Extinction Rebellion activist: ‘This is humanity’s last shot. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to do something – I can’t leave this to my kids’

With scientists issuing daily warnings of the environmental damage caused by mankind, the climate change crisis has become the issue of our times. Here, Sarah Greenfield Clark, a 36-year-old mother of two, reveals why she became a full-time campaigner for the movement Extinction Rebellion

Interview by Marisa Bate

I used to be just an ordinary twentysomething. I’d go out for drinks with the girls and on shopping trips at the weekend, but, today, the thought of getting on a plane to jet off on holiday, when I know how much my carbon footprint is robbing from future generations, makes me feel physically ill.

In 2016, my husband Will and I watched a documentary called Before The Flood [about the consequences of man-made global warming] and it suddenly hit us. We just couldn’t unsee what we’d seen and, from the very next day, I needed to know everything about this issue. At the time, I was doing admin jobs as well as running my own gardening business so I was able to work around the kids, but I made a decision to go back to university and study for an MA in sustainability.

I wanted to be a sustainable consultant for corporations, but just before I graduated in 2018, I realised the crisis is too urgent. Around the same time, Extinction Rebellion (XR) emerged and, last year, after reading on Facebook about its Declaration of Rebellion rally in London on 31 October, I went along. I’d never even been on a march before, but everything was done calmly with compassion, and there was clear communication.

XR laid out its demands for the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and halt biodiversity loss, all to be led by a Citizen’s Assembly on climate issues. I loved the event because I was among a diverse group of people who cared. Taking part in civil disobedience felt like the natural step to alert the government that ‘I’m going to do something bold to get your attention’.

Then, in November 2018, XR planned to shut five bridges in London for a day. A suggestion was made that one of the bridges become family friendly, so that children could play with each other and any of the more arrestable actions would take place on the others.

I thought if I’m going to commit my life to this cause, my boys, who were seven and nine, must come along for the ride. It happened so easily and fluidly. We walked around near Blackfriars Bridge and then, at a chosen time, everyone moved on to the bridge. People began to sit on the road, share food and play music.

I’ve never had any negative thoughts about involving my children – in fact, I was excited about showing them that if you care about something, you should stand up for your convictions.

After the bridge protest, XR saw a massive surge in members, and it was desperate for volunteers. I really wanted to help out full-time, so I talked it over with my husband and quit my gardening business to work on crowdfunding.

It’s an unpaid role that involves me speaking to high net worth individuals to ask them to donate to our cause. We need money to help form other groups across the world, for the stages and sanitation at rallies and for arts and crafts, which are a big part of it. We also require funds for legal costs for those who get arrested. Although XR is a strictly non-violent movement, there are many volunteers willing to break the law. We call them ‘the arrestables’, and they receive training and legal advice.

When you look back throughout the course of history, it’s only these types of movements that have brought about fundamental change. If you can get just three to five per cent of the population engaged in a matter and are willing to stop what they’re doing, that’s enough to bring about change.

It should be a crime to pollute our lands; it shouldn’t be a crime to stand up and say that’s wrong.

This is humanity’s last shot. In fact, there’s a group of scientists who believe we are already passed the tipping point where we can’t actually claw back and slow the process of climate destruction. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to do something. Maybe, if I didn’t have kids, I might have thrown in the towel but, because of my children, I can’t leave this to them.

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