We Don’t Want Paper Straws

Emma Brown explains why climate campaign group This Is Rigged is shifting its focus to the cost of living crisis.

‘This is Rigged’ is a new youth-led movement based in Scotland agitating for change through direct action. It was formed in response to the lack of connection between the climate crisis and the other crises destroying our communities (the cost of living crisis, the housing crisis), and on the understanding that we need defiance, risk-taking, cheekiness, creativity, humour, and above all a fucking sense of urgency about the radical changes needed to stop the deadly suffering issuing from a crisis perpetuated by wealthy and faceless corporations, and abetted by incompetent and impotent governments.

Formed at the beginning of this year, ‘This is Rigged’ has two core demands of the Scottish Government. First, that they develop a backbone and oppose all new deadly oil and gas projects in our North Sea. Considering that Scotland is Europe’s biggest oil producer and second-biggest gas producer, this would increase political pressure on Westminster and the companies hiding under bogus arguments for jobs. The truth is that oil is a finite resource, so even if it was not frying the planet, the number of jobs in oil has been declining and would continue to decline. Our second key demand is that they provide a fully-funded and fair transition for our fossil fuel workers. There is £500 million sitting there for the ‘transition’ which the Scottish Government has complete control over. There is no reason whatsoever for fossil fuel workers to end up in the situation that miners did with Thatcher, when there are four potential jobs in renewables energy for every one job currently in fossil fuel production. At the moment we are in the bonkers scenario where if oil workers want to get a job on offshore wind, for example, they have to pay out of their own pocket for the retraining. If Scotland can’t lead the way on this, as a territory with vast renewable resources and what should fundamentally be a more accountable political system as a small country, we are fucked.

In the spring, we made our voices heard in Parliament, showing just how disruptive ordinary people can be when they refuse to sit down, shut up, and watch politics happening. In July, we escalated to a series of sustained actions, targeting Grangemouth and the oil terminal in Clydebank Oil, blocking 70% of fuel distribution from the sites. From 20-year-olds climbing tankers to 70-year-olds disabling tankers, from trespassing and climbing pipework to blocking the single road where all fuel leaves the Grangemouth site, we demonstrated that ordinary people can shut down the businesses killing us. And we didn’t just do it once. We did it six times. This was material disruption targeting the source of harm, with major cost to the companies. We combined this with cultural actions, based on Scotland’s history of radical resistance: accosting King Charles, scaling the Kelpies, painting parliament, and disrupting the cycling world championships. The combination of material and cultural disruption spreads the message to a wider audience, forcing people to engage. It’s all fair game when we’re in this much trouble. Some people might like some actions and not others but we’re not going for the Turner prize here, we’re throwing everything at a society that feels stuck and frozen and seeing what breaks through.

activists at grangemouth
This Is Rigged activists at Grangemouth

Now we’re moving into demanding action on the cost of living crisis. While supermarket profits are protected, food banks can’t cope with the numbers of people who can’t afford to eat. Direct action is the best way to show that we won’t comply with this situation. It’s not just unsustainable, it’s intolerable, so we will show that we won’t tolerate it by taking collective restorative action. The climate crisis is exacerbating food insecurity and existing inequality, as extreme weather events like floods, heatwaves and droughts decimate crops, food prices rise in the UK and internationally (enriching those profiting off scarcity and price inflation), and the poorest suffer first. Governments are supposed to act in the interests of the population, serving us. We need price caps on essential items. Hunger will never be eradicated by individual acts of charity. We need collective action to demand solutions so that people can have what they need to live with dignity.

Our actions this year showed how serious we are. We’re willing to take collective risks that jeopardise our own liberty. Why? Because it’s all rigged. Sometimes you still hear the opinion that the climate is a separate issue that we’ll get round to when we’ve sorted out all the other issues – of housing, poverty, inequality, food insecurity, crap jobs, and asylum seekers being put on a prison boat. That idea is nonsense. It’s all one crisis: exploitation of people and resources for the motive of short-term profit above everything else.

This year, This Is Rigged has shown a sense of fucking urgency. No, we can’t just watch as things slowly get worse and worse. We need to fight back, and that means not just trying to get back something we had last week. We want the huge changes that are actually going to make a difference. We don’t want paper straws, we want the world. To me it’s more unreal to imagine we’re going to all carry on obeying the rules that are making us poorer and more miserable, while the earth beneath us is being destroyed. That’s a more bizarre ending to the story than the one where we get our act together and collectively demand changes through our non-compliance, channeling all the lessons we’ve learnt from history.

This goes beyond the old books and left wing theories. It’s what a child can tell you about what’s right or wrong. We don’t need to know what we’ll find when we get there, or have some perfect theory. We need to act, to stand up against injustice, to take a chance, to DO something, so that something has to happen, and then something else, to shake and challenge the system, to cause crises for those exploitative businesses or sleepwalking governments or out-of-touch judiciaries who are causing us to be in crisis.

We will refuse to play by the rules as the waters rise over our neatly obedient crossed legs. We will refuse to pay extortionate prices for food and energy so that shareholders can keep killing us, driving us into poverty, and having a bloody good laugh at us. We will not let ourselves be gas-lit, because nature is telling us what is wrong: the rich fly in jets, while poor countries are decimated by a crisis they did not cause. The game is rigged, but the reality of the climate crisis is the trump card against every rigged argument for neo-liberal free-market business-as-usual. And if we don’t look away, we can make this critical decade the start of a better society.