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Extinction Rebellion’s Andrew Medhurst and the Role of Youth Activists in Shaking Us Awake

Ahead of his upcoming keynote at SB’19 Madrid, we spoke with Andrew Medhurst — a one-time investment banker and now full-time volunteer with Extinction Rebellion — about the moonshot thinking we need to get us out of our current predicament.

Andrew Medhurst hasn’t had your typical career trajectory. After decades in the UK banking industry, Medhurst heeded the clarion call of youth activists around the world and decided to devote his full time and attention to averting the climate crisis, by joining the ranks of Extinction Rebellion — a growing global group of youth activists aiming to motivate business and government leaders around the world into more significant action to mitigate the climate crisis.

Image credit: Twitter

In April, Medhurst also became an independent candidate in the European Elections (London constituency) campaigning to highlight the Climate and Ecological Emergency. The Climate & Ecological Emergency Independents are inspired by the youth activist movement spearheaded by Youth Strikes 4 Climate, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, whose collective actions have created a shift in public awareness around the need to urgently act on the climate emergency. The Party aims to take this kind of energy to Europe, to demonstrate a different kind of politics that goes beyond party politics.

Ahead of his upcoming keynote at SB’19 Madrid later this month, Sustainable Brands spoke with Medhurst about the moonshot thinking, and action, we need to get us out of our current predicament.

Introduce us to Extinction Rebellion for those who don't know it.

Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse. It launched in the UK in October 2018, and received worldwide prominence when it blocked four iconic sites in central London (Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Parliament Square and Waterloo Bridge) for over a week — during which time over 1,100 people were arrested. Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government and plans further Rebellion in London and internationally in October.

After a 30-year career in investment banking and pensions, you decided to resign and become a climate and environmental activist. How has this change been?

This change now means my energy is focused entirely on, arguably, the greatest challenge ever faced by humankind rather than on something (i.e. pensions) which, if we continue with business as usual, will prove to be worthless. I was quoted in the Financial Times as saying my children (currently aged 19 and 24) will need food and shelter in 30 years' time, not a share portfolio.

Clearly, I acknowledge my privilege in being able to give up my job for this cause — it's the very least I can do.

What has Greta Thunberg’s emergence meant for the climate crisis?

Greta's emergence, with her eloquence (e.g. "our house is on fire"), has inspired young people worldwide to find their voice and demand action. It is our children's generation and future generations who bear no responsibility for climate change; and yet are unable to do anything about averting catastrophic temperature rise, except by using their voice. I hope with their campaigning they inspire their parents and grandparents to the take the global actions necessary to limit the damage that is to come.  

What do more people need to understand about the climate crisis?

Let's be clear, climate change is happening now — it's too late to stop the continued temperature rise and worsening climate and ecological impacts which will result. It's not too late, according to the United NationsIPCC, to take steps which will limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to adapt to more severe weather events and possible food shortages. It's like we are in a car racing towards a cliff edge ... we have only a limited amount of time to apply the brakes or it will be too late.

What is your personal moonshot?

An economic system which values people and planet over profit (e.g. substantially decarbonised within a decade) and is well on the way to adapting to the worst of climate change and repairing the damage already caused.

Thirty years of environmental activism and sustainability in business hasn't worked and, with only a few years left to make the changes required to avert the worst of climate change, it will take us all to come together and focus on the moonshot thinking which might get us out of our current predicament.