VICE: Hi Andrew! What did you do previously?
Andrew: I worked for a prominent pension company that supports people saving for their retirement.
Why did it suck?
As a job it didn’t suck as such – it just became increasingly obvious to me how irrelevant the concept of pensions was becoming in a context of climate emergency. The idea of saving for the next ten, 20 or even 40 years no longer made sense, because “business as usual” is over. Overall, it was a great company with great people, but it was building the idea of a future for young people that is no longer feasible. Society is going to break down because of climate change. Your pension won’t mean much at all if we’re all extinct.
Oof. Good point, though. What did you switch to instead?
I became a full-time volunteer for Extinction Rebellion (XR). Essentially what I do is lead their finance team.
Was there a lightbulb moment?
Yes, although I think it was more like a wake-up call. I’d been reading a lot about the climate emergency and then stumbled across an academic paper called Deep Adaptation by professor Jem Bendell, which was so depressing, it led many people to therapy. The basic conclusion was that we’re hurtling towards an emergency so huge that none of us will escape unscathed. And not just in some distant future – Bendell gives us about a decade.
When you’re working in a pension company, not only is it foolhardy to keep talking about a future you don’t believe will exist – it’s almost fraudulent. I could no longer reconcile this discord within myself, and so I knew I had to quit and try to become part of the movement to change things.
Obviously, not everyone can afford to quit their job to become a volunteer. So how did you do it?
I recognise my privilege here, of course I do. I decided – for the next couple of years at least – I could afford to live without a salary. My partner, a former banker, was made redundant at a similar time, but has recently requalified and will begin earning again soon, which helps, as still have a big mortgage to pay off. XR does provide financial support for volunteers that can’t support themselves economically without a job though, but I’m fortunate enough not to need that.
What do you love most about your job?
I’m being more of a father now in my actions than I might have been earlier in my life, because I my work now is completely focused on my kids’ future. They are young (19 and 24) and don’t have the same influence to make a difference, so I’m trying to use my privilege where I can. It also feels good to be on the right side of history, which I’m sure I am.
Are there any downsides?
One obvious downside for the average person is not getting paid, obviously. But there is a big focus on supporting those who are at an economic disadvantage but want to dedicate themselves to the cause. It can also be chaotic at times, because we’re a relatively new organisation with an urgent mission, trying to articulate a vision for an alternative way for societies to act but also communicate a sense of immediacy. It’s normal to expect some growing pains, and clearly we have made some mistakes.
It must be hard working on something so depressing all the time.
I think we’re all grieving. If you’re not grieving for the earth, for the climate, it’s possible you don’t actually understand the scale of the problem. If you’re a full-time volunteer for XR, you are completely immersed in the horrors of the situation we now find ourselves in, and that can be heavy. But there’s a comfort in it too, because at least you’re at with other people who are experiencing the same thing.
Do volunteers get any psychological support to help them cope?
There’s a whole section of our volunteers who are solely responsible for fostering what we call a “regenerative culture”.
Sounds a bit culty, what does it mean?
It’s not at all. We just recognise that for many people, being arrested or having brush-ins with the law can be traumatising, so we have a support network to deal with that. In October alone, 1,800 of our volunteers were arrested….1,800! We raised over £400,000 in a crowdfunder to provide support for legal and transport costs for any of our volunteers who have been arrested, and there are people on hand to provide emotional support.
What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
The importance of boundaries. It’s really hard to switch off when your work and your life are so intertwined. I have to remind myself that I am still a husband, and a father. That I am someone who likes to play tennis occasionally and who has friends. It’s hard not to become completely consumed by it all.
What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs and want to help?
I think they should think about their work in the context of the climate emergency. If you think your company may be part of the problem, then it’s time to quit that shit job. Imagine a conversation you might have with your children and grandchildren one day. What will you say when they ask what you did to contribute to the protection of humanity? Obviously easier said than done, but there are companies that exist that environmentally conscious and sustainable.
Can people get involved without giving up their jobs?
Of course! There are loads of ways to introduce activism into your day-to-day life. Consider what rebellion looks like in your workplace. Invite XR members to come and speak to your colleagues. Put on a screening of David Attenborough’s Climate Change — The Facts. Volunteer in your spare time – we need people with any and all skills. You have a decision to make: do you want to be on the right or the wrong side of history?