Why should you get to the ‘Big One’ climate demo – Morgan Trowland, Just Stop Oil activist

“With every extra year that we take to stop burning fossil fuels in the UK, we drive more families like Amaleh’s & Abaleh’s towards starvation – families who burn no fossil fuels but the odd cooking gas cylinder or occasional bus ride into town.”

By Morgan Trowland

Why should you take part in ‘The Big One’ with Extinction Rebellion, beginning on April 21st?

I could write lots of wordy reasons why your presence is needed to make our government take climate and ecological breakdown seriously and lead us in an emergency response to preserve the lives of the most vulnerable people on Earth, and ultimately our own. It’s been my full-time job – more-or-less – to write about them for the last six months, ever since I was imprisoned for climbing the QE2 bridge to put up a ‘Just Stop Oil’ banner.

But I don’t think any one of us put serious hard graft and sacrifice into any endeavour because of the rational arguments we’ve read, however brilliant and articulate; we do it for people we know. So, let me introduce you to some people I know, who still motivate me.

Years ago, I was helping to design and build bridges in India when I spent some time on leave in the Himalayas, the region known as Ladakh. The Ladakh people are close cousins of Tibetans and have built lots of little stupas, Buddhist shrines, up long winding stairways on their mountain sides. My wife at the time, Jill, arranged to stay with a family in a remote valley to help them for a month with the harvest.

At 3,500 to 4,000m above sea level, the environment is harsh: the thin air offers little protection from the sun, the landscape is extremely arid, the mountain sides could be on Mars, merciless red rock and dust. It seems a miracle that a ribbon of green tumbles down the valley with the occasional orchard. Most of the ribbon is made up of small, terraced fields; a dozen of those terraces are tended by the family Jill worked with, a mother and father named Amaleh and Abaleh with two teenage sons and their grandmother.

The few dozen families in the valley managed a network of irrigation ditches to distribute the water of one small stream over all their fields of barley and peas. It was hard to tell whose fields were whose because much of the harvest’s work was done communally, maybe because it’s just more fun to hang out with your neighbours and poke fun at each other. Jill picked up enough of their language to get in on the jokes. What stuck with me was the joy, the generosity and the frugality, the latter embodied by the grandmother shuffling through the barley stubble after the rest of us had put our feet up – she continued to glean every last husk or half husk that we’d let fall in the dirt.

Clearly, she remembered some winter when every grain helped. That valley must be a bleak place over the long winter, but Amaleh and Abaleh survived there, even enjoying life with their neighbours and living independently, with dignity and the security created by their community.

All of this is made possible by a small stream running down from a glacier. Without the glacier, the valley would be dead dust and sunburnt rock through the summer growing season – no glacier, no summer stream, no barley, no Ladakhi culture, no Amaleh and Abaleh. With the same happening all over their region, many would starve or find some hardscrabble existence in a swollen Indian city, utterly dislocated from the dignity of their culture.

That is the cost-of-living crisis we worsen with every extra well of oil or gas we drill in the UK. With every extra year that we take to stop burning fossil fuels in the UK, we drive more families like Amaleh’s and Abaleh’s towards starvation – families who burn no fossil fuels but the odd cooking gas cylinder or occasional bus ride into town.

In Britain, the covid pandemic showed us that we can change our way of life overnight once we understand what is necessary to preserve our most vulnerable neighbour’s lives. Will we do it again for our more distant neighbours? It’s our conscious choice; you can’t be a bystander now.

Before I risked years in prison, I had to imagine how I could account to Amaleh if she were grieving for her son – perhaps killed by desperate people on a long trek home from a food aid depot for a sack of rice. Could I look her in the eye and say I’d done my utmost with the civil liberties and access to justice which we enjoy in Britain? Could I say that I’d done my bit for all those who have no voice in Britain but suffer in our fire?

The Big One is just one of the ways you can do your bit. I hope you can make it.

  • Morgan Trowland is an activist with Just Stop Oil and is currently jailed for his role in direct action related to the climate emergency. You can read his blog here.
  • The ‘Big One’ is a four-day action from the 21st to the 24th April 2023. People from all groups and movements will gather throughout Westminster to demand climate action. Full details here.
Featured image: Extinction Rebellion activists. Photo credit: Extinction Rebellion

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