Inspirational to some, apocalyptic to others. Five climate-concerned campaigners offer their take on Extinction Rebellion.
The rebels had three key demands: that the UK government tell the truth about the climate devastation by declaring an emergency, the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to overview a repeal of climate-negligent laws and the enactment of new policies in line with climate science.
They injected a new sense of energy and urgency into the climate movement. Thousands joined non-violent actions; London bridges were blocked, hundreds arrested. But the group has also come under fire for neglecting more political questions of justice, power and racism.
One month since XR burst on to the UK climate scene, five climate-concerned campaigners – from both in and outside the movement – give their views:
It’s time for a peaceful revolution
I chose to take part in the XR demonstrations in parliament square due to my mounting frustration with our collective legal response to climate change. Over the last 25 years, countries have agreed three international treaties to tackle it: the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement which commits countries to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to strive for the considerably safer limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But a closer examination of the legal implementation of these treaties shows the Rebels are right to take to the streets.
Of the 185 countries that are parties to the Paris Agreement, around 157 actually have national greenhouse gas reduction goals. Only 58 of these 157 countries have greenhouse gas reduction policies enshrined into law and few have legally binding policies in place that would fully achieve their own reduction goals.
We are running out of time. Climate scientists have concluded that global emissions must peak by 2020 and be net zero by 2050 if the world it is to have a chance of staying within the temperature thresholds set out in Paris. But we are very far from that happening. Only a handful of countries have set themselves this ambition let alone got legislation and public financing right to back up implementation. In the G20 countries – which accounts for 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – after three decades of scientific warnings, about 82 per cent of the energy supply is still sourced from fossil fuels and CO2 emissions need to decline to net zero by 2050. But we are very far from that happening.
All the above demonstrates is that we’re rapidly making our way to climate devastation. Our fiscal policies and laws are tilted too heavily in favour of fossil fuels incumbents who fund lobbyists to kill climate legislation and buy off politicians.
These facts lie at the heart of Extinction Rebellion’s calls for public education about the truths of climate (in)action. That’s why I will be taking non-violent direct action – and supporting all those taking their governments to court – to demand a peaceful revolution to end the era of fossil fuels.
Farhana Yamin is an independent climate change lawyer and Founder of Track 0.
Apocalyptic movements don’t end well
I've been involved on the fringes of Extinction Rebellion and the emergence of the movement is remarkable, fascinating, exhilarating and troubling – all at the same time.
I'm always encouraged to see people motivated to organize, take action and just discuss climate change – the world’s biggest threat that people simply don’t talk about.
Despite this, I have concerns. I fear for the movement's longevity and wider appeal. Most obviously, at a time when elites need to be challenged and systemic change enacted, they suggest we shouldn’t blame any one individual and just demand government do more.
A more troubling aspect though are the Millennialist tendencies of the group, whenever I see their doom-laden imagery and ‘end of the world’ slogans I’m reminded of the Fishes from the 2006 film ‘Children of Men’ – increasingly radicalized religious zealots, bent on reminding the population of their imminent mortality.
XR say this is the end and the choice we face is not whether it happens but how bad it will be. Influenced by the Dark Mountain literary movement, a recent action saw the burial of a coffin representing ‘Mother Earth’ and a series of public readings and poems centred on loss and mourning.
I worry because most Millennialist movements, from 16th-century Anabaptist Munster to present day ISIS, do not end well, unleashing strong emotions and tending towards extreme actions and Messianic leaders.
Class, race and geography all have an impact on a community’s resilience to climatic perturbations. It’s a privilege for well-off, relatively unaffected British citizens to mourn at a time when climate impacts are becoming more acute for the Global South as well as the UK working class.
If I possess it, I should use my privilege for practical purposes, to change our society for the better. Speaking of XR, a friend asked me, ‘Would they put their bodies on the line for the residents at Grenfell, for people sleeping rough, for refugees facing deportation?’
People shouldn’t be sad, they should be angry and they should direct their anger at those responsible for getting us into this mess and keeping us there.
Jonathan Atkinson is an environmental campaigner and co-founder of energy system company Carbon Co-op
The situation demands nothing less
I joined my local Extinction Rebellion group in November because it was a tactical way to organize against climate negligence and the movement felt unashamedly led by love. And with deep love comes grief. These are the raw feelings that define Extinction Rebellion meetings, more than any abstract sense of ‘morality’. This truth has bred trust and connections, and attention to well-being, support and aftercare during protests.
Civil disobedience may be new to many XRebels (as we call ourselves), but awareness of the interdependent crises facing our planet is not. Extinction Rebellion has tapped into and facilitated a huge reservoir of latent energy across the UK. Lives that have long been dedicated to personal, cultural, spiritual, ecological and economic regeneration are finding joint purpose, now strengthened by younger people who have come of age under the shadow of ecological extinction.
The demands for a citizen-led response to climate breakdown are without precedent. We are out of time for endless dissection and critique. Spearheaded by Extinction Rebellion, we can begin to inter-weave many spheres of activism within a broader and more purposeful platform. With this awareness – which must start with acknowledging the truth of the danger we are in – an abundant future, co-created with the earth just about still feels possible. Together with the transformative potential of renewables and regenerative agriculture, we can harness immense energy to support a cultural shift from ego- to eco-centric.
None of this ignores colonial, corporate and consumer culpability, nor the immediate challenges facing disenfranchised, indigenous and Global South communities. As a white and comparatively well-resourced UK citizen, I’m using the privilege of my relative safety to disrupt business-as-usual. The situation feels like it demands nothing less.
Charlotte Dean is a writer and permaculture consultant living in the South West UK.
It’s time to move from protest to politics
Throughout my entire life, many wonderful activists have worked to force governments to act on climate change. From climate camps to the anti-fracking fight, the energy of the environmental movement has been an inspiration to campaigners everywhere. Yet, from today’s perspective these efforts were in vain.
This year alone has seen the green-lighting of fracking, and the confirmation that Heathrow will expand- despite the fact that it is clearer than ever that man-made climate change is hurtling the planet towards disaster. The situation is urgent. Extinction Rebellion have correctly recognized this, but their strategy will not work. Blocking bridges, gaining headlines and mass arrests, while useful in terms of maintaining a spotlight on climate change, will not ultimately bring about the radical shift in economic policy that is necessary.
In its place, the climate movement must engage strategically with the labour movement, the only political force with the power and capacity to deliver the transformation needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Green energy, infrastructure and industry must sit at the heart of all of Labour’s economic policy; and the argument – that fighting climate change need not lead to the loss of jobs – has to be won within the trade unions.
In the US this is already happening. The strategy of the Sunrise Movement in engaging with Left Democrats has produced Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’, a development that Naomi Klein has called ‘game-changing’. Here in the UK we need the same. The climate movement will find many allies willing to work with them to achieve this, and their energy will be much needed to help build a social majority behind the transformative economic policy necessary to prevent catastrophic global warming. It’s time for the move from protest to politics.
Isaac Rose is chair of the Manchester branch of Momentum, a group within Labour formed to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and push for socialist policies and the democratization of the party.
XR must call out capitalism and neo-colonialism
Over the last few months, we have been working as part of, and in solidarity with, Extinction Rebellion. Cameron was voluntarily arrested on 17 November during Rebellion Day, while Boden was acting as a Legal Observer.
We believe Extinction Rebellion has certain serious issues that need addressing if it wants to effectively and responsibly fight for climate justice.
Anti-capitalism, decolonization and anti-oppression work cannot be an afterthought – shoved into a five-minute window between speeches or tucked away at the end of an action. Communities on the frontline of climate change fight the causes and manifestations of climate breakdown daily. Supporting and platforming their struggles by targeting the systems of exploitation and extraction that they resist, must be at the centre of Extinction Rebellion.
A good place to start would be rethinking messaging and tactics. So far, the movement hasn’t focused on neo-colonialism and capitalism as the engines of climate breakdown, and it has actively chosen to disassociate from Leftist thought. The current messaging puts equal weight on the extinction of animal species as on the daily loss of human lives in the Global South. In doing so, it alienates frontline communities already leading fights for racial, environmental, gender, class and indigenous justice – neglecting the struggles of the real victims of climate breakdown in order to attract Centrists and Conservatives.
The use of arrests to crowd out police stations and gain media coverage is innovative. However, the narrow focus on this form of protest inevitably elevates white middle-class British voices, for whom arrest isn’t as big of a deal, and excludes people of colour, trans folk, anyone with a precarious visa status, and working-class people, for whom arrest is a potentially lethal and life-ruining prospect. Extinction Rebellion is not fighting for climate justice if its movement excludes those people most disproportionately affected by climate breakdown.
Instead of exclusively focusing on arrests, it should target banks, fossil fuel corporations and extractive industries, creating more platforms for frontline community leadership and connecting with other justice-oriented campaigns. This would be a lot more effective and popular than bluntly grid-locking London streets. We need to remember that being part of an integrated ecology of movements is much more threatening to entrenched power than acting in isolation. This was true for the civil rights and anti-colonial movements that Extinction Rebellion gains inspiration from, and it is true now.
Cameron Joshi is a member of the London Renters Union and London activist group Our Future Now. He co-writes a blog on activism with two other activists called “Army of Three”
Boden Franklin is a climate activist focusing on divestment, climate justice, and anti-fracking campaigning in the UK.