Extinction Rebellion Takes Aim at Fashion

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.

Extinction Rebellion activists with BoycottFashion posters outside of the Victoria Beckham show during London Fashion Week.
CreditAlexander Coggin for The New York Times

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.

Posters at the demonstration outside the Victoria Beckham show.
CreditAlexander Coggin for The New York Times

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.

From left: Bel Jacobs, Sara Arnold and Alice Wilby, who are the coordinators of the BoycottFashion movement and part of Extinction Rebellion.
CreditAlexander Coggin for The New York Times

“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.”

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New EU Commission structure shows seriousness on climate action


Ursula von der Leyen, seen here as Germany’s defence minister on Feb. 13, 2019. Photo by NATO/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A week before the United Nations Climate Summit began, a new leader took the helm of the European Commission with the goal of promoting strong climate action.

“I want the European Green Deal to become Europe’s hallmark,” EU Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said on Sept. 10.

One of her first acts in office was to appoint her second-in-command with overseeing Europe’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by mid-century.

“At the heart of it is our commitment to becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent,” she said at the time.

Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans was nominated Sept. 10 to present the “European Green Deal” over the first 100 days of the new EU Commission’s mandate, which begins Nov. 1, while also serving as climate-action commissioner.

Frans Timmermans

@TimmermansEU

“We are one people, one race – the human race – living on one planet. Let’s be bold and let it be known that is in fact enlightened patriotism”

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Officials have said that might be difficult, but some say the new role Timmermans is about to take may help facilitate this change.

Leyen has changed the structure of the EU Commission in constructive ways, former EU Commissioner László Andor told National Observer in a Sept. 21 interview at the United for Climate Justice conference organized by the Foundation of European Progressive Studies (FEPS) on the fringe of the United Nations General Assembly.

The new structure involves three executive vice-presidents, one of whom is Timmermans, who will be in charge of “everything about sustainability.”

Previously, these responsibilities were “scattered, and not necessarily well co-ordinated,” Andor said.

For example, before Timmermans’ appointment, the EU Commission had a climate-and-energy commissioner, which was a problem because “very often, energy wins and climate is subordinated,” Andor said.

“Now, the point is that climate policy is going to be concentrated at a very high level,” he added. “And this will be more effective than the previous arrangement. To start, I’m sure there will be continued pressure.”

Laszlo
Former EU Commissioner László Andors makes opening remarks at the United for Climate Justice conference in New York on Sept. 21, 2019. Photo Supplied

Bodies like the European Investment Bank have been able to cohesively shift the focus of investment into renewable energy and sustainable services in line with ambitious goals, while also developing partnerships with the private sector and other government. That is now what the EU Commission is trying to do under Leyen, Andor said, making the changes worth watching.

“If the European Union wants to remain relevant in the eyes of this part of the electorate, it has to be serious. And this is a method of credibility for international partnerships and actions at the global level,” said Andor, who is FEPS secretary general.

Andor believes Timmermans’ very focused role will allow the EU Commission to build international partnerships and dialogue with civil societies and other actors in the fields of social and climate innovation. MORE

 

Tiny changes might seem insignificant. But they are how we save the planet

Greta Thunberg and her Extinction Rebellion peers remind us that activism is not just about lobbying for change, but doing it ourselves


 ‘Small changes can transform societies’: a young climate striker with a tiny placard reading ‘Use less paper’ in London on 20 September 2019. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

There is a celebrated line in Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, his bestselling study of ecocide and sudden social implosion. Referring to the “self-inflicted environmental damage” on Easter Island by deforestation, Diamond asked: “What did the Easter islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?”

While there has been much academic controversy about the accuracy of his shorthand for what happened on Easter Island, what remains, however, is a powerful and affecting metaphor, one ever more resonant in the midst of the escalating global climate emergency.

The question “What on earth are we thinking?” is, today, no longer an experiment in supposition. We can see the shape of the calamity and measure our responses and the hypocrisies and contradictions inherent in them. Confronted by a climate emergency on a vast scale, and with the widespread failure of our political leaders, we continue to behave as if someone else – anyone else – will solve the problem, rather than tackling it ourselves.

So we worry. And we continue to consume. And sometimes we consume as a way of escaping the worry of consuming – even as we struggle to step back and see the wider, and blindingly obvious, picture.

It is a cycle that has placed a well-founded sense of anxiety about humankind’s future, perhaps not experienced so viscerally since the depths of the cold war and the fear of nuclear annihilation, against a profound sense of powerlessness. Solutions can seem beyond our reach as individuals and, if solvable at all, are in the hands of governments.

There are, then, deep and pressing reasons to be desperately worried. But there are also reasons for optimism. Alongside a wider democratic crisis, last week’s climate strike – and the wider Extinction Rebellion represented by figures such as the teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg – exists as a potent reminder that activism is not simply about lobbying the seats of power but about our power. As individuals, we can shape the culture, societies and politics we live in and drive them towards better results. 

While it is easy to be cynical about the impact of protest in an age of populism, where politicians seem determined to find ways to become ever less accountable, the global reach and scale of last week’s strike suggest a shifting of public opinion. Where once events such as Climate Camp could attract a few thousands, mainly committed activists, the climate strike has attracted vast numbers across the world, many of them protesting for the first time. If we need leaders such as Thunberg, it is as a reminder of the importance not only of organised action but of what we can and should do for ourselves….

Some reject the notion that individual action – recycling or changing how much meat we eat or how we travel – is a sufficient response to the sheer scale of the problem confronting the planet. But this misses a key point about how we live our lives. In the heat of political debate, we forget sometimes the importance of individual acts. What we put in our breakfast bowl, small issue as it is, became – for me at least – something that made me think about the sustainability and provenance of what I ate when a friend pointed out that huge amounts of water are used to produce my once favourite almond milk.  MORE

Sustainability101 and Why Our Economic System Utterly Fails to Address It

One hundred foxes and one hundred rabbits live on an island. What’s the price of a rabbit as the species decline?


Photo by Sander Wehkamp on Unsplash

What is sustainability? And why do we need it?

These questions are the most basic, yet rarely discussed in traditional textbooks. So let’s explore them with a simple thought experiment.

One hundred foxes and one hundred rabbits live on an island. The foxes eat the rabbits. Can the lives of both species be sustainable?

You don’t need to be a scientist to figure out that if the foxes eat the rabbits too quickly, more quickly than they can reproduce themselves, then we have a problem. The rabbits will become extinct, and then the foxes will have nothing to eat and will also become extinct. This is an example of a ecosystem that is not sustainable.

To be sure, other ecological outcomes are possible, depending on how many foxes vs. how many rabbits there are, and how fast each species can reproduce. Typically there are only a few foxes and many rabbits, but with 100 foxes the supply of rabbits surely won’t last more than a few meals.

Now to add an important twist to this story, let’s ask another basic question. What is the price of a rabbit as their population declines?

Economics, at least the kind traditionally taught in school, talks about price as a function of demand and supply. In this case, we would have an ever-increasing demand for rabbits and a declining supply.

In theory, the price of a rabbit should go up as the rabbit population declines, right?

Unfortunately, the law of the jungle is that it is a free-for-all game. The foxes simply outrun the rabbits. And both of them go extinct as a result. OUCH!?!


With this basic knowledge, we may ask how sustainable is the ecosystem that currently supports our way of life? The bad news is that almost everywhere we look today, there are danger signs.

Imagine the ocean without fish. Only less than 1% of the global ocean is protected right now, and business as usual means that in 50 years there will be no commercial fishing, because the fish will simply be gone. Just like the rabbits in our story.

Even worse, the things that our very life depends on such as clean air or safe water are in danger. 9 out of 10 people worldwide are already breathing polluted air.

Southern California, a place famous for its temperate weather, suffered the longest streak of bad air in 2018: a 87-day-in-a-row summer without a single day of clean air. We’re talking about lung-damaging gas in smog that triggers asthma and other respiratory illnesses so bad that children can’t play outside.

It is clear that our ecosystem are being stressed to unsustainable limits.

…While free market ideologies are certainly not shy of claiming the credit for the growth in our society, paradoxically it is precisely the same economic machinery that is leading us astray and accelerating our own ecological destruction. MORE

For a Sustainable Climate and Food System, Regenerative Agriculture Is the Key

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that agriculture is responsible for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions. There’s hope—and a solution.

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Agriculture is perfectly poised to play a major role in the solution to the climate crisis. By helping young farmers gain access to land, everyone can help play a role. Illustration by Jon Adams, courtesy of The Perennial Farming Initiative

All of us are familiar with conventional agriculture: the miles upon miles of farmland growing only one crop, the destructive tillage that wafts soil and its stored carbon into the air and into our waterways; the use of hundreds of chemicals including pesticides like chlorpyrifos that have been found to cause brain damage in children; the confined facilities that are both cruel to animals and make their impact on the Earth an assault rather than a gift.

I first started writing about [regenerative agriculture] farmers back in 2011, when there were more amazing anecdotes than studies, but that has changed. Entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren published a study with his former student Claire LaCanne in 2018. The study followed 10 cornfields per farm on 20 farms over two growing seasons, half of which were regenerative and half conventional. The study tracked soil carbon, insect pests, corn yield, and profits.

The results give the imprimatur of science to the successes regenerative farmers have reported for years. Lundgren and LaCanne found that there were more pests in the conventional cornfields that were treated with insecticides and/or used GMO seeds than in the pesticide-free regenerative fields, presumably because the cover crops attracted battalions of predator insects that decimated crop pests—and because there were no insecticides to kill off those beneficials.

And while the regenerative farms used older, lower-yielding corn varieties without fertilizer and had lower yields, their overall profits were 78% higher than the conventional farmers’. Partly, this was because the regenerative farmers’ costs were so much lower, with no cash outlays for costly insecticides and GMO seeds. They also “stacked enterprises” and had two or more sources of income on the same acre—in this case, they grazed their cattle on corn residue after harvest and got a premium price for pastured beef. What was the primary factor correlating with farm profitability? The amount of carbon and organic matter in the farmers’ fields, not their yields.

The venerable soil scientist Rattan Lal was one of the first people to connect the loss of soil carbon caused by destructive farming to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In a 2018 interview with Soil4Climate, Lal said that he and his colleagues estimated that regenerating landscapes—farms, forests, coastlands, and so on—could restore up to 150 gigatons (a gigaton equals 1 billion tons) of carbon to the world’s soil in 80 years. All the extra vegetation grown to put that carbon in the soil would store 150–160 gigatons more, resulting in a terrestrial biosphere holding an additional 330 gigatons of carbon, equal to a drawdown of 150 to 160 parts per million of CO2 from the atmosphere. “We should encourage the policy makers that this process of restoring degraded soils and ecosystems is a win, win, win option,” Lal says. “It’s a bridge to the future.”

Several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls have added agriculture to their climate platforms—most notably Rep. Tim Ryan, who proposes policies to support regenerative agriculture and soil carbon sequestration. Just this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren added to her climate platform a sweeping plan to overhaul agricultural policy, while Sen. Cory Booker announced he would propose the Climate Stewardship Act to the Senate in September; both would pay farmers for conservation practices.

And farmers of the future are ready to take it on.

“Agriculture is perfectly poised to play a major role in the solution to the climate crisis,” says Bilal Sarwari, membership and communications manager of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “By helping young farmers gain access to land, everyone can help play a role.” MORE

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ANCIENT AMAZONIAN SOCIETIES MANAGED THE FOREST INTENSIVELY BUT SUSTAINABLY — HERE’S WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THEM
With New Perennial Grain, a Step Forward for Eco-Friendly Agriculture
Restoring soil can help address climate change

Hope for the Haisla: Managing wealth instead of poverty

Reconciliation is the most important challenge facing Canadians. It’s important to understand the many challenges facing First Nations trying to reconcile development and environmental sustainability.


Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Crystal Smith, shown here in Kitamaat Village, B.C. on March 9, 2019, has endured threats over her support for Coastal GasLink’s natural gas project. Photo by Brandi Morin

Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Crystal Smith has been called a “traitor” and faced threats on social media, warned not to go anywhere alone at a recent First Nation sporting event.

Smith says she comes from “a long, long line of strong female leaders” in the matriarchal Haisla Nation and has the support of her community against threats, most from outside of Kitamaat Village, B.C. in the Pacific Northwest. The promise of a brighter future keeps her going. She’s never been prouder to be a Haisla Nation member.

The attacks stem from the Haisla Nation signing mutual benefit agreements in 2018 with LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink. Coastal GasLink is the name of the pipeline project that would feed natural gas to an LNG Canada facility, within Haisla territory, where it would be liquefied and shipped overseas. It’s a partnership that will provide extensive economic benefits to the tiny coastal tribe of 1,800 with 800 living on reserve.

The Haisla are working with the companies to build a processing plant of their own called Cedar LNG.

The Haisla aren’t worried about the potential threats to the water, marine life or other environmental effects like many opponents of the project. Smith said they’ve done their due diligence. Following years of negotiations and 86 meetings with Coastal Gas Link, the Haisla decided to get on board. Twenty First Nations have signed project agreements with Coastal GasLink. MORE

Making the most of the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’: bioregional regenerative development as a deep adaptation pathway

On a crisp and frosty April morning in the North of Scotland in 2002, at the Findhorn Foundation ecovillage, some 250 activists and landscape restoration practitioners from all over the world declared the 21st Century as the ‘Century for Earth Restoration’. The conference was called by Alan Watson Featherstone who set up Trees for Life, a project that has since planted close to two million native trees to restore Scotland’s great ‘Caledonian Forest’. John Manocheri was the official UNEP delegate at the conference, and now — 17 years later — UN Environment has finally taken leadership on this issue and announced the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’ (2021–2030).

I remember the conference well. How we all shared this sense of urgency back then already. How being surrounded by people sharing stories of hope from their ecosystems restoration projects around the world was deeply inspiring and yet at the same time news was flooding in that we were loosing biodiversity, forests, top soils, and wilderness so much faster than we were able to respond to.

This is still the case, but the tide is turning. During the ‘circle of commitment’ at the conference I voiced my intention to set up an environmental education and sustainability training centre in Spain, and all these years later I am delighted to be on the advisory council of the Ecosystem Restoration CampsFoundation, who’s first camp is located in Souther Spain near Murcia. My own work as an educator writing curriculum for Gaia Education has helped to train more that 15k people from 125 countries around the world in the skills and frameworks necessary to engage in whole systems design for sustainability and regeneration.

Alan Watson Featherstone on Restoring the Caledonian Forests

Growing numbers of people are committing their lives to healing the damage our species has done over the centuries and millennia to this abundant blue green planet. Projects have been established around the world that demonstrate that human beings as part of life are capable of creating conditions conducive to life. MORE

 

Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems

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Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both. Providing a growing global population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge.
Although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume low-quality diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in the incidence of diet-related obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed. MORE
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It is time to respect the planet’s boundaries—and overhaul how we eat and waste food—if we want to feed our rising population

If we’re to feed the estimated 10 billion people on Earth in 2050—and protect the planet— we have to completely overhaul food production and choose healthier diets, says international report


Market in Barcelona, Spain. The authors recommend consumption of red meats and sugars to decrease by 50 percent, while increasing consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes two-fold. Credit: ja ma/Unsplash)

The way we eat and grow food has to dramatically change if we’re going to feed the world’s increasing population by 2050 and protect the planet, according to a major report released today from the EAT-Lancet Commission.

“Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources,” wrote the commission, which was a three-year project and is comprised of 37 scientists from around the globe. “For the first time in 200,000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature.”

Agriculture is the largest pressure humans put on the planet.

The authors say reconnecting with nature is the key in turning around unsustainable agriculture and poor diets. If humans can “eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored,” they write. “The nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” MORE

 

9 sustainable living tips to take from our grandparents

Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a simpler time, and we aren’t just talking about technology.

Many modern conveniences are great, and in many ways, living in 2019 is much more enjoyable than 1935. But there are a lot of things we can learn from older generations to help live  a more sustainable life.

Here are some things our grandparents and great-grandparents did to live a simpler life that was a lot more eco-friendly. MORE