Crossing the Rubicon

Thursday, May 02, 2024 by Jeremy Parker

A black and white photo showing a person silhouetted in a dark tunnel

Photo by Lalesh Aldarwish

The Eve of the Catastrophe

It was the 8th day of February in the year two thousand and twenty-four AD, and the world was in turmoil.

In Eastern Europe and Africa the drums of war were beating. The Northern Atlantic Alliance and Russia and China glared at each other over the East/West divide, as tensions between the Great Powers intensified. And in the Middle East, man's inhumanity to man had become so severe that the highest court in the world was obliged to consider the charge of genocide.

A cost of living crisis had been imposed through the political choices of Western governments upon the societies that considered themselves to be the most advanced. And in many households of Western Europe, the choice was between eating and heating.

If you thought all of this would cause protest, you would be correct. In cities around the world thousands of people marched, and called for an end to war. Capitals rang with the chant of "Ceasefire Now!"

In response politicians - their pockets lined by lobby groups and weapons manufacturers, and not wishing to be held to account - called for harsher and harsher measures to be taken against the dissenters, as country after country lurched towards fascism.

The wars that raged were increasingly fought by machine, although they spilled human blood just the same. The rise of Artificial Intelligence meant that machines could fight your wars, cure your diseases or write you a note to inform your boss you had quit your job. Many people wondered where this strand of technological "progress" would end. Some even wondered if the machines would one day supplant humanity as the pre-eminent life form on Earth.

And in the background it continued, barely noticed and seldom discussed: the greatest Mass Extinction of life on Earth for millions of years. The Extinction was itself like a vast machine of endlessly grinding gears, the levers of which were operated by that same human race, the architects of the Anthropocene epoch in which all now existed.

Welcome to the Meta Crisis.

A cartoon illustrating the concept of shifting baseline syndrome. It is comprised of three panels. The bottom one captioned 1800 shows an undersea scene teeming with life - there is a whale, dolphin, squid, ray, turtle and many other lifeforms. The middle panel captioned 1950 shows a similar undersea scene, but with far fewer plants and animals. The third panel captioned 2019 also shows an undersea scene, with very little life and several plastic bags floating in the water.

Illustration by Cameron Shepherd

1.5 to Stay Alive

So the announcement that was made that day, 8th February 2024 may have escaped the attention of many, as they worried about the prospect of worldwide conflict, as they cried for those who bore the cruelty of imperialism, as they fretted about how they could even put food on the table.

It was an announcement that a boundary had been transgressed - a line that humanity had been warned not to cross - that for a full year, average global temperatures had been higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

What was the price that humanity could come to pay for breaching such a critical boundary? At best, so said the scientists, an irrevocable change in our existence; and repercussions which would include the permanent disruption of food supplies and the displacement of many millions of people seeking refuge from the swathes of the planet's surface which had been rendered unliveable by climate breakdown. And at worst, the complete breakdown of civilization, the disappearance of most of the lifeforms we currently share the planet with, and a human death toll far beyond the combined cost of the worst atrocities in history.

And so, as evening approached on that day, perhaps the spirit of the author H G Wells could be invoked:

"It seems totally incredible to me now that everyone spent that evening as though it were just like any other. From the railway station came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling. Softened almost into melody by the distance.”

"It all seemed so safe and tranquil."

"We're on the Road to Nowhere"?

So that is the context against which we received this news. To all intents and purposes 1.5 degrees is gone. Yes, you can make objections to this assertion. It’s an El Niño year, and there may be fluctuations downwards that see the warming trend dip back below 1.5 degrees in the next few years. But ultimately with every COP disappointment, and the fact that we are yet to feel the full effect of the greenhouse gasses humanity has already released into the atmosphere, it’s time to face our failure.

And, alas, there was an inevitability about this failure. Now we have to consider:

  • Where next for the struggle against environmental degradation and climate breakdown?
  • Will the power makers eventually take the action we know they have to? And what will it be that finally prompts them to do this?
  • What will this ultimately mean for us as humanity, for our children and our children's children?
  • What does Crossing the Rubicon mean for Extinction Rebellion?

Some of our colleagues will begin to prepare for the worst, with the aim of survival now taking precedence over any idealistic visions of the future: Deep Adaptation. And many of our colleagues, always defiant, will continue the fight. Extinction Rebellion was formed in the knowledge that there was never any guarantee of a happy ending. But that doesn’t mean we’ll turn away now.

Yes, it may feel that this latest setback is too much to cope with, coming as it does on top of all of the suffering we see around the world, in Gaza, in Ukraine, in Yemen, in Sudan, in West Papua and many other places, and coming at the same time, as it does, as the incipient authoritarianism from a growing number of our own governments. There is a danger, and perhaps there always was, that we will lose some people by the wayside, so bleak is our outlook now.

Now, more than ever, we need to keep sight of the better future for all life on our planet we’re seeking to create.

“it’s so important to imagine a better world. Let your thoughts run wild with idealistic dreams of what the world should look like, and let the pain and anger at how it’s not that way flow through you. Let it free your mind and fuel your rage against the machine.

It’s not too late for you or anyone. We can have the world of our dreams tomorrow, but we have to be willing to fight today.” - Aaron Bushnell

This struggle will leave scars. And some scars, of the body, of the mind or of the heart, may not heal. But still we carry on. Still we rise.

Keep in mind that, in the words of Greta Thunberg, “Every fraction of a degree matters - and will always matter". This was never a battle for the faint of heart, or for minds given easily to despair. It is as true now as it was at the moment of its inception: there has never been a better time to Join The Rebellion.


There is a darkness in our future. We knew that already, but now every day, and with ever greater clarity, we see that darkness bearing down on us.

"I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere.

We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending." - Kate Marvel

So grieve. It's alright to feel grief. Grieve and protect your mental health. Reach out to your family, to your loved ones, to your friends, and hold them close to you.

And remember this: the one thing that counts above all, is kindness.

Ultravox - Dancing With Tears In My Eyes (Official Music Video)

About the Rebellion

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