“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 FacebookTwitterPinterest
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
While the climate action group may have been relatively unknown until now, it has been expanding rapidly around the world. Here’s a closer look.
What is Extinction Rebellion?
Extinction Rebellion (XR) was launched by British activists Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook on Oct. 31, 2018 — shortly after a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said policymakers have only 12 years to stop global catastrophic climate change.
The group is also concerned about findings that suggest humanity has entered the sixth global mass extinction event. XR’s symbol is an hourglass in a circle that represents time running out. Its mandate is to draw attention to the mass extinction of life on Earth and “minimize the risk of social collapse.”
According to its website, there are more than 30 XR groups across Canada, at both the local and provincial levels.
What is XR demanding and from whom?
Extinction Rebellion has three primary demands of governments:
Declare a climate and ecological emergency.
Act immediately to stop the loss of biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
“Create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.”
What kinds of tactics does XR use? According to the group, it “uses nonviolent civil disobedience.” Its members’ tactics include blocking traffic on bridges and thoroughfares and glueing themselves to public buildings.
British author and environmental activist George Monbiot is a strong supporter of XR, and said the group is unlike anything he’s seen before.
“It’s really the first movement in my life that’s been of sufficient scale to address this issue,” Monbiot told CBC. “I’ve been an activist and journalist in this field for 34 years, and there’ve been lots of movements coming and going, and a lot of them have been great … but none of them has reached this scale and this impact.”
Why has this movement caught on so quickly?
Laurie Adkin, an associate professor at the University of Alberta‘s department of political science, said it’s unclear why XR has grown so quickly. One possibility is that in addition to the participation of many young people, we’re seeing an older generation of climate researchers and citizens concerned about climate change taking part after decades of political inaction. Adkin also said that XR might have staying power.
“I think it has a lot of growth potential because the crisis we’re facing is truly an existential one,” said Adkin.
Cops cuffed 27 people Monday as environmental activists covered the iconic statue with fake blood and blocked traffic on Broadway.
Activists spashed fake blood on the “Charging Bull” statue during a Monday protest demaning action to address climate change. Photo courtesy of @Postcards4USA/twitter
FINANCIAL DISTRICT, NY — Dozens of protesters were arrested after activists splashed fake blood on the Financial District’s “Charging Bull” sculpture during a Monday morning protest demanding action to combat climate change.
Cops cuffed 27 people during the demonstration in front of the Wall Street icon, which started about 11 a.m., the NYPD said. They will likely be charged with disorderly conduct, a police spokesperson said.
Dozens of protesters — some of them also covered with red paint — also blocked traffic farther up Broadway near Pine Street after splattering the statue in their bold effort to draw attention to the climate crisis.
“Denying it is — I’m not religious — but it’s sinful,” said Ben Watts, a protester from Brooklyn. “It’s totally immoral. I have a kid. The way it’s going, she may have no real future.”
The activist group Extinction Rebellion took credit for the protest, which drew more than 100 people to the Financial District. A video posted to Twitter shows an activist holding a flag emblazoned with the organization’s logo standing atop the bloodied bull.
“Financial sectors profit from ecocide, so we must rebel,” the group said on Twitter.
Climate change activists Extinction Rebellion have organized a series of protests to block busy bridges to traffic across Canada.
The environmental campaigners, known as XR, seek to draw attention to the “climate emergency” and want to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025.
It plans to shut down some of Canada’s busiest bridges on Monday, in line with protests around the world; including the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge over Halifax Harbour, the Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver and the Prince Edward Viaduct in Toronto, by having protesters lie down or sit in traffic lanes, according to The Canadian Press.
Halifax’s Macdonald Bridge was closed to vehicle, pedestrian and bike traffic for much of Monday morning as fewer than 100 XR members gathered for a protest, CTV News Atlantic reports.
The demonstration forced many commuters to take alternate routes to work and fueled congestion on main arteries throughout Halifax and Dartmouth.
CTV News Atlantic reporter Amy Stoodley, who was at the protest, said around 15 protesters had been arrested and released without charge by around 11.30 a.m. ET.
The bridge was closed to traffic just before the protesters arrived on scene and police blocked their access to the bridge.
About 40,000 vehicles use the Macdonald bridge daily along with about 1,200 people who bike or walk across the span.
In Toronto, dozens of protestors shut the Prince Edward Viaduct connecting a main road in the east of the city to downtown Toronto. The demonstration, which was due to finish at 10 a.m. ET, still had protesters in place by 11.30 a.m.
On the other side of the country police in Victoria, B.C., say they are prepared for another XR protest at the Johnson Street Bridge, CTV Vancouver Island reports.
Organizers said the action will close the Johnson Street Bridge to traffic from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“This escalation of tactics is the minimum of what’s necessary to give young people a fighting chance at a decent future. We regret that ordinary people will be frustrated by the commute disruption, but the collapse of human society would be a much bigger inconvenience.”
And in Edmonton, a handful of XR protesters linked arms to block the Walterdale Bridge Monday morning to demand action on climate change.
XR says it is the fastest growing direct action climate movement in history. And it has the fashion business in its sights.
Extinction Rebellion protesters carrying a casket during the mock funeral for fashion last month. Credit: Alexander Coggin for The New York Times
LONDON — Last month, on the final day of London Fashion Week, hundreds of black-clad demonstrators gathered in Trafalgar Square to embark on what they called “a funeral march for fashion.”
Gathering behind a band and giant painted coffin, they slowly processed en masse down the Strand, shutting down traffic on the busy thoroughfare as they chanted and handed out leaflets, leaving gridlock and chaos in their wake.
It was just the latest in a series of efforts designed by Extinction Rebellion, or XR, to disrupt the most visible British fashion event of the year. First, protesters covered in fake blood performed a die-in and demanded fashion week be canceled on opening day. Then, outside the Victoria Beckham show, activists had lined up, brandishing posters emblazoned with statements like “R.I.P. LFW 1983-2019” and “Fashion = Ecocide.”
Sustainability is at the forefront of the fashion conversation today in a way it has never been before, and the emergence of XR — which 18 months ago consisted of just 10 people in Britain and has since swelled to millions of followers across 72 countries — has stoked the increasingly heated discussion.
Although the movement targets numerous industries and governments worldwide, a recent focus on fashion has been particularly high profile.
Extinction Rebellion, which held demonstrations outside the Manhattan headquarters of The New York Times earlier this year demanding the newspaper increase its focus on climate change, has a distinctive hourglass logo, viral social media campaigns and creatively packaged demands for drastic action. It calls itself the fastest-growing climate and ecology direct action movement in history.
Come Monday, the most ambitious protest effort by the group yet will get underway, with tens of thousands of protesters planning to bring roads around Westminster to gridlock; there will also be a sit-in at London City Airport. This is the beginning of two weeks of environmental demonstrations that will also include repair stations where people can bring their old or damaged clothes.
So how does it all work?
Extinction Rebellion, which originally grew out of the activist group Rising Up! and relies solely on crowdfunding and donations, has three key goals: that governments are transparent about the impact of climate change; that they reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025; and that governments worldwide create citizens’ assemblies to set climate priorities.
The group has been deliberately conceived as a self-organizing, non-hierarchical holacracy. There is no single leader or group steering its strategy, tactics and goals. Instead, it is a loose alliance of 150 groups across Britain alone, with volunteers organized into working subgroups, and support teams and responsibilities distributed among chapters.
Meetings and planning sessions tend to take place in online forums and on messaging apps, with meetings offline used for training and creating a sense of community.
Extinction Rebellion is not the first modern protest movement to organize in such a way (there are parallels in particular with the Occupy movement), though the setup can foster a general sense of confusion and disarray.
Volunteers cheerfully describe planning meetings as “pretty crazy and disorganized.” A news conference last week ahead of the latest mass protests involved a fair amount of shouting and technical difficulties, and at London Fashion Week, certain planned protests failed to materialize. With the exception of the funeral march, turnouts were generally lower than anticipated.
Indeed, the success, and confusion, around the XR approach to fashion — a sector responsible for about 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations — is fairly representative of the state of the group at large.
“It’s always somewhat chaotic and messy, but I suppose that’s part of the beauty of Extinction Rebellion,” said Sara Arnold, a coordinator of Boycott Fashion, an XR subgroup that has made headlines by urging people to buy no new clothes for a year. “You learn to just run with it and hope for the best.”
The group is calling for this year’s fashion week to be the last, after demanding its cancellation in an open letter to the British Fashion Council earlier this year.
The march began at Trafalgar Square before progressing along the Strand, a major road in the center of London, to London Fashion Week’s central venue at 180 The Strand. Protesters were dressed in black, wearing veils and carrying white roses.
Pallbearers carried black coffins, one bearing the slogan “OUR FUTURE,” while other activists banged drums and waved flags featuring the hourglass-shaped Extinction symbol. Banners and placards carried by protesters read “LIFE OR DEATH” and “R.I.P. LFW.”
Protesters cloaked in red gathered for an Extinction Rebellion demonstration on Tuesday in London. Credit: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire/AP
Members of the Red Brigade, a protest and performance group that has participated in previous Extinction Rebellion events, wore vibrant red robes, headdresses and veils, their faces painted stark white and their eyes outlined in black.
In the open letter delivered to the British Fashion Council in July, Extinction Rebellion accused London Fashion Week of setting a “global precedent” that encouraged the demand for fast fashion, resulting in increased pollution and the exploitation of workers by the fashion industry.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said in response that London Fashion Week was a “platform to discuss societal issues from access to education to diversity and inclusion, and in this case, climate change.”
Extinction Rebellion activists protested outside Victoria Beckham’s London Fashion Week Show Sunday. Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images
Bel Jacobs, a former fashion editor who now belongs to Extinction Rebellion’s Boycott Fashion group, told CNN that Tuesday’s protest was organized to “mark a hopeful end to London Fashion Week,” as well as to “lay to rest the toxic system that is destroying us all, and to mourn those who have already lost their lives and those still to lose their lives to the effects of climate change.”
“The fact is that we have already produced enough clothing to last us all for the next 40 years and beyond — at considerable cost to our planet. We are hoping that people will look at what they already own and use it in new imaginative, creative and joyful ways.”
The funeral was the final event in a series of protests staged by Extinction Rebellion throughout London Fashion Week.