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A view of extinction rebellion from the American West

“Tell the truth and act like that truth is real” is one of the core tenets of Extinction Rebellion.

'Our government has failed to tell the truth': Why I joined Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion protest

by Trevor Neilson

I grew up in the forest and mountains of Washington State, fishing with my father on Puget Sound and in the lake in front of our house, hiking the mountain trails on Mt. Rainier, camping and upland bird hunting in the Palouse.

I now live in the mountains in southern California. Most mornings when I leave my house I see coyotes and the rabbits they hope to catch for breakfast.

A few months ago, a mountain lion crossed the road in front of me, and for a moment, I thought I would be his breakfast.

The birds, butterflies and hummingbirds around me are a constant reminder of the spectacular fragility and beauty of the place where I’m lucky enough to live.

I’m an entrepreneur and a capitalist, though I think capitalism needs to evolve and evolve fast.

I own an old Ford pickup truck, a big dog and a shotgun.

I’ve never seen myself as an activist. I have been involved in government and philanthropy, but have never thought of myself as someone who would go to a protest.

But then, in November the Woolsey Fire exploded through the mountains where I live. My wife, two-year-old son and dog jumped into the car with a few family photos and joined almost 300,000 others in a mass evacuation, a line of cars chased by a cloud of apocalyptic smoke and the largest fire in the history of Southern California.

While I had been involved in climate change prior to the fire, there is something about an evacuation that helps you really focus on what it means to your life.

Last year, the world put over 32 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere — the highest level in history.

Our atmosphere has more carbon in it than at any time in the last 800,000 years, and as a result, terrifying weather events are unfolding around the world every day. Unless we make dramatic changes this will only get worse.

We are in the midst of a global climate emergency, and the truth is, the governments of the world are largely ignoring the problem.

Rise of Extinction Rebellion

The good news is Extinction Rebellion and other activist groups are starting to change this.

In the UK, Extinction Rebellion gathered protestors who shut down Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square in London in a successful effort to get the British government to declare a climate emergency.

Protestors also gathered in New York City to demand a climate emergency be declared — and they succeeded.

In Washington, D.C., protestors glued themselves to the U.S. Capitol.

Greta Thunberg, the heroic young climate activist, is currently on a sailboat on her way the U.S., capturing the world’s attention and inspiring hope as she calls for a global climate strike on September 20th.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is hard at work attacking nature in every way he can. This week brought us a new attack on the Endangered Species Act, an attempt to remove one of the only laws we have to protect the most fragile creatures that live in the American wilderness.

I’ve never glued myself to anything, have never gone on strike, and have never really wanted to go to a rally. But any practical analysis of the situation we are in leads to a pretty clear conclusion: we need to dramatically change the course we are on. That course is leading us to one clear place — a planet that is almost uninhabitable for our children and their children.

“Tell the truth and act like that truth is real” is one of the core tenets of Extinction Rebellion. As I see it, the truth is that our government has failed to tell the truth — and has failed to address the single greatest threat to my family and to the American way of life.

Those of us in the West have never really depended on the government. Independence is core to our character, and at one point was core to our survival.

On June 26th, 1857 a terrible fire on a ship called the Montreal killed all of my great-great grandfather’s family on their journey to America. Peter McColl — a 9-year-old Scottish boy in a strange land — somehow made his way out of the water and went on to build a new life in the American West. He didn’t ask any government for help — he relied on himself to survive. The spirit of the American West is one of self-reliance and independence. It is this spirit that we need to bring to the climate emergency.

Extinction Rebellion may have been born in the English countryside, but its philosophy is one that resonates in the American West.

We need to save ourselves from the existential threat that climate change presents and that begins by us demanding that our government act — not by waiting for them to come to that conclusion on their own.

Our survival depends on it.

Trevor Neilson is Co-founder and CEO of i(x) investments, Co-founder and Chairman of Climate Emergency Fund, and Co-Founder of Global Philanthropy Group

Reprinted by permission of the author

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