extinction rebellion hunger strike
© Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
Peter Cole, 76, and Marko Stepanov, 67, during their hunger strike outside the Conservative party headquarters.
It's lunchtime at the Conservative party headquarters, and people come and go clutching bags of Pret a Manger and Greggs food. Most barely cast a glance at the man stood just outside the gates, 76-year-old Peter Cole, who hasn't eaten in 10 days.

He's one of seven Extinction Rebellion members who have vowed to remain on hunger strike until all political party leaders agree to meet them and pledge support for their climate and ecological emergency bill. Known as the "three demands bill", it would require the future prime minister to declare a climate emergency, commit to net zero emissions by 2025 and establish a citizens' assembly.

"The first three days are quite hard because of the hunger pangs," says Cole, an emeritus professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London. "Now I'm just a little bit slower than normal." He says his main regret about taking part is being unable to keep up his hobby of Argentinian tango dancing.

While the strikers remain upbeat, XR is not downplaying the risks or severity of the action. Trained first aiders, doctors and wellbeing coaches are on hand to support the strikers, who take it it turns to man their protest sites - outside Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat party headquarters - while others rest.

Petra Metzger, 37, has managed to continue her lecturing duties at Central St Martins art and design college, despite feeling the strain of the hunger strike. "I can't go to uni and teach without doing the best I can to somehow mitigate the worst.


"I'm used to an able, strong body and, through my choice, now suddenly I'm in this body which is weak. It's really humbling to acknowledge the privilege we hold. If I choose to eat tomorrow, I can eat and feel stronger again, but so many people in the world don't have that choice."

The action is part of a global hunger strike which began on 18 November and involved 526 people in 28 countries, 263 of whom were in the UK. Kickstarted by US student Giovanni Tamacas earlier this year, the hunger striking is intended to show how the climate crisis is already urgently affecting people in many parts of the world.


Comment: The irony is fairly depressing. "Climate action" on the part of Western governments will actually hit the third-world the hardest. Developing countries are the ones most dependent on fossil fuels.


Although most ended their strike at the weekend, a handful have persisted to increase pressure on politicians to act. XR activists met the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and the deputy Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, on Monday, with both pledging to do their best to arrange meetings with their party leaders. They also met the Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, on Tuesday and are meeting with a Green party co-leader next week.


However, there has been silence from the Brexit party, and from Tory HQ. "We just hope that somebody will come down from the Conservative headquarters and talk to us," says Cole.

In the past couple of days, they've managed to hand out a few hundred leaflets to people passing in and out the building, and start some conversations.

But fellow hunger striker, artist Marko Stepanov, 67, thinks the reception has been frosty. "If I'm honest, they treat us like dirt on the pavement. They're just totally ignoring us."


Comment: That may be rude, but perhaps it's because these activists are pushing for a cause that is wrong on all levels: based on bad science, completely impractical, and actually dangerous.


The hunger strike marks a different tactic for the protest movement, which has previously employed more disruptive methods, such as road blocking; in October, their rebellion led to 1,828 arrests. Metzger says: "I'm all up for glueing on and being really active and disruptive. But something in October switched for me and I understood that it needs to be different. We need to use the power of vulnerability, because otherwise we're just fighting fire with fire in some ways."


For freelance photographer Ferhat Ulusu, the experience of hunger striking is something he's more comfortable with than getting arrested, despite his GP advising against it. "I'm not arrestable so this is a way I can participate. As much as I can volunteer, I don't feel like it has enough impact. That's why I'm here, I want to make a change. It has to be today; in five or six years' time it will be too late."

Stepanov doesn't want to dismiss the hunger strike as painless - in fact, it's quite the opposite, he says. "But I can take it. What I can't take is feeling completely powerless in relation to the people in power who aren't doing anything."


Comment: It's pretty sad to see what climate change hysteria has done to people. All this misplaced energy could be directed at something actually useful. It could even still be environmental in nature, targeting real pollution, for example. Instead it gets diverted to fake issues like CO2 that only serve people with an agenda that won't actually make the world a better place or do anything about "climate change."


Parliament passed a climate emergency motion in May, although it doesn't compel the government to act, and has also announced plans for a citizens' assembly with advisory, not binding, powers.

Davey said: "I met the Extinction Rebellion protesters - it was good to have the chance to discuss their aims. The Liberal Democrats understand that we are facing a climate emergency and must take urgent action to tackle the crisis.

"We are the only party with a clear, realistic plan to cut emissions dramatically by 2030, including producing 80% of our electricity via renewables by that date. Our plan will achieve net zero by 2045. These are bold plans that will ensure our planet is protected for future generations."

A spokesperson for the Labour party said: "Labour led the charge to make the UK parliament the first in the world to declare a climate emergency, and tackling it will be our number one priority in government.

"We're investing all we can to forge a pathway to net zero by 2030 and will establish local citizens' assemblies across the country to debate and bring agreement on the way forward, including in areas such as the carbon emissions associated with lifestyle choices like diet, travel and our throwaway culture."

The Conservatives and the Brexit party have been approached for comment.