COLLECTIVE ACTION OR COLLECTIVE SUICIDE
One of the many alarming aspects of this latest heatwave is that you can link it to the climate emergency without anyone trying to make you feel crazy. For the long-time eco-anxious amongst us, this is more than a little disconcerting. Having been treated like lunatics for decades, suddenly it’s just good science. I’m suddenly noticing that there was something secretly comforting about other people’s climate denial. In terms of getting things moving, it was a total fucking disaster, but at least it spoke to the little part of the rest of us that hoped we’d got it all wrong.
These days the climate crisis is so apparent even Tory leadership hopefuls acknowledge that it’s a thing. Apparently we’re all onto it, left, right and centre. Anthropogenic climate change is real, and coming to a weather system near you soon… or actually, today. António Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN, tells us we have to choose between ‘collective action and collective suicide’. The targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement (aiming to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees) are on course to fail by the end of the decade and, even at 1.5 degrees, life on Earth starts to look pretty sketchy.
Just to recap, things are bad, and the only hope of that situation remotely changing is if we stop investing in fossil fuels immediately. So how can it be that banks like J.P. Morgan continue to pour billions of dollars into the fuel industry completely unchecked, while peaceful protesters who try to have a word with them about it face nights in police cells, court cases, prison sentences and loss of assets?
IN CASE OF MEDICAL CLIMATE EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS
Last Sunday (the day before the really killer heat was due to kick in) six doctors and health workers gathered at the offices of J.P. Morgan in Canary Wharf. J.P. Morgan, which counts Chase bank and Nutmeg as subsidiaries, has been, and continues to be, the world’s leading investor in fossil fuels since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Some of the health professionals in attendance on Sunday had been there before as part of Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, who had organised a ‘die in’ outside the building during XR’s September 2021 Rebellion. In spite of being forcibly removed by police, they had at least first managed to secure a promise that they would be put in touch with the CEO so they could talk to him nicely about his role in the likely collapse of life as we know it.
Almost a year later, in spite of many attempts by the doctors and other health professionals ( in spite of the name, Doctors for XR welcomes all health professionals, not just doctors) to get in touch, this promise is showing no sign whatsoever of being kept, so they went back to see what was happening. They put up catchy signs on the front windows of the building which stated, ‘IN CASE OF MEDICAL CLIMATE EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS’ and then, with great concern for bystanders, shattered the bullet-proof safety glass in such a way that no one even got scratched. In the words of Maggie Fay, a dementia specialist nurse who took part in the action, “My code of conduct states that I must, “Act without delay if [I] believe that there is a risk to patient safety or public protection.” That danger is here and it is now.” Quite. And for this, she and her fellow campaigners spent the night in police custody and are now facing serious charges.
Another of the activists was mental health nurse Ali Rowe. In her words: “Medical activism is rooted in creating challenges and facing difficult truths when the very institutions that are there to serve us fail to do so.” Also in her words, this latest action, was “an act of deep love”. (Thank you, Ali! We love you too!)
The weirdest thing about this new phase of climate freakout is that everyone totally gets it. Even the rampantly non-alternative, definitely-not-vegetarian people get it. But that doesn’t seem to change anything at all. I LOVE Doctors for XR, but I also loved Swampy, and indeed anyone who’s been doing anything to reverse species loss, increase biodiversity, slow global warming and the rest. I can’t quite get my head around the idea that the science of climate change has only recently become ‘real science’, whereas before it was apparently just a quaint science-esque intuition followed by people who wore funny clothes. But it’s not helpful to be bitter. Yes, it’s quite correct to suddenly be worried about ecology in a way that it wasn’t quite correct when there was actually enough time to do something about it.
The great thing about being out of time, I’m guessing, is that it absolves you of the need to do very much. Why not keep letting banks pump money into oil? Enough tipping points have already been crossed. The best the next generations can hope for is climate-proof housing — and that’s if they’re rich. Everybody else is toast.
At least when the ‘sensible people’ didn’t believe in the climate emergency it explained the fact that so little was being done. But now the doctors are taking to the streets, the Tories are spitting eco-soundbites, no one’s happy about the sunshine, and it’s still somehow more important to protect the biggest funder of the fossil fuel industry from a few safety-conscious health workers than to protect the entire planet from ecological and societal meltdown. I think I almost preferred it when people used to tell me I was mad. On some level, it made more sense.
CALL TO ACTION:
The climate crisis is a health crisis. If you are a healthcare worker wishing to take action to raise the alarm about the climate and ecological emergency for the sake of your current and future patients, Doctors for Extinction Rebellion welcomes you. Climate change and its impacts are harming and killing thousands here and now, from almost 10,000 excess deaths a year in London from air pollution, to the harm from dehydration in the elderly, and the increased risk of stroke and heart failure during heatwaves, to the rise in mental health problems among people who are petrified about what the future will bring if we don’t mitigate against climate change now.
Health professionals break glass at the J.P. Morgan building on Canary Wharf during a heatwave that will break temperature records and cause wildfires that firefighters will later describe as ‘a day from hell’. All six health professionals were arrested and later released pending investigation.