Zadie Smith and Mike Berners-Lee speak in Tufton Street at Extinction Rebellion’s The Big One

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Zadie Smith was among the names lending their voices to climate justice in Westminster.

Author Zadie Smith addressed a crowd in Westminster on Friday as Extinction Rebellion kicked off its four-day The Big One protest.

People’s pickets were in action all day from 7am to 6pm around Parliament Square and at government department buildings, with speeches, music, and workshops.

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In Tufton Street - home to a number of right-wing think tanks and fossil fuel lobby groups - poets and authors spoke at Writers Rebel to hundreds of people about the climate crisis. Zadie Smith, acclaimed author of White Teeth, and Mike Berners-Lee, professor and author of There Is No Planet B addressed the crowd.

Smith said: “Here in Tufton Street you don’t find a lot of sincere deniers nor too many hate-filled sociopaths. Tufton Street is the home of sensible clear-eyed common sense fiscal conservatives. Over the years, such people have made fortunes for their families from forced labour, the peasantry, iron and coal workers, sweatshop cotton, and why should that gravy train stop now?

“It’s hard enough to fight the kind of sincere denial that rises in so many hearts. It’s hard enough to combat ideologues and sociopaths.

“But what makes it all immeasurably harder is when a group of greedy, deceitful, contemptuous, cynical fiscal conservatives decide to manipulate a political system with lobbyists’ money to secure their own livelihoods in the full knowledge they do so at the cost of the livelihoods and actual lives of millions of people.”

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Berners-Lee criticised Michael Gove, who approved Woodhouse Colliery - the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years.

“The one thing that stops us from making any sensible decisions is truthlessness,” he said.

“When Michael Gove says he’s looked at the evidence, it’s so truthless the way he’s selected that evidence.

“We absolutely have to battle for a culture of truth – a culture in which there is a price to be paid if you are careless with the truth.”

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At 2pm, the protestors closed off the roundabout at Trafalgar Square and marched from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall to Parliament Square in their thousands.

Tom, a 19-year-old student at Leeds, came down from his university city especially to take part.

He said: “I’m missing uni – this is way more important. We have one planet - we have to save it.”

Viv, a 72-year-old member of Bristol’s Extinction Rebellion Rebel Elders group, said: “Everybody should be writing to their MP and pestering the government to do something now.”

Protests are scheduled to continue until Monday with The Finale – a mass picket at Parliament – to gather from 4.30pm until 6pm.

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