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UK Parliament Declares a Climate Emergency

British journalist George Monbiot discusses the need for rebellion to prevent ecological apocalypse.

On Wednesday, the House of Commons became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. The resolution came on the heels of the recent Extinction Rebellion mass uprising that shut down Central London last month in a series of direct actions. Activists closed bridges, occupied public landmarks and even superglued themselves to buildings, sidewalks and trains to demand urgent action to combat climate change. Police arrested more than 1,000 protesters. Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn told Parliament, “We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of climate activism, with groups like Extinction Rebellion forcing the politicians in this building to listen. For all the dismissive and defensive column inches the processes have provoked, they are a massive and, I believe, very necessary wake-up call. Today we have the opportunity to say, ‘We hear you.’” We speak with George Monbiot, British journalist, author and columnist with The Guardian. His recent piece for The Guardian is headlined “Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse.” Monbiot says capitalism “is like a gun pointed at the heart of the planet. It will essentially, necessarily destroy our life-support systems. Among those characteristics is the drive for perpetual economic growth on a finite planet.”


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the United Kingdom. On Wednesday, the House of Commons became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. This is Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

JEREMY CORBYN: We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now. This is no longer about a distant future. We’re talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes of members of this house.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Wednesday’s resolution is largely symbolic and has no direct consequences for policy. But it comes on the heels of the recent Extinction Rebellion mass uprising that shut down Central London last month in a series of direct actions. Activists closed bridges, occupied public landmarks and even superglued themselves to buildings, sidewalks and trains to demand urgent action to combat climate change. Police arrested more than a thousand protesters.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Guardian columnist and author George Monbiot. His most recent book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. His recent piece for The Guardian headlined “Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse.”

George, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this vote.

GEORGE MONBIOT: It is highly significant, because it provides leverage for people like myself, for people like Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikers, to actually say, “Well, now you MPs, you members of Parliament, have declared a climate emergency; you have to act on it.” And, of course, it’s not clear that they’ve completely thought through the implications of this. I mean, on the same day, yesterday, that this climate emergency was declared, there was a legal ruling saying a third runway at Heathrow Airport can go ahead. Well, look, this is an emergency. And that means we need to start retiring fossil fuel-based infrastructure rather than building more of it. So, what we can now do is to say to members of Parliament, “You’ve agreed to this. Now you’ve got to follow through. You’ve actually got to work this through, see what the implications are, and respond accordingly.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, can you talk about, George Monbiot, what kinds of effects you think this — I mean, obviously, it’s not binding and has no effect on policy, but Jeremy Corbyn and Parliament’s decision to declare a climate catastrophe could, with the combination of activist pressure, lead to some kind of change. You have cited Jeremy Lent and his idea of an ecological civilization. What would that take?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. So, this is one of several very important ideas which are coming forward at the moment for really looking at how we can replace our whole political economy with a new system, because it’s very clear now: Capitalism is broken. It is like a gun pointed at the heart of the planet. And it’s got these characteristics which mean that it will essentially, necessarily destroy our life support systems. Among those characteristics are the drive for perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. You just can’t support that ecologically. Things fall apart. It also says, well, anyone has got a right to buy as much natural wealth as their money allows, which means that people are just grabbing far more natural wealth than either the population as a whole or the planet itself can support. And so we need to start looking at a completely new basis for running our economies. And one of the many excellent ideas out there is Jeremy Lent’s proposal for an ecological civilization, put forward in his excellent book, The Patterning Instinct.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Extinction Rebellion, George Monbiot, more than a thousand people arrested in a two-week period. That’s just wrapped up in London and other places, people supergluing themselves to Shell’s headquarters, for example, there. You had the climate negotiator, one of the people who helped craft the Paris climate agreement of 2015, well-respected attorney; she herself said then, “We make laws, now we break laws,” supergluing herself and being arrested.

GEORGE MONBIOT: It’s an extraordinary thing that has happened. Extinction Rebellion is an extremely well-organized group. They’ve got some great strategies for bringing these existential issues right front and center of the public mind, which is where they belong. And they’ve done so through some very clever and cheeky and disruptive actions, but have managed to swing a huge amount of public support towards them. Sometimes civil disobedience alienates more people than it attracts. But in this case, there has been a very significant move towards a public awareness of climate breakdown and a public desire to do something about it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to the British journalist, columnist, author George Monbiot. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Shout to the Top” by The Style Council. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who joined Extinction Rebellion protesters last month in London.

GRETA THUNBERG: We are now facing an existential crisis, the climate crisis and ecological crisis, which have never been treated as crisis before. They have been ignored for decades. And for way too long, the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and the ecological crisis. But we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, still with us, George Monbiot, British journalist and author. He’s a columnist with The Guardian. So, George Monbiot, can you respond? Tell us the significance of these school strikes that Greta launched, their possible influence on the British Parliament’s vote, and also what you’ve said about the media coverage of climate change and how that’s affected public perceptions of this crisis?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah. Well, the school strikes, alongside Extinction Rebellion, have changed everything in this country and, indeed, in many other parts of the world. They have suddenly galvanized public opinion and public action, and they have forced the media to cover this issue, which it has been massively neglected for many years. I mean, for 30-odd years I’ve been banging my head against a wall, saying, “Look, these are the issues that count. Climate breakdown, environmental breakdown are far more important than the economy.” The economy, like everything else, cannot survive without our life support systems. And yet, if they’re covered at all, they’re relegated to a tiny footnote.

There was a recent survey done by Deloitte of the major broadcasters in the U.K., and they found that the word “pizza” was mentioned 10 times as often as “climate change” last year, and “chocolate” was mentioned 30 times as often, which gives you some idea of our priorities in this country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you wrote an article, George, in December, about how U.S. billionaires are fueling extreme right-wing causes in the U.K. Do those causes include climate change? And what is the nature of this influence?

GEORGE MONBIOT: So, we have now this shift of the Koch brothers and others operating not just in the U.S., but elsewhere. They have been funding in this country a magazine called Spiked, which has a long record of dismissing the environmental crisis, dismissing the climate crisis, attacking campaigners, including Greta Thunberg, with this vicious, horrible attack, basically attacking her for being autistic, for having Asperger’s, and in the most disgusting way. And it doesn’t make sense, until you realize, “Oh, yes, they’re funded by the Koch brothers.”

And, you know, for a long time, obviously, billionaires have been controlling the media in one way or another. In most cases, you have to be a billionaire to own a newspaper or television station. And what billionaires want is the opposite to what most of the world needs. But now we see them infiltrating organizations they don’t necessarily own, but funding them and ensuring that their agenda is followed.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, actually, people should go to Greta’s conversation that we had with her in Poland at the U.N. climate summit, where she talks about Asperger’s, having it, and how it makes her single-focused and seeing things in black and white. Really interesting. People should go to

But in this last minute we have, if you can talk about the broader effects of the parliamentary announcement, what it means around the world? I mean, you have the situation, for example, where the effects of climate change are already being felt, particularly in the Global South. Indonesia has announced it plans to relocate its capital away from Jakarta, home to 10 million people, as the city is threatened by one-two punch of subsiding land and rising seas due to climate change. In this last minute, talk about that and what this means for the world.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. Well, for so long, the rich world has benefited from the burning of fossil fuels while the poor world is having to pay the price. And we’re now seeing this come home to roost. So, all rich nations need to declare a climate emergency and then act on that by leaving fossil fuels in the ground, by retiring fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure and by completely changing the basis of their economies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, George Monbiot, British journalist and author, columnist with The Guardian, most recent book Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. We’ll link to your piecein The Guardian, “Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse.” He was speaking to us from Reading, England.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! has an immediate opening for our paid, full-time digital fellowship here in New York City. You can go to We’re also accepting applications for paid, 6-month internships. Check it all out at our website.

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