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Clerics among train-stopping XR protesters

25 October 2019

Some actions have been criticised by Extinction Rebellion members

Vladimir Morozov

The Revd Sue Parfitt is arrested after climbing on the roof of a train in Shadwell station

The Revd Sue Parfitt is arrested after climbing on the roof of a train in Shadwell station

AN ANGLICAN priest was among a group who delayed the London Underground last week as part of a two-week Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest, which ended at the weekend.

The Revd Sue Parfitt, 77, from Bristol, climbed on top of a train at Shadwell Station that was bound for the City, to highlight the part that London’s finance industry plays in funding the expansion of fossil fuels around the world.

The intervention, as well as a similar one at Canning Town, sparked anger among commuters and apologies from some members of XR who were against disrupting public transport.

Ruth Jarman, a mother-of-three who attends a C of E church in Hampshire, took part in the protest. She said: “In all honesty I wanted to get up and leave. It makes me feel awful thinking of the upset we caused to people’s already difficult lives, and I apologise to every person who was disadvantaged. I personally was in two minds about taking part and made the decision at the last minute. I apologise to anyone who thinks that I made the wrong decision in that moment. My intention now is to reflect with others and learn together how to go forward.”

That morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the LBC radio programme, said: “We have to start on all of these things with respect for the human being. And you can be disrespectful in the way you demonstrate, and you can be disrespectful in the way that you treat those who are demonstrating.”

When the news broke of Ms Parfitt’s involvement, he added: “This is just a really good illustration of the fact that there are a million different approaches in the Church of England. I respect her convictions. I wouldn’t have sat on a tube train.”

To comeThe Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, with pupils at Stoborough C of E Primary School, in Dorset, who have been writing letters in a bid to challenge four multinational brands to reduce their plastic waste, as part of their eco-summit day

Some of the strongest criticism came from people within XR. In an email to supporters, the group said that most of its members had been opposed to the action but that its grassroots structure meant that it went ahead anyway. They said: “As we begin to think about why we are where we are, it’s vital to remember the bigger picture. As with earlier controversial proposals, this action was conceived and carried out by incredibly courageous individuals, willing to face prison sentences, and motivated by the same deep fear and profound love that drives so many of us to do what we do.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams was among a number of well-known figures who wrote a letter challenging criticism by some newspapers that they were hypocrites for speaking out in support of XR and action on climate change.

The letter, also signed by the actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Rylance, and Sienna Miller, among others, said: “Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites, you’re right. We live high-carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints. Like you — and everyone else — we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.”

On Friday, an XR member who is a tree surgeon, Ben Atkinson, 43, climbed up the scaffolding around the Queen Elizabeth Tower, which contains Big Ben, and unfurled a banner at the top calling for a citizen’s assembly to shape climate policy. They want an assembly like one set up in Ireland in 2016, consisting of a representative sample of the population, which has considered several political and constitutional issues including gay marriage, ageing population, and climate change.

Other activities on the final day of the “October Rebellion” included a blockade of Oxford Circus, and activists’ locking themselves together outside the door of the Kenyan High Commission in support of the indigenous Sengwer people, who have been displaced by the country’s government. More than 1830 people have been arrested throughout the two weeks, an increase on the thousand who were arrested in similar actions in April.

PAExtinction Rebellion protesters demonstrate outside the Ministry of Justice, in Westminster

On Tuesday, a member of Christian Climate Action from Cambridge, Angela Ditchfield, 41, was found guilty of causing criminal damage for gluing herself to a London office of Global Coal Management in support of Bangladeshi campaigners opposed to a new coal mine which, they say, will displace hundreds of thousands of people. Ms Ditchfield was given a 12-month conditional discharge and told to pay £350 costs. A charge of aggravated trespass was dropped.

Elsewhere, Lord Williams joined more than 300 cross-party MPs in calling on the trustees of the £700-million Parliamentary Pension Fund disinvest from fossil-fuel companies. Lord Williams said: “Divestment will send a positive and hopeful message to the people of this country — and to those in vulnerable communities across the globe who will be most immediately affected by climate-related disasters.”

To tackle what they describe as the “climate emergency”, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, have called on the Government to grant them greater control over climate and environmental policy to build on the successes of their respective regions. Mr Street and Mr Khan wrote in The Times: “We believe that we have a moral responsibility to address this climate emergency and to protect our natural world. While some progress has been made, we need to be doing much more, much faster.”

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