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The Policy Ask with Gail Bradbrook: “I don’t believe the UK is a functional democracy”

The scientist and co-founder of Extinction Rebellion on her working class background, fossil fuels and citizen rights.

By Spotlight

Gail Bradbrook is an environmental activist and co-founder of the global environment movement Extinction Rebellion. She is also a scientist, holding a PhD in molecular biophysics from the University of Manchester, and was formerly director of strategy at Citizens Online, an organisation promoting an accessible internet for disabled people. She joined the Green Party at the age of 14.

How do you start your working day?

This is probably obvious: reviewing to-do lists to try to be and feel organised. However, it is easy to start feeling scattered when faced with messages across different platforms. To be productive, I try to follow the advice in Getting Things Done, a book by David Allen on creating personal systems. Often, it goes belly up!

What has been your career high?

“Career” is a funny word for organising and participating in rebellion! Our April 2019 rebellion in the UK was a time of magic, mayhem and possibility. What we had dreamed about and prayed for actually happened (of course with imperfections). I feel like I have been strapped to a rollercoaster since then!

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

I can’t think of a single moment. What I can say is that as a woman from a working class background (my dad was a coal miner in Yorkshire), I have felt an ongoing struggle to understand and even recognise the way in which people network and position themselves for personal benefit or to advance their projects. Being upwardly mobile has felt, at times, like an experience of humiliation and disorientation, not least because I don’t want to play the game within the terms of the (hidden) rules.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

Hang in there, younger me – just keep the faith that the negative experiences are teaching you things and helping you grow muscles. And get yourself a female mentor – you deserve one!

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Which political figure inspires you?

It’s hard to choose between the Scottish National Party MP Mhairi Black and the Labour MP Zarah Sultana, both smart kick-ass women with deep convictions. In both of them I sense a twinkle of humour and mischief. I hope they’ve both got excellent people to have their backs. Caroline Lucas of course keeps us all sane; I don’t know how she finds the capacity to carry on.

[See also: Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement was a George Osborne tribute]

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?

Offshore wind – it’s a part of our renewable future we should be focused on and investing in. There’s also the possibility to decouple renewables from wholesale energy markets in future (if this is enacted following a review).

And what policy should the UK government ditch?

Everything else. I mean, come on, new fossil fuel licenses? They should step down and go clean toilets, or something else that is more socially useful than what they are currently doing. They are actively harming the UK. Forty years of neoliberalism is showing up, as so much of what we love in this country – from our NHS to our countryside to our multiculturalism – is falling to pieces. You can only extract and exploit for so long before the parasite kills its host.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

I’m struggling with these questions. Like one in eight people in the UK, I don’t believe we have a functional democracy; worse still there’s increasing authoritarianism. Furthermore, it is not possible to continue with an economic system based on constant growth. Green growth is basically a myth. We are living in an anti-life paradigm that promotes sociopathic behaviours, incentivises harm and systematises destruction. The life support systems of the Earth are breaking down as a result. We need a grown-up conversation about how to transition to a human system with repair at its heart.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

Nearly-free public transport in Germany, France and Switzerland’s focus on reducing energy usage, and the Mother Earth Law in Bolivia, which respects the balance between human life and protecting nature. And in the US, while it is depressing that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal campaign, which had a 2030 zero-carbon target, was watered down into a proposed $3.5trn climate package and then finally into the Inflation Reduction Act, many powerful mechanisms remain.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

The Climate and Ecology Bill is a ready-to-go piece of legislation with much in it, including a citizens’ assembly, to make the transition we need. Emergency times require concrete action across all sectors of society, and the public must be actively involved in making the decisions that will affect their lives. Beyond that, I’d like to see a deliberative, thoughtful process for collectively creating a proper constitution in which true democracy can flourish, and where we can respect other people and species across the world and recognise our place in the circle of life. As the author Dougald Hine wrote in Notes from Underground, a series of essays he commissioned on new climate movements, “two paths remain: more democracy, or less”. Clearly at the moment we are heading in the direction of less – these are deeply worrying times.

[See also: The Policy Ask with Jon Danielsson: “The government should ditch financial regulation that protects big incumbents”]

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