Following XR York’s Fire and Floods Solidarity Vigil to show support for those affected by the disasters unfolding in Jakarta, Australia and Zambia, XR York and prolific activist Richard Lane explains the significance of the events and introduces the concept of ‘disaster fatigue’.
The drama and tragedy of the wildfires in southeastern Australia was a major news story over the New Year period. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, acted perfectly the part of a pantomime villain, as he wished away the effects of climate change from a beach on the other side of the world. We shared the fear of people fleeing from the fires, cowering in terror on beaches and lakes, losing their homes, losing their lives. These are people very much like us – their houses look like our houses, they drive to work like us, and they look like us.
The global reach of our news media means that we can watch the climate collapse in real time, but in no way equally. At the same time, in Jakarta, and getting far less coverage, torrential rain was turning the annual floods into an unprecedented disaster. On New Year’s Eve more rain fell than had ever been recorded before in the country. To give you some idea of how much we’re talking about: in that one day as much rain fell as falls on York in six months. Over 175,000 people were evacuated, with a death toll of 67 from hypothermia, electrocution, landslides and drowning.
The low-lying megapolis of Jakarta is used to flooding, and as has been the pattern all over the world, it is the most vulnerable, marginal land on which the slums are built that house the city’s poorest. As climate change pushes our weather systems to extremes of ever deepening droughts and intensifying rainfall, the rich can move to safety, whilst the lives of the poor only get cheaper.
Extinction Rebellion calls for climate justice. The life of the 16-year-old Indonesian boy killed by electrocution on New Year’s Day is worth as much as any other life. The disaster in Indonesia was not of the making of the slum dwellers who sat shivering on their roofs hoping for rescue. It is the richest countries of the world that have reaped the benefits of a century of fossil fuel addiction.
Whilst we share the terror and tragedy of those affected in Australia, we must recognise that the wealth and infrastructure – and, let’s be honest, the majority ethnicity – of their country makes them far more resilient. No superstars have yet donated cricket caps, Golden Globe outfits or private lunches with celebrity chefs to Jakarta. And Indonesia isn’t even a poor country, unlike heavily-indebted Zambia, where a two-year drought has the country on the brink of a famine. A major food crisis is already leaving 2.3 million people in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, along with a further 7.7 million in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
All this is why, for the first action of the year, Extinction Rebellion York gathered in St Helen’s Square to stand in solidarity with those affected by flooding, famine and wildfires across the world. The event was a vigil, a mourning for lost life – human, animal, and ecosystem – a procession of commemoration, a charity collection, and an expression of solidarity.
Around forty XR members gathered, joined by passers by, as the vigil began with a collection of songs, poems and readings to highlight the distress and destruction caused by these climate-affected natural disasters across the globe. The group, led by a green leaf-shaped lantern and a troupe of Red Rebels, then took part in a solemn candlelit march around the city. The soundtrack to the procession was a traditional Javanese song played and sung by members of Gamelan Sekar Patak, the Indonesian gamelan ensemble based at the University of York. York has been one of the major world centres outside of Indonesia for this musical tradition, and so has strong links to Jakarta. In a globalised world, you don’t have to look far until you find a connection to far-off lands, and in the face of a climate crisis that will very likely mean emigration on an unprecedented scale we need to maintain our common humanity more than ever.
As the climate crisis unfolds disasters like these will occur with ever increasing frequency. There will be many more vigils and processions like this. We will not allow disaster fatigue to set in. Every disaster, every death, can only be a stark reminder of our responsibility to act, to make changes that we can easily afford; to live, love and thrive more simply so that others may simply live, love and thrive.
Find out how you can get involved by visiting https://www.xryork.org.uk/ or coming to one of our weekly meetings, held every Tuesday at Spark at 7.30pm.