Would You Go to Jail to Save All Life on Earth?

In the wake of this week's major Extinction Rebellion actions, I went out on the streets of London in search of willing climate martyrs.
April 17, 2019, 1:30pm
Extinction Rebellion would you go to jail for climate portraits
All photos: the author

With Brexit delayed until Halloween and all the MPs off on their holidays, it feels like we've reached a point where Britain's departure (or not! Who knows!) from the EU has finally become too boring to completely swamp the headlines and poison every aspect of public life. Fortunately, there is something almost as scary and important to focus on: The end of all life on Earth.

On Monday, the climate protest group Extinction Rebellion took their promise of "peaceful, respectful [and] disruptive" civil disobedience to the streets of London. They assembled at strategic points across the heart of the capital, with the intention of forcing these areas to grind to a halt. Among other things, the group is calling on the UK government to force carbon emissions down to zero by 2025. So far, police have made almost 300 arrests.

Protests are continuing and the police, potentially running out of prison-space, are still trying to diffuse the situation by arresting people. I decided to test the appetite for climate martyrdom along Extinction Rebellion lines by walking around the less-affected areas of London to pose the question: Would you go to prison for life in order to save all life on Earth? I asked anyone unlucky enough to meet my gaze.

Ciaran, 28


VICE: Ciaran, would you go to prison for life, to save life on Earth?
Ciaran: Do I get to choose who I save?

No, just like… life on Earth. All life.
Oh! I would, yeah.

That's nice of you. Why would you do that?
It's good to have more compassion these days. I think I could survive in prison.

Trapped down a pitch black well, in solitary confinement, with loads of rats?
I'd give it a go.

That’s the spirit, mate. Now tell me, whose face came into your mind when I asked you this question? Who would you be most willing to 'do life in the big house’ for?
My family, really. And my best friends.

You must have amazing friends.

Chris, 28 and Ian, 44


VICE: Would you go to prison for life in order to save all life on Earth?
Ian: Depends on the prison.

Full-on solitary confinement. I could perhaps offer you an hour of sunlight a day.
Ian: Would people know it was me?

OK. We'll say you're in the history books and that.
Ian: But would I get a statue made of me?

Is that the deal breaker for you? A statue?
Chris: If everyone knew I'd saved the planet, then yeah, I'd do it.
Ian: I could have a steak every now and again…

I mean, maybe you could…
Chris: I feel like you'd get extra privileges in the prison for being 'that guy who saved all life on Earth'.
Ian: Yeah. I could even watch TV.

Fine: if I give you the TV, the steak and the statue, would you go to prison for life in order to save all life on Earth?
Ian: Yeah, I would.
Chris: Yes. I'll do it!

Tania, 31


VICE: Would you go to prison for life if it meant you could save all life on Earth?
Tania: Like, the planet?

So, for the cost of one life, I can save all lives?

Pretty much.
Does going to jail mean I did something bad, or is it an option of sacrifice?

Let's say you'd be sacrificing your life. What I'm proposing is a horrible trade-off.
The natural response is yes, but I don't know if I would when it really came down to it.

You'd be scared?
Everybody would be. You care about your existence – but then, on the other hand, there's a planet depending on you. The question isn't realistic unless it's actually happening. For example, would you throw yourself in front of a bus now if it could save a thousand people?

I'd say yes, because I might only break an arm.
Yeah, but if the moment actually comes… [makes worried face]

I guess survival instinct could kick in.
We're programmed to survive, Rhys.

Dominic, 30 and Guilherme, 31


VICE: If you could go to prison for life, to save life on earth, would you go? Like, full-scale, full-on, scary-man prison.
Dominic: To save the whole world?

Dominic: Yeah. I'm saving the world, baby!

You would?
Dominic: Yeah, that would give me enough contentment to survive.

Guilherme: If you want me to be honest, then yes. If you want me to be really honest, I'm not sure.

That doesn't make any sense, Guilherme! Why aren't you sure?
Guilherme: Because, you know, it's nice as an exercise but in reality…
Dominic: Are we dealing with this in extremes – so the world just ends if you don't go?

That's new. Yeah, why not!
Guilherme: Will it actually last? Or am I just delaying the apocalypse? Am I saving the world forever?! Okay, I'll do it. Do I have any kids?

I don't know, do you have any kids?
Guilherme: No.
Dominic: You literally have no commitments in life; just go and save the world.
Guilherme: Fine, I'll do it as well. But only if people didn't know it was me.

If they didn't know it was you?
Guilherme: Yeah, I don't like people knowing me.

But you've literally agreed to have your photograph taken and be quoted in this very conversation…
Dominic: You could go down like Mandela or Luther King or someone that has inspired people, Guilherme.

Would you have to be guaranteed a place in the history books to save life on Earth, Dominic?
Dominic: No, I just want people to learn from it.

Whereas Guilherme, you'd not care?
Guilherme: Meh. I mean sure, they can go and learn from it.

I feel like your heart's not really in this, mate.

Darren, 18


VICE: Hi there, would you go to prison for the rest of your life to save life on earth?
Darren: No!

Why not?
Because I just think humans, in general, are scum. So I'm just like: 'We don't deserve saving.' Plus, people are self-centred. I know there's people who would do it, but there's no point. If you look at how humans have treated other people, like, nah that's not on! People have just done too much shit in life to be saved.

We have utterly wrecked the planet, to be fair.
Exactly! Why would people say yes to that anyway? I don't understand that. Why would I spend my life locked up for something millions of other people contribute to?

Well then, that's all of humanity told – cheers Darren!

Rodrigo, 62


Okay, so because of ongoing climate-related protests in London, such as those affiliated with Extinction Rebellion…
Rodrigo: Ah yes, Extinction Rebellion, I like them!

Okay, so does that mean you'd be willing to spend the rest of your life locked up in the slammer if it meant you could save the entirety of all other life on this planet?
Pardon?! No!

Why not?
Because I love my life. Why should I go to jail just to save someone? I'm not doing anything wrong, why would I make my life miserable and have liberty taken away from me just because I did something good? That doesn't make sense. I should be rewarded. So, no jail for me.

Emma, 24


VICE: Would you go to jail for life in order to save life on Earth?
Emma: I'm going to be honest, no. I value my life too much and I can't really comprehend what life on Earth is, I just know my life. I wouldn't lock myself up and rid my whole world to save another life, or all lives on Earth. If it was like, 'Would you give up something you love for all life on Earth?' then I would. But something as extreme as my whole world? No. Or maybe if it was a really lenient prison, where you could do your own thing and have friends over…

Absolutely not, you'd be bunged straight into solitary.

That's very heavy, maybe not that. But like, an hour of daylight a day, tops.
Nope. Also, if anything, I could probably do a lot more to save life by not being locked up. I could campaign and talk to bad corporations for change – everyone else contributes. So many other people should go to prison for life above me. Like the bloody CEOs of massive companies that are turning a blind eye to the pollution they're creating; they should go to fucking prison, not me!


This article originally appeared on VICE UK.