activism books climate change

Book review: This is Not a Drill, an Extinction Rebellion Handbook

It was due in September, but the publisher has taken an ’emergency’ approach to getting the Extinction Rebellion handbook ready. How much of that is a marketing opportunity I really couldn’t say, but it’s welcome and useful. (And I love the subversion of Penguin’s logo on the front cover.) I’m in the middle of helping to set up XR Luton at the moment. I have all sorts of questions about what we’re doing and who we contact. So I’ve taken an emergency approach to reading This is Not a Drill and read it on the day it arrived.

The book is a series of essays, some of them very short. The first section describes the climate emergency we find ourselves in and the consequences of inaction. It features a broad range of voices, including farmers in Chad and a california firefighter. They appear alongside Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, or Douglas Rushkoff, whose book Team Human was reviewed here not long ago. Chapters are short, clear and to the point, reinforcing the movement’s message to tell the truth about our predicament.

The second half is a call to action. There’s a summary of the story of this “decentralised mass movement of concerned citizens”. There are insights into the strategy and the politics, the rationale behind civil disobedience. Jay Griffiths, one of my favourite writers, contributes a chapter on getting arrested. Kate Raworth provides an economics context, Caroline Lucas and Clive Lewis provide the politics. XR activists share tips on cooking for a protest camp, artwork, or the inside story of how they bought that boat on Ebay. Finally, the book rounds things off with a page saying ‘time to stop’ reading, and concludes with instructions for blocking a road.

It’s quite a tour. It’s great to see household names alongside majority world voices, activists, scientists and politicians. And while it’s consistently engaging and easy to read, it’s not always easy to take on board. The honesty is brutal. “My reading of the latest data is that climate change has gone too far, too fast, with too much momentum” says sustainability professor Jem Bendell. “Any talk of prevention is actually a form of denial of what is really happening.” Some chapters dig into the psychology of this, the grief and the sense of loss, the sorts of future that remain. Dougald Hine describes the challenge as “negotiating the surrender of our whole way of living.”

This sort of talk might strike some as extreme, but I read The Uninhabitable Earth a couple of months ago, and Facing up to Climate Reality this week. There seems to be a growing recognition that the time for optimistic ‘save the planet’ campaigns was ten years ago. It is too late for gradual change. The only meaningful actions left are radical. Everything else will be tinkering around the edges.

This is Not a Drill is not light reading and neither should it be, but it’s essential reading for anyone wanting to take part in the XR movement. If you’ve been confused or upset by XR and its methods, it explains itself.  If you have a passing interest in it, it may persuade you to get involved. “Maybe you feel ill equipped” writes co-founder Gail Bradbrook at the end. “Bring your uncertainty, together with a willingness to learn… You are so very welcome.”


  1. Refute Climate Deniers

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    How to become Carbon Negative

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