Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion in Cambridge dug up the lawn of Trinity College in what, to many people, was a wanton act of vandalism. I have to admit, it gave me quite a shock to see it, and then I thought about why I felt so shocked. Wikipedia says, “…the English lawn was a symbol of status of the aristocracy and gentry; it showed that the owner could afford to keep land that was not being used for a building, or for food production.” Spokesperson for XR, Nathan Williams points out that “Trinity College is the third largest landowner [in the UK] and backer of fossil fuels,” and his words made me consider my response more carefully.
We all know beyond doubt that the continued use of fossil fuel is rapidly eroding any remaining hope we have of maintaining a planet that will support life. Those who back and invest in fossil fuels are causing destruction on a global scale. I’m seeing images of floating cars in the UK, a billion burnt animals in Australia, drowning Islands in the Pacific,a quarter of a million acres of California burnt….etc. So who, in this context is the vandal? Isn’t the continued logging of the Amazon vandalism?
Trinity College will repair the lawn in a few days but will they hold out their arms to the refugees fleeing from their burnt out land? There is an expression: “The trees kept voting for the axe because it was made of wood and they thought it was one of them.” Somehow I had felt attached to the lawn at Trinity College because it evokes a kind of British heritage and a bit of nostalgia, but I wouldn’t be allowed to walk upon it because I am not one of the elite. Why would I want to defend an institution than supports the destruction of the planet and promotes elitist values. Am I too, going to vote for the axe? Once again Extinction Rebellion have polarised opinion and made some of us consider what kind of deeply held elitist and colonial values we didn’t know we held, and once again they have propelled climate change to the forefront of the media. Unfortunately, outrage is a popular stance these days, and this is what the media will feed on like maggots on a carcass.
There is a Russian Proverb that says, “When money and power speaks, the truth keeps silent.” Power lacks principles and morality when it refuses to face the truth and act on it, and when it only has its own interests in mind, it is the precursor to corruption. The interests of the elite and the powerful do not often align themselves with the greater values of cultural life. It is not enough to hope that people in power will speak truth to power. While we squabble about a green herb in Cambridge, people are bailing water out of their homes, while others wonder how they will rebuild after devastating fires. So I remain pondering the thought, “Who are the vandals”?