I joined XR back in January 2019 and since then I’ve taken part in numerous XR actions, locally and nationally, and been arrested.
But during the pandemic, an increasing sense of futility has kicked in. What difference do these actions really make? On a bad day, they can seem, as Roger Scranton has put it, ‘little more than an orgy of democratic emotion, an activist-themed street fair, a real-world analogue to Twitter hashtag campaigns: something that gives you a nice feeling, says you belong to a certain group, and is completely divorced from actual legislation and governance.’
So what can I do, non-violently, to make an impact on governance?
I can withhold my income tax. That’s to say, I can refuse to pay the estimated 3 percent of tax which goes to funding fossil fuels; the percentage which contributes directly to the UK’s carbon emissions.
If citizens don’t give politicians the money to pay for HS2, they can’t commission it. Ditto road expansion. Ditto aviation bailouts. Why should I pay for a new coal mine in Cumbria, and the destruction of an ancient woodland? Why would I allow my money to be spent in ways which will ruin the lives of my grandchildren, and ultimately cause millions of deaths?
3% of my tax may be peanuts to the Chancellor, but in withholding it I am taking a non-violent direct action which challenges a government whose duty is to protect, not endanger, its citizens.
Money, even in tiny amounts, talks. If money – money from a growing number of tax rebels – refuses to go where the government is trying to put it, then together we can make a difference.
That’s why I’m appealing to other self-employed writers to join me in this tax resistance. It’s simple for us to withhold tax; much simpler than for those on PAYE. The Earth Tax Strike group has written a template letter for HMRC which explains our decision, backed up with links to compelling scientific evidence of the climate emergency. We also provide the costings which have led us to conclude that a minimum of 3% of our income tax is spent on planet-destroying projects. The letter makes it clear we’re not tax-dodgers, unlike those Honourable Members who stash their income in off-shore tax havens. We’ll pay our due tax into a holding account, and release it in full when our demands are met. These are:
- Act Now to stop financing and enabling destruction:
- stop subsidising and funding fossil fuels and allowing new fossil fuels to be extracted
- Cancel HS2 and the road building programme,
- no more bailouts of destructive industries
- Tell the truth: our political economy distorts priorities and rewards harmful behaviour. It is hard-wired to create crises and destroy life. We must set differences aside and confront why we have failed to act. We must repair the damage done and prepare for the crises to come.
- Champion Citizens’ Assemblies at all key levels, including global, with mandates to design a regenerative political economy in service to all people and life on earth.
Writers Rebel has already played an impressive role in spreading XR’s message and creating heart-breaking awareness of what the climate emergency means to each of us as individuals. The Earth Tax Strike is another way in which we writers can amplify XR’s demands. And the more readers we have, the more influence we have. In an era of rapidly-changing hearts and minds, we’re in a strong position to encourage other taxpayers to take action alongside us.
Withholding tax is a single, small step we can all take. And in doing so, we’re following the advice of that great practitioner of non-violent resistance, Ghandi: ‘Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless or corrupt.’
Jane Rogers FRSL, writes novels, stories, and radio drama. She is increasingly drawn to future fiction, and The Testament of Jessie Lamb won the Arthur C Clarke Award, and was Man-Booker longlisted. She’s currently trying – and failing – to write about the climate emergency. She is Professor Emerita of Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.