government and police force drunk on power. The rebellion of One is just one part of a huge day of action on International Workers’ Day across the UK, with Kill the Bill protests taking place in cities across the country, defending the right to speak truth to power and standing up for the right to protest.

As we emerge from the devastation of Covid-19, the UK Government is telling the public it has the climate and ecological crisis in hand. With the eyes of the world on the UK – the hosts of the COP26 climate summit – the Prime Minister claims the government is committed to ‘building back greener’ from the pandemic. However, in the past 6 months, £27bn has been invested in new roads and the Heathrow expansion ruling was overturned. A report by Positive Money found that by June last year 56% of Covid funding distributed by the Bank of England went to carbon-intensive industries, including airlines, car manufacturers and oil and gas companies.

The Committee on Climate Change – the body tasked with monitoring government progress on reducing admissions – said in its progress report last June that the UK has failed on 17 out of 21 progress indicators, falling further behind in many areas and that just two of 31 key policy milestones have been met over the year since parliament declared emergency. In December last year, the National Audit Office found that the UK Government is predicted to fail to meet its existing climate targets and said that a radical reassessment of priorities was needed.

The people taking action today hope to make clear that they can no longer trust the UK Government with their future.

This protest was a part of Extinction Rebellion’s ‘waves’ of Rebellion for 2021; rebellions held each month, increasing in pressure each time as we build up to COP26 in Glasgow in November.

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