In a recent article by Extinction Rebellion co-founder,
Stuart Basden he says that Extinction rebellion isn’t just about the climate.
“You see, the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of
a toxic system which has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans
and to all life. This was exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread
around the globe through cruelty and violence (especially) over the last 600
years of colonialism, although the roots of the infections go much further
Personally I think linking colonisation with climate
change is a smart move in some ways. But the connection needs to be explained
carefully if the group is not to confuse people and alienate potential
with Stuart’s first sentence but after that I have some serious reservations.
what do we mean when we talk about ‘colonisation’?
One of the main online dictionaries
defines colonisation as ‘the action or process of settling among and
establishing control over the indigenous people of an area”
However it is also defined
‘the action by a plant or
animal of establishing itself in an area’.
This is an important distinction and one that
I will come back to in a minute.
I would define colonisation as the appropriation of land and/or resources by an
outside group. But colonisation is not just a material thing. Minds can also be
colonised. In New Zealand
the indigenous population were not just dispossessed of their land and resources
but their identity was attacked as well by implanting Christianity as the
‘dominant religion’, English as the dominant language and many other things as
Pakeha (a New Zealander of European descent) I can say with absolute confidence
that there’s no doubt my own thinking about many subjects is affected by some
of the inherited baggage of the colonisation of this country.
alcoholic I know that the first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem
and before I can fully contribute to the meaningful decolonisation of land and
resources I need to try and decolonise my own mind.
the one of the challenges Extinction Rebellion faces is to make it explicit
that when we are saying that ‘Colonisation = Exploitation = Climate Change’ we
are not just talking about the European colonisation of the world.
talking in a much boarder sense about the way our own minds have been colonised
by the capitalist system and the big corporations who’ve thrived in what is a
basically a ‘survival of the fittest’ dog eat dog situation.
used to be said that capitalism encouraged competition but what it really
encourages is - monopolies. The little dogs have all been eaten by the big
ones. In a world wide surge of socialism between the forties and the seventies many
countries enacted legislation to try and prevent monopolies occurring. Ten
years later the neo-liberal governments that took over had most of them
repealed. Now we are left with little choice about who we bank with, who we get
out energy from and what sort of operating system we use on our computer. We’re
stuck with capitalism whether we like it or not and most of us can’t see a way
years I have also been working as an artist, a pacifist, an environmentalist
and an activist. I tried to oppose the rise of globalisation and neo-liberalism
(which began under Labour with Roger-nomics in the mid-Eighties and was brought
to its final apogee under the National government of John Key in recent years.).
perpetuate injustice, increase the divide between the rich and the poor and
both have been a complete and utter disaster for the environment.
difficult to fight neo-liberalism because many people didn’t know (and still
don’t know) what it is.
Matrix it was (and is) the dominant paradigm in this country and most people go
about their lives without realizing how completely trapped they are.
define neo-liberalism as a system where market forces are given the absolute
power to reign to rule at ALL costs and that any legislation which tries to
block the global flow of commerce (despite the huge environmental costs) is
aggressively resisted. It sounds a lot like colonisation doesn’t it?
process of neo-liberal capitalism, land and resources are ‘acquired’ by private
companies who set up systems to the almost exclusive benefit of themselves. Nature
is seen as ‘separate and other’ and put here for the use of those ruthless
enough to find a way to control and exploit it. Land can and should always be
privately owned and any other way of doing things is a pipe dream.
why the richest one percent reportedly own half the worlds’ wealth (2), 147
companies are reported to control ‘everything’ (3) and that only 100 companies
are responsible for 71 percent of the world emissions. (4)
the sort of colonisation I wish to confront.
agree with Stuart Basden’s contention that European civilisation should be the sole
Extinction Rebellion Protests there have been protests attacking historical
figures. Without wishing to get into a discussion of which Europeans are the most
responsible for the implementation of colonisation in NZ (and I would argue the
Wakefield family of ‘New Zealand Company’ fame would make much better targets than Captain Cook) this shaming and blaming goes explicitly
against Point #9 in the Extinction Rebellions charter –
blaming and shaming. We live in a toxic system. No one individual is to blame.”
with this one hundred percent! As humans
we all share the blame for colonising the natural world and for being colonised
(by neo-liberal governments and the big corporations).
brings me back to the second definition of colonisation and where my views
depart so radically from Stuart’s.
- Colonisation as ‘the action by a plant or
animal of establishing itself in an area’.
I believe that colonisation
is not just a European problem; it’s something plants, animals and people all do.
When humans first came to New
Zealand they introduced animals such as the kuri (dog) and
kiore (rat) and the latter went on to ‘colonise’ most of New Zealand and cause the
extinction of many ground nesting birds. The moa and some other species were
also exterminated by over-hunting. Maori who had been displaced from their home
in Taranaki by tribes from the Waikato region during the musket wars of the
1820’s and 1820’s ‘colonised’ the people of the Chatham
No one is completely
To summarise - I think Extinction Rebellion should try to
focus on a definition of colonisation that does not attack individuals but
helps people to understand that we’re all colonisers but we too have
become colonised by the corporations who are destroying this planet.
way out of this nightmare is to acknowledge our responsibility and to try and
find ways to work together without placing blame and to integrate ourselves back
into natural systems rather than trying to impose our selfish wills upon them. Part
of this process has to be the dismantling of the capitalist system and new political
systems put in place to ensure the survival of both our species and many of the
other plants and animals who share this planet with us.
A young Extinction Rebellion protester with her hands super-glued to the door of ANZ bank in Wellington during the October 2019 week of action. ANZ were targeted
for their investments in the fossil fuel industry.
A car painted by Toothfish and assistants at the October Week of Action in Wellington 2019.