Clare Farrell: Extinction Rebellion Co-Founder | Podcast Interview Transcript
Clare Farrell My name’s Clare Farrell. And I’ve been coordinating with Extinction Rebellion from the outset from when we launched. I guess that's 31st October 2018 is the official launch. I've got a background in fashion educating on fashion and the environment and ethics and sustainability and also in the fashion sector, trying to make change in that in that industry before I spend all my time like I do now, causing rebellion!
Rena Niamh Smith Clare Farrell and I met to discuss her work as one of the founding members in Extinction Rebellion, now a global environmental movement. Alongside Greta Thunberg, they have helped force a conversation on climate change all over the world through direct action.
Our original interview took place on 5th March 2020. Even then, weeks before a national lockdown was declared, neither of us quite realised the impact that the coronavirus pandemic would have, either in the terrible death tolls, or on the impact on our lives and the wider climate movement.
In the first half of this episode, you will hear the original conversation with Clare. We later caught up with Clare, in September 2020. You can find the update in the second half of the episode.
In our first conversation, we discussed Extinction Rebellion’s plans for 2020 and the controversy surrounding their protest on the Docklands Light Railway in October 2019.
However, the world feels like an incredibly different place from this time 6 months ago. Therefore, we’ve chosen to focus the first half of this episode on what Clare told us in March about the action-based methods of Extinction Rebellion; on Clare’s background as high street fashion designer turned sustainable fashion lecturer; and the campaigns that inspired her to become a full time leader of rebellion.
In the second half, you can hear Clare’s point of view as climate activist on the pandemic, and the plans for Extinction Rebellion going forward.
Extinction Rebellion evolved from a group called Rising Up. And it's been a fantastic movement. It's really captured imaginations through mass participation exercises in civil disobedience. Last year in 2019 in April and in October Extinction Rebellion occupied large parts of London. Extinction Rebellion have not just challenged the government, though, which is often the target of such actions. Extinction Rebellion occupied Greenpeace as well. Why do you think there's this urgency to challenge all levels of society, including people who are in the arena of making change like Greenpeace?
Clare Farrell Because we're losing really badly and a lot of people believe that we've already lost because we're losing, that's how badly it is that we're losing. And I think looking around and seeing a world of sort of normality in the face of a looming scale of destruction, which is beyond the human imagination, knowing that and trying to live your normal day-to-day life, it's very, very challenging for people who are sort of conscious of what the science means, what the risk is and so that's why we went to Greenpeace as a sort of hand on the shoulder of your mate saying, “can we just have a chat about something? I really like you don't worry, you're not in trouble! But we should talk about this.”
To me, it spoke to looking at what is the third sector doing, what is the charity sector doing in this moment? And hopefully that that opening of I mean, it's one of our first actions. So that opening of going to Greenpeace with that action, you know. The wholesale disruption of the public, which comes when you shut down a city centre, it has been criticised, but I was amazed at how well it went down in April, because in April it felt so surprising and so sort of audacious that people weren't angry about it. They just sort of went, “what's going on here? What?” And it was held with a kind of joy as well, which was our intention also in October, but of course the police changed tactics and took most of our equipment. They took our toilets. They arrested a kitchen sink; I mean, they actually did do that. So, you know, we were left with very little to to organise with. And it's very hard to make it look joyful when it's when it's lacking so much of the elements that we need to make it work.
Rena I know that you're an arts coordinator for Extinction Rebellion, and have done a lot of design work around the movement. I'm sure you do a lot of other things in the movement. Can you describe what your other roles are?
Clare Well, I guess at the beginning, we had a very small number of people doing everything, a bit like a startup. So because my background in fashion, design, I've found it relatively easy to hold a sort of role in procurement. There was a lot of use of my network and my sort of skill set I guess to do very practical stuff as well as working alongside an amazing design team who to be honest, I don't really do the design work. I just sit with them and they do fantastic things. But of course, I have an input on it. And I've really thrown myself into pretty much full time plus, working with Extinction Rebellion. And it's and it's interesting because as the movement expands and as it grows and because we have this organising methodology, which we called a self-organizing system, it can be very exciting and brilliant. And hopefully means that it's resilient. But I think it also means that it can be quite challenging because it's challenging us on how to get decisions made when somebody is not in charge. And also go and do an impossible task, which is change everything everywhere really quickly…
Clare Farrell …in the face of an absolutely massive threat!
Rena Yes, looming apocalypse! From what I understand, it's almost semi-autonomous where people can form action groups and go and create an action themselves. Is that right?
Clare Farrell Well we call it a decentralized system. We've also called it in the past, post-consensus model. What that means is don't have to sit the whole movement down and get everyone to agree before you can do something which is very stifling to getting shit to happen. So, we have a set of principles and values as 10. And if you adhere to those, you can be XR. You don't have to sign up or pay or do anything. We do encourage everybody to join their local groups and to do things together. This isn't a DIY movement, it's a do it together movement. So it's very much about accountability, about collaboration. It's not restricted by having to work in an absolute agreement with the other people.
What we've attempted to do is really to build something that can be a broad church, because we recognise that this is like a this is a big thing that needs doing and it's going to really require a lot of people it's going to require huge numbers of people to do the work. It's going to require even bigger numbers of people to advocate for it and agree with it. So, for example, there's groups of XR Scientists who are organising together, and also they go do direct actions together. They all wear white lab coats. Incidentally, the police hate arresting them. They don't really want to go near them! People are organising around religion. People are organising themselves around colour. People are organising themselves around all kinds of different things that they that they feel unite them.
And for that to be able to take place, you need just some grounding principles. You need something really simple that people can adhere to and just know that they're doing the right thing. And then you need to keep an eye on it. So, you know, obviously, if people go and set something on fire and run away, then we would we can we can easily say, well, that's not in line with our principles and values, we would never do that. And that's not us. And so far, I think that's worked really well in terms of the speed of the growth that you can have and also how easy it feels to offer to people to come into the space. Basically.
Rena I wanted to talk to you about um Extinction Rebellion and the fashion industry as well. You're the founder of the label No Such Thing which makes cyclewear. And part of the philosophy is a response to the fast paced and wasteful nature of the fashion industry designed to meet needs instead of creating them. Can you tell us about that philosophy?
Clare Farrell As a designer, I didn't want to pander to the desires of retail elite of buying teams or I didn't really want to be involved in the sort of churning out of post-Modern crap, basically, which is which is really what the industry I've been part of is doing all the time. Sort of commodifying and cheapening and using anything really that it possibly can find that feels untapped in order to make a profit. Usually for ruthless, horrible men who tend to sit at the top of this chain. I have to say, for an industry that's full of amazing, strong women that do brilliant work, I've mostly worked for companies that are making a fat, horrendous man rich. Sorry, blokes, I love men, by the way! It was kind of something about leaving all of that stuff behind.
As a designer I I felt really sort of empowered, I guess, by the idea of moving into the mindset of a product designer rather than a fashion designer. So it was you know, this is the first jacket that I designed was, you know, made out of recycled material. Recyclable material was. So we designed so that it would be hopefully fully recyclable if it could go in fibre to fibre recycling, haha - there isn't any scale, by the way! But that was you know, it had a polyester membrane that was breathable and waterproof. And I wanted to make something that just made it like more possible for you to ride your bike more often. I think I know lots of women who ride a bike, but if they're going to something important, they can't. Like a man can show up looking like he's all sort of macho in his special sports outfit, which he really loves getting on, his lycra special suit. It's like they can like sort of luxuriate themselves in this pretence that it's that it's a sport and they've got all this special kit and like somehow that's quite macho. But if a woman arrives at work like that, most women, I think, feel way more self-conscious. So I just wanted to make something that helped me to feel like it was a normal thing to do, to ride a bike, to go and have interviews or to go in like, do consultancy work or whatever, and not to arrive going, “Hi, I'm a fashion consultant, but don't look at my outfit.” Right? Like, that's the super bad way to enter the space.
Rena Prior to that, you've worked for fashion brands including Fiorucci and Good One and also some high street suppliers. So was there a sense that you were sick of the machine that is the fashion industry as it is now?
Clare Farrell Yeah, definitely, and I wrote at university about the impacts of fashion textiles. And then I thought, I'm gonna have to go and sort of be someone before I can go and make a difference, because the fashion, the ethical fashion space at that time was almost nonexistent. With no experience, it would be really hard to get a job.
I guess I sort of thought that it made sense to go and work commercially. That was great because I got to learn loads about factories and how people get goods made and how they get supplied into the high street, and what's the business model going on there and deal in depth with the factories in India and in Turkey and in China. And it was a great sort of learning space. There's also a place with the most rubbish culture to the work and where I felt like I didn't really fit in. And so having already done lots of the research into like what the impacts were, it's really challenging. For me, it made me often feel like I was sort of forced to to sort of contort my own morals into a shape I didn't recognize, just in order to go and get a salary and not even a very good salary. So I think it's extremely difficult to to work within that space. And that's when I when I left, I went and worked with my business partner to be Nin Castle at Good One. And she'd started that out of university, and we worked together, showing at Fashion Week for many seasons. So, there I was making I was making good work that I was proud of. But we were making like no money. You either do something that you don't like and get paid or you do something you do like can you don't get paid. That's how it felt, that point. But it's definitely much more important to me to have an interesting life than than get rich. Which is a good job because I'm skint! I'm definitely poor now. Thought you were poor then? No. Wait until you start going into rebellion.
Rena So what point did you quit doing that full time to go into Extinction Rebellion? Was there a single point?
Clare Farrell No. So, before XR started, I was already engaged in several of the campaigns that were leading up to it, testing out tactics and stuff. I think, at that point, I was kind of juggling some freelance clients and I was also doing some teaching, which I still do teach a short course in sustainable fashion, and sometimes go and do like various guest lecturing at different universities. I still do some teaching, I still do have a life outside of XR, just about, but I don’t do any of the freelance work anymore.
I've always seen that part of the activism that I was doing for the sort of couple of years previous as just being another job. You know, it's just another job. It's unpaid, but teaches you much more than having a normal job, like having a startup also teaches you much more than just having any old other kind of job. I've never learnt so much in my life as I have in the last sort of two years or so, actually. So that's cool.
Rena That's amazing. And does it compliment the teaching then?
Clare Farrell Yeah, I think it does. I think it does because you know, sustainability as a field or as a concept is, I think quite quickly becoming irrelevant. I've always known that green capitalism is a piss take and I didn't start a brand or run small businesses because I was misguided on that fact. But I just didn't quite know what else to do, apart from be a bit of an anti-capitalist activist through the sort of anti-globalisation stuff in the 2000s and then try and work ethically and sustainably and change an industry that's immovable. So in some ways, I feel like the work that I'm doing now is, you know, yeah, it's relevant to the teaching, but I think it's relevant to the teaching because it's it can help to transform beyond a paradigm of talking about sustainability. And that's where the teaching needs to go in order to be useful, I think. And I've not really found the language or the approach previous to seeing what's happening right down now with the energizing of the of the movements and all the activity because I think we're in a we're in the midst now of a period of social change. But I hope that it's going to move us through to a place where we're able to think really much more, much more imaginatively and much more radically about what we do so that we're not tied down by ideas about making plastic bottles into dresses or being able to reprocess some cotton garments into some new viscose or whatever. I mean, as interesting as the circular conversation is, I think that within the design world and within design thinking, there's a real urgent need for people to go, “hey, see that circular economy stuff, you're still trying to do it inside growth based capitalism, and that's obviously a problem”. To go further than that, but think about different ways of recognising value, different ways of exchange, and also, introducing this idea of regeneration, I think that's part of our challenge going ahead in education, but also in education within XR as well; in thinking about how we how we think about this regenerative stuff that we need to engineer.
Rena I wanted to ask you how you got involved in activism in general what was the first campaign that captured your imagination, whether it was growing up or.
Clare Farrell I started “doing activism”, in inverted commas, in probably about 2002 or 2003 and that was when I met somebody who introduced me to a group called the Space Hijackers and we went along to some meetings and it was like a sort of secret agent organisation. It was very funny. We went out and did disruptive things in public space, but it wasn't it wasn't pointed like this going like let's block roads and do X, Y, Z and see if it gets Y result or whatever, it was much more about challenging people's perception of what they were doing in a public place, and drawing people's attention to different issues. And so we did various things like have parties on Circle Line trains, reclaim public spaces, talk to people about public and private ownership of city space, access to space. All of that stuff. So it was kind of anti-capitalist and looking at architecture and city planning and all of that kind of stuff. But it was like most of all, it was funny, actually. And we had these great parties and did sort of idiotic things and thought it was really fun! So, yeah, it was good. They were they were good days and we were like, “oh, the world's so bad. You know, it's got all these problems!” I look back at it now and it’s like, God, we were having such a laugh! And like everything was a bit bad. It really wasn't that bad. It's got so much worse.
Rena So where did you go from there then, from organising parties on Circle Line trains? How, what was your what was your kind of journey from there?
Clare Farrell I guess I got really busy doing all this stuff with Good One and trying to run a small business. I mean, all of that stuff just made me super busy. I definitely had a bit of a break in that sense and then I was really thinking, what's the next thing? And I'd start at this project with my friend Miles called body politic, which is about wearing messages and embodying struggle and stuff. So I guess I had this on the side. But then but then that was kind of the beginning of doing some work, which naturally led into working with my friends Charlie and Clive on design work. And then that all of that work forming the basis for the art department at XR. So it feels like it's been a fairly sort of natural process or organic journey in a way. I guess.
Rena How can people support you and what you do?
Clare Farrell I think the first thing that people should consider doing if they want to help me, which sounds really weird, is to go and join your local XR group for a meeting. Go and speak to the people there and find out how fabulous they are. They're just really full of amazing people. So you could do that and that would be nice for you as well as good for me. We're really struggling for money at the moment. So, if anyone you know anyone rich send them to send them to Extinction Rebellion, if they want to make any donations, I think you can donate through our website or find a route to do that. And you should be able to find your local groups as well on the websites rebellion.earth. There's also an international site. If you're not in the U.K., it's rebellion.global. And that has an interactive kind of map. You should be able to find even a tiny regional local group through a pin that's shown on the map officially. And then that will link you through to if they've got a website or a Facebook page or a Twitter thing or whatever. And obviously you can follow us on social media, and as the organisation is quite sprawling, there's a U.K. Twitter feed. There's a global Twitter feed. You will probably find a regional one. You might find a local group one. If you have a special interest or you identify with a certain group, then look that up because you might find Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you might find for XR Families, for example, or I know there's a budding XR Mothers group. There's Christians, Jews, XR Muslims, teachers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, all of the things. Oh and boycott fashion group, look them up. And they're the best. Obviously!
Rena Do you have any recommendation for people who are looking to read or watch something to get inspired, something that's inspired you in the past?
Clare Farrell Yeah. So I think one of the things that's really present that I'd recommend people look up is the podcast, which is by the Climate Psychology Alliance, and they are super-duper people who have been setting themselves up in in order to support people in movements and in order to also look really, really hard at how to support young people, and probably also each other. I mean, there are, you know. I know from speaking to people that work in this sort of therapeutic world that there are therapists who haven't been paying attention to this issue, and they're suddenly going, 'oh, shit. How do I help someone if I haven't actually fronted up to this myself? This is really scary!' So they're doing incredible work and they make a really, really interesting podcast and I'd really recommend that you listen to them.
Rena How can people get involved more generally if they're reading about climate change? They're worried about what the future holds? What can people do to get involved more generally?
Clare Farrell I would say that there are many, many aspects to what needs to happen, and some of it some of the main bulk of the work for me is existential in nature. And I think that we live in a kind of death-phobic culture. We sort of hide birth the same way that we hide death, and a lot of cultures in the world would find that quite disturbing, actually, just to sort of pretend that you just magically exist, and then one day you disappear, but nobody knows how it happens! And I know that birth and death is a bit like that, but if you've never been close to it or been able to sort of confront it, I do think it changes your outlook, and we're in this kind of position of great risk. And so I guess what I want people to do more than anything is like face their own mortality and then decide to live their life in line with some values, which are probably values that are not very easy to live by because of the system that we're in. So I know that sounds like a bit of an impractical response. How can people get more involved? Have an existential crisis! But I think from that place, you can make different decisions about what you want to do with your life.
The other thing I think which is really easy to do is self-education, in terms of the impact that we've had on the climate, but more importantly, I think on biodiversity loss and the loss of the reduction in biomass around the world. Uncover that; read it and cry and I think it would be good. It'll be good, you'll be glad you got a head start if you start grieving now.
RENA You’ll now hear an update Clare gave us on Extinction Rebellion on 15th September, 2020, when Extinction Rebellion were in the midst of a national relaunch. They organised actions in London, Cardiff and Manchester, and hit headlines when they stopped headlines - by disrupting newspaper distribution at a national printworks, resulting in empty news stands across the country.
And true to the ever changing nature of things in 2020, this second conversation was recorded just before the government announced figures indicating the threat of second wave of the Coronavirus in the UK. In this half, we discuss how global pandemics like coronavirus are the result of environmental destruction; the impact of Black Lives Matter on Extinction Rebellion; and why it is ever more urgent to fight to halt climate catastrophe in a world forever changed by the global pandemic.
Extinction Rebellion; so the first I saw was a poster calling for people to demonstrate on 1st September in Parliament Square, and there’s been a number of rebellions since then, including blockading newspaper distribution. And I just wanted to ask about the decision to relaunch around now and how that's been going?
CLARE We did have a rebellion planned for the spring this year, which all got knocked down the road because of Covid, and so I guess running an on-the-streets rebellion phase now was really about thinking that we don't want to lose 2020 completely. Just because people have been on lockdown doesn't mean the ice sheets aren't falling to fucking pieces, does it? That is quite scary. This is the crisis that we've got to move back into paying attention to really quite quickly.
RENA How did you go about planning this reawakening of the of the conversation around climate change?
CLARE Well, there's been people talking for quite a long time about blockading the press, which was obviously the big action of this rebellion. We opened the rebellion on September the 1st with a very large sit down on Parliament Square knowing that there was going to be an opportunity for people to do something fairly entry level, if you like, IE just sit in the road together. People weren't doing anything too high profile or high risk and it's given us an opportunity to host speakers that we wanted to platform. Last time we went out, we had a lot of different sites and people trying to hold them overnight. So we also didn't want to do that because we felt we'd done it, and it's quite resource intensive, exhausts people quite a lot. So, there was a decision taken that we would do lots of dispersed actions, with the aim of telling a story, which I think we've been most successful with this time than ever before.
CLARE So we did close the road at Tufton Street. I don't know if, you know, Tufton Street, it's right around the corner from Westminster, and there were two addresses there, 55 and 57. And they are the home of think tanks like Global Warming Policy Foundation who are notorious climate deniers. And now that they're not allowed to be climate deniers because they have to talk to them if they are, they're the people who say, “yes, it's real and it is serious, but also chillout, don't worry about it too much!” And so a lot of these [think tanks] are very much embedded in neo liberalism and the pushing forward of lobbying and ideology that supports big business. And it's a bit of a revolving door between them and government as well. And that felt like it was really pointing to a place which people don't know very much about, which is a bit of a shady piece of the story, if you like.
And then obviously later on we did the blockade happened at the printworks, which we knew when we looked at the schedule of all the different actions, we knew that that was going to be quite a focus of the rebellion. I have to say, ever since that happened, the press and the government complete because ranks and they've been absolutely horrendous to us. I mean, if you poke the hornet's nest that's got Rupert Murdoch in it, then, what do you expect? I know it's not a surprise, But certainly that's been the main focus. So the question of whether we have a free press or not is a really, really serious question that needs to be asked because they're not helping to educate the public; nor is the BBC properly, even though that's our own public service broadcaster, supposedly. Yeah, I think in that way, managing to tell those stories through the actions has been one of the one of the main differences.
RENA Yeah, that's really interesting. And it's true that, some people might say, “oh, you you should expect the press to close ranks with the government. Well, in some ways it's to be expected, but in other ways, it's very depressing to see, like just to have it revealed exactly how it works, and to have that kind of get that relationship really hammer home. And like you say, there's just this massive need to tell the truth right now, to borrow an XR phrase.
Coronavirus has been linked to the way that society and industry has imposed on wildlife and on the natural world. To what extent for you, is this global pandemic - it's not either or - it's a part of the climate crisis that we're in?
CLARE Yeah, totally. I guess you've watched that David Attenborough programme that everyone's going crazy about, but I'm really glad that he's brought that message in such flagship show, mainstream way to the fore, because it's very clearly outlined in that show that the more that we enter into wild places, deep forests, the more we disturb the untouched, not that there's hardly any of that left, but the more untouched areas of like really, rich biodiversity and the closer that we come to imposing our presence on those wild spaces and on those wild ecosystems, and the more that we do intensive factory farming, that is all linked to the spread of global pandemics.
And so I believe that pretty much every pandemic that the world has ever known, that human beings have ever suffered has come from the way that we're dealing with the natural world and the way that we're interacting with animals and particularly the way that we're either keeping livestock or trading in wild animals.
And I think that combination is going to become hopefully more and more clear, combined with the fact that we know in a warmer world that there's more transmission of disease. We know that when there's more flooding and there's more waterborne diseases going to travel more and on a hotter planet, we're going to experience diseases in colder countries that used to only exist in hotter ones. So, getting people's heads around the fact that there's a human health crisis angle to the climate crisis, as well as all of the other factors that we normally talk about, I think it's much lesser understood.
And I think the other thing is about preparation, because what we've been saying is that governments failed to mitigate; but it's also not fucking prepared for what it's creating - it is the inevitable outcome of not doing anything. So, we can also understand that in quite short, real time because of covid. Yes, we had a brilliant pandemic plan in the UK, one of the world's best plans, I think, which other countries have followed and had a great success. We wrote one of the best plans; we didn't fucking use it so we weren't prepared at all. And we know that there's a prediction of way more pandemics to come and that it's right at the top of the list of risks to the UK in terms of security and threats to health. And yet, our government just completely ignored it and not prepared at all.
Something interesting that Noam Chomsky was talking about why America wasn't prepared, and I guess we're not we're not there yet with our NHS, but is it is moving entirely in that direction; a market-based health system can't be prepared because it's never going to be financially beneficial for you to be prepared for something that might not happen, right? So, the health system in the in the United States, basically by its structure and by its ideological and philosophical set up cannot be well prepared for something like this. And so arguably, that's what you can look at, the essence of neoliberalism is basically completely defunct in the face of this kind of a threat. And now we're facing loads of them. So, I hope that people are able to kind of reflect on it in that way.
I guess the other thing that for me, Coronavirus has shown us in real time, which is extremely valuable, if people would stop to look at it, is to understand the exponential function because it's something that human beings can't grasp very easily. And I know I can't when I look at like climate figures, I look at carbon emissions or temperature increase or loss of Arctic ice or whatever it is, and you look at this kind of exponential pattern. Once it starts to go almost straight up, I can't understand it, the figures become sort of meaningless, don't they? And we we've just lived through watching something in real time that has that property.
And I don't really know quite what to think about that yet, but I think there's definitely something interesting about going, "right, I've just lived through a short-term view of exponentiality, that's what it means." And perhaps if we're really unlucky, we're about to see it again because we might handle a second wave quite badly. I don't know.
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RENA During the pandemic, there was ideas that circulated online. There was the kind of these tweets along the lines of the "world is healing, we are the virus". For example, the images of dolphins in the canals of Venice and aerial photographs of cities with cleaner air. Now some of those images, it did turn out, were fake. But there was still this idea that that human beings are the problem on planet Earth. I was just wondering what you thought of that idea that humans are bad for the planet. And do you think they are the problem or do you think it's the way that this society is organised which can be reimagined?
CLARE Yes it's interesting that you raised that because I know there's a lot of people who've talked around these messages being the lean towards eco-fascism, basically, and [this idea that] if you just wipe some people out, then the world will heal itself and everything will be happy. I don't know whether I find it so easy to describe them as proto-fascist, because it's true that if people leave the land alone, it recovers. It's true that, if you rest the world from our exploitation and our extraction and our destruction, then it does heal itself.
But it's also true that people can do that less and still survive, we don't need to be destroying things as rampantly as we are. It is much safer to talk about how the systems that we use to organise our societies are actually the problem. It's quite clear that some of the power structures are the problem. It's quite clear that the economics is the problem, it is quite obvious to me that the media is the problem because it stops people from understanding what the problems are because they refuse to educate people on them.
I think that was really interesting, the emergence of that, and it feels to me like if that is if that is a dangerous narrative, if that is an anti-human narrative, it was interesting to watch how easily that gets picked up and not questioned by the average person, whereas, within lots of circles of very vigilant people in the green movement, and activists, who would pick that stuff apart and go, “what's actually going on here? Is this alarming? Is this really worrying? And do we need to act against it? What should we be saying in the face of it?” But I think to the average person on the street that just felt like, "oh, yeah, that's great, there's like wild animals walking through the city, how great; that's funny or, that's interesting.” Or like, “yeah, we're really bad". It's perfectly possible for people to live in greater harmony with nature, you don't need to go on lockdown to solve the climate crisis.
And I think the other thing about the carbon emissions coming down is the thing I was the most interested in, because I thought immediately when they said, "people in China have got these like, much cleaner skies because of Covid lockdown, and so their carbon emissions are down". And then lots of people were saying to me, "oh, you must be really happy about this pandemic because it's reduced people's emissions!" And again, it's not just a massive oversimplification that implies that it would be good to lock people in their homes for the majority of the time in order to deal with this, which is not a good solution. But also, we've turbocharged the economy with bailouts at the end of this crisis, which is just doubled down on making things worse.
And actually, the public money that's been used to bolster those industries would have been really hard to fundraise for, because people don't want to invest in fossil industry right now as much as they perhaps once did. And so our government in the UK have particularly bailed out industries that would find it harder to fundraise now. And they've been given hundreds of millions or billions of pounds. Yeah, it's catastrophic actually for the environment. And so when people say, "oh, you must be pleased, it's reduced carbon emissions!"; it's reduced carbon emissions by - it's either one third or two thirds - of what we need to do each year for the next 10 years. It shows us the scale of what we're not doing and then we just make it loads fucking worse, so it's such a disastrous on every front, I think.
Rena That's a really extreme example what you say there about [people saying], “oh, you must be pretty pleased that there's a global pandemic.” Of course not! But of course, we had like last December, we had the wildfires in Australia and now we've got wildfires in the US. And do you think between those times, a large chunk of that's being the pandemic? Do you think there has been a shift in consciousness or perspective around the climate crisis during lockdown? I'm thinking, for example, that because of lockdown, people did live differently and there was discussions around how we could maybe live differently.
CLARE Well, I don't know if you saw the polling that was being pushed out by Sky yesterday and today, but basically saying that, 65% of the UK public think that Covid is more important that climate change, which is an extremely unhelpful, poorly pitched, set of questions, basically, which obviously is potentially going to give you a result that makes people think, oh, yeah, everyone else doesn't care about climate change, which is just not true, because the polling before Covid was that everyone's fucking seriously concerned about climate change and wants to see more than what they're seeing out of the government. And that's quite clear that that was where we started from, and I don't think that that's gone away, actually.
I guess what I think it's done in some ways is it's brought a lot of people quite close to their own mortality. It's put the whole world in a similar situation where we're all facing a common threat that is quite immediate. Of course, there's like differences between your health service or how likely you are to avoid it or whether you get put on furlough, on lockdown, or whether you're still banged up in a hot factory working away, which, by the way, still happened here in Leicester in some garment factories where they got Covid. But, you know, it did bring a sort of sense of everyone's experiencing something at the same time, which can never happen with wildfires, it can never happen with floods, doesn't happen with extreme weather. It’s in the face of an existential risk, which is here and somewhere else as well, that we could act swiftly on it in order to save lives, no matter the fact the government fucked it up quite badly and could definitely have done a much better job and are probably due a corporate manslaughter case in court. That has shown us that something's possible.
And that "something is possible" is pretty major, right? Like, you don't leave your house, no one travels, the planes are grounded, nobody's going shopping, all the shops are shut. I don't know about you, but I cycled in towards the West End at some point when all the shops were closed, just to see what it was like. And I cycled through Oxford Circus at the same time as the year before, we'd had it closed down in April with our boat. And everyone at that point was going, "you can't close this junction and the shops are losing money!" and blah, blah, blah. And to see all those shops locked and empty and lights off, at the same time, just a year later, because of an existential threat I thought was extremely interesting and in some way should be heartening, shouldn't it, because we can just change shit like that if we decide to! It just proves to you that we’re just literally not deciding to do this; it is a choice. Everything about climate change is just a choice.
RENA Another thing that happened this year, and saw massive mobilisations on the streets was the Black Lives Matter movement. Has the narrative around Black Lives Matter, has that influenced Extinction Rebellion at all? The fact that climate crisis is so much worse in the global south, and there have been migrants who've had to flee their home because of because of climate crisis. So, I'm thinking about that. And then I'm also thinking about and more generally, the Black Lives Matter movement, which was, of course, sparked by the death of George Floyd. Has it affected the Extinction Rebellion movement at all?
CLARE Yeah, I mean, I think it's affected us massively because it's opened quite a transformative impact on broader society, I think. I know that Extinction Rebellion has been widely criticised on matters of race and inclusivity and whether we've done enough to reach enough different communities and speak to enough of a diversity of people in the UK. But building working relationships with various different communities, particularly marginalised communities, when you do have a lot of middle-class people in a movement, which is just true; XR is that, we're not exceptional in the green movement. I don't think that's a stick to beat ourselves with necessarily, but it does mean that, it takes some time to build up trust with working class people, with people of colour.
And it's not to say that they haven't always been there as well, but they've not been necessarily feeling like they're prominent enough, like we've platformed people enough, that we've found enough ways to show the diversity of the movement and then increase the diversity of the movement. That work has been going on in the background ever since we started, we connected with lots and lots of different groups.
But I think building the working trust up reached a really good point, just shortly after lockdown was lifted. I don't if you saw, but we did a reparations rebellion in Brixton with African Reparations movement Stop the Maangamizi. And that was really an amazing opportunity that we arranged together to be able to show, on the ground, in real life solidarity where lots of Extinction Rebellion activists came in support to block roads or to to engage in civil disobedience, alongside these other groups who are campaigning for reparations for African people. And so, it felt really good to have that take place and to go out and to be able to talk about what it actually really means to do acts of solidarity rather than just talking. There's only so much talking you can do and XR has always been a very action-focused movement.
The other thing about the BLM stuff was that obviously lots of groups around the UK attended BLM protests and we all went out without our flags, without our banners, because, you know, it's not our space. But then we had people going, "where are you?" And it's like, well, "we're just on the street, just looking like a normal person who's part of the march! We're not doing anything to make this about us." So that was also something quite difficult to move through, because the critique comes, whether you carry the banner or whether you don't take the banner.
But I know in some parts of the country they've had a huge success with collaborating on the ground, we've offered behind the scenes quite a bit of support on police liaison, and lawyers and legal contacts. In Brighton, they did some collaborative protests, where they made joint banners, so it says BLM and Extinction Rebellion working together. Because it's quite grassroots as well, in some places, there's very explicit connection, and in other places, there's behind the scenes support; and in other places, people are pointing at us, going "you're still not there on the BLM protests", but really loads of us are. So, you know, nothing is simple.
We've got a joint protest coming up with BLM in a couple of weekends time actually in London. So that'll be interesting. Also, like BLM UK and BLM London are different groups, so my understanding of it is that their structure is quite decentralised, and I've just recently met somebody from BLM London on a call, working towards this protest. So it's an ongoing piece of work takes quite a long time, and you've got a build up trust, it's trust-based and you just can't rush that. But yeah, the work's going on.
RENA I've been thinking about it recently because of the migrant crisis as well, which, of course, the Tories kind of ramped up attention on the migrants who have been arriving recently, and it felt like a real attempt to distract us from Coronavirus. But of course, so many of those migrants are climate refugees, basically, and that's bound to get worse as time goes on.
CLARE I think what was interesting after that print works action actually was that whilst the elites were frothing at the mouth over what we've done and how outrageous it was and saying, "it's disgraceful. We shouldn't be out doing protests," they have nothing to say about the people who blockaded the Port of Dover to try and keep migrants out. That's basically a bunch of far right activists taking on civil disobedience against refugees.
They [the press] had no opinion about that, no one said anything about it, but they were very upset about us protesting again! So, you know, it shows. There's only a handful of people who spoke out about that, like Diane Abbott, but otherwise, that protest largely got ignored. I just don't like the idea of people using direct action against the vulnerable and the marginalised and the people that deserve our support.
RENA Exactly. We're talking now just before London Fashion Week and we talked a lot last time about fashion because, of course, that's your background, that's the industry I work in. And during the pandemic, I mean, you mentioned it before, the hierarchy in fashion was revealed in instances like workers not being paid both overseas and here in the U.K., in Leceister. Fashion Week this season is taking place in a reduced format, but there's still a sense that the fashion industry is trying to get back to business as usual before long. I wanted to ask what you think about still making a target of the fashion industry
CLARE What I do know that the fashion team have been working on is two things. One is to produce a video of the letter that they wrote to fashion, which I don't know if you've seen that, but it's a really fantastic piece of work. If you scroll back through their Instagram feed, you'll find it probably quite quickly: "Dear fashion, we hear you".
So they took some of the most extraordinary things that have been said by people in the industry, by people like Caroline Rush, Marc Jacobs, various different designers and all of the kind of outrage and concern and disgust in a way, actually, from some of those people saying, "we make all this shit and there's no one even to buy it. What are we doing? This is a waste. We need to turn this around. We've destroyed the planet and for what?" And so it's quote after quote after quote after quote, lined up and then directed back at the industry to just say this is the kind of shit you guys are saying, and then like, what's changing here? So they going to make that into a video, which I think is going to be really powerful piece content for people to share and share with people in the industry and stuff.
And later this year or maybe early next year, we may see them push it a little bit further into the distance so they've got more time to organise, but they're hoping to set up a Global Assembly, so like a People's Assembly for stakeholders in the industry to sit around together and discuss what can be done. And this is a big challenge because we've got to be determined that it's not another talking shop, we've got to be determined that it's not got the influence of brands over the outcome, which the majority of these things usually have so much involvement from corporate money and sponsors and people who need to be kept happy, who show up, that they can't actually have like a truly, truly radical conversation.
And what I'm excited about is that between us, people got quite good networks through different parts of the industry, so, like, I would like to see a fashion journalist sit down next to a machinist, sit down next to a pattern cutter, sit down next to like someone who works in a warehouse for BooHoo or whatever, to have these different people from these different parts in the industry, and for once, for them all to be in one place together, talk about what the actual problems are and see where that conversation takes them.
Because I'm pretty sure when it's not just like executives and senior designers and posh people on big salaries having clever conversations, I'm pretty sure something very different can take place. I think they'll be called something like Fashion Act now. And it was gonna be in October, but I think, and a little bit later, so maybe early next year. But watch their Instagram for updates on that could be really interesting. And of course, you'd be so welcome to come if you want, Rena.
RENA That would be amazing! That sounds like such a good idea. And I love this idea of, as you say, getting people who are normally nowhere near each other to actually talk and have different perspectives and all the rest of it come together.
CLARE Yeah, it's kind of like, well, we wanted to demand that Fashion Week was cancelled to be replaced with an assembly. And I guess in the spirit of XR, you know, if we don't get our demands met, we just try and meet them ourselves. So it's yeah, it's wildly ambitious, and I think they've got quite a bit of fundraising to do in the run up to it to try and get enough money just to help them use the best kind of digital platform and stuff, because people will be all over the world and bringing people together, but yeah, I think it will be really exciting.
RENA Fashion leaders and people in fashion have been talking all kinds of talk about change and activism and what the world should look like and what needs to change. But it feels like there's a disconnect between that and then what retailers doing and where things might actually go. And to you, when you've seen those things being said, has that felt very surface to you? Or have you ever thought, “oh, maybe this might actually lead somewhere? Maybe these people are serious about changing?”
CLARE I don't think that they've accidentally said such extreme things; when you read that letter, you'll be like, “oh, shit!” It is literally people like Marc Jacobs saying, like, why are we making all this fucking shit, it’s pointless? So, I do think that people are in that place where they've woken up and they've realised that it is, you know, is a pointless waste of resources. And there's really no reason to, like, destroy civilised life to make clothes, right? So, I think they've woken up, but I think what they haven't got is like any guts yet. So, I just don't feel like things are moving because I don't think people dare to have the conversations about what actually needs to give; and what needs to give is that we need an entirely new economy and a totally new paradigm. But the more that people are ready for something like huge change, the better. So I do find it quite heartening because they sound outraged, they don't sound interested in sustainability. I mean, maybe they are going to go, oh, and let's just do a bit of sustainability. And then I'll be extremely disappointed.
But the way they've been talking during Covid is quite interesting, and it gives you something to, like, hold a mirror up to them and say, you just said this. So now what are you going to do about it, you know? So, yeah, I think we're in we're in interesting times, but as many people as we can get to, like, continue to draw attention to the fact that stuff needs to change and everybody's actually been made really much poorer and much less happy by the way that the system is set up, the more people who are sort of screaming from the rooftops and causing as much trouble as possible, the better, really.
There needs to be plenty more disruption and still there needs to be plenty more lifting up of those voices that we don't normally hear, and I think this is, again, where the Black Lives Matter, the re-emergence of that and the empowerment of people feel through that and the bolstering of people's ability to talk about things like refugee crisis, to talk about how just abjectly racist our industry is, to talk about the fact that it's built on colonialism and slavery and all of this toxicity, which is what we grew the current system out of all of that gross violence; the opportunity that's in front of us where people are quite sort of awake to that, to see that as an opportunity for us to have like, really, really rapid, transformative conversations and actions that people are going to not be able to sort of retract back into, "we do a bit of diversity work here; we do a bit of sustainability work over here." I think there's a space that's opened up where particularly young people who've got roles in industry can hold people really to account and say, "no, your diversity and inclusion policy shit; the way that you treat these people is shit; the salary differentiation is fucking shit. And, by the way, you're like destroying the planet, and what are we going to do about that?" I think I think it's really interesting times, basically.
If you’ve been inspired by this episode, find your local branch of Extinction Rebellion, from Algeria to Zambia, on their website at Rebellion.Global. Find out more or donate to Extinction Rebellion’s Fashion Action Group at fashionactnow.org, and follow them on social media - search Fashion Act Now.