Climate change protestors will stage a ‘mass funeral’ on Gold Hill on Saturday. Natalie Carr from Shaftesbury’s Extinction Rebellion group told Alfred’s Keri Jones what her group is planning and why.
Extinction Rebellion has been in the headlines recently. Their most high-profile British event so far has been the blockade of key routes and bridges in London in April. Shaftesbury residents travelled to the capital to join that 10-day protest, organised to highlight the escalating climate emergency.
“Extinction rebellion is an international movement of groups of people in different communities who are coming together through non-violent civil disobedience to draw attention to the mass extinction period that we’re currently going through,” Natalie explained. “Scientists are calling it ‘the sixth mass extinction’, which beforehand has only happened because of events like asteroids. This time it’s definitely humans’ fault.”
Our local branch of Extinction Rebellion, or XR Shaftesbury, works with the newly established environmental group Planet Shaftesbury. Both bodies share some common goals, but they remain different organisations. “Lots of members of Planet Shaftesbury are also members of Extinction Rebellion, but we are a separate group,” confirmed Natalie, who added that the local group tailors their approach to reflect our locality
“We do discuss a lot what is appropriate to Shaftesbury because it’s a very different place from London, where there was a lot of civil disobedience in April. We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re just here to draw attention to the cause in the best way that we think we can,” said Natalie.
Shaftesbury is considered by many residents to be an arty and creative town, so it’s little wonder that features prominently in our local XR group’s message. “Lots of people work very hard making brightly coloured flags that draw attention to the cause, which is probably quite a large part of its success. If you’re taking it to the streets, then people are going to notice that you are there. They will question why, and I think that’s a very effective way of getting the facts out there,” said Natalie.
On Saturday 6th July, Natalie’s colleagues want to highlight how global temperature change will cause extinction. She told me about last year’s IPCC report, an assessment of global warming. It stated that a 2°C temperature increase would exacerbate extreme weather, cause sea levels to rise, diminish Arctic sea ice, result in coral bleaching and a loss of ecosystems. Natalie says that our ecosystem is set to collapse and is already beginning to do so.
That’s a grim message and that’s why part of Saturday’s event will be sombre in tone. “We are planning a funeral for extinct species, followed by a ‘die-in’ on Gold Hill. That’s essentially a mock funeral,” said Natalie. “We will lie down for three minutes. We’re hoping that it’s going to be a good event to bring to Fringe. It’s quite theatrical. We’re taking a lot of cues from other Extinction Rebellion groups. Frome did one very recently and it had an Edwardian theme. Everyone’s going to be designing their own things to wear. We’re hoping it’s going to be quite visual and exciting.”
On face value, the event appears bleak, but Natalie says things will become brighter when the protestors finish playing dead and rise to their feet to sing. “Obviously, it’s drawing attention to the fact that we’re losing so many species because of the climate emergency that we’re in. After the ‘die-in’ we’re going to have a celebration of the things that we have achieved in halting the progress of the climate emergency. We’re going to be having a singalong. It will definitely end on a positive note, even if parts are a little gloomy.”
One of the recent achievements that the group will celebrate is Dorset Council’s declaration of a climate emergency. Saturday’s event will start at 12.30pm in Swan’s Yard, when the traditional jazz music of a New Orleans-style funeral band fills the town’s streets and leads the procession up the High Street to Gold Hill. Shaftesbury resident Robin Walter has written a protest song that will launch the singing on Gold Hill after the ‘die-in’.
Natalie says we should expect some colour. “We have an optional dress code of sorts, of blacks, purples and reds. We’ve also said if people want, they can bring flowers. They are always appreciated. If anyone wants to get creative and make a banner, that would be amazing. People can get creative and express themselves however they’d like to.”
Natalie says the group intends to remember some of the species eradicated because of climate change. “One of our members, Phyllis, has been making banners to mark facts about species that have been lost,” she said.
The group hopes to match their impressive Critical Mass turnout, when 100 people walked or cycled around Shaftesbury in April. “I don’t think anyone expected that,” said Natalie. “Something around or above that figure would be great.”
Saturday’s event is being arranged by the Shaftesbury XR group, but Natalie hopes that there will be support from another branch down the road, soon. “I know that they are in the process of setting up an Extinction Rebellion group in Gillingham,” said Natalie. “Hopefully, we can start working together with other local groups, especially as we’re all part of Dorset. It’s really nice to see what we can do together as a county, like a larger community.”