Powerful Times S1. E31. Clare Farrell

Clare Farrell is a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, as well as fashion designer and lecturer (Twitter, website, LinkedIn).

Clare had a lot of deeply interesting things to say across a broad range of topics. So, this episode is the longest yet at 57 mins. I make no apology, as every minute is worth listening to. Just want to give you a heads up.

She speaks about the coming together of Extinction Rebellion as a magical time: “It’s a huge honour really….I feel the universe sort of collided the right people at the right time. And enough of us were like crazy enough to go: oh, yeah, like, whatever. Let’s try and do that.”

She talks to bringing her sense as an artist and fashion designer into the heart of action, including the importance of making ‘brand assets’ with the intention to just give them away.

Clare is trying to create a different approach to politics, where “ordinary people have agency, and the ability to take part in the way decisions are made”. On the need for deep change to address the climate emergency, Clare believes that “ordinary people are way ahead of the people in power”.

As you will pick up, I hugely admire Extinction Rebellion for many things, including the core message: a positive future possible if only we were willing to tell the truth on the challenges we face and act for it. For the most part, the first wave of XR was successful in creating a sense of a festival, which modelled a more vibrant, more inclusive, positive future, where we will still have to deal with the consequences of our actions up to this point.

Clare ends with this important thing for everyone to know:

This work that we do is absolutely made of love….Whatever your opinion about me or about any of the people who do this stuff…[It] absolutely comes from ..the best possible intention to try and make something better out of a wholly depressing and heartbreaking, tragic situation.”

Clare occasionally swears (a*-holes, sh*t, f*cked that kind of thing).



Penguin publishers book with Extinction Rebellion: ‘This is Not A Drill’.

Brixton Pound

More on the Extinction Rebellion symbol and how since inception it hasalways been a strictly anti-consumerist project.

Roger Hallam on wikipedia. He was studying for a doctorate at Kings College London on “Design of effective mechanisms of collective action for progressive campaign groups”.

For criticism of David Attenborough, see George Monbiot’s piece in 2018 on how his films to that point had “generated complacency, confusion and ignorance”.

More on situationism on wikipedia.

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.” — UN Secretary General António Guterres in April 2022.

Nafeez Ahmed on the flawed social science behind XR’s change strategy.

Merchants of Doubt on wikipedia.

One way into the material found by the US Congress on the Oil and Gas companies’ lipservice to Net Zero.

Released after my interview with Clare, here is research showing that Exxon’s climate projections in the 1970s were accurate, but kept saying publicly that the climate science is unclear.

Just Stop Oil

An exploration of the evidence base behind radical tactics by James Ozden. In a second post, James also explores how he could be wrong.


0:50 – Q1 What are you doing now? And how did you get there?

6:30 – BONUS QUESTION: How was the visual style of Extinction Rebellion both the antithesis of branding and also brilliant branding?

11:00 – BONUS QUESTION: why non-violent direct action? How did you make sure that it stayed in line with the kind of world you wanted to create, in line with the vibrancy and the desire to Extinction Rebellion?

18:00 – BONUS QUESTION: How did you provide the message of ‘a positive future is possible, if we tell the truth and act on it’?

22:06 – BONUS QUESTION: Wasn’t one strate of society (white, prilivedged) over-represented in XR?

28:50 – BONUS QUESTION: Doesn’t the more radical direct action (like Just Stop Oil throwing soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers) actually make the movement less popular than it should be?

37:45 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?

45:57 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
49:58 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
50:10 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them?
52:02 – Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
55:17 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?


-“for me, it’s very fundamental that people understand this notion of like, the people who did that work, we never paid for it, they gave it away and watched it travel around the world. In artistic terms, you know, when you see your work, being blocked, printed on a t shirt in New York, just six months after you made it, it’s, it’s mind blowing, because of the impact that it can have. So if your work truly is for the good, of course, it truly has to be given away in these kinds of urgent times. So, so there was an important sort of element of that.”

-“the other thing is that because of our spectrum of interests in this little collection of people who came together to do the main bulk of that work, you know, we really did have quite a strange assortment of perspectives from people who are expert in type and print to fine art to fashion to copywriting. So it was, in a sense, like, very lucky for the movement itself, that we came together in the way that we did, because there were so many sort of vital skills included in that team.”

-“In the creative teams, in our movement, we at the beginning, we had quite a decent amount of influence from kind of situationism, you know, the art movement that said, take up, take up space in in public places and, and do weird shit that makes people question why they’re behaving the way they are, why they’re accepting the way that things are.

-“I think one of the key design features of XR, which was really important, was that we organise in the open and a lot of activism has, for obvious good reason, like a deep kind of secrecy culture… However, if you want to organise something that’s more like reclaim the streets, then you have to put out a big public message saying meet here On this day at this time, and we are going to bring so many people that we can’t be stopped.”

-“we picked up an awful lot of people in the early stages, who pulled their boots back out the cupboard to come out with us who were part of the roads protest movement…So, we had an influx of kind of eldership.And at the same time, mobilised an awful lot of new people who’d never done anything before. So it was an interesting, it was a really interesting mixture of people who came on the ground.”

-“we dreamt so big. I mean, I didn’t think we were going to pull it off. I just I just cried because we actually managed to take all those sites all at the same time, we had no way of knowing if we had enough people to do it or not.”

-“I think the other thing that sets us apart from a lot of people in the, in the broader climate space was just the willingness to tackle the emotionality of where we are, and what it really means.”

-“none of [what the NGOs had been doing] was commensurate with the emotional pain that those individuals were actually feeling because they knew the truth.

-“the most rational the most sensible response to this crisis is a compassionate one.”

-“If you really do want to see change of this of this magnitude of what’s required before us, then you are effectively advocating for the transformation of the way that we live, which results in an economy, which is not made of carbon.”

-“[Given transformation is needed] if you don’t like the way that these young people are going about it [through disruptive tactics], then find a way to be as effective as you possibly can. But you are not allowed to be reformist.”

-“I think a lot of the people who make that argument thing that if you can just be a bit more likeable, then you might just get a slightly better deal out of Westminster, you might get slightly more movement, but you have to, you have to critique them from a position of connection with reality. And the reality is that carbon emissions have never been higher than they are this year, that we’ve never done so much damage in terms of climate, as we have, since we absolutely knew the science for certain that we needed to stop carbon.”

-“We’ve actually, hell bent as a global community, on making it as bad as quickly as possible. So when you’re in touch with that reality, asking questions about what’s the point of the Mona Lisa, or what’s the point of the sunflowers? What’s the point of our art galleries, you have to sort of try and put yourselves in the shoes of those young people. That’s what I would implore people to do when they think about those kinds of actions.”

-“It’s extremely valuable for them [internal corporate change agents] as people who are trying to make change inside, you know, a beast of a corporation that simply doesn’t want to change doesn’t know how to change has got shareholders that don’t care about changing.”

-“I do think that people are more ready now than they perhaps were before, to have the conversation that we’ve been trying to have from, from the outset, about how a different approach to doing politics where ordinary people have agency.”

-“I do think that people are more ready now than they perhaps were before, to have the conversation that we’ve been trying to have from, from the outset, about how a different approach to doing politics where ordinary people have agency, and the ability to take part and participate in the way that decisions are being made. That actually very appealing. possibility now to a lot more people. And I think as crises deepen, it will only become more appealing that, you know, the general public, our, as my friend, Jamie has been saying, ordinary people are way ahead of the people in power, actually.”

-“a vision of the future is one where, where people have way more access to political decision making, which, in a way, which which can bring a sense of clarity and connectedness, and, you know, sanity to governance itself, and the way that the way that we govern ourselves.”

-“Well, my priority personally, at the moment, is trying to look across the landscape of potential, I guess, for change, which means to me (1) supporting the movement, and (2) also looking with some kind of excitement at what culture can do. I think there’s a big underutilised space in the arts and cultural sector, which particularly I feel can help us to hold a public dialogue beyond direct action, and which doesn’t necessarily get mediated by …the majority press. The other thing I think that [art and culture] can help us to do is basically engage the radical imagination….[(3) the participative democracy field]”

“I have been on the record many times as saying that being in the situation we’re in now displays a kind of shocking dereliction of duty to use our imagination to not end up in this position and to leave everything the same.”

-“It’s crucial for us to recognise that there is a potential baked into that space [of participative democratic methods] to not only run participatory processes, but also to imagine like new institutions.”

-“the thing that was so interesting at the start was that I was just learning so much. I don’t, I’ve never, I’ve never had a learning experience in my life. That is that is could ever come anywhere close to what I was learning in the years before we started XR when I was doing various bits of kind of campaign, work with Roger and testing out loads of different tactics and stuff. And then what happened when the movement kicked off and building that it’s like, I’ve started and run small businesses before and they are like, immense kind of learning opportunities. But this was like something else on a whole another scale.”

“there’s one important thing, which is that this, this work that we do is absolutely made of love. And people need to know that. Whatever your opinion about me or about any of the people who do this stuff, how annoying it is, how messy it looks. How painful it is to endure, as a bystander is absolutely comes from a place of love, and the best possible intention to try and make something better out of a wholly depressing and heartbreaking, tragic situation.”


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