Chelsea Follett: Joining me today is Zion Lights, a passionate science advocate and writer. She’s the author of the Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting and has been called Britain’s Greenest Mother by the Daily Telegraph, and an eco-pragmatist by the Guardian. A woman of varied interests, she has also given a TED Talk on Stargazing and published a book of poetry. She is also the founder of Emergency Reactor, which advocates for nuclear power to decrease harmful emissions. Her writing has appeared in the Telegraph, CDAM, BBC Wildlife Magazine, and many other outlets. She is also a former spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, a radical environmental group that made headlines recently for a stunt that involved throwing a soup at a painting by Vincent Van Gogh on display at London’s National Gallery. And she joins the podcast to discuss her recent piece in the free press titled Climate Activism has a cult problem wherein she writes that as a member of Extinction Rebellion, she watched people become, in her words, brainwashed into apocalypticism and pulling outrageous stunts in the name of saving the planet. How are you Zion?
Zion Lights: I’m good thank you. Thanks for that introduction.
Chelsea Follett: No, thank you for joining me. So let’s walk through this piece. We’re going to go practically line by line, but you open it by mentioning the Van Gogh painting stunts and several other dramatic incidents. For those who aren’t familiar with these news stories that you mentioned, could you run through some of these dramatic incidents?
Zion Lights: So, Extinct Rebellion and Just Stop Oil are separate groups. I was an extinction rebellion, not Just Stop Oil, and I was a spokesperson for a couple of years, and there was a more extreme faction in Extinction rebellion that some of us were fighting against and some actions were undertaken we a lot of us weren’t on board with. Basically that battle sort of ended with the other side winning, so I stepped away, as did many other people. But it’s almost irrelevant now because a new kind of, there’s a new game in town, which is Just Stop Oil, and that’s quite a lot of those people that we disagreed with have gone off and set that group up, and they undertake direct action, but they’ve got a new stunt, which is throwing soup paintings in art galleries and museums. They block very busy roads like motor ways and they encourage people and especially young people to get involved with these actions. So, I saw a lot of precursor to that, even though I wasn’t involved in it, and now I’ve seen the outcome, which I think was inevitable. And I think that we should have done more to try and prevent that in Extinction Rebellion when we saw that element was taking over.
Chelsea Follett: Given your experience with this, what’s your reaction now when you hear about one of these dramatic incidents?
Zion Lights: Honestly, I feel sorry for the people involved. I think they’re being misled, especially, again, young people. If you look at the people who are behind these groups, they’re not young people. They are actually a lot of them are older men and they are giving talks around the UK and encouraging young people to take control and deal with their anxiety by pouring themselves into this activism, which actually, if you think about it, is not doing anything to reduce global greenhouse emissions. It’s not doing anything to protect biodiversity or nature. But when you’re young and impressionable, and I know I’ve been there and you are anxious, it’s very easy for those people to convince you that this is the only way that you can help with the world’s problems. No one is listening and no one cares, and the older generations failed you, and you have to take part in these activities or you have no future and nobody will have a future.
Zion Lights: So, I feel a lot of compassion for these people. There was recently a young woman who climbed up on a gantry here to block a motorway, and she took this video of herself, that went viral where she’s crying saying, “Don’t blame me. I feel betrayed.” And I just felt nothing but pity and compassion for her. She’s risking everything. She’s risking a criminal record. She’s risking her life undertaking activity like that. And what’s it actually going to change? What’s it… How’s it actually going to address any of the world’s issues? But I think that’s just the outcome of this constant, what I call doomerous narrative that is also very widely supported in press. It’s come from these groups and these specific individuals in these groups, but it’s just become so normal now. All the reporting run, it’s so negative and it just feeds into that anxiety that young people have. So, I don’t blame them for getting involved, but I worry, as a mother of two daughters, I worry that it’s reaching young people and that they’re feeling hopeless and like there’s no other option than to undertake quite extreme action.
Chelsea Follett: You were once involved, as you said, in similar actions yourself. Can you tell me about your involvement in what you call the largest civil disobedience demonstration in decades and your other activism in that vein?
Zion Lights: I started out doing activism quite a long time ago with different groups, and it was still direct action. We were shutting down banks. We tried to shut Kingsnorth Coal Fire Station here in Britain. We were a small group and that group kept climate action. It fizzled out. I’m not against taking these actions in principle, obviously the suffragettes achieve things. There’s different ways of doing things. Gandhi led assault March. Very peaceful action that helped to get independence for India. So, I’m not against in principle, but what my biggest disagreement is with what I’m seeing climate activism the direction it’s going in is that it’s not leading to anything concrete. It’s not for a specific aim. It’s not getting people on board. It’s not… What is it actually fighting. So, I took part in the the six rebellion, what we call the April Rebellion in 2019, where we shut down four huge roads across London. And it was very successful with thousands of people involved. It was really what kind of propelled us to the public domain because it had such widespread coverage. But the main thing was, it was very positive.
Zion Lights: People were really positive at this event. I was there at Waterloo Bridge helping to keep the site clear of cars, and people were really positive. They’re coming up to us and asking us questions. And they were glad. They were saying, how can I get involved? I’m glad that people are talking about climate change now. Can I help? And I saw this as a moment where right now we can lead people into solutions. This is really great. So I was happy when I was asked to be a spokesperson. I was happy to take that role because I thought, well, if I don’t, someone else might, and they might not report things accurately. So I’ll go and do it, and I’ll talk about the issues. But then I was A, very hemmed in by what I was allowed to talk about as a spokesperson which I found difficult.
Zion Lights: And B the mood very quickly changed from being this positive movement. And it really was positive. There were Krishna cycling around giving people free food. There were like so many families there it was family friendly, kids playing with chalk. It was so positive how it went from that to what, what it became a year later where you had people stripping off in Westminster and holding up banners saying, “We’re all doomed.” I don’t… Well, I do know how that happened, but I try to prevent that happening. And I was not successful. So I took part in that. It was very positive. I think you have real potential to go somewhere good. And instead it became more and more extreme. And as I wrote in that free press piece, the turning point really I think was Canning Town, which was a tube station in Britain.
Zion Lights: A small faction of Extinction Rebellion targeted these tube stations on the basis that they were in deprived areas, and there wouldn’t be a lot of security to prevent them. And then because of the lack of security, they weren’t protected from the mob that pulled them down from the tube and started kicking them. And it was just horrendous. And again, you look at it and you think, how is this actually helping solve any of the world’s problems? Are we actually part of the problem? And although the group did say that… Did apologize and say, maybe it wasn’t the best action, we shouldn’t have done it. They really didn’t change tact at all. And as I say, the more radical elements went off to form Just Stop Oil. And they’re the ones that are doing all the actions now. Extinction Rebellion actually has now stepped away from doing disruptive actions.
Chelsea Follett: Right. So it was a more economically depressed area, and it was specifically preventing the more working class people from…
Zion Lights: Sorry.
Chelsea Follett: Commuting as you point out in the piece. But let’s zoom out for a moment. Tell me about how you became involved at first with Radical Environmental Activism, Direct Action and eventually Extinction Rebellion.
Zion Lights: So my entry into activism was Greenpeace actually. They were leaflet in my area where I lived in a city, in the inner inner city in a city here called Birmingham. And I was feeling very hopeless already about what was learning at school about global warming. But again, it’s sort of taught, but you’re not told there are any solutions. And this is a long time ago. And I don’t think that’s really changed either the way that that’s explained to children. And no one around me really seemed to care about anything to do with it. And so Greenpeace seemed like, okay, these guys are putting through need, saying quite, as they do quite hyperbolic things. But I was very young as impressionable, and I got involved with that group to begin with.
Zion Lights: And from there, then you get… If you are an active person with energy, who cares about things, you get put into all these different roles. And I was just kind of moved through this movement into more and more active participatory roles like, actually going to shut things down. And actually taking more of a stance using what they would say is your physical body, your physical body is your… That’s your weapon as they would say. So, I was young and I was taken in. And you have to remember that some people say, how could that have happened? But you have to remember that these guys, everybody thinks that these are the good guys, even now.
Zion Lights: If you look at Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace they are funded by donations, public donations, people think that they’re the good guys. And I was young and I thought they were the good guys. I did not see them as fighting against solutions. I did not see that they were doing damage in the world. I thought they were fixing problems. And they have, obviously, some of these groups have done great things around, for example, protecting whales and things like that. So, it’s a mixed bag. But really they… None of these organizations that I’ve been part of or seen actually support concrete things that would stop climate change. So, for example, they’re all anti-nuclear. Greenpeace is heavily anti-nuclear, even now. And this is a key thing because I was anti-nuclear because they had put out literature that said that Fukushima had killed lots of people and that there were radioactive fish.
Zion Lights: I was young and I believed it. For years I believed it because then I was in groups where everybody around me believed it. And these were adults. These were sensible people. These people were nice to me. They all believed it. So we all believed the same lies. We’ve been misled. And it took a… It takes a long time. It took me a long time to actually start questioning that and stepping back and saying, have I been lied to by people who are kind to me? People who cook dinner for me? And I stand in roads with that and hold placards up with and paint banners with. It’s very hard to take a step back and go, wait a minute. This is, it’s not just one group. It’s an entire movement of basically misleading you on what the world’s problems are and how to fix them. And yet everyone thinks that they are the ones that care most about the problems and most want to fix them. And what I’m trying to do now with that article, and another one that I just wrote that had to prevent young people from getting into this doomerous movement is just…
Zion Lights: We need to lay these foundations of actually lots of good things are happening. Lots of things are being solved, and we’re not talking about that enough. It’s not just all doom and gloom. And actually if you look at human history, we’ve lifted more people out of poverty now than ever before. We are thriving. Humankind is thriving even though we have these challenges. But those challenges, we listen to the actual scientists and climate scientists, they’re entirely solvable. There is not an end of civilization scenario here, that is coming only from activists, but that has become the dominant, narrative now.
Chelsea Follett: So, obviously there are a lot of good intentions and there is some good as well, but you also speak of noticing red flags when you joined Extinction Rebellion, what were some of those initial red flags?
Zion Lights: They’re all good intentions and in any group you’ll get difficult people. So I did see and experienced difficult people. In fact, I was involved in a couple of complaints. I put in these sort of, we didn’t really have a complaint system. There was no HR department at Extinction Rebellion, but I did put in complaints about certain individuals that I saw to be bullying other people. Nothing ever came of it because there was no real way of dealing with it. But it happened quite a lot. And it happened even at the office where we were based in London. Just people turning up, being anxious, screaming, I had someone screaming at me because they didn’t like something that I’d done. And it is really a horrible environment actually to work in, if I’m honest. But because they’re anxious, you are anxious and everybody’s anxious, it’s kind of like, well, we just give this a pass because we’re the ones that know how to solve the problem.
Zion Lights: And so we are just gonna focus on the problems. No, kind of looking at the process of, well, how do we behave or interact with each other? Are we actually the people who are in a position to offer something good to the world when we’re treating each other badly? And they were constant fallouts. Again, that will happen in most organizations, but it was, honestly, it was quite a toxic environment. And I did spend a lot of time at the office. I don’t live in London. I was there fairly often, but I wasn’t there all the time. But when I started to talk to other women there, I heard there were a lot of issues going on involving women being harassed and no one doing anything about it. And no one taking responsibility and even being told when they would take complaints forward, even being told, “We don’t have time to deal with that, we just wanna save the planet.” And it would just keep coming back to that. And then of course, there was one of the founders saying awful things about the Holocaust, and there were Jewish members who were so deeply upset saying, you shouldn’t have said that. And we feel like leaving.
Zion Lights: And they were just told, if that’s what you wanna fight about, there’s no space for you in the movement. And several of them did leave, sadly without any kind of personal resolution or apology. And again, I was in their fight. I was, so much of it for me was fighting that fight. So, I was fighting on their behalf trying to resolve the problems, completely not focused on, well actually overall, what is this organization doing and is it helping? That came later when I went on the Andrew Neil show as a live broadcast, and I was asked to defend one of the founders, made-up calculations that 6 billion people would die at the end of the century.
Zion Lights: I refused to do it and I was told off for that afterwards. I was told by the spokespeople, training people, you should have defended it. We’ve got scientists who will back it. And I said, well, that’s finding scientists retrospectively to support a back of the envelope calculation is not how science works and I’m not going to. But it was, again, really uncomfortable and toxic. And I think, yeah, if I was younger and I hadn’t had more experience, I probably would’ve just caved and said what they said, but said that what they wanted me to say. But if you look at a lot of the spokespeople that the Just Stop Oil now turns out are using the same model. It is always the same talking points. It is always are they crying on camera? Look how upset they are. They’re just concerned people they just, they feel they’ve been failed. And it’s always that same messaging. It’s very powerful messaging. But they’ve absolutely been manipulated. And honestly, I feel sorry for them. They’ve got a long journey ahead of them to step away from that anxiety and just constant feeling of doom.
Chelsea Follett: And if you do believe that the world is going to end within a decade, that must be incredibly stressful. So that high stress environment you described, that makes sense. But you also mentioned some other specific red flags. You say that you were instructed to cry on camera, that was actually something you were told to do. You say your co-workers would show up barefoot to the office. And that they wouldn’t take care of the property, management eventually kicked them out, apparently.
Zion Lights: So yeah, so we had this office in London and it was, we were renting this room in an office building where there were other activist organizations in other parts of the building. And we had constant warnings about, it wasn’t just that, it was so about people walking barefoot ’cause this was kind of seen as a hygiene issue and about not washing up after ourselves. And anytime I’d visit the office, there was just cutlery and dishes everywhere. I even would go around and collect them and wash them just because it would drive me crazy, but the next day there’d just be another, people just wouldn’t wash up after themselves. There was a sink. They was washing up liquid, they wouldn’t clean up after themselves. And the building didn’t, it wasn’t their job to do that.
Zion Lights: So they were getting fed up because it was unhygienic. There were, I saw people walking around barefeet, even though we had a sign at the entrance that said, keep your shoes on. So look there was pushback against these people, but unfortunately there was no. You know one of the problems I think, and this happens with a lot of these organizations, is we didn’t have a way of managing that. We’re like, “Everybody’s welcome. Everybody can come in.” And anyone could come into the office, like you sign in. But that’s about it. So we, there was no protection when you got difficult people coming in people behaving badly. There was no process to take that forward awful cases, including like, quite serious harassment, just never resolved. There was no process, I’d put put complaints forward for people, including some racial abuse. And I was just told, “This will be sorted out. It’ll go through this process.” And I was told again and again, and it never went anywhere. They would not resolve, they did not care about resolving these issues. I eventually realized that.
Zion Lights: And again, there were good people who were trying to resolve it. So they were like me, and they were trying to but they also didn’t realize this organization does not care about these issues. The founders, the people in charge do not care. All they care about is the world’s gonna end. This is our mission. We have the truth, and this is our job, and nothing else matters. And I think that’s really dangerous, a really dangerous way to view the world. And, yeah, there were so many things. There was a meditation room there, which was a nice idea. It was a quiet space you could go and just think. But there was always weird like rituals and things that don’t really appeal to me as an atheist.
Zion Lights: Just, yeah, I don’t know, pagan rituals or other random crystal healing or whatever. It’s not really my thing. But, yeah, again, I did kind of take that as a yellow flag. Like these people are saying follow the science, but then they’re using crystals and sprinkling tinctures or homemade, whatever, sage over themselves to protect themselves. You know it’s not really my thing. But again, I still think there’s only a small amount of those people. It’s not everybody in the organization. There were a lot of people like me trying to do good. I mean there were many red flags that I ignored.
Zion Lights: But when you’re caught up in that and I was also editing the newspapers, which was a lot of work, and you’re caught up in this entire movement. And like any day there might be an action, which is suddenly all over the news and you’re pulled in as a spokesperson. It was like you didn’t have a lot of time to think day to day about… I knew enough that I wasn’t involved in my children. I never took them to the office. I didn’t even take them on protest, and I was encouraged. So in the spokesperson training, official training, yeah, we were told, “Bring your children, use your children.” Which I never did.
Zion Lights: But again, I’m maybe a little bit more resilient because I’ve been in these groups for a long time, and I’m a bit older as well than other people. And, yeah, I remember being told, the first person who cries on TV gets a medal or something like that. And, yeah, again, it’s not something I tried to do, but I just sort of filed it away as, “Am I comfortable with that?” He said it in a joking way. Maybe it’s okay, but over time started to think, this isn’t good. This is more reflective of quite a toxic thing that’s going on here. And actually, who is it helping? Is it helping anything? And what? Well I’ll tell you something that was really the turning point for me that I didn’t write about in that piece ’cause there are so many things I could write about.
Zion Lights: There’s a youth group in Extinction Rebellion, and these young people are so anxious. They are so… If my kids were that anxious about anything, they would be in therapy. Like I would… It was really worrying how stressed and afraid they were. And we knew that there were huge issues with self-harming in those groups. Now, I understand that’s something that happens with young people, but there was no help for them because it was seen as well, of course they are. The planet’s screwed, of course they’re gonna self-harm. And there are even photos of some of these young people. There was one activity where they… One action where they stripped off, I think it was on… Can’t remember where that was, on outside Westminster, maybe.
Zion Lights: There were a couple of actions where they stripped off and in the photos you could see their arms just covered in cuts. And we actually, when those went out ’cause I was in the media team, kind of helped to approve photos that went out to press. When they went out, we kind of cut those out ’cause they looked horrific. But that was really, I remember just thinking, wait a minute, who’s encouraging these kids to do, I mean, some of them are really young. One of them 16. She was 16 and she was just… She was in a documentary as well. So the media encouraged it as well. Let’s give them more of a platform. They’re really anxious and outspoken and they’re young, but actually they’re too young.
Zion Lights: They need support and help and something I realized around that when I would talk to some of them and I tried to say, I tried to help and I’d say, “You know, we know it’s not as bad as that. You know there are things you can do and you’re doing your bit and that’s all you can do and, et cetera, et cetera.” They would say, “Nothing I do is enough. What’s the point?” These kind of doomerous responses is what I get. But I remember thinking, if this person didn’t have bad anxiety, would they even be in this movement? Is the anxiety about climate change or have they. Do they have anxieties because they have mental health issues, which many people do have, and instead of getting help for them, they’re going into an organization that claims to help them but is actually using them for photo opportunities and drastic actions where they’re risking getting criminal records and more anxiety through the court process and bad media representation or even good media representation.
Zion Lights: I wouldn’t want my kids to have that level of TV exposure. I’ve protected them from that, actually. And yeah, that was something that really started to kick around in the back of my mind because I just remember seeing those… The cuts on their arms and just thinking, “Wait, there’s something deeply wrong here.” But it’s very hard. So this article that I’ve just written on my Substack about how to help people to get out of these groups. I’ve explained in it, it’s very hard when you don’t have anyone else, with a different perspective, to talk to about these things. I was lucky ’cause I did and I could go out and say, “Well, you know, actually, I’ve seen these things.” And I get these really shocked responses and start thinking, “Hey, it’s not just me.” But when it’s normalized in a group with lots of people, it’s very hard to shift your thinking around that. It’s just the dominant thing. Everybody’s anti-nuclear. Everybody thinks the world’s gonna end. Everybody agrees on all of these issues.
Zion Lights: It’s very hard to challenge those beliefs in yourself when there’s no way to challenge them outwardly with anyone, with people that you trust and spend a lot of time with. So it was for me, it was being able to have those people who would without judgment just listen and maybe they didn’t even… They went against, things that we were doing, but they would listen with concern when I brought things like this up. And that really helped me to have a better perspective of what was happening. Whereas a lot of the people in those groups, it’s the only thing they do. It’s their whole life is this group. Because that’s the narrative that’s pushed. And it is a cult like narrative, right? We have the answers. We are your salvation. There’s apocalypse coming. Stay here and do this. Nothing else matters. Nothing else matters, including your own well-being.
Chelsea Follett: You did mention, in the piece, several youth members telling you that they didn’t believe that they would live to be 30. And you talk about the group preying upon young people’s guilt and anxiety. And that’s a sort of segue to you talking about why you characterize that group now. And some groups like it as a cult. So what are the characteristics of a cult?
Zion Lights: I mean, so I didn’t call the group a cult, but I think they were cultish elements and, yeah, so there’s this sort of un-question, this is ideology that you can’t question. And that’s, we have the truth. I mean, it was literally in our three demands. Tell the truth. We have the truth. And we are telling you to tell the truth about how apocalyptic the future will be. And then there were things like, yeah, you don’t question that and you don’t… You bring other issues forward, you are just distracting, you’re distracting from the real thing. Climate emergency, the climate crisis when actually, of course there are a lot of other issues in the world. And even around climate change, you could talk about, biodiversity, other issues, which actually they did involve biodiversity later on.
Zion Lights: But, it was very controlled is the main thing. And so the cleverest thing I think about this that makes it kind of cult like, is Extinction Rebellion, build itself as a leaderless movement. And there are many people in that group today or outside the group who would still say that. And I used to say that, because that is the way it’s presented. You’re autonomous, you can just take action in our name. But actually those demands come from a small group of people at the top. The funding that we would get from donors, huge amounts of funding would be controlled by a small amount of people at the top. And all these decisions were being made by the same group, the small amount of people at the top. Largely led by one individual, who I’ve named in the piece.
Zion Lights: And no one else got a say. And I only realized that when I started to see that those decisions were being made. And I would say, “Well, hang on, actually, I don’t support that. Or can we question it?” No, it’s not up for debate. You’re not in that group. You don’t get to. And I actually did get very high up. I was in the core group. But I could never present anything that would rise above the people that led the group, the people that led the group who controlled the finances, who came up with the demands, who push the mass arrest narrative, which a lot of us push back on, that who push, yeah, apocalyptic visions of six billion people dying by the end of the century. So that is not a leadless movement. That is a movement that’s being led.
Chelsea Follett: Right, Let’s talk about…
Zion Lights: And it’s very clever in a way that if people think it’s leadless, how could it possibly be anything like a cult? When actually it doesn’t matter. No one who’s in a cult thinks they’re in a cult, right? Very clever way of even people like me, making people like me think, “Oh, great, this can’t be harmful because we all get a say in the decisions, this is truly democracy.” It’s what they would say. We support true democracy, everyone gets a say. That’s their fair demand, but actually they don’t live by it. But it takes time to see that. And I only really saw it ’cause I got in with those people at the top and saw it happening myself when I was at a lower level doing things like the newspaper, which I did have a lot of autonomy over. I didn’t question it.
Chelsea Follett: When you talk about, Roger Hallam, I’m not trying to say his name, who referred to himself apparently as a prophet and some of his predictions, he was one of the main leaders and he claimed that war, murder and the rape of young women on a global scale are just around the corner due to the imminent complete collapse of society that he believed was coming because of climate change. You talk about how his rhetoric has if anything, become more lured recently. He put out a statement, saying that, “Gangs will see your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, and they will gang rape her on the kitchen table. They will take a cigarette lighter and burn your eyes out with it.” I mean, this is really over the top, apocalyptic rhetoric that doesn’t do anything to help the planet. Can you tell me about Roger?
Zion Lights: I mean, this is not new. This is Roger the whole time. This is what Roger believes, or I don’t know if he believes it or not, but it’s what he… It’s the messaging, he’s always pushed. And he’s written about it extensively. He writes pamphlets. That’s what you’re quoting from one of his pamphlets. He gives talks around the UK. He wanted to do a tour of America. But I believe his visa was denied and he wasn’t able to go and do that a couple years ago. But, yeah, that’s the language he uses. He thinks it’s appropriate language. The unfortunate thing is that the way you’ve just reacted to that is not the way that people in Extinction Rebellion reacted to that. He was very respected in that group and very protected. And there was a fraction of us, including me, who we’re trying to push him out.
Zion Lights: And we even wrote this open letter to him, saying, “It’s time for you to move on. We don’t want you to represent this group anymore.” And that letter got torn into shreds by the people that follow his vision, who will protect him at all costs, because he is their prophet. He does have the answers to salvation that no one else has. He does see apocalypse coming that no one else sees, everyone else is blind to, ’cause Roger’s a genius and he takes responsibility for founding this entire movement, which isn’t true. It had a lot of founders at the beginning. Some of them actually left because of Roger. Some stayed because they wanted to try and reign things in from Roger. What I saw, there’s a lot of people involved they felt responsible but even they ended up quitting, they were just not being able to. And Roger’s very powerful figure and he absolutely led that movement. Is not a leaderless movement. And what happened is that as his comments became more publicly well known, for example, what he said about the Holocaust, upsetting XR Germany, upsetting XR Jews.
Zion Lights: It was harder to ignore because the press started criticizing us and other other activist groups that are criticizing us which is great because there are decent people in this movement. They just don’t get any coverage because it all goes to the people that are good at getting media coverage by causing mass disruption. And because of that, we eventually did manage to say, “Right, he needs to go.” But he continued. You know, again, there’s no rules, there’s no one to reign anything and he continued to do media as XR spokesperson, he continued to be in documentaries, he’s got his platform now, he’s got a large amount of followers, he still tours around the UK telling young people the things that you have just said, right? That is what he’s going and telling people. And imagine you are a young person, so I said in my article, 56% are young people have genuine fear about the future for a myriad different reasons but climate is one of the big reasons.
Zion Lights: And imagine you are hearing that messaging from someone who says, “I just founded this extremely successful global movement so I have the answers.” You hear that and then you’re filled with fear. I mean, I’m filled with fear and I don’t believe it I’m filled with fear at the thought that someone will come in my house and hurt my children because there’s climate breakdown and there’s not enough food to go around. That’s what he says, right? There’s not enough food to go around. So he takes actual things that scientists say that are reasonable. Like we should look at food supply and how to protect that because certain things will happen. Like drought might be more common or whatever. Things might happen along the chain. He takes those things and makes them really extreme. So he’s a really good storyteller actually, that makes them into these big… Like, that means you won’t have any food. So people will come in your house and they will take your food and for some reason they’ll also rape everybody in your family.
Zion Lights: That’s literally what he’s telling young people. And then, so you have to have compassion for them when you see them crying, running into roads on motorways. I mean, look, Extinction Rebellion did actions in roads but motorways no, this is like a step up. They’re more and more dangerous what they’re doing. And they just did something at the Grand Prix, I think as well. These are really fast cars and he’s putting them right in harm’s way. And it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt. And I guarantee you that when that happens, they will still say, they will really believe, well, it’s good because it got media attention. Everybody’s talking about it. Whereas, you and I don’t see things that way and I never would’ve seen things that way but I honestly didn’t realize for a long time that that was… Those are kind of the core values and beliefs of this group because it’s so heavily led by people like him. That was not evident right away. And it’s still not evident to a lot of people which is why I’m now talking about it which is uncomfortable but like I said, I don’t want my kids to hear this messaging and get trapped in these groups, when actually there’s so many positive things they could do in the world that… And there’s so many great things happening in the world, that it’s completely unnecessary.
Chelsea Follett: Absolutely. Let’s talk about your appearance now on The Andrew Neil Show that you alluded to because it relates to all of this. So, you say you were pressured to try to defend this assertion that you, don’t believe in that six billion people will die by the end of the century because of climate change. A figure made up by Roger and his claim that, I think all of our children will be dead within 10 to 20 years, something like that. And at one point in the interview, Andrew notes that, you know, deaths from extreme weather events are actually declining not because the events are declining but because we’re better able to respond to them. He talks about managing the predicted half meter in sea level rise or ways to respond and he talks about crying school children who believe they are doomed.
Chelsea Follett: And your answer to that at the time when you were still under the sway of this cult like group was essentially that and this is an exact quote, “Alarmist language works.” That’s something you said to bring attention to these issues and that seems to be sort of the mindset.
Chelsea Follett: Can you tell me about that interview? And there’s another moment in it when he asks you if we should stop all aviation to reduce global temperature by 0.03 degrees and he asks also what we should replace gas energy with apparently the group was against gas energy and you answered, “I’m not here to talk about solutions which kind of sums up the attitude of the group,” right…
Zion Lights: Yeah.
Chelsea Follett: Yeah.
Zion Lights: So I had my moment of… So there’s… When I was researching cult, so when I was in Extinction Rebellion, I was always asked why media, is it a cult? And I would say, no and I genuinely meant that because I didn’t see these elements. Nobody who’s in a cult sees these elements, right? I started to… I was questioning things but obviously I wasn’t going to say that live on television when asked about it…
Zion Lights: But when I was researching and I wrote my piece that I wrote today for my sub stalk where I go into… Well, what are cult… What is a cult? What are the defining, you know, parameters of a cult? One of the things in there says sometimes something can happen that’s so extreme in a cult that would jolt people out of it. And that I had already had that moment when I saw the kids who’d been self-harming because I was really, genuinely just deeply concerned and thinking instead of helping them, we are using them. I remember thinking that, you know.
Zion Lights: But not being able to say it anywhere to anyone. I couldn’t even say it to these kids because they would say, we have agency and we, you will just, you are an adult taking away our voice. There was not a way to have that conversation. So I remember just feeling it and not having anywhere to go. And then I sat in that hot seat and he asked me so many questions that I had answers to, and I couldn’t give any of those answers because as a spokesperson, we do not talk about those solutions, right? We do not talk about what would replace gas or what happens instead of aviation. I could even talk about, well, in Britain for example, you could cut out, short distance flights by having a much better rail system. We have an okay rail system.
Zion Lights: There’s a lot of problems. But I could talk about that at length about how that could be a typical solution. A lot of people would use the system if it was cheap and if they run on time, it is a lot less faffing than using the airport. But yeah, and that’s why I talk about now because now I just have my own voice and nobody can, nobody controls that. But as a spokesperson, that was not in my training. It was not, how do you answer about transport? How do you answer about energy? It was just always bring it back to the climate emergency and people are gonna die. People are dying right now. Bring it back to I’m a mother and I’m here because of my kids. And try and cry. And the only solution is in their three demands, which is their demand, which is they want citizen assemblies to replace current democracy because they say the system has failed.
Zion Lights: Climate change was caused by the system, therefore it’s failed. Therefore, we need to get rid. So really it’s political revolution, right? It’s actually what, it’s not about climate change, it’s about political revolution. It’s right there in the demands. So I wanted to talk about climate change and I suddenly sat there and I realized all the things I want to say. I can’t say. So this is the first time I’ve had an interview where I could, I was actually asked those questions. ’cause otherwise it was always just about disruption and protest. And, I had all these talking points. What are your three demands? Blah, blah. But in that interview, he asked really good questions where I had lots to say, and I sat there thinking I can’t say them. And I got so frustrated that I did admit that they use Alarmist language, which I also got told off by doing.
Zion Lights: Why did you go at Alarmist? Beyond? Because it’s true. And I said the thing about I’m not here to offer you solutions, because I was frustrated because I wanted to offer them, and I knew. So afterwards, they did say to me, why didn’t you talk about citizen assemblies? That’s our solution. And, but the reason I didn’t is because I knew that he would just absolutely tear that apart. And I was not prepared to sit there and try and defend it. I couldn’t defend what Roger had said, about 6 billion people dying by the end of the century. I couldn’t answer the questions about solutions. And I was very aware that millions of people watching and I was sitting here representing this organization and we’re just, what am I doing here? So for me, that was the thing that jolted me out of, this bubble of, well, these are all great people who are trying to do good work and trying to help and I want to be part of this because if I’m not, then they’re just gonna go and do it anyway and I can help.
Zion Lights: And actually, no, I couldn’t help because I had no voice. They went on and on about platforming different voices. Let’s have VR and she’s a woman of color. Let’s have people from diverse backgrounds. She’s from, she grew up in poverty and in the city of Birmingham, she had the immigrant parents. Let’s platform her, Let’s platform her. But I never ever had a voice where I could say what I wanted to say. And if I did do that, I was heavily criticized and I wouldn’t have been given more speaker slots, even though, but remember, even though Roger went on live television and made Kate said that premeditated Kate went and said, six billion people are gonna die by the end of the century. Completely shocked all of us. That was not something we agreed on. That was not consensus, decided that was not, Hey, a Citizen Assembly got together and agreed on this.
Zion Lights: He just said whatever he wanted at any time, and there were no repercussions. Which is again, after the interview, I started to think, hang on a minute. It’s one rule for him and another for the rest of us. But it was another thing that was kind of a nail in the coffin. It’s very difficult to notice these things, right? When you’re in the middle of them. It happens to a lot of people, they work in a job they don’t enjoy. They eventually leave. They think, what, why did I spend years in that job? It wasn’t bringing joy. It wasn’t, helping, it wasn’t blah, blah, blah. It’s the same thing except add to that quite a lot of anxiety because you are constantly around anxious people and that feeds your anxiety. And instead of, if you’re anxious with your family or your friends, they might say, Hey, it’s okay. Take a day off. Don’t be anxious. In these groups, they say, good, you should be anxious, you should be crying, because that’s how bad it is. When you hear that all the time, it does have an impact on your mental health.
Chelsea Follett: Tell tell me about finally leaving this cult-like environment in 2020 when they put out a statement condemning you as allegedly a climate denier, which is not true. Obviously, you care very much about climate change and they, and then your shift toward a solutions oriented approach.
Zion Lights: I think it’s dangerous that they’ve done this because basically now if you say anything moderate about climate change, which let’s be honest, climate scientists I’m wondering about it. You listen to what they’re saying, yes, they have concerns, but they put them in the context of, well, this is how we address them. If you look at the IPCC report, which reports to go on climate change, there’s a whole mitigation section. So you’ve got this activist group that only talks about the beginning, which is here’s the problem, we are doomed. No, there’s a whole section in there on fixing the problems. And it does not say we cannot fix them. And yet, okay, it gets pushed and pushed and the the degrees go higher because we’re not doing them, but we’re not doing them because, the groups that are supposed to be pushing for that action are just focusing on the bit where they make everyone anxious and say it’s too late.
Zion Lights: They’re actually a big part of the problem from my perspective now. But, yeah, so, those reasonable voices are, being lost. And the narrative has become about just, if you don’t agree with us, you’re a doomsayer. And that’s very dangerous. And now there’s also a pushback, which is, well, if you believe in that, you’re an alarmist. And I’m kind of sat in the middle going, come on, look, even if you don’t believe climate change is a problem, say you think, I don’t think it’s any of our concern. We can’t control it. Even if you believe that all of the solutions are so positive for humanity, right? Billions of people die every year from air pollution, from fossil fuels. That’s before we talk about climate change. So why wouldn’t we escalate to cleaner energy? Why wouldn’t we get nuclear energy, which is in the IPCC reports in the mitigation section, right? Which is what I now talk about because I talk about solutions completely ignored by all of these groups. So…
Zion Lights: Yeah, I did the interview. There’s some backlash around that. But I was editing the newspaper and I had a whole staff at the newspaper and it was completely separate. It was very autonomous. I did it from home. I had a really good bunch of people working. ’cause they were… A lot of the people that were working on that were doing it because they weren’t interested in the mass arrest and all of that. So they were happy to contribute articles and photography. We had a really good thing going there. We put this paper out and we had really positive feedback from people. It was not super alarmist. It was just like, here are some issues. And it tried to focus on solutions. If you look at back issues, you know, it was like, well, what can you do in your community? You know, I was trying to shift the narrative with the newspaper and I had support from that in the group ’cause they funded it. So I kind of didn’t wanna mess that up. But after a couple more months, we started to lose donations anyway because of cunning Town. And that was where I kind of wrapped it up and I did the final issue.
Zion Lights: But there were so many people who were upset because they said it gave them purpose and it, you know, they loved being involved. Even if they were just volunteers handing out the paper at cheap stations, they felt really involved. And now they had nowhere to go. And they wanted to be part of a movement. So I was reluctant to give that up, but I just realized the… And also it wasn’t Extinction Rebellion branded, it was called The Hourglass, but it didn’t have Extinction Rebellion branding. I had a fight with them about that, where they said “we should put it all on there.” And I said, “no, I’m trying to keep it separate.” And I did manage to for the most part, keep it separate, [chuckle] So and just have independent voices in there and try and draw people different opinions in. So I enjoyed doing that. And I thought that that was actually doing some good, especially because I’d get a lot of letters in, written in from people, even handwritten letters to the editor. And it was so positive. So it was hard to leave that behind. But just eventually I kind of went, well, I can’t stay in this group.
Zion Lights: I’m still legitimizing this group by staying in it when actually I know all this stuff is happening. And so I did start to step away, but really it was, I don’t know there was some moment after that where all of this stuff that I’ve talked to you about that’s taken a long time for me to work out and entangle things I’d seen, things I’ve heard you know, ways that I’d seen people be treated that hadn’t been addressed. Things that, you know, it’s not a leadless movement. All of these things cumulated. And I went, you know what, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna write about this. I’m gonna tell people about it. Because actually I think it’s really important that other people in that group realized that. Because I knew those people and we were friends and we worked together and they know I’m a genuine person and I’m not an alarmist or denier, you know, and I thought maybe if I write this, I save a lot of people from going on the journey I’ve been on.
Zion Lights: So I wrote it in a couple of papers. Only, you know, the ones that would take it were right-wing press. So they instantly said, she’s a right winger. She hates climate. She’s been in climate change, which is ridiculous because actually our government is a right-wing government and they’ve made quite a lot of gains on net zero. And, you know, they’re doing quite a lot for climate. But anyway, they… So they tried to… So they instantly tried to discredit me ’cause I’d come out and said these things, but I don’t regret saying those things. I wish that I’d had a platform to say them in other places, like on the left, which is, you know, a lot of those publications are the ones that these people are reading. But they didn’t wanna have the conversation. So war avenues were left to me and I don’t regret that I expected a backlash.
Zion Lights: They centered it around politics and making out like yeah, I’m a denier now for some reason, and I’m just trying to undermine them. But I spent those two years in Extinction Rebellion fighting on the inside. So whoever wrote that knows that, [chuckle] they can say “she left and now she criticizes this.” I did that consistently for two years. Actually, what I realized was it did, wasn’t getting anywhere. And I did it from the outside instead just to protect other people from going into it. And that’s… I see that as something that I should do now. I worried about people’s kids going into these movements, kids that have a little bit of anxiety, which is then preyed upon and amplified. And then before you know it, they’re giving up everything to go in line roads and it’s only amount of time before people start getting seriously hurt. And I guarantee you that that is not going to put these groups off. They will see. Leaders will see it as a good thing.
Chelsea Follett: You now have a way to continue your activism in a much more positive solutions oriented way with emergency reactors. So I’d like to ask you as a last question about that and also about the Degrowth mindset, which is in addition to this sort of over the top doomerist Apocalyptic mindset, one of the things that you are up against, can you tell me about emergency reactor and this idea of degrowth and why you believe that nuclear power is a better alternative, a better way forward?
Zion Lights: So I’ve looked at Degrowth and there are some okay arguments in there, but I really think overall Degrowth is just Matthews in his indie rebranded. So it’s just this idea that “humans are a problem, humans are a virus. There’s too many of us and we should scale everything back.” And I think there’s also an element of self coagulation in, they’re like, “we should suffer because we caused all these problems in the environment.” And that is very dominant. Actually, I was in the Green Party here for years left years ago. But they… That it’s in their policies, it’s enshrined in their policies. If you look at their policies, they do not believe in abundant energy for everyone. They believe in scaling back, using less. So they want 100% renewables, but they recognize in their policies that that is not enough to power the world. And they believe, well, you should just have periods where you don’t have power.
Zion Lights: It is romanticizing poverty, which, you know, my parents grew up in poverty in rural India, and they crossed the ocean to escape that. So that I was never sold in that ideology. But again, I was in that party for a long time before I started to see it and question and go, “hang on a minute, what are they actually saying here? When they say we should all live like that,” I’m happy to, use my lights less and whatever. But we all have, we all have laptops to charge and we live modern day high quality lifestyles. And essentially that’s it. The Degrowth is, sees that as a bad thing whereas actually that’s just wrong because we’ve got all of this because we’ve got lifted out of poverty, that’s why we have warm homes. That’s why we get to have access to the internet and, you know regular supply of food and clean water. And that’s what billions of people who still live in poverty, want. So we can’t say we went wrong. Oh no, we went wrong. Now there’s a low child mortality rate, so there’s more people that’s, you know.
Zion Lights: It’s terrible. But that ideology has always been there in the core of all of these movements. So even Greenpeace Friends of The Earth fighting nuclear energy, what’s so bad about nuclear energy? I’ve had these discussions and the reason I founded emergency rector, first of all, I wanted, I realized that it makes it easier to lead groups like that, if you have somewhere else to go. And I thought, well, why not have, instead of just saying like, a lot of people before me have said like Mark Lynas or Michael Shellenberger, right? We’re stepping out. We’re not part of these groups anymore. They’ve been horrible to us because we like nuclear or GMOs. Instead of doing that, I kind of said, no, no, no. I paid my dues in this movement and I’m not going anywhere. I deserve to be here, so maybe I can try and lead it not in these groups, because I tried that and that didn’t work, maybe outside of them. So I set up Emergency React as a space for those people who are in those groups who care about these issues, but are kind of going, wait a minute.
Zion Lights: Something happened that’s not comfortable. Or they said something that’s really unscientific. Well, we don’t do that. We completely support evidence-based solutions. We don’t do any like mass disruption, but we have done little protests like going and protesting at the Greenpeace headquarters, try and get them to change their minds on nuclear energy and to draw attention to that. And the reason that I chose nuclear is because it’s one of the biggest solutions that the Green movement has been against for so long. And if you think about it, if you think about Germany shutting down all those nuclear reactors because they were scared of tsunamis apparently, that in after 2011, after the Fukushima Daiichi power plant meltdown, which didn’t, the power plant meltdown didn’t kill anyone, but the tsunamis, the tsunami and earthquake did. Anyway, Germany reacted knee-jerk reaction. Green party led government, right? Knee-jerk reaction, shut them all down. Emissions have skyrocketed. And that’s, even though they felt spent billions on renewables. Not saying they shouldn’t have done that, but they shut down their coal fire station and their nuclear, they had no base load.
Zion Lights: And now look what are they’re doing? They’re reopening coal. They’re going back to fracking. They’re burning masses of wood biomass. Their emissions are terrible. And a lot of people are going, whoa, wait, we thought they were really climate leaders because they support renewables, but they were just cherry picking. Just like all of these groups, new cherry picking data and maybe even somewhat aware that we, you know, well we choose renewables, but it’s because it provides us with a limited amount clean energy. We are happy with that. Whereas I, emergency reactor, we believe in an abundance of cheap energy for everyone. So long as it’s clean, then it’s okay. Yeah, okay. It all involves some mining and development. But that’s huge part of human progress. That’s why we live the way we live, right? We everywhere, everywhere that any person in the world lives in a house that used to be a forested area, we are all part of that. That’s just the way it is. Yeah, we can make up for it by planting trees or we welding whatever. We can make up for it in many different ways, but ultimately, if we’re talking about energy and providing our energy needs and not going back to using candlelight, and I have heard people in these movements actually say, what’s wrong with candlelight. Helen Caldicott was famous for saying it.
Zion Lights: Why can’t we use candlelight? She was a very, very prominent onto nuclear in the ’90s. She’s still going. But yeah, I’m just saying though, well, I don’t think I need to make the case to you about why don’t we use candlelight, but I think people deserve cheap quality lighting. I think people deserve to have access to all these things. I want everyone to have access, but I also don’t want lots of people to die from air pollution and don’t want climate change to get worse. So I’m kind of going, well, if it’s gonna be clean, then we’ll go for nuclear. And that is, that’s where the fight is, right? Because it’s sort of continuing the fight within the environmental movement because these groups, Friends of The Earth still against it, Greenpeace are heavily lobbying against it. They’re very well funded. And I wonder if the people who give them money because they care about the environment, realize that they’re fighting one of the key solutions, nuclear energy, small land footprint lots of unionized, good clean jobs, right? The skilled workers, no emissions. How can you argue with this? If you care about climate change, you have to care about emissions. Although in Extinction Value, we always told not to just bring it back to emissions, but I’ve changed my mind on that. I think we should talk about emission.
Zion Lights: It’s not only one of the problems, but if I’m gonna focus on one problem, that’s what I’ve chosen. Because it’s an important fight. Because if nobody’s fighting back with that, that movement of everything we’ve discussed and the anti ideology that’s underpinned it all, or which is linked to that Degrowth math enthusiasm, because basically they don’t want an abundance for everyone. So they will be anti, even if they haven’t been disasters, they would be anti because they don’t believe our lifestyles are good. I was literally told by the leader of the Green Party when I was in the party, and I knew her, she endorsed my book at the time. She said to me, we don’t have a high quality of lives, Zion. And I was utterly shocked that this middle class person with their nice big house and they’re nice big house and their solar panels and their EV would say to someone who’s a daughter of immigrants who left their home behind to escape poverty, that we don’t have a high quality of life. It’s just, I have cousins in India that have a low quality of life. And there’s just, you know, I just, that’s the ideology behind these groups. Right at the very foundation, they don’t talk about it.
Zion Lights: It’s not obvious. That is basically it. And that I am so fundamentally against it that now I found the best way for me to fight it is to fight misinformation on nuclear energy, promote an energy abundant future where everybody has cheap access to energy and doesn’t live in poverty Obviously that should be part of it. But actually a lot of the environmental groups don’t care about poverty. They care more about population growth than poverty. And yeah, create a space where young people can, if they want to get involved and actually be fighting for tangible solutions, concrete solutions, where actually when we’ve saved nuclear power plants, from being shut down because we fought back. Their fightings have them closed all the time right around the world. Finally, now there’s people that fight back that didn’t need to happen before. So when we win that we can actually calculate how much carbon we’re saving. We can actually speak to the workers whose jobs we’ve saved. These are really good, powerful things that make you feel good and not anxious and like you’re doing something useful in the world. So we’re still doing climate activism. It’s just how climate activism should be instead of what the mainstream has become.
Chelsea Follett: Thank you so much for speaking with me, Zion. Best of luck on all of this, and I look forward to reading your new piece on sort of deprogramming out of that less productive mindset. Thank you again.
Zion Lights: Great. Thank you.