Pam Sutherland is a 62 year old retired accountant. She has been a climate activist since 2019, and was arrested and subsequently convicted for her occupation of the road outside Downing Street, as part of the Extinction Rebellion protests in October 2019.
She has recently completed a 15 day fast, sitting outside the Houses of Parliament as part of the Earth Fast protest, which involved several hundred participants from 25 countries. Extracts from a diary she kept at the time provide some insights into what drives her and activists like her.
Today I begin an indefinite fast in order to try to persuade the British Government to start taking the climate crisis more seriously. During daylight hours I shall be sat outside Parliament, where we have permission to protest for at least seven weeks.
Over the coming days I will be sharing some of my rationale for taking this action, as well as my adventures and feelings as I progress through it. For now I’m just feeling peckish! Breakfast will not be on the agenda today however.
So why, might you ask, have I decided to embark on this fast? Why would I want to risk my health and sit on the steps of Parliament Square in all weathers chatting to complete strangers in an attempt to effect change? Camping on Blackheath (I had forgotten how much I detest camping); getting dirtier each day?
Yesterday I was talking to a lady and her two daughters and she asked me “Why are you doing this? THEY (gestures contemptuously at Parliament) don’t care”.
“Well someone has to care” I replied, “So I will”.
I sit here daily, holding a card which reads “Ask me why I’m not eating”. Very few people do, apart from the kids. They are still curious, interested, concerned for me. They’re not worried about asking me. They are great! And I struggle to answer the question for them in a way that is not too frightening, when terrifying is truly where we are. I want a better world for these kids.
And so I will continue to sit here, until I can’t sit here anymore.
Yesterday I was talking about why I’m doing this, and got slightly sidetracked. I guess it’s mainly because I’m trying to move the dial in as many ways as I can. I’ve done a lot of personal things, as I guess we all have: solar panels, giving up flying, turning back garden into veg plot and so on, though bits of my life are still determinedly ungreen, and will remain so as long as we are trapped in this toxic system that essentially forces a high carbon lifestyle onto us.
And then I’ve done the public things: sign a petition, write to MP, vote for a green party, join a green party, go on demos, sit in the road and refuse to move, get arrested, get charged etc. So the fast is the next step on the public ladder. It’s a little act of love from me to the Earth and all the sentient beings that inhabit it, it has potential political traction, and it doesn’t damage anyone but me and my long suffering family. Fasting has a long and distinguished history in the field of non-violent direct action, so I’m trying it to see how it goes.
I’m still pressing on and feeling largely OK, so let’s talk about what Earth Fast is demanding of the UK Government. We want a Citizen’s Assembly on the climate crisis, to come up with solutions that can then be enacted into law. If this sounds a bit familiar it’s because it’s already been done by the British Government when it create a Climate Assembly in 2019.
The trouble was that body was not allowed to question key assumptions, like the 2050 carbon neutral target, and its recommendations have been, up till now, largely ignored. Properly constituted, a citizen’s assembly would be truly representative of the UK population, be allowed to examine all areas associated with climate change, and its recommendations would be made law. That’s the headline version. For those interested there’s more information here.
One frequent comment from passersby who stop to chat is to question why I bother, as the powers that be will pay no attention. So what does keep me going?
It’s partly the horror of what is to come. Every scientific indicator we have is telling us that things are going badly, horribly wrong, and that climate change is accelerating faster than we had anticipated, and that unimaginable tipping points await us if we do not act quickly and robustly. For me, not to act to call for change in the face of that knowledge would be very hard.
It’s partly the carbon guilt. I’ve had a lovely life using all the carbon, travelling extensively, consuming thoughtlessly, and little realising, as I ordered more and more expensive dishes in the restaurant of life, that I was leaving my children to pick up the bill. I have a lot of privilege as a result of that lifestyle, so I can do things that others can’t, and it seems only fair to use some of that privilege now to try and help put things right.
And it’s partly my belief that, whilst not all of us can be a Greta Thunberg, for every Greta there are thousands of other climate activists, toiling away quietly and thanklessly, but each helping to move the dial by a tiny, incalculable amount in the right direction. And I’m happy and proud to be one of them.
Day 15. A day too far.
It turns out that 15 days is a bit too much for me, and for a combination of personal and medical reasons I’ve decided to break my fast. I’m now safely home, I’m well, and have embarked on a 6 day refeeding programme that should get me back to normal eating quantities. I send the biggest hugs to my fellow fasters and supporters, and I hand the baton now to the remaining fasters, with much love and gratitude.
If there is one thing I hope could come from this is that my example could encourage everyone to go just a little bit further in their love for this beautiful blue/green planet; our only home.
Whatever you are doing (and I know some of you are doing a lot) could I urge you to take it to the next level? Sign a petition or two. Install those solar panels. Support an environmental organisation that you feel aligned to. Plant some veg. Sit in the road and get arrested. Keep writing to your MP and voting with your conscience. For time is running out, and it has never been more urgent that we all pull together.