Lancaster academic’s hula hoop protest for Extinction Rebellion

10 May 2019 09:50
Dr Emily Heath at Extinction Rebellion events in London

Lancaster University teaching fellow Dr Emily Heath takes her hula hooping hobby to the streets of London, joining protesters calling for emergency action to prevent ecological disaster

“I’ve been campaigning on climate change for 20 years or more,” said Earth scientist Emily, who teaches about natural hazards and extreme weather at the Lancaster Environment Centre, and so has an academic interest in climate change.

“I’ve tried many other tactics to bring attention to the subject over the years, including trying to influence local and national policy; being a politician myself; doing direct action and different kinds of publicity,” said Emily, who was a Green Party councillor for 12 years.

“Although all that activity was useful I feel that most people are still in denial about the scale of change needed to avert catastrophic climate breakdown. Now the moment seems right to really mobilise people, helped by Greta Thunberg (the young Swedish climate activist) and David Attenborough – and being part of the Extinction Rebellion feels like the best way to do that.

Emily spent a day at Marble Arch with hundreds of other protesters towards the end of the eleven-day protest, which saw activists disrupting traffic and transport in four sites across central London.

Emily, who does hula hooping as a hobby, took a hoop with her to London, turning it into the Extinction Rebellion logo. Once in Marble Arch, she started hooping to pass the time and draw attention to the protest.

“It just seemed a nice thing to do, adding to the atmosphere of fun. People came and asked me about it, so it got people talking.”

“We spent much of the afternoon sitting in the middle of Oxford Street, there was no traffic around and it was wonderful to be with people enjoying bird song and music in what are usually busy London roads.”

“Eventually police surrounded us and began arresting people for obstructing the highway,” says Emily, who argues the disruption was necessary to make people take notice of the urgency of the climate emergency and the much bigger disruption that climate change is increasingly causing.

“I think it has really put climate change at the top of many people’s agendas who haven’t taken it seriously before. Several political parties are now trying to claim that they are the greenest, and

Parliament has declared a climate and environmental emergency. Of course we need action not just words, but I am more hopeful than I have been in a long time.”

Emily has taken part in direct action before, such as creating a boat named Fracky McFrackface to highlight the link between fossil fuels and sea level rise. She was arrested for doing a lock-on at an anti-fracking protest in 2017, and has joined in Critical Mass cycle rides to reclaim road space for sustainable transport. She believes that it is important for academics to take their knowledge and action beyond academia.

“You have to do everything that you possibly can in this emergency. Movements like Extinction Rebellion can be helped by academics conveying the science, but it’s great when academics are sitting side by side with people from other walks of life - or hula hooping beside them!”

Following her experience in London Emily and other hula hoopers have created a new Facebook group, Rebel Hoopers, bringing together activist hoopers from all over the country who are already planning another protest.

Emily was one of four members of the Lancaster Environment Centre, including two staff members, a student and a recent graduate, who stood as Green Party candidates in last week’s local elections, which saw a surge in the Green Party vote country wide.

“Although none of the Green candidates from LEC were elected, we helped to raise awareness of Green Party policies and contributed to a very successful election overall for the Greens, gaining three extra seats on Lancaster City Council and hundreds of seats across the country,” said Emily.

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