This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

“There is no planet B. This is where we will live, or go extinct as a species.”

I’m periodically prone to melancholy musings on the impending end of the world (like here). Reading this punchy collection of 35 essays was a way of taking those feelings seriously and putting them to constructive use. You’ve likely heard of Extinction Rebellion: a peaceful environmental activism movement that began in the UK and has now spread worldwide, it demands that governments face the facts about the climate crisis and do something about it, now. Fittingly, the book is divided into two sections: “Tell the Truth” plainly sets out the basics of climate breakdown and the effects we expect to see, including the disproportionate toll it will have on the poor and marginalized, and on island nations like the Maldives; “Act Now” is a practical call to arms with pieces by politicians, economists and protest organizers.

Not surprisingly, experts are calling for radical societal change: we must move away from the car culture; we cannot continue to equate success with economic growth; we must reorganize how cities function. “We are not looking at adjustments any more. It’s a complete overhaul,” Leeds University’s Professor of Urban Futures, Paul Chatterton, writes. But what did surprise me about reading This Is Not a Drill is that it’s not depressing. It’s actually rather exciting to see how many great minds and ordinary folk are aware of the climate crisis and working to mitigate it. We might not have political will at the highest levels, but grassroots movements involving just 3% of the citizenry have been shown to effect social change. I want to be part of that 3%. After I finished reading I signed up to ER’s mailing list, and though it’s not at all in my comfort zone, I’m going to consider taking part in their next public disruption.

I came away from this book with a feeling of camaraderie: we’re all in this together, and so we can only tackle it together. Post-apocalyptic fiction envisions violent, everyone-for-themselves scenarios, but it doesn’t have to be that way. ER demonstrations are said to be characterized by energy, music, laughter and good food. One word keeps appearing throughout the essays: “love.” There is righteous anger here, yes, but that’s outweighed by love – love of our planet, our only home, and the creatures it nurtures; love of the human race, the family that encompasses us all. While the authors are not unanimously optimistic, there is a sense that there is dignity in working towards positive change, whether or not we ultimately succeed. Plus, “It might just work,” former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams concludes in his afterword.

If you feel hopeless when you think about the state of the environment, I encourage you to pick this up, even if you only skim through and read a handful of the essays. The handbook achieves a fine balance between academics and laypeople; forthright assertions and creative ideas; grief and enthusiasm. It’s also strikingly designed, with the pink cover matching the ER boat and heavy use of the sorts of recurring icons and slogans you might recognize from their banners: skulls and hourglasses share space with bees, birds, butterflies and a Tree of Life. My only real quibble is that I would have liked a short bio of each contributor, either at the close of each essay or in an appendix, because while a few of these authors are household names, many are not, and it would be useful to know their bona fides.

Don’t miss these pieces: “Climate Sorrow” by psychotherapist Susie Orbach, “A Political View” by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, “A New Economics” by Oxbridge economist Kate Raworth, and “The Civil Resistance Model” by Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion.


Some favorite lines:

“Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.” (from “Survival of the Fittest,” by American media theorist Douglas Rushkoff)

“It’s interesting and important to note that the people who are most effective are often the least attached to the effectiveness of their actions. Being detached from the outcome, and in love with the principles and the process, can help mitigate against burn-out.” (from “The Civil Resistance Model” by Roger Hallam)

“We may or may not escape a breakdown. But we can escape the toxicity of the mindset that has brought us here. And in so doing we can recover a humanity that is capable of real resilience.” (from the Afterword by Rowan Williams)

“if you are alive at this moment in history, it is because you are here to do a job. So what is your place in these times?” (from “What Is Your Place in These Times?” by Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion)

My rating:


This Is Not a Drill was published on June 13th. My thanks to Penguin Random House for the free copy for review.

17 responses

  1. Very glad to hear that this book takes as positive an attitude as possible in the face of dire future circumstances. It’s all too easy for all of us to throw our hands up in horror and do nothing in the face of it all if we feel there’s nothing to hope for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, despair won’t help anyone. It helps to feel like part of a positive movement. Even those who don’t want to get out on the streets with ER can support them financially or through word of mouth.


      1. I thought that the ER demo in London earlier in the year was a case study in how to conduct a protest.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. They seem measured and deliberate in everything they do. The people working for them are familiar with the history of nonviolent protest and have written sensible guidelines, some of which are included in the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a school librarian working with students aged between 11 and 16 although it’s mostly the 11-14 year-olds who read. Would this book be accessible for them or are the essays more for an adult reader?


    1. Hi Debra, thank you for reading! I think younger teens would probably find this too advanced, or simply too dull. Maybe try No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg with them instead?


  3. This sounds like a really positive and affirming book Rebecca, which is maybe just what’s needed in the face of something that makes people feel hopeless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Along with the theory it includes practical tips for protests. The figure of 3% citizen engagement as the maximum needed to effect social change was really encouraging to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That does sound positive where it can be, and practical, which is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad to know this book and organization exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds like a really helpful book! I’d love more books with practical advice for effecting change in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This really seems to have a place on the ‘must read’ list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not all of the essays were must-read for me, but the book as a whole is worth getting hold of for its message (not as depressing as you might think) and its ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m glad you reviewed this – I think my daughter might like it. (As would I.) It’s so easy to get discouraged about the environment these days. That last quote really made me think!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] a bullet-pointed set of facts and statistics reminiscent of the “Tell the Truth” section in the Extinction Rebellion handbook. It’s an effective strategy for setting things out briefly, yet sits oddly between narrative […]


  10. […] store, it is a plunge into the unknown. The future is always dark.” This resonated with the Extinction Rebellion handbook I reviewed earlier in the year. Solnit believes in the power of purposeful individuals working […]


  11. […] work, remain uncorrected. Perhaps six to 10 pieces stood out to me overall. I’d recommend the Extinction Rebellion handbook […]


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