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Podcast episode five: Roger Hallam

We speak to one of the brains behind Extinction Rebellion about civil disobedience, making a noise about the climate crisis, and why being a rebel is the best way to create change

FlightFree UK
05 Jun 4 min read

This is a rough transcript for the podcast interview we recorded with Roger, which you can listen to here. For the eagle-eared among you, you might notice that Anna sounds as though she's in a different room. She is. Any podcast supremos out there who want to help with future episodes, please get in touch.

Anna:

Nice to meet you, Roger.

So tell us, why is Extinction Rebellion necessary? Why should we care about climate change and why is this the way to do it?

Roger:

Extinction Rebellion is about causing trouble. For 30 years people have been trying to be reasonable and say, look there’s a major crisis, and it’s getting worse by the year, and now the penny’s dropped with 100s of 1000s of people round the world that nothing’s going to happen unless people go and break the law.

It’s happened in the past with the civil rights movement and the Suffragettes, and it’s going to happen again because the situation now is beyond bad.

Anna:

You’ve done a great job of getting this issue into the news with road blocks and headline-grabbing actions in April. What’s going to happen next?

Roger:

What happened in April was a major step forward and we’re on the foothills of getting substantial change. We’re going to be doing it again in October so everyone can come down to London and participate – we want thousands of people!

Anna:

So what about the legacy? I know you met with Michael Gove and the government is taking steps like banning plastic straws, which is important of course, but that’s the least that should be happening. How can we get the government to step up?

Roger:

The fact of the matter is, it’s all a numbers game. The more people on the street, the more people who break the law, the more people that get arrested, the more people who go to prison, the more likely it is that you’re going to create real change. That’s not to pass judgment on doing any of those other things like banning plastic straws, it’s just a social scientific observation. The more people that do stuff, the more likely that things will change.

Usually it’s quite binary: nothing changes for ages, then you get to a tipping point and everything shifts. So the main thing that Extinction Rebellion is doing is creating public drama through people getting arrested and breaking the law, that attracts headlines and brings people in. As opposed to doing an A-B march, which is a bit like ‘been there, done that’. This method creates its own mobilisation.

Anna:

Marches have their place – I went on the Mothers Rise Up march, and it was so positive and powerful, and when people take to the streets it shows there is a public awareness and concern, but as you say, it’s very easy to ignore if you’re in government. When it comes to civil disobedience and shutting stuff down it’s much harder to ignore. Is that the aim?

Roger:

Yeah, there’s two things: disruption and sacrifice. Disruption is when people are pissed off because they can’t get to work in the morning. That forces people to think about things. A lot of people think that puts people off, and it does put some people off, but it also turns lots of people on. It makes them think about something seriously.

The sacrifice element is that people are getting arrested, and others say, hang on a minute, these people are walking their talk. That’s where your Flight Free campaign comes in. When people are actually doing things, rather than talking about them or doing something symbolic, people are going to say, maybe I don’t agree with them but if they are going to these lengths, this must be important, and then people take notice.

Anna:

Thank you for signing the flight free pledge. This is just one campaign asking people to change their behaviour. Do you think that’s what it’s going to take? Lots of people changing their behaviour?

Roger:

Yes. Lots of people get twitchy, saying something’s better than something else, and it’s just really boring, because basically we need to be doing everything. We need an ecology of social change. We need some people taking personal action, some people sitting down in the road, some people lobbying government, and we need to cooperate with each other, and integrate and synergise. We shouldn’t be saying one thing’s more important than the other.

Anna:

It’s great to hear you say it’s not just one thing. It’s about doing everything and we need to be working together rather than squabbling about what’s the most important thing because it’s all really important.

Roger:

I think it’s a kind of balance. There’s no two ways about it, individual change is really important. If you want to be a vaguely moral person in this society, then flying is a no-no. As is eating meat. It’s just a physical fact that it’s beyond bad. That doesn’t mean never fly ever, or never eat a bit of meat, that’s not the issue. It means 95% not doing this stuff.

But the fact of the matter is that things won’t change unless there’s social change in terms of legislation. And this is where the penny’s dropping with Extinction Rebellion – you have to influence the state and go into non violent struggle against the regime that is facilitating the destruction of the next generation. And the next thing is really tricky, because that involves breaking the law. Again, there’s no two ways about this. We’re not going to change things unless people cause trouble in a non-violent respectful way. But you have to cause trouble. This is beyond serious and it’s time for people to step up.

Anna:

The government needs to make it easier for people to make these choices, so power to you that you’re putting people in a position where people are taking notice and forcing the government into action.

Thanks for all you’re doing with Extinction Rebellion. It’s great to see this issue out there and it’s great to meet you. Do you have any concluding thoughts?

Roger:

Come and sit down in the road in October – you’ll love it!

Anna and Roger's full conversation can be found here.

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