Today’s Observer has an article about Extinction Rebellion activist Roc Sandford
In the past year, Roc Sandford has left the tiny Scottish island which is his off-grid home only once, to get a Covid vaccination. The rest of the time he has been alone with the birds, sheep and open skies.His days are busy but evenings can be lonely; cooking for one is “very sad”, he says. At the moment, he is enjoying some wine sent by a friend, eking out the six bottles by sipping from a thimble-sized glass. Despite his commitment to a close-to-zero carbon footprint, he misses socialising with friends and family. “I work very hard and very productively in this beautiful, beautiful natural environment, without the compromises one has to make elsewhere. But I can’t go to the pub.” Sandford, 62, is speaking to the Observer from a small shed perched on a hill a few minutes walk from his house on Gometra, in the Inner Hebrides. Here he can pick up 4G from a mast on the neighbouring island of Coll, 20 miles away. The signal is his connection to the world, his four children and a network of environmental activists. Just now, most of his time is spent on Ocean Rebellion, a sister group to the climate action organisation Extinction Rebellion.
“The oceans are dying, and if they die, we die. Ocean Rebellion has been set up to help stop it,” says Sandford[…]“We’re playing Russian roulette, with a gun pointed at our children, with five bullets instead of just one in the chamber, and we go on pulling the trigger until it goes off. That’s basically what climate and nature breakdown are.”
One of Roc’s children works at an environmental thinktank, and the other three have all taken part in campaigns; two of them occupieda network of tunnels dug close to Euston station in London earlier this year to highlight the environmental destruction that activists say the high-speed rail link will cause.
Sandford says the protest was “worth risking your life for … if you’re really unlucky and you die, it was probably worth it in the fight. I don’t want any unnecessary risks. But if there’s a situation where, to drive change, you have to take unavoidable risks, then yes, I think it’s valid to do so.” Although he worries about his children’s safety, he points out that they were schooled in risk assessment while growing up on the island. “Gometra is a dangerous place. They were brought up with me drilling safety into them. They’ve brought that into their activism.”
So a little Russian roulette is good for the kids then? Just not too much.
Is it easier to be environmentally conscious and reduce your carbon footprint if you own an island? “It’s a fair question,” he says. “I’m really conscious of both how lucky I am and how much further I have to go.” But, he adds, everyone can do their bit: drive less, fly less, eat less meat and fish, turn the heating down.I don’t judge people. It’s not about judgment, it’s about figuring out how we get out of this terrible mess that we’re all in. People need to first understand what’s happening, understand how serious the breakdown of the climate and the breakdown of nature is. It’s real and it’s coming for their children. It needs attention. So, understand first, and then talk about it, because the silence is lethal. Given what we know, I don’t understand why people aren’t screaming.”
In a forthcoming TV programme,
… sisters Blue and Savannah talk about their decision not to have children because of the climate crisis. “Dad is totally devastated,” a tearful Savannah tells Dooley. Sandford confirms this. “I feel extremely sad about it,” he says. “I want grandchildren. My advocacy to [my daughters] is to have children; people have had children in very serious circumstances throughout history. So, yes, I’m sad.” But, he adds, “It’s not just my children, there are loads of young women who’ve decided not to have children [because of the climate crisis], and we shouldn’t be putting them in that position.”
Despite his daughters’ decision and his children’s exposure to risk through their activism, he has no regrets about teaching them about the reality of the climate crisis. “We need to know, everyone needs to know.”
Some details are missing from this article. Though the Observer does point out that he bought the island with money left by his grandfather, it fails to mention that Roc is a millionaire.
According to the Scottish Herald, he is “a paper millionaire who could easily pay for a jetset lifestyle if he sold his properties. He bought Gometra to expand his farming acreage, after selling two smaller farms he inherited. On the island farms a flock of 350 sheep with help from a neighbouring family.”
Because, contrary to the impression given in the Observer article, Roc is not alone on his island. There’s a tourist shop, with its own webpage, run by Roc and family members, apparently.
The Herald article continues:
“Pollution is theft. I think this is the root of the whole problem we are facing – that polluters are not paying the cost of their pollution.” Mr Sandford lost 17 ewes-in-lamb in exceptional wintry conditions on Gometra last March, which he blames on climate change. He said: “If we do not take urgent action, it may well kill everything we love.”
Roc has his own blog http://www.rocsandford.com
Though he claims to have only left his island once last year to get vaccinated, he was in a pub after a Finnegans Wake celebration last August, when he also gave a talk to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, and he was at Davos in January 2020. You can see a video interview at Davos here
in which he delivers a standard Extinction Rebellion spiel including this line:
I don’t want to die. I don’t want my children to die.
Which a Bolshevik might describe as a maximalist position, I suppose.
His living apart from his children seems to be the result of a complex situation. In his most interesting biography , he says:
Amongst many other serious abuses of my human rights I was systematically denied a right to family life within Britain and saddled with constructive exile on gender grounds by the British Government in contravention of articles 8 (right to family life) and 14 (equality) enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act (1998), when my children were denied British Nationality.
I am a single parent and live on my organic, off-grid farm on the Isle of Gometra and, obediently to High Court of Justice decree, otherwise in London. S(he) am non-binary—there being 10 kinds of people: those who are binary, and those who aren’t.
He has worked most of his life in farming and estate management, and he believes that “Pollution is theft.” A millionaire estate manager is hardly going to espouse Proudhon’s original version, “Property is theft,” is he?
And how non-binary can you be living all alone with 350 sheep?