The Extinction Rebellion doctor who went on a hunger strike

I came across Dr Clifford Kendall last year when he was holding a hunger strike and demonstrating in Westminster for climate justice. I was struck by his commitment to the cause and really quite worried as he seemed to get weaker by the day. Dr Kendall drew a lot of media attention for his cause. I asked him for an interview. Here it is in Dr Kendall’s own words. Inspiring.

I originally wanted to be an artist. I spent a lot of time thinking about creating a perfect life/ideas of beauty etc. I came to the conclusion we don’t really know what we want, but we know what we don’t want. That might not sound like a big deal but meant a massive shift in my mind-set. (I’m not s Buddhist but Tenzin Palmo was a big hero of mine as a teen).

My experiences since have only reinforced this attitude – it’s been interesting to compare how happy a lot of people can be living quite precariously with very little, like in Africa but, in the UK, I find people with lots of security and entertainment but also a lot of depression and lack of purpose. 

This thinking got me started in medicine, and eventually working in low resource settings, usually in Africa. For a while life felt fairly complete doing medicine, but seeing the same old problems present again and again gets frustrating. As does watching populations grow in size without growing in development/security. Medicine starts to feel like a side-show, it does a little bit to reduce the mass of human suffering, but can’t shape the trajectory of the growth of that mass. 

Hans Rosling’s presentations
showed a really optimistic vision of the future. But, importantly, there was still a large population increase predicted for Africa. It seems he also massively underestimated the immediacy of climate change. 

For me, the thought that world hunger (and inevitably the associated violence) has turned a corner is unbelievably tragic. It’s a failure of contemporary technology, wisdom and self-control on a catastrophic scale. With all the tools to live comfortably within our means, as a global society we’ve chosen not to.

My friends working in my old hospital in South-Africa are working themselves half-crazy trying to make a difference, while global forces make worsening conditions inevitable. In all honesty, it was no harder to go a couple of weeks without food than face a week of night-shifts. 

When the IPCC talk about 0.5 a degree difference in peak temperature putting hundreds of millions of people at risk this means a lot. That most of the world doesn’t take this seriously yet is truly terrifying.

The Climate Change Committee advised that the UK couldn’t feasibly get carbon neutral before 2050, yet its own report noted that globally present commitments would give a 50% chance of temp increase being limited to 3degC. – maybe that’s just how things are … but then that’s absolutely mind-blowingly shocking.

We should be desperately mitigating against the predicted storm to come but nothing appears in the media. Life just plods on. So when Gail Bradbrook talks about ‘blitz spirit’ and everyone looks at her like she’s just getting over-emotional, I’m thinking ‘well yes – why not?’ – even if I’m not familiar with the literature that backs her predictions of disaster being more imminent, I’m still left feeling ‘why not?’


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