So Meryl, tell us about you and Extinction Rebellion North East (XRNE).
I am Meryl Batchelder, I am forty-nine years old and I am a teacher with a PhD in environmental science. I have been concerned about the environment for over thirty years. I always thought that the government would act before the situation got too serious, but the release of the IPCC report last autumn made me realise we have reached a serious tipping point and we are looking into an abyss. I have two children they are 13 and 15 and I am exceptionally concerned for their future after reading articles about climate change.
There was some action by Extinction Rebellion last November in London, then we’ve had the International Rebellion over the last fortnight. Most of the events were down in London as this is the capital city and will cause the most disruption. The rebels not all hippies; there are doctors, academics, students and teachers ... they are from all walks of life, old, young, children, pensioners. Every social, economic, and ethnic group is represented by Extinction Rebellion. The police just did not know what to do with the rebels. We’re non-aggressive and very passive. We want everyone to be talking about climate breakdown. Our demands are that government should declare a ‘Climate Emergency’, they should tell the truth and act on climate change and finally, they should set up a citizens’ assembly.
In the second week of the International Rebellion we had some regional events which is where the die-in at Grey’s Monument came in, It demonstrated the ways people might die; droughts, famine, water wars, cholera, there are so many ways in which climate change will affect people around the world.
There was a lot of criticism of the protests in Newcastle, particularly on Twitter. How do you feel about the things that were said?
The Chronicle covered the slow bike ride that caused all sorts of issues for traffic. There were thousands of comments complaining about it on social media.
Unfortunately for anyone living in a city, air pollution is criminally high; we need to get cars off of the road. Extinction Rebellion are rocking the boat and by rocking the boat we will make some ripples. Some people still don’t believe in climate change but there are hundreds of scientific papers that say it’s real and that it’s man-made.
The reality is we can’t afford to keep driving as many cars as we drive. Do I feel sorry for people stuck in a traffic jam because there’s a slow bike ride? Absolutely, because I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a traffic jam breathing polluted air either. But I want the government to act. One way they could act is to make public transport free which would start reducing both air pollution and the amount of fossil fuels we are burning.
You said in a tweet that XRNE was initially “twelve people at the back of a pub”. Does it give you hope to see how the movement has grown?
It gives me hope that people are starting to talk. Do I hold out much hope for the future? I really struggle with that. Who is going to stop the oil companies pumping oil? Who’s got the power to do that? It’s all about money. I had cancer about three years ago and faced with my own mortality. I know that when we leave we go out with nothing, so what’s the point in ruining lives for billions of people to gain more money than can possibly be spent in a lifetime? Do I feel hope? No not really, I feel optimistic that things might change but I think it’s too little too late. But does that mean we shouldn’t try and change the status quo – absolutely not.
How do you think young people should be fighting climate change?
It’s about education. Students can set up Climate Action groups in university. Speak to anyone who know about climate breakdown and ecological collapse. People will be more than willing to pour their hearts out about the actions that can help mitigate the problems. If I was at Newcastle University I would try to get the word out that things need to change and once you’ve got a group together you can start putting pressure on corporations and the government.
Young people can also makes changes to the way they live. From eating less meat to buying less clothing – individuals can make a big difference.
Finally, vote with your feet. I don’t want to tell you which way to vote, but if you look at the manifesto for the Green Party or Labour, they are far more green and aware about what needs to be done than the government, who have been in power for ten years and could have done anything to reduce and mitigate some of the effects that we’re going to see in your lifetimes.
At Newcastle University some students have been trying to convince the university to divest in fossil fuels. How should students go about getting the university to listen?
I believe NU is one of the first universities in the world to declare a climate emergency. So if they are going to say that, you need get your group together and send a delegation to them and ask: When are you going to divest in fossil fuels? What are you doing to make the buildings more sustainable in terms of energy, water and waste? Students have got the cards in their hands because the university has declared the emergency and should be working on a plan of action that results in the University being carbon neutral by 2030 if possible. Discuss the plan with University staff and offer to work together to achieve the goals.