Extinction Rebellion gets a lot of bad press. But whether you’re pro or against (for the record, I’m pro), the global environmental movement, whose stated aim is to use non-violent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss and the risk of social and ecological collapse, it’s hard not to be affected by the organisation’s sense of urgency.
Most impressive is the youth branch of the movement which, inspired by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg after she staged a protest in August 2018 outside the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) holding a sign that read ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (‘School strike for climate’), participates in regular Friday school strikes.
Far too often our young people are dismissed and silenced. After attending a Global Climate Strike in Manchester city centre and listening to the articulate young protesters from Youth Strike 4 Climate Manchester, I was blown away by their knowledge and sheer determination to make the world a better place. I’ve always been bothered by those who view these passionate young people with disdain (yes, the transport disruptions are an inconvenience, but that’s sort of the point), and I am endlessly impressed by the way they’re showing up for the future of the planet alongside navigating an unprecedented global pandemic.
So, when I saw that Blue Sandford, a 17-year-old campaigner and coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Youth London, had written Challenge Everything, the only official youth handbook from Extinction Rebellion, I was keen to read it. The book is pitched as ‘a manifesto for how young people can help to save the planet’ and a kind of ‘call to arms’ to recognise that everything we wear, consume and do has consequences. In a series of informative chapters, Sandford talks the reader through the various ways they can create an impact including boycotting, campaigning, striking, questioning and even rewilding. Filled with stories, essays, slogans and illustrations, this book offers young people who want to take control of their future a purpose – what to do, when to do it and why to do it.
Largely, it’s a great read full of practical advice including what to do if you’re considering non-violent directive action (NVDA) and, somewhat controversially, what to do if you’re arrested. But this isn’t an act that is glorified in the book and Sandford goes to great lengths to point out that this mode of activism benefits from privilege.
While the book is incredibly informative, one area that I found tricky was the topic of food. Sandford’s father is a vegetarian organic sheep farmer so she has first-hand insight into the industry. She acknowledges that food is a “prickly” subject and offers helpful, judgement-free advice for those “going to carry on eating meat” to “try to find it from smaller local farms…and, if you can, try to eat grass-fed…or free-range or organic meat”. But not everyone is able – or has the means – to do so.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic (which Sanford references in a conversation about the reduction in demand for flights), food insecurity has escalated. On June 3, 2020, The Trussell Trust posted an online article stating that food banks in its network had reported “a soaring 89 per cent increase in emergency food parcels given to people across the UK in April 2020” compared to the same period in 2019, and the number of families with children receiving parcels has “almost doubled compared to the same period last year.”
As a vegetarian who actively tries to eat sustainably, I’m aware of my own privilege as a white, Western women with no dependants which allows me to be more selective about the food I buy. But the points Sandford makes are valid and, for those of us who can, opting for a meat-free/dairy-free diet is a way to make a change.
Challenge Everything is a great read for young people who are interested in living a more sustainable existence. In the current climate, it’s easy to feel dejected and powerless, but Sandford reminds both adults and children that there are things we could – and should – be doing to help make a difference. It’s a hopeful, no-nonsense guide to challenging everything – government, businesses and, most of all, yourself.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Challenge Everything: An Extinction Rebellion Youth Guide to Saving the Planet by Blue Sandford is published by Pavillion and is available to buy now.