For Extinction Rebellion to Succeed, It Has to Get Political

Extinction Rebellion London (Kārlis Dambrāns/CC BY 2.0)

More than 1,000 people have been arrested at Extinction Rebellion protests in London, in what is being hailed as one of the most successful displays of civil disobedience in modern UK history.

In a blend of performance art and protest, activists glued their hands to trains and bridges, chained themselves to politician’s houses and anchored a bright pink boat in the center of Europe’s busiest shopping area, transforming metropolitan London’s clogged arteries into open, green and communal spaces.

Extinction Rebellion has shocked the world, reenergized the climate debate and for those of us who didn’t need convincing, they have inspired hope in the face of an ecological crisis. But the group still faces serious questions about how its newfound spotlight will translate into concrete political gains.

The tendency among XR’s core activists to point to arrest numbers has sparked criticism across the political spectrum. Left wing critics (often in solidarity) argue that this laser-eyed focus on arrest counts risks alienating marginalized groups like migrants and ethnic minorities that are disproportionately victimized by the police. Prominent activists like Ash Sarkar have expressed support for XR, maintaining that it is more diverse than its critics acknowledge. But addressing these concerns will in no small part determine the group’s ability to forge meaningful alliances.

Extinction Rebellion has been criticized for being motivated by mainly white, middle-class concerns. XR organizer Robin Boardman stormed out of an interview with Sky News presenter Adam Boulton after the host decried the group as “a load of incompetent, middle class, self-indulgent people who want to tell us how to live our lives.” However, many of the activists I met in the two days I spent in London are unemployed, homeless or in precarious living situations. The sense of inclusiveness and belonging offered by XR might be the saving grace for those bruised by Brexit and nearly a decade of Tory government.

While XR’s core philosophy can at times seem like the odd fusion of game theory and environmentalism, or as if dissent is being “datified,” its tactics are culled from historic struggles like the civil rights and Indian independence movements. (Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth, whose chiefly empirical research stipulates that in order for a peaceful mass movement to succeed 3.5% of the population must join its ranks, is popular among the movement’s core.)

Extinction Rebellion describes itself as “an international apolitical network,” and of its strategic approaches, here lies perhaps its most enigmatic. Many within XR’s ranks claim that climate change is an issue that transcends politics and is beyond the purview of the opaque policy discussions that rattle the halls of power. But climate change is hardly an apolitical issue: It is fundamentally about the distribution of power in society and how we form community.

Is this a movement in its infancy hoping to cast wide appeal? Or does XR ascribe to the notion that once a more democratic form of governance is put in place, like a citizens’ assembly, the state will begin to lose its political character? (For the record, none of the organic farmers, teachers and youth climate activists I talked to ever quoted the Communist Manifesto). The most important question facing XR, however, is how it will render its message into a concrete political strategy.

Whatever misgivings Labour activists harbor for Extinction Rebellion I think that they are posing the same question to society: Are we really going to continue ‘business as usual’ and obey the logic of the market in the face of human extinction?

Despite its initial apolitical posturing, an internal memo that made the rounds early on Easter Sunday suggests that activists within Extinction Rebellion are making the case for a political turn. Farhana Yamin, XR’s political circle coordinator, said that the movement would momentarily scale back its occupations and shift focus toward making political demands. “Being able to ‘pause’ a rebellion shows that we are organised and a long-term political force to be reckoned with,” said Yamin.

This shift would be welcome by many on the left who argue that the Labour Party’s transformative economic program is the best way, or at least the best available way, to address the ecological crisis. Occupy Wall Street was short-lived, but it imbued our political discourse with a new moral vocabulary and undoubtedly helped pave the way for the Sanders revolution and insurgent candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. But Extinction Rebellion can go further. In the US, Occupy had the Democrats to contend with, a party that still actively suppresses the ascendency of its more radical factions. But in Labour, Extinction Rebellion has a potential partner — at the very least they have their attention.

The Labour leadership has lent solidarity to XR and the shadow health secretary John Ashworth has even backed their demand for a citizens’ assembly. When MPs returned to Westminster on Tuesday following the Easter recess, former Labour leader Ed Miliband called on the government to declare a climate emergency and introduce a Green New Deal. This groundswell of support follows the recent launch of Labour for a Green New Deal, a grassroots campaign inspired by AOC’s push for a radical economic program that tackles both inequality and the climate crisis. The campaign is calling for an expansion of public ownership, a massive investment in public infrastructure and a four-day work week.

The word movement itself evokes a sense of dynamism and fluidity. Movements are not static and fixed. Labour activists will have to decide whether their differences with XR will be hashed out on the sidelines or from within. Extinction Rebellion has elevated a vital conversation and depending on how the cards fall it might just be one that ends in a Green New Deal for the UK. SOURCE


Extinction Rebellion trial jury express regret at convicting activists

Three climate protesters glued their hands to a DLR train at Canary Wharf in April

 Police officers attend the scene of the Extinction Rebellion protest at Canary Wharf DLR station on 17 April. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

A jury has expressed its regret at convicting three Extinction Rebellion protesters who glued themselves to a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf.

Cathy Eastburn, 52, Mark Ovland, 36, and Luke Watson, 30, were convicted at inner London crown court after halting DLR services in London’s financial district on 17 April, as part of a series of protests carried out by XR.

The activists had denied charges of obstructing the railway, claiming the protest was justified because of the threat of climate change.

Since October 2018, XR has waged a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience, including blocking roads, government buildings and other infrastructure, in an attempt to raise the alarm over manmade global warming and environmental destruction.

Image result for guardian: Climate protesters climb on top of train at Canary Wharf

 Climate protesters climb on top of train at Canary Wharf – video

 Climate protesters climb on top of train at Canary Wharf – video

The group encourages activists to allow themselves to be arrested when they break the law and hundreds have been charged and tried for various offences, but XR claims that Eastburn, Ovland and Watson are the first to have faced a crown court trial.

They were arrested during two weeks of demonstrations organised by XR that brought parts of London to a standstill over Easter.

During their protest, Watson, of Essex, and Eastburn, of south London, climbed on top of the train carriage and glued their hands to the roof. Ovland, of Somerset, glued his hands to the side of the carriage.

They had sought to use a defence of necessity, but Judge Silas Reid ruled it out and gave strong directions to the jury to convict the defendants. On Wednesday, after an hour of deliberations, the jury unanimously found the defendants guilty, but the foreman added the decision had been taken “with regret”.

Speaking after the verdict, Reid said he was minded to impose a conditional discharge, referring to the defendants’ “noblest of purpose”. The trio were released on unconditional bail and will be sentenced at the same court on Thursday. SOURCE


Telling the Truth: The War on Climate Change is Over. We Lost

Neoliberal sparkle dust and Alice-in-Wonderland thinking is not going to leave humanity with a livable climate.

Image result for forest fires bc
Climate disruption is an ecological emergency. A report warns B.C. could face many more fires like the devastating Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire in 2003. ((Richard Lam/Canadian Press)

Prince Edward resident Rosalind Adams didn’t pull any punches: “If you ‘green’ Canadians are going to be assholes in the climate crisis, at least tell the truth.”

Adams writes, “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees C., to prevent climate catastrophe, global CO2 emissions must fall to about 17.6 billion tonnes annually by 2030…The global CO2 emissions must fall to about 17.6 billion tonnes annually by 2030.”

Notice, the Report does not specify what an individual country’s emissions should be. But Canadian political parties and media, hopelessly captives of Big Oil, are suggesting  that by reducing Canadian emissions by 50% by 2030, Canada would fulfill its climate responsibility—something the IPCC Report does not suggest.  

Canadians having a carbon footprint of 10 tonnes or 7 tonnes per person by 2030 does not contribute to achieving a global average of 2.1 tonnes per person by 2030. Instead it contributes to a situation where many, many more people than us must have carbon footprints of less than 2.1 tonnes by 2030 to make up for our failure.”

In a Facebook posting, Adam writes, “So what the dominant Canadian story on the IPCC Special Report is basically saying is that it is a matter of internationally agreed upon climate science that Canada, or perhaps more importantly, North America, should maintain the privilege of having emissions levels multiple times higher than almost any other country in the world.” So much for climate justice.”

Neoliberal sparkle dust and Alice-in-Wonderland thinking is not going to leave humanity with a livable climate.

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Protests by Extinction Rebellion’s seemingly inexhaustible army of activists made plenty of headlines last week. Getty Images

Extinction Rebellion’s first demand is that Governments must tell the truth—climate disruption is an ecological emergency. Governments must tell the truth and work with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

Greta Thunberg says, “I support Extinction Rebellion. What they are doing is good. Civil disobedience is important to show this is an emergency. We need to do everything we can to put pressure on the people in power.” 

So what does climate science tell us?

Adam Sacks explains, “Because of the vast inertial mass of oceans’ ability to absorb temperature and carbon dioxide, there is roughly a 30-year time lag between greenhouse-gas emissions and their effects. The  result of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide we see today, in the range of only 330 parts per million (ppm), are not the result of today’s concentrations of almost 390 ppm. In 2018, carbon dioxide levels reached 411 ppm at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory, the highest monthly average ever recorded. We don’t know with any accuracy what this means for future climate disruption.

The second out-of-control component is positive (amplifying) feedback loops. Feedback loops are self-sustaining, amplifying cycles. For example, global warming leads to melting glaciers which  eventually increase ocean saturation with carbon dioxide which leads to atmospheric carbon dioxide. We don’t know with accuracy when a feedback loop is triggered or how to reverse them.

The radical destabilization of life on earth, today’s floods, extreme weather swings, forest fires, typhoons and storm surges are symptoms , the result of 300 years of our relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical and colonial civilizations.

Another truth: You can’t bargain with the forces of nature.

To believe that our political parties will meet the level of emissions reductions that the IPCC claim are necessary, demands a level of faith way beyond belief in talking snakes and virgin birth. Better to give up dangerous magical thinking. That’s how we got here. Better to  accept that the war against the environment is over. We lost.

So what are we left with? Protecting as best we can our children’s and grandchildren’s future.


Extinction Rebellion’s activists leverage disruption, arrests for climate action

“I feel like I’m doing the right thing,” said one protester. “I can’t imagine myself sitting back and watching the world collapse.”

Climate activists surround a pink boat during a protest near Oxford Circus London Underground station. CREDIT:BLOOMBERG

LONDON — Wielding a megaphone to rally protesters blocking a major road outside Parliament last month, Dr. Bing Jones was arrested for the fourth time since joining the eco-protest group Extinction Rebellion.

The arrests haven’t deterred him, however — in fact, Jones is now keen to adopt an even more disruptive approach.

“I will get arrested again and I’m willing to go to prison, because what are the alternatives?” Jones, 67, said. “It seems in a way kind of childish, but the fact is being polite just hasn’t worked.”

He is not alone: A coordinated series of demonstrations in 60 cities around the globe last month grabbed headlines. Some 1,832 people were arrested in London alone, according to the city’s Metropolitan Police, who said that £21 million ($27 million) were spent on policing the protests, which caused widespread disruption and delays as streets were crowded and public transport was brought to a halt.

London has become the natural home of these protests: More than 1,000 people were arrested during an 11-day campaign in April.

But rather than simply marching in the streets, Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, aims to force governments to respond to the climate crisis by using nonviolent civil disobedience. The group’s uncompromising tactics include blocking traffic, grounding flights and gluing themselves to public buildings and to each other.

Despite the risk of arrests, XR has spread worldwide and includes some unlikely supporters — including seniors, doctors and religious leaders.

But as the group’s tactics has made waves, questions remain over whether the public will embrace its extreme goals and disruptive behavior.

Image: Climate protesters block Millbank in central London
Extinction Rebellion protesters block roads in central London on Oct. 7 as part of a wide-ranging series of global demonstrations demanding new climate policies.Matt Dunham / AP file


XR launched its first major demonstrations in Britain in November 2018 when hundreds of activists shut down bridges in central London to spread its core message that climate change is not only threatening ecological collapse but human extinction.

The movement demands that governments “tell the truth” about climate change, ensure that net-zero emissions are achieved by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to inform how the transition should happen.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, in one of her last acts before stepping down in July, pledged that the U.K. would reach net-zero emissions by 2050, one of the most ambitious targets of any leading economy, showing how bold XR’s demand is.

In the wake of a 2018 United Nations report warning of the consequences if the planet warms above 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and the Fridays for Future student climate strikes, popularized by Greta Thunberg, the stage was set for a movement like XR to take off, said Alexander Hensby, a sociologist at the University of Kent in southeast England.

From India to Chile, people around the world have embraced the decentralized, leaderless movement by setting up local chapters to coordinate demonstrations.

“The very fact that we’re still talking about Extinction Rebellion now, the fact that we have this ongoing period of mass protest, is a testament to their ability to keep climate change pretty high up the media agenda,” Hensby said. SOURCE

Extinction Rebellion’s car-free streets showcase the possibility of a beautiful, safe and green future

Image result for the conversation: Extinction Rebellion’s car-free streets showcase the possibility of a beautiful, safe and green future
© James McKayAuthor provided

Standing in the middle of a usually busy central London street during Extinction Rebellion’s protests, the air noticeably cleaner, the area quieter, I was struck by the enormity of the challenge ahead of us. We need to create a transport system that is zero carbon in only a few years. Despite London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, the daily reality is still toxic traffic fumes, unjustifiable road deaths and high levels of transport carbon emissions (up to one-third of all emissions in many places). There are over 9,000 extra deaths a year in London due to illegal air toxicity, much of which is from road transport.

But some cities have created more car-free, healthy and safe places. Copenhagen and Amsterdam are known for their amazing cycling culture. Curitiba, in Brazil, has an amazing bus transit system that functions like a subway network. Helsinki has committed to going car-free as soon as possible. Tokyo has some of the lowest levels of car ownership in the world. And Venice hasn’t seen a car in its history.

As I’ve shown in my latest book, creating the car-free city is possible, and urgently necessary, right now. We have all the technical and policy know-how. But we lack a vision of how it could be different, and the recognition that far from a sacrifice, it will bring mainly improvements, rather than constraints, to our lives. Such visions are necessary. The best way to demonstrate this is by using a bit of speculative fiction. So bear with me while we jump into an imagined near future.

Future gazing. Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

What 2025 could look like

After the government capitulated to mass public unrest in 2020, citizen’s assemblies met to plan the future of the country. One of them outlined what they called “The Great Transport Turning”, an ambitious new mobility plan for the country that would unlock us from the car and create beautiful, safe and clean places for people. I can’t believe it’s only been five years, but our neighbourhoods have been completely transformed into beautiful, clean, safe places for everyone. I see my kids smiling every day as they safely rush off on their bikes and scooters to meet friends or go to school.

So how did it all happen? On the recommendation of the People’s Assembly, the Department for Transport was renamed the Department for People’s Mobility. It was given a remit to implement a “climate safe and socially just mobility plan” by 2025. It cost around £300 billion – about a third of the total cost of the UK’s transition to zero carbon – funded by a combination of a windfall from closing tax avoidance loop holes, a hike in corporation tax, and a citizen’s transport levy.

An army of newly trained people’s mobility officers started to implement the people’s plan. The UK’s big cities got a huge makeover, with dozens more suburban train stations and extensive electrified mass transit networks comprising trolley buses and trams that were connected to surrounding small towns. That took a huge slug of cars off the roads straight away. Even though it’s not all quite finished, enormous progress has been made towards creating a zero carbon transport infrastructure, along with a green jobs bonanza in the construction industry.

Regional co-operatives, owned and managed by workers and users, were set up to run it all. Across the UK, everyone gets 14 free tickets each week, with any extra journeys costing a flat rate of just a £1 for travel within their locality. Employee-owned bus companies with fully electric fleets, cycle storage on the front and more access for wheelchair users than current buses, were set up. MORE

Now Extinction Rebellion plot to paralyse central London in the run-up to Christmas with another two weeks of protests planned for Trafalgar Square and Oxford Circus

  • XR activists are plotting Christmas action over WhatsApp and Telegram apps 
  • Organiser Clare Farrell said they ‘can’t overlook’ festive period as an opportunity 
  • Other protestors say climate situation is ‘too serious’ and ‘too urgent’ not to  

Extinction Rebellion is planning to bring more chaos to London with another two weeks of disruption in the run-up to Christmas.

Climate change protestors claim they will target busy shopping and tourist hubs in the capital, including Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square, over the festive period.

Organisers are plotting another fortnight of disorder over encrypted messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram.

It comes after the group’s ‘Autumn Uprising’ brought London to a standstill, with Tube protests at Canning Town, a camp out at Smithfield meat market and blockades at City Airport.

Extinction Rebellion claim they will target busy shopping and tourist hubs in the capital, including Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square (protestors are pictured there on October 16), over the festive period

XR activists are planning to bring more chaos to London with another two weeks of disruption in the run-up to Christmas

XR organiser Clare Farrell said: ‘We need to prioritise Christmas as a cultural event.

‘It’s something we can’t overlook this time. You would hope that something beautiful will happen.

‘What I do think is that XR, as a movement, we can’t think it will become something that only campaigns twice a year.

‘The situation is far too serious and far too urgent. The clock is really ticking,’ reports the Evening Standard.

Another activist said in a group chat: ‘There will be other actions between now and Christmas focused on our climate message.

‘If the Government does not listen to us then we will have no choice but to take to the streets again, whether it’s Trafalgar Square, Oxford Street or smaller direct actions.’  MORE

The big polluters’ masterstroke was to blame the climate crisis on you and me

Fossil fuel giants have known the harm they do for decades. But they created a system that absolves them of responsibility

 Illustration: Eva Bee

Let’s stop calling this the Sixth Great Extinction. Let’s start calling it what it is: the “first great extermination”. A recent essay by the environmental historian Justin McBrien argues that describing the current eradication of living systems (including human societies) as an extinction event makes this catastrophe sound like a passive accident.

While we are all participants in the first great extermination, our responsibility is not evenly shared. The impacts of most of the world’s people are minimal. Even middle-class people in the rich world, whose effects are significant, are guided by a system of thought and action that is shaped in large part by corporations. 

The Guardian’s polluters series reports that just 20 fossil fuel companies, some owned by states, some by shareholders, have produced 35% of the carbon dioxide and methane released by human activities since 1965. This was the year in which the president of the American Petroleum Institute told his members that the carbon dioxide they produced could cause “marked changes in climate” by the year 2000. They knew what they were doing.

BP’s oil refinery complex in Grangemouth, central Scotland. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A paper published in Nature shows that we have little chance of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating unless existing fossil fuel infrastructure is retired. Instead the industry intends to accelerate production, spending nearly $5tn in the next 10 years on developing new reserves. It is committed to ecocide.

But the biggest and most successful lie it tells is this: that the first great extermination is a matter of consumer choice. In response to the Guardian’s questions, some of the oil companies argued that they are not responsible for our decisions to use their products. But we are embedded in a system of their creation – a political, economic and physical infrastructure that creates an illusion of choice while, in reality, closing it down.

We are guided by an ideology so familiar and pervasive that we do not even recognise it as an ideology. It is called consumerism. It has been crafted with the help of skilful advertisers and marketers, by corporate celebrity culture, and by a media that casts us as the recipients of goods and services rather than the creators of political reality. It is locked in by transport, town planning and energy systems that make good choices all but impossible. It spreads like a stain through political systems, which have been systematically captured by lobbying and campaign finance, until political leaders cease to represent us, and work instead for the pollutocrats who fund them.

In such a system, individual choices are lost in the noise. Attempts to organise boycotts are notoriously difficult, and tend to work only when there is a narrow and immediate aim. The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

A protester is detained during an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Whitehall, London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters Pinterest 

The power of consumerism is that it renders us powerless. It traps us within a narrow circle of decision-making, in which we mistake insignificant choices between different varieties of destruction for effective change. It is, we must admit, a brilliant con.

It’s the system we need to change, rather than the products of the system. It is as citizens that we must act, rather than as consumers. But how? Part of the answer is provided in a short book published by one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, called Common Sense for the 21st Century. I don’t agree with everything it says, but the rigour and sweep of its analysis will, I think, ensure that it becomes a classic of political theory.

It begins with the premise that gradualist campaigns making small demands cannot prevent the gathering catastrophes of climate and ecological breakdown. Only mass political disruption, out of which can be built new and more responsive democratic structures, can d

By studying successful mobilisations, such as the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 (which played a critical role in ending racial segregation in the US), the Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig in 1989 (which snowballed until they helped bring down the East German regime), and the Jana Andolan movement in Nepal in 2006 (which brought down the absolute power of the monarchy and helped end the armed insurgency), Hallam has developed a formula for effective “dilemma actions”. A dilemma action is one that puts the authorities in an awkward position. Either the police allow civil disobedience to continue, thereby encouraging more people to join, or they attack the protesters, creating a powerful “symbolism of fearless sacrifice”, thereby encouraging more people to join. If you get it right, the authorities can’t win.

Among the crucial common elements, he found, are assembling thousands of people in the centre of the capital city, maintaining a strictly nonviolent discipline, focusing on the government and continuing for days or weeks at a time. Radical change, his research reveals, “is primarily a numbers game. Ten thousand people breaking the law has historically had more impact than small-scale, high-risk activism.” The key challenge is to organise actions that encourage as many people as possible to join. This means they should be openly planned, inclusive, entertaining, peaceful and actively respectful. You can join such an action today, convened by Extinction Rebellion in central London.

Hallam’s research suggests that this approach offers at least a possibility of breaking the infrastructure of lies the fossil fuel companies have created, and developing a politics matched to the scale of the challenges we face. It is difficult and uncertain of success. But, he points out, the chances that politics as usual will meet our massive predicament with effective action are zero. Mass dilemma actions could be our last, best chance of preventing the great extermination. SOURCE