KEY POINTS …
-the movement wants to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse
–the protest is about minimising climate change and the problems associated with it, from rising seas to food insecurity
THE PROBLEM IS …
–not just the climate
The problem is ecology, the environment, biodiversity, capitalism, colonialism, power, inequality, greed and corruption, and this tired, broken system
The movement is about economic disruption because:
“Without economic cost the guys running this world really don’t care“.
Who are Extinction Rebellion and why are they blocking your commute to work?
9 OCTOBER 2019
A man suspended from a bridge. Busy streets shut down. Activists carried away by police.
Recently, workers in cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have found their commutes disrupted by protesters bearing an image of an hourglass in a circle.
Extinction Rebellion demonstrations are taking place in more than 60 cities around the world in response to what participants say is inadequate action on the ecological crisis facing our planet.
They say while their actions are peaceful, they’re nevertheless aiming to disrupt “business as usual” and are prepared to be arrested in order to send a message.
How did it start?
Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, began in April 2018 when a small group of British activists met in Bristol to discuss how to achieve what one early member called “radical social change”.
It started as part of the Rising Up network, which describes itself as being born out of the Occupy movement and includes among its aims “a rapid change in wealth distribution and power structures”.
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XR’s first major action, on October 17, 2018, was to occupy Greenpeace’s offices in London, with the aim of gaining media attention and distinguishing itself from earlier movements.
“The point of this was to say, ‘Greenpeace, we love you, but we need to talk. There is an emergency and you have a role to play in this’,” wrote Ronan McNern, Extinction Rebellion’s media and messaging coordinator.
Later that month, academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, attached their name to an open letter which stated we’re, “in the midst of the sixth mass extinction” and that the British Government had failed to take adequate action.
Extinction Rebellion was officially launched in the UK on October 31, 2018, with a protest at London’s Parliament Square to declare rebellion against the UK Government.
The movement was launched internationally earlier this year, with one early Australian protest including a mock “die-in” for climate change in Melbourne.
What are Extinction Rebellion’s aims?
The movement wants to “halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse”, according to its website.Should you be allowed to break the law to ‘save the planet’?
Charged with traffic offences for blocking Brisbane streets during an Extinction Rebellion protest, this 23-year-old is arguing she should be allowed to break the law because climate change is an “extraordinary emergency”.
*In large part, the protest is about minimising climate change and the problems associated with it, from rising seas to food insecurity.
Specifically, in the UK, the movement wants the Government to “tell the truth” and declare a climate and ecological emergency; reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and stop biodiversity loss; and create a “Citizens’ Assembly” to guide decisions on these issues.
*For some key figures in the movement, it’s not just about climate change.
Sam Knights, who has been part of the movement from its inception and co-edited This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, wrote in his introduction to that book:
*“The challenge we now face is extremely daunting. Because the problem, unfortunately, is not just the climate. The problem is ecology. The problem is the environment. The problem is biodiversity. The problem is capitalism. The problem is colonialism. The problem is power. The problem is inequality. The problem is greed, and corruption, and money, and this tired, broken system.”
Stuart Basden, who describes himself as one of Extinction Rebellion’s co-founders, wrote an essay in January urging members not to reduce it to a climate movement:
“XR isn’t about the climate. You see, the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system that has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life. This was exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread around the globe through cruelty and violence [especially] over the last 600 years of colonialism, although the roots of the infections go much further back.”
What are Extinction Rebellion’s methods?
The movement was founded on a rejection of traditional protests, according to Roger Hallam, one of its organisers.
*”Sending emails, giving money to NGOs, going on A-to-B marches. Many wonderful people have dedicated years of their lives to all this, but it’s time to be honest. Conventional campaigning has failed to bring about the necessary change,” he wrote in This Is Not A Drill.
*Instead, the movement preaches economic disruption — most significantly, the blocking of roads — arguing that, “Without economic cost the guys running this world really don’t care“.
However, XR says actions taken in its name must be non-violent, drawing inspiration from the American civil rights and Indian independence movements.
“As soon as you allow violence into the mix, you destroy the diversity and community basis upon which all successful mass mobilisations are based,” Mr Hallam wrote.
While the movement says it is decentralised, and open to anyone who agrees with its aims and methods, Mr Hallam says it has nevertheless been carefully planned, “unlike many of the spontaneous social-media-fuelled rebellions and uprisings in recent years”.
For instance, the focus on city centres is intentional:
“The truth is, they don’t mind you doing stuff in the provinces. They do mind when you set up camp on their lawn, because they are forced to sit up and pay attention,” Mr Hallam wrote.
Mr McNern wrote in This Is Not A Drill about XR’s media strategy, which included protesting at the BBC’s London headquarters, offering exclusive stories to target media, and creating a WhatsApp group for sharing information with journalists.
Extinction Rebellion and the right to get in your face
The Extinction Rebellion climate change protest movement is becoming very good at annoying large numbers of people, but will that really get them what they want?
The movement’s aim is to mobilise 3.5 per cent of the population, which XR says is all that’s needed to achieve change.
Politicians including Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have called for an end to the disruptive methods, saying they don’t have the people’s support.
“People have the right to protest peacefully in our state but when you stop people going to and from their workplace, I don’t think people like that,” she said after protests in August.
Yesterday, Queensland Ambulance Service’s medical director described the protest at Brisbane’s Story Bridge as “a waste of valuable emergency services”.
Are they all prepared to get arrested?
No, but XR says all its activists must support that method of activism.
The organiser of XR’s families arm in Melbourne, Christine Canty, told RN Drive she’s not prepared to be arrested because she’s got a psychology registration.
“The families arm is a way for people to get involved in the Extinction Rebellion who might be feeling a little bit nervous about the idea of mass civil disobedience,” she said.
But while many of the XR activists risking arrest are young people, not all of them are.
In April, Farhana Yamin, a lawyer who had been a lead author for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, was arrested when she superglued her hands to the ground outside Shell’s headquarters in London.
*“I wanted to show how ridiculous it is that a law-abiding — indeed, law-making — mother of four should be handcuffed while the world’s major polluters remain unaccountable for ecocide,” she wrote in Nature.
Yesterday, journalist Chloe Adams, a mother of two small children, described why she chose to join the movement despite having lived a law-abiding life.
“I am haunted by one image: the moment my children are old enough to understand the gravity of the climate crisis, and they look me in the eye and ask, ‘but what did you do Mummy?'” she wrote.