Shaftesbury Meeting Suggests Civil Disobedience To Tackle Climate Change

Many scientists believe that recent extreme weather events such as freezing winters, hot summers, storms and floods are warning signs that the world is facing an environmental crisis. And on Thursday, a national eco-activist group will address Shaftesbury residents to encourage them to take action.

“We know there are people in Shaftesbury that are concerned, we just have to reach them,” said Shirley Rutter. Shirley and Maude Chappelle want locals to turn up and listen to campaign group Extinction Rebellion’s address. Their presentation will refer to climate breakdown, rather than climate change.

“I think it is quite important to call it climate breakdown because climate change doesn’t sound bad enough, and it is really bad,” Maude said. “They’ll be going through the facts and figures of the climate crisis that we are facing and outlining what is approaching,” she added.

Supporters of Extinction Rebellion recently published an open letter that warned 200 species are becoming extinct each day. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has added his name to a list of 94 signatories, who are mainly from scientific and academic backgrounds. They want the UK to adopt a decarbonisation programme.

Maude Chappelle (left) and Shirley Rutter

Extinction Rebellion advocates civil disobedience in order to attract media and political attention. Shirley, who says that she marched against nuclear weapons being sited at Greenham Common in the 1980s, says that Shaftesbury locals will be encouraged to take a stand without harming people or damaging property.

“It’s non-violent, peaceful, direct action. I don’t actually know what is going to be happening but that is the sort of thing that will be taking place in London and other cities soon,” said Shirley. And Maude says the group wants press and publicity and for politicians to listen, rather than landing their members in prison.

“Roadblocks are one of the things they will be doing. They know how to pacify the people that they may be disrupting,” said Maude. She added that ‘handing out cake’ would be one way to try to retain the support of motorists delayed by action.

The talk is being held at Shaftesbury’s Friends Meeting House. The local organisers say that any calls to action will remain in line with Quaker principles of peaceful protest. “It may sound a little alarmist but it’s very important to stress that this is non-violent and we just need to catch everybody’s attention and make them aware,” Maude said. “Quakers have a history of dissent and standing up for themselves. Hundreds of years ago they suffered and were martyred for their own beliefs,” Shirley added.

Extinction Rebellion wants a national citizens’ assembly set up to oversee the implementation of a UK carbon reduction policy. Shirley says she is concerned that climate issues have been sidelined in favour of the Brexit debate. “Just come and listen and watch the presentation. We need to inform ourselves. Maybe some people are thinking this is another environmental campaign. Climate breakdown will affect every single woman, child and man on the planet and it is the most important danger to all of us,” Shirley said.

Of course, not all world leaders subscribe to the idea of climate change. Shirley believes that if the UK government took a leadership role then other nations could be encouraged to follow suit. But Shaftesbury is a long way from Westminster or The White House. If this talk of global treaties and international politics makes you feel helpless, Maude says that Shaftesbury locals can make a genuine difference.

She’s returned to town after studying at Falmouth University and says in Cornwall, she witnessed how environmental groups like Surfers Against Sewage have led effective campaigns against single-use plastics. Maude hopes that this meeting could encourage North Dorset residents to work toward plastic-free status for Shaftesbury.

“Since starting to organise this talk we have discovered a group of people who are trying to make Shaftesbury a ‘transition town’ – transitioning away from fossil fuels. They are definitely out there and this is the sort of talk that will bring those people together and get them involved in something which might bring about change,” Maude said. “We need an umbrella group for all of those things.”

Maude believes residents can play their part without leaving the house. “Most banks are unethically invested and invest in fossil fuels. You can switch to Triodos or maybe the Co-op, which are much more ethically minded. Also look at your energy provider,” Maude said. “For years we’ve been buying and growing organic vegetables,” added Shirley. “Sustainable agriculture is a really important component of this.”

The meeting starts at 7.30pm on Thursday, 8th November, at the Friends Meeting House in Shaftesbury.