Meet the rebellion - battling extinction on the Jurassic Coast

PUBLISHED: 12:25 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:40 09 August 2019

Members of Extinction Rebellion Seaton (l-r) Joe FitzGerald (front), Helena Whitten, Angela Willes and Caroline Spencer.

Members of Extinction Rebellion Seaton (l-r) Joe FitzGerald (front), Helena Whitten, Angela Willes and Caroline Spencer.

Archant

We are in the midst of a climate emergency. The Government has declared it, the county council has declared it, the district councils have declared it. Are we also in the midst of a revolution?

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) socio-political movement has gathered momentum in the nine months since it first emerged, with thousands joining grassroots movements and high-profile protests in the major cities.

But if the authorities have already declared a climate emergency, why do we need a rebellion? Surely things are in hand?

Joe FitzGerald, from Beer, runs an organic smallholding and is a member of the newly-formed Extinction Rebellion Seaton.

He said he has never before come across an emergency 'which is not being treated like an emergency'.

"If your house is burning down you don't say 'theoretically I can go in there in 10 minutes and the kids will be okay'. You go in there immediately," said the 43-year-old.

"If this is our only planet, if this is an emergency, we need to start to tackle it. Crises only get worse."

The aim of XR is to force change at the top. These are conscientious people, many of whom have already made small changes in their lives to promote sustainability.

Now it is time for the authorities to act.

Caroline Spencer, 41, from Colyford, is a forest school teacher, and said: "That grassroots action - which is fantastic - I don't think is being supported by government and multinationals. At the end of the day you need that grassroots action but you also need leadership from above to guide us to meet these huge challenges that we've got, and time is running out."

Last month a former Met Police counter-terror boss claimed XR is rooted in the 'political extremism of anarchism'.

Is this fair? Certainly there are anarchist elements in the mix, as there are in many movements, but to apply the label to XR would be to fail to acknowledge its stated aims.

As well as calling on the Government to tell the truth, and to act upon the climate and ecological emergency, XR demands it create, and be led by, a citizens' assembly.

A citizens' assembly is akin to a jury - members of the general public representing a cross section of the public, brought together to deliberate on issues put before them.

It is hardly anarchy, in fact it is a system the UK Government has already used in its approach to social care.

The difference is the XR demands citizens' assemblies wield real power when it comes to major policy decisions.

Angela Willes, a 66-year-old former town planner and arts festival director from Seaton, said the 'huge task of the campaign' is to help bring 'a radical change to the way politics and society works'.

A summer's scene at Salcombe Hill, overlooking Sidmouth on the Jurassic Coast. Picture: Alex Walton PhotographyA summer's scene at Salcombe Hill, overlooking Sidmouth on the Jurassic Coast. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

At present campaigners have to persuade governments to make the right laws, but she said that 'may be where we see a fundamental change in the near future'.

"I don't know how but it could be one of the huge shake-ups that happen because of demands from people, from citizens," she said.

Members of the group will join the disruptive protests in Westminster in the autumn but they are keen to stress that no such protests will be held in East Devon. Their work in the district is all about supporting the community, helping people to live in a sustainable way, and encouraging them to lobby the authorities for action.

They are working with local authorities, calling for positive action to force practical changes - eg improve public transport, force developers to build sustainable houses.

Photographer Helena Whitten, 48, from Beer, is taking the lead in reaching out to town councils, from which she said she has had some very positive responses.

"Reaching out to town councils is really important because the Government is not listening yet and at least we can prepare for this work from the ground up," she said.

"All the ones that are passing declarations are setting up working groups to start discussing what they can do and getting some big plans in place for what they can start doing now, while we're waiting for government to fall in behind."

On August 14 Extinction Rebellion Seaton is hosting a free illustrated talk by James Chubb, East Devon District Council's countryside team leader, on the impact of climate change on East Devon wildlife. The talk is at 7pm, at Number One, Harpeth Road, Seaton. Register by clicking here or the remaining spaces will be available on the door. Contact xr-seaton@protonmail.com for more information.

A summer's scene at Salcombe Hill, overlooking Sidmouth on the Jurassic Coast. Picture: Alex Walton PhotographyA summer's scene at Salcombe Hill, overlooking Sidmouth on the Jurassic Coast. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

Members of Extinction Rebellion Seaton (l-r) Joe FitzGerald (front), Helena Whitten, Angela Willes and Caroline Spencer.Members of Extinction Rebellion Seaton (l-r) Joe FitzGerald (front), Helena Whitten, Angela Willes and Caroline Spencer.

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