Meet the individuals behind Extinction Rebellion Sheffield – what they believe, what they hope for, and why they’re so dedicated to pushing for change in the face of climate crisis
"I remember the very moment I decided to join Extinction Rebellion Sheffield,” says Peter Gilbert.
“It was February 2019, that week when the temperatures soared, and everyone around me was wearing shorts and summer dresses, and enjoying the un-seasonal heat.
“I remember just feeling scared.
“I knew it wasn’t right, and that this shouldn’t be happening.
“I shared my concerns with my mum, and she said ‘well, what are you going to do about it?’
“I went to my first Extinction Rebellion Sheffield meeting that very evening.”
The 36-year-old has been heavily involved with the group of activists for the past year, attending regular meetings, talks, and demonstrations to help spread the group’s urgent message on the growing climate crisis.
Today, Peter is one of three Extinction Rebellion Sheffield members who have gathered at Sheffield’s Quaker Meeting House to talk about the local movement’s 2020 agenda.
Two years after the group launched in the city, they reveal that – in addition to a lot of positive progress – there is still a feeling of their motivations being misunderstood by some people; something they’re keen to rectify.
Peter explains: “XR is not about civil disobedience, it’s not what we’re in this to do.
“We’re in this to raise the issue of climate crisis as a conversation on the daily agenda, and disruption has been a part of our strategy to achieve that so far.
“And it has proved to be an effective one – people are talking about this, it has prominence, and as we move into 2020, it’s on the TV, and it’s a part of the global conversation, so there’s no longer any need for us to be blocking roads in city centres to get people talking about it.
“We apologise to anybody we disrupted during that period, but we believe it was a necessary part of raising awareness.
“We’re also keen to point out that your temporary inconvenience, at any point during recent months, is nothing compared to the inconvenience to come if we all do not work together to stop what is happening.”
For Peter’s fellow campaigner, Steph Howlett, it was good news – that her daughter was expecting Steph’s first grandchild - that prompted her interest in Extinction Rebellion Sheffield.
“I was obviously delighted by the news,” gushed Steph, aged 68.
“But there was also this sinking feeling, this worry about the world we’re leaving to the next generation.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about what the future is going to hold for babies being born right now, and that was, and continues to be, a major motivator for me.”
At this, Steph – a retired psychotherapy manager for the NHS – indicates the Extinction Rebellion badge, fastened proudly to her top: “I wear this badge because I want to prompt conversation with people; I want them to be curious, and I want them to ask, because that’s what’s going to get people joining our ranks.
“My granddaughter is due to be born in a matter of weeks, and that’s what keeps me pushing ahead.
“In 2020 we’re turning our focus away from disrupting people going about their daily lives, and putting our attention on people who can really bring about change.”
At this, XR’s third member – the youngest in the room – Adam Urwick speaks up.
“We’re focusing on the people who make decisions, who enforce regulations, policy makers, corporate bosses, and financial institutions,” he says.
“Politicians need to believe this is serious.”
When the question of whether education of the young needs to play a big role in the fight against climate change is raised, it is Adam again who is quick to answer.
“The young know,” says the 24-year-old.
“I learned about climate change in school as a kid, and all my friends know the ins and outs; it’s the older generation that needs an education on this one; they’re the ones at the helm.
“The general public need to believe this is an emergency, and they need to put pressure on the people who can make a difference.”
Adam recalls it was following an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2018 that he was persuaded to join the campaign.
“Climate change has always been on my radar,” he says.
“I’m doing a PHD in solar cells, so I have a good idea about what is out there, and the technology available. In the end it was the IPCC 2018 report that stirred up such a feeling of dread and sadness in the community of scientists.
“It was at that point that I realised that I needed to do more than just study.”
Adam also points out that the scientific community is standing up and becoming more vocal on the issue of climate change.
“That’s especially the case with younger scientists, like myself, who feel it is our duty to inform the public,” he explains.
“I believe it’s our failing, when we leave it to the media and journalists, people who don’t truly understand what we’re going on about, to explain it to everyone else, or politicians to mis-represent our message.
“I think a lot of scientists are now coming forward to speak out, because the message is one that is simply too important to get lost in translation.”
As for XR Sheffield’s 2020 agenda, the group says they are in the process of developing their strategy.
Steph says: “The COP26 summit in Glasgow in November is going to be crucial, and XR nationally is looking to put pressure on the government to come up with realistic plans for that.
“Locally we’re keen to work hard with the people and corporations that can really change things. And we’ll continue to push Sheffield City Council, who declared a climate crisis nearly 12 months ago, and who we feel really need to lead the charge in the city, to give everyone in Sheffield the chance to get involved in doing their bit. Action must begin at home.”
And Sheffield City Council agreed this week, revealing that climate change is ‘at the top of our agenda.’
Coun Mark Jones, Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change, said: “The truth is, this is a global emergency that affects every single living thing – not just in Sheffield, but on a worldwide scale – and each of us must take responsibility and make changes to protect our future.
“Addressing this at a city level is an enormous challenge. We can’t fix it overnight.
“It will require significant compromise, sacrifice and change from everyone.
“There will be some very difficult decisions and choices to make in order to reach our goal.
“2020 is a hugely significant year for us which will see these vital environmental projects take shape. With only ten years to meet our Zero Carbon target, we must all act now.”
Peter adds: “We’re not about allocating blame; we all live in this society, and we’re all complicit, so it’s time that we all worked together to make a change.
“If we don't – we’re doomed.
“I love this city, I think it’s a beautiful and peaceful place, and I love the people here.
“If we allow things to carry on the way they’re going, there will be wars, food insecurity – the sort of awful stuff you see on TV – right here, in our safe haven of Yorkshire. We must prevent that happening.
“This is about everything in your life that you love, and wanting to have that in the future – for yourselves, and for your next generations.
“We all have a duty to do our bit.”
Extinction Rebellion Sheffield meets every Monday at Union Street cafe from 6pm.