- 16 Dec 19
A year in the life of an accidental activist
Paul McCormack Cooney lay down on Kildare Street and looked up at the sky. Evening was descending. It was October 8, the second day of Rebellion Week, Extinction Rebellion Ireland’s week of action to raise awareness about the climate crisis. Gardai had instructed the XRI protestors blocking the gates of the Dáil to move away. Paul and a few others stayed put. “Any moment now, they will arrest me,” he thought.
It was precisely a year since Paul had become an accidental climate activist. He had first heard about the dangers of climate change back in 2006 from Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. But for 12 years, he had assumed that someone else would act, starting with governments. But when on October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that humanity had only 12 years to reverse permanent damage done to the climate by greenhouse gas emissions, he figured he could no longer wait for Godot.
A father of two, Paul surmised that one day his children would hold him accountable if he didn’t become active in helping to prevent the planet from warming up beyond the scientificaslly agreed limit of 1.5°C. A month later, in mid-November 2018, the Irish outpost of XR, a UK-born movement that uses a combination of civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, and protest, held its first rally in front of the Dead Zoo in Dublin. Both his children were at it.
On a rainy day the following February, Paul carried a coffin on the streets of Dublin for XRI’s Funeral for Humanity. Then in April, he sat on O’Connell Bridge for hours as part of the first Rebellion Week. By May, he had become XRI’s Head of Political Strategy. In July, he glued himself to the railings at the Department of Communications, Climate Action, and Environment for seven hours. He slept five hours on average in September, stuck in Zoom meetings and pitching stories to media about Rebellion Week. He celebrated his 40th birthday, attending the Students’ Strike for Climate. Now it was October and he was lying down on Kildare Street, waiting to be arrested.
Where are XRI and the fight for our planet, a year later? Current membership of XRI is estimated at over 1,000. In May, the Government declared a Climate Emergency. According to an Irish Times poll in October, 55% of the Irish population now agree that climate change “is the most serious issue facing the world.” Actor Mark Ruffalo, singer Cher, and the Pope publicly support one of XRI’s most crucial campaigns, which aims to remove the Shannon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal from a list of priority energy projects in the European Union.
Paul didn’t get arrested that night. Gardaí picked him up and moved him gently. He now braces himself for knocking on a lot of doors in the next few months as he canvasses ahead of the elections. Not for any political party, but for the environment. It’s one knock we should all answer.
You can read the complete 'Whole Hog On 2019’ in one brilliant sweep in the Hot Press Annual – in which we distill the highlights and low-points of the year, across 132 vital, beautifully designed pages. Starring heroes of the year Fontaines D.C. on the front we cover Music, Culture, Sport, Film, Politics, the Environment and much, much more. Buy this superb publication direct from Hot Press here.