Blue Sandford, aged 17, is a key player in Extinction Rebellion Youth. Last October, Blue was arrested at an Extinction Rebellion protest in Trafalgar Square and she is now on permanent school strike for the climate. Environment Journal got in touch to chat about her latest book: ‘Challenge Everything: An Extinction Rebellion Youth Guide to Saving the Planet.’
How did you come across Extinction Rebellion (XR) and how did you come to play such an active role in the movement?
I got into Extinction Rebellion through my dad – he’s been an environmental campaigner for a long time, and heard about XR when it was first starting.
I thought it sounded really interesting so I went to a youth meeting I found on Facebook.
I heard the heading for extinction talk, and I was shocked by what the guy was telling us – I had known about climate change and greenhouse gases but I didn’t realise at all how bad the climate and ecological emergency (CEE) is. I started researching more and imaging the future, and I got really scared and depressed.
I carried on going to meetings because I didn’t know what else to do.
I became the arts coordinator for XR youth, and we got through the April rebellion and things started changing, which made me feel so hopeful – but it’s still not happening fast enough.
I can’t vote, and there’s not enough time to become a scientist or a politician, even if people suddenly started listening to sense.
I’ve devoted so much time and energy to XR and non-violent direct action (NVDA) because it’s the only way I can see for me to change things right now.
You write that greenwashing means that people put efforts into well-known things like recycling but overlook the bigger picture. In this sense, do you worry that a focus on plastic pollution in the media is just overshadowing the real issue of the climate crisis?
It’s definitely overshadowing the real causes and solutions, often intentionally.
Mass media has a long history of lying by omission and fudging the facts.
There is nowhere near enough coverage of the CEE, and as you say when they do talk about it it’s about plastic pollution, and just underneath is a huge ad for a holiday cruise.
They don’t want to upset their sponsors or powerful business people, so they focus on the smaller issues that won’t get a backlash from big oil and gas and the animal industry and other carbon-intensive industries.
We’ve got to start holding them accountable and talking about the biggest contributors if we want to actually solve anything.
It’s good to start with individual change – as I say in my book often it’s the biggest change we can each make on our own – but at some point, we have to start reckoning with the companies that are causing way more damage than any of us.
How do you feel when there is negative press about XR, for example at the beginning of the year when it was listed by the counter-terrorism police as ‘extremist’?
I don’t think it’s true that any press is good press, but particularly for an organisation like XR whose whole method is to use NVDA to get into the media to bring attention to the CEE, most press is good press.
The quote going around at the moment is ‘first they ignore you, then they fight you, then you win’.
There have always been negative reactions to XR, but the fact that they are now coming from the government and mass media just means that we are getting under their skin and they are starting to hear us, if not listen to us quite yet. It makes me feel hopeful (although also scared of the police response to future protests).
You write that when it comes to consumption, we all have a responsibility for the products we buy. But as you say, understanding the truth and navigating greenwashing can be extremely hard. What is your advice to someone who is not sure what to trust?
My advice is to look at what the people who don’t have a vested interest are saying.
Don’t go to Nutella for facts about the palm oil they use. Don’t go to the animal industry to learn about the negative impacts of meat and dairy.
In the case of non-essential things like clothes, it shouldn’t be a case of ‘I’ve researched and this top is more sustainable so I’ll buy it instead’ – every item of new clothing has an impact.
No matter how ‘sustainably’ they’re branded, they’re still damaging and unnecessary. If you don’t know if you can trust it and you think it has embodied carbon, don’t get it.
It’s always safer to get things second hand – and you can’t really go wrong with skipping.
How do you deal with climate anxiety?
I’m finding it really difficult right now to deal with climate anxiety and grief – my classic tactic with things like that is avoidance, but at the moment I’m doing a lot of media stuff around XR and my book which is forcing me to stay up to date with the facts – which are terrifying.
I’m trying to get somewhere where instead of being so depressed and ineffective I can put all my energy into combatting the CEE and just accept that I’ve done all I can and what happens happens, and I don’t need to think about it. It’s proving difficult though.
Moving forward from the COVID-19 pandemic what are your plans within XR? Do you think recovery from the pandemic provides a realistic opportunity for change?
I think there is always an opportunity for change, but COVID has taken the first step for us.
Now we just have to not bailout the airlines and carbon-intensive businesses and industries, and instead, support green alternatives.
It should be more apparent than ever that the CEE is happening and we’re in trouble if we don’t start acting. The pandemic is a part of the CEE – it was caused by eating meat and spread through flying all over the world without a care.
I hope that people have come out of lockdown having reflected on their lives and their impacts, and willing to make a change. It’s not a question of can or if – we have to act.
Blue’s new book: ‘Challenge Everything: An Extinction Rebellion Youth Guide to Saving the Planet’ – is available to buy here.
Photo Credit – Pixabay