From out of the Ashes: ’40 Days’ Begin With Three Acts of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Around the UK

From out of the Ashes: ’40 Days’ Begin With Three Acts of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Around the UK

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  • Extinction Rebellion Faith Groups’ 40 Days of Action for Lent began this morning, with acts of nonviolent civil disobedience carried out by affinity groups in County Durham, Northampton and London to coincide with the launch, and continues this afternoon with Ash Wednesday services and a 40-day multifaith prayer vigil.
  • At 6am in County Durham: Over 300 protesters, led by local residents and former miners, began their three-day blockade of the Bradley open-cast coal mine, asking Government Minister Robert Jenrick to protect Pont Valley from the further devestation which the proposed expansion of this hideous eyesore would cause. 
  • At 10am in Northampton: Extinction Rebellion activists used fire extinguishers to coat a giant Barclays sign inside the Barclaycard HQ in Blackmills with biodegradable fake crude oil, encouraging the bank’s customers to move their money away from Europe’s largest investor in fossil fuels.
  • At 11am in Westminster, Central London: Members of Christian Climate Action used similar modified high pressure fire extinguishers to spray several litres of fake crude oil onto the protective facade around Big Ben, demanding that the UK government cancel all investments and subsidies in fossil fuels.
  • At 12 noon people of all faiths began to gather outside Westminster Cathedral for an Ash Wednesday Service before processing to Westminster Abbey for another, thereby symbolically uniting Catholics and Protestants in a call upon both Churches and all religious institutions to fully divest from fossil fuels by the end of Lent.
  • At 2pm outside Westminster Abbey the ceremony will include priests making the mark of the cross onto the foreheads of worshipers using the same fake crude oil that was used in the actions, symbolising human frailty in the face of the impending Climate and Ecological Apocalypse, rather than the traditional ash. 
  • At 2.30pm in Durham Reverend Paul Golightly, a Durham Methodist Minister, will deliver an Ash Wednesday service outside the main gates of the open-cast mine.
  • At 3pm on Parliament Square members of Christian Climate Action and other Extinction Rebellion faith communities begin a non-stop multi-faith prayer and meditation vigil outside the Houses of Parliament for the entire 40 days of Lent right up to Easter Sunday focusing on lament for the Climate and Ecological Crisis, and praying for leaders and representatives to find in themselves the courage to take urgent action.
  • Further acts of nonviolent civil disobedience targeting fossil fuel companies, investors and infrastructure are expected throughout Lent.

“We who have lost our sense and our senses – our touch, our smell, our vision of who we are; we who frantically force and press all things, without rest for body or spirit, hurting our Earth and injuring ourselves: we call a halt… We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving mystery: for the healing of the Earth and the renewal of all life.
from The United Nations Environmental Sabbath Service

The 40 Days of Action for Lent, open to all religious organisations and people of any faith or none, launched this Ash Wednesday morning with acts of nonviolent civil disobedience carried out by affinity groups in Durham, Northampton and London to coincide with the launch. It continues this afternoon with Ash Wednesday services outside Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and the beginning of a non-stop 40-day multifaith prayer and meditation vigil on Parliament Square.

6am – Durham Open-Cast Coal Mine Blockaded

The opening day of action began at 6am when around 200 protesters, including members of Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action, led by local residents and former miners, began their three-day blockade of the Bradley open-cast coal mine in the Pont Valley, County Durham. The group occupied the road leading into the mine and are peacefully denying vehicles access to it, using their bodies to form a barricade. The action, dubbed ‘We are the Dead Canaries’ forms the culmination of a four week campaign against the proposed expansion of the mine and is intended to last until the end of the day on Friday, with participants promising to shut down mining operations from now until then. They are calling upon Durham County Council and UK Government Minister Robert Jenrick to reject Banks Group’s application to expand the mine and instead protect Pont Valley from the further devestation which this would otherwise cause. 

So far, the police response has been to allow the action to go ahead unhindered and the atmosphere is one combining respectful seriousness for the suffering caused by the mine to local residents and lighthearted revelry, with the blockaders enjoying live participatory performances from local musicians. At 2.30pm Reverend Paul Golightly, a Durham Methodist Minister, will deliver an Ash Wednesday service in front of the main gates to the mine. Reverend Golightly comments: “Lent is a time to turn around and begin again. What better time to say no more, to move further away from Fossil fuel extraction and leave it in the ground. Thanks today to Pont Valley regulars who keep vigil and Extinction Rebellion supporters”.

Ray Leonard, 57, a community development worker and member of Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action, from Durham, says: “As a son of a miner, a Christian, and climate activist, it was completely natural to want to get involved with something that knitted together the wisdom of all faiths and philosophies, and an action led by local people against the expansion of an open cast mine at Pont Valley. Communities in County Durham have a proud heritage of mining and industry, and it has forged our sense of identity and place. The landscape has been forever changed by it. However the mining industry should be the past, and it certainly isn’t our future. The science is very clear – we have to keep carbon in the ground. We have to provide new ways forward for our communities, news ways of transitioning and encourage resilient, mutually supportive communities.”

Flo and Adam O’Taylor aged 28 and 34, members of Christian Climate Action, from Stanley, County Durham, five miles from the mine, say: “God has provided everything we need in this world to live and flourish. If we consume too much of anything it is bad for us – the time for coal is over. On Ash Wednesday, we repent for our part in the exploitation of God’s creation and the injustice it reaps, and pray for healing”. 

10am – Barclaycard HQ, Northampton

The days actions continued when at 10am sevenExtinction Rebellion Northampton activists entered the Barclaycard Headquarters in Brackmills Industrial Estate and used repurposed fire extinguishers to coat a giant Barclays sign in the main entrance foyer with biodegradable fake crude oil, made from a mixture of nontoxic organic materials and water. Although the ‘oil’ is entirely nonharmful and easily washable, participants took enormous care to ensure that there were no customers in the immediate vicinity of the sign at the time of the action, to avoid the possibility of anybody being accidentally sprayed, and the mixture ran down onto the floor of the foyer, leaving a large ‘oil spill’ in the entrance to the building. Alongside this, activists displayed two banners reading “FOSSIL FUELS = DEATH” and “$85 BILLION INTO FOSSIL FUEL”referring to the enormous sum which Barclays has invested in the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015,[1] according to a study from Rainforest Action Network and Banktrack.[2]

Activists were seen to play cards while waiting for the police to attend the scene, having adapted a set of playing cards with statistics about the Climate and Ecological Crisis, stating that Barclays is: “Gambling with our futures and the futures of our children.” One activist delivered an “evidence pack” to the reception desk, containing information and news articles about Barclays’ involvement in the fossil fuel industry, showing Barclays to be the largest banking investor in fossil fuels in Europe and the sixth largest in the world. They are calling upon the bank to divest completely from fossil fuels and upon its customers to move their money to banks that do not invest in environmentally damaging practises. The entire action was livestreamed to the Extinction Rebellion Facebook page and can be watched here

Luke Adams, 24,  a student from Northampton who took part in the action commented: “Barclays have invested $85 Billion into fossil fuels. They are putting our futures and the futures of our children at risk for short-term profit. To save our futures, Barclays and Barclaycard need to go carbon negative by 2025 and should invest $85 billion into greener industries instead.” 

Another of the participants, Linda Davidsen, 50, an accountant from Northampton, added: “In the past 6 months I have watched in horror as Australia burns. I have felt despair as airport expansion plans continue, and HS2 has been approved. More record breaking temperatures across the world and more floods in the UK. Fossil fuel investment has to stop now.” 

Marly Lyman, 29, a small business owner from Northampton who livestreamed the action, concluded: “We are literally fighting against time. Parliament declared a Climate and Environmental Emergency last year and have done nothing to tackle the worst culprits for carbon emissions. It’s crazy that everyday people are having to put the pressure on these companies when governments are fully aware of the enormous risk to lives the Climate and Ecological Crisis presents. It’s easy for the public to call these activists “hypocrites” or whatever for probably owning phones or using cars but the fact of the matter is that it’s near impossible to be an active member of society and be fully enviro-conscious – we need drastic change in how society operates, and fast!”

11am – Houses of Parliament, Central London

The day’s third act of nonviolent civil disobedience came when two female members of Christian Climate Action used similar modified high pressure fire extinguishers to spray several litres of the same fake crude oil onto the protective facade around the base of the Elizabeth Tower, the Houses of Parliament’s iconic clock tower, better known as Big Ben, which is currently undergoing a long restoration project.

The two activists, Gail Thomas, 50, businesswoman and mother of two children, and Alice Lynch, 34, artist, business owner and mother of two children, arrived on foot looking like tourists, and produced two large extinguishers, each containing nine litres of fake oil, from within a suitcase. It took them approximately 20 seconds to  fully discharge these, in a very controlled manner, with a jet of about twelve metres allowing the two women to ‘paint the canvas’ of Big Ben’s surrounding wrapper up to a height of over six metres, from where they stood on the pavement, leaving a striking piece of art visible for some distance, albeit it a temporary one which will very quickly wash off with water leaving no trace of any damage.

Other activists swiftly arrived on the scene to unfurl a banner again reading “FOSSIL FUELS = DEATH” and a second reading “TIME IS RUNNING OUT: ‘Something will have to change… if the human race is going to survive’ JP Morgan, January 2020” a reference to the recent eye-opening report from the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels.[3] Once the fire extinguishers were fully emptied, Gail and Alice placed them on the ground to wait for the police. As soon as they arrived, the women told them that the action was a peaceful protest using a safe, nontoxic liquid and handed them a recipe sheet detailing the ingredients for the fake oil. The action was livestreamed to the Extinction Rebellion Facebook page and can be watched here.

The message “FOSSIL FUELS = DEATH” on the banners at this and the previous action are a reminder while scientists have made it clear that carbon emissions must begin to fall sharply in 2020 if we are to have any chance of avoiding the ‘beyond catastrophic’ levels of global warming that are predicted, for many victims of the Climate and Ecological Emergency it is already too late, and if we continue to over-consume fossil fuels at the current rate then mass death awaits current and future generations. The activists brought their cause directly to the UK Parliament because it is only by upgrading our failing democratic system that we can make the drastic far reaching changes needed at the speed required. Beyond Parliament’s declaration of a Climate and Environmental Emergency, there has been no meaningful progress in lowering the UK’s carbon emissions. The activists are demanding that the UK government commit to abandoning dirty fuels in favour of renewables, cancelling all investments and subsidies in the fossil fuels which threaten to kill us all. 

Gail Thomas commented: “These are desperate times and we plead with government and corporations to cease fossil fuel extraction immediately. Unlike real oil, the black substance used in this art installation is plant based and harmless to this building, people and planet. It’s beyond shocking that over a month ago, JP Morgan – a major industrial financier acknowledged that the human race is heading for extinction, and yet, no change has ensued, it’s just business as usual and it has to stop.”

Alice Lynch added: “Our house is on fire, it’s time to Act Now to put the fire out. The repurposed fire extinguishers are beautifully symbolic when you think about it. This is a Climate and Ecological Emergency and enough is enough. People are already suffering and I don’t want my children to suffer as well. We don’t want to be here doing this but feel that we have no choice. I hope that our artful approach draws attention to the urgency of the situation.”

12pm onwards – Ash Wednesday Services in Westminster

From 12 noon, the 40 Days of Action, an initiative of Christian Climate Action and XR Faith Communities calling on religious groups to come together throughout Lent and Ramadan to find ways to re-build our communities free from the over consumption of fossil fuels, officially launches with a series of religious services and ceremonies in and around Westminster. Religious and non-religious organisations and individuals are being encouraged to fast from fossil fuels and to take up civil disobedience during both Lent and Ramadan.

At midday people of all faiths and none will gather outside Westminster Cathedral for a Catholic Ash Wednesday Service before processing to Westminster Abbey for an Anglican Ash Wednesday Service, to commence at 2pm. By participating in both and symbolically linking them through the procession, the intention is to unite Catholics and Protestants in a call upon both Churches, and upon all other religious institutions, to fully divest from fossil fuels by the end of Lent, and to remind people that we must stand together if we are to find the courage and resolve to take the measures necessary to address the Climate and Ecological Emergency. Christian Climate Action are also calling on the Catholic Church to keep pace with the Anglican Church, which recently committed to go net carbon neutral by 2030, and calling upon the Anglican Church to include all indirect emissions from financial investments in their calculations.  

At the service outside Westminster Abbey, priest will invite all in attendance to have a cross marked upon their foreheads made not from ash, as is traditional, but the same fake crude oil that was used in the two earlier actions. Like ash, oil is made up of dead matter, a symbol our our mortality and a reminder of human frailty in the face of the impending Climate and Ecological Apocalypse and our failure thusfar to stop over-consuming fossil fuels. Our over-attachment to oil is crucifying the poor and harming life beyond repair. All of those present will be called to reflect upon the desperate need to find a balance between the extraordinary benefits of fossil fuels and the need to live simpler more connected lives. 

At the close of the service, other faiths and traditions will be invited to offer reflections and then the worshipers will process onto Parliament Square where at 3pm members of Christian Climate Action and other Extinction Rebellion faith communities will begin a non-stop multi-faith prayer and meditation vigil outside the Houses of Parliament. This will go on continuously, day and night, for the entire 40 days of Lent, right up to Easter Sunday. Lent is a time of reflection, preparation and growth, a time when we acknowledge our failings and resolve to do better. Those taking part will come together with humility and compassion in lament for the Climate and Ecological Crisis and to pray for our leaders and representatives to find in themselves the courage to take the urgent action that is necessary in order to protect our fragile and wounded world.

Beyond Ash Wednesday

From tomorrow, Thursday 27th February, everybody is invited to commit themselves to one action of their choice for 40 days to protect the planet and to share on social media. The one action could be to divest from fossil fuels; to switch to and promote bank accounts that do not invest in polluting companies; to commit to only buying second-hand clothes; or any other action that is close to your heart.

Further acts of nonviolent civil disobedience targeting fossil fuel companies, investors and infrastructure are expected throughout Lent.

Valerie Brown, 40 Days of Action spokesperson, says: “The values and laws of the UK and many other countries around the world including parts of Africa spring from the teachings of the Bible. Likewise the Koran in the Middle East and also in Africa is the foundation of laws and values. 40 Days shines a light on what we have in common rather than the culture of dissent which has developed over the last 20 years. At a time like no other in human history the Climate and Ecological Crises has to pull us together if we are to overcome it. The regenerative message of 40 Days speaks to everyone because we want the same things. It’s an Action which gives each person self expression and time to reflect on what they want to do with our threatened world. The beauty of it in a world of sorrow is so much what we all need.”

Nick Cooper, Christian Climate Action spokesperson, says: “This is about system change, triggered by personal growth. We invite everyone to journey with us into the wilderness of Lent and encounter the ‘quiet voice’ so often hidden from us in daily life. We need desperately to hear that sacred voice calling us together as a global community – learning to live simpler more connected lives, and find the courage to take up civil disobedience in the face of an ever more desperate Climate and Ecological Crisis. We need to stop denying the power that we hold as one sacred and interconnected body.”

Maria Chenoweth,  The Earth Day Switch Spokesperson, says: “The Climate and Ecological Emergency makes it utterly critical that all individuals and groups must reconfigure and become one mass voice against the continued damage inflicted upon our Earth. The beginning of lent, 26th February, marks the date where across the world all faith and non-faith groups come together, united with one voice to tell the world that the fossil fuel industry is destroying our planet. Together we will reflect on our collective and individual participation with fossil fuels, transitioning away from our personal use and how we indirectly fund them with our own money through the choice of bank, energy supplier and pension provider.”

Notes to editors

[1] https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement 
[2] https://www.banktrack.org/download/banking_on_climate_change_2019_fossil_fuel_finance_report_card/banking_on_climate_change_2019.pdf 
[3] https://rebellion.earth/2020/02/21/morality-over-money-time-for-financial-institutions-to-tell-the-truth/

About Extinction Rebellion

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

What Emergency? | Extinction Rebellion in Numbers |This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook 

Get involved

About Rising Up!

Extinction Rebellion emerged from the Rising Up! network, which promotes a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm. Change needs to be nurtured in a culture of reverence, gratitude and inclusion while the tools of civil disobedience and direct action are used to express our collective power.

About Christian Climate Action

Christian Climate Action is a community of Christians supporting each other to take meaningful action in the face of imminent and catastrophic anthropogenic climate breakdown. Inspired by Jesus Christ, and social justice movements of the past, we carry out acts of non-violent direct action to urge those in power to make the change needed.

Purpose of Christian Climate Action:

  • To raise the alarm about the urgency and scale of the climate crisis facing God’s creation
  • Taking meaningful action to tackle the issue
  • To communicate the key role that Christians and the church can play in this climate emergency
  • To demonstrate the power of  non-violent direct action in change-making
  • To create safe spaces for people to emotionally process the effects this climate emergency has already caused to our planet and what it threatens to destroy if we carry on as business as usual.

Our Principles and Values:    

OUR GOD IS LOVING: Our God is the creator who cares about creation
WE ACT IN LOVE: God calls us to love our neighbours, our enemies and our God – we must do all things in love.
WE ARE CALLED TO PARTICIPATE IN BRINGING ABOUT A RENEWED WORLD: Creating a world that is fit for generations to come.
OUR ALLEGIANCE IS TO GOD: Where there is a choice between obeying God and obeying the law of the land, we chose to obey God.
WE SET OUR MISSION ON WHAT IS NECESSARY: Mobilising enough of the population to take meaningful action in order to achieve system change.
WE ARE CALLED TO BE FAITHFUL, NOT SUCCESSFUL: None of us are perfect for tackling the climate emergency, but there is no time to wait until we are. We are called to tell the truth about the emergency we are in and to faithfully act now.
WE TAKE ACTION IN A SPIRIT OF REPENTANCE: We acknowledge we are part of the problem that we are fighting against and come to our actions in repentance and prayer.
WE NEED A REGENERATIVE CULTURE: Creating a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
WE OPENLY CHALLENGE OURSELVES AND THIS TOXIC SYSTEM: Leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.
WE VALUE REFLECTING AND LEARNING: Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.
WE WELCOME EVERYONE AND EVERY PART OF EVERYONE: Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
WE ACTIVELY MITIGATE FOR POWER: Breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
WE AVOID BLAMING AND SHAMING: We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
WE ARE A NON-VIOLENT NETWORK: As Jesus did, we use non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
WE ARE BASED ON AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION: We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power.

Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Christian Climate Action. It is important to note that all actions are taken by individuals acting in their own personal responsibility.

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