In her first article as GLOBUS Assistant Editor, Tori Keene kicks off a new series at GLOBUS: Sixty Second Sustainability – bringing our readers snappy and informative writing without compromising our high editorial standards.
Installing a pink boat in Oxford Circus, living in trees in Parliament Square, carrying a coffin as a symbol of our dying future, and people gluing themselves to the Gates of Buckingham Palace. No, these aren’t examples of recent art installations across London, but the actions of ‘Extinction Rebellion’ (XR), a non-violent civil disobedience group whose dramatic tactics have been making headlines since their launch on the 31st of October 2018.
Founded in the UK as a response to the IPPC Special Report on 1.5°C, which warned that humanity is left with only 12 years to respond before the Earth is condemned to the effects of irreversible and catastrophic climate change, XR have three demands:
- That the government ‘tell the truth’ about the reality of the ecological and climatic dangers that we are facing,
- The government ‘act now’ to prevent further ecological destruction and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,
- That a citizens’ assembly is created to decide the way forward in future climate-related decisions.
They plan to achieve these goals by causing economic and civil disruption, a move which has gone global: XR Groups can be found across the world, from Canada to France to Australia. Their method of ‘disruption’ has varied; one of their founders was recently arrested after trying to fly a drone above Heathrow airport, whilst major shows at London Fashion Week, including Victoria Beckham’s, have been targeted by protestors holding signs stating ‘fashion=ecocide’, along with sit-ins and road blocks in cities across the UK. Perhaps even more varied is the organisation’s membership. People of all ages and walks of life have been inspired to join the rebellion, from Doctors to students and even Oscar-winning actresses in the form of Emma Thompson.
But, Emma Thompson’s ability to fly from LA to London at short notice to make speeches on a pink boat is why Extinction Rebellion may not appeal to the masses. Simply, many British people can’t afford to take days off work or risk being arrested to stand on top of DLR trains or sit at a junction on the M32; Sky News’ Adam Boulton went as far as to describe the leaders as ‘middle class, self-indulgent people’. Is being late to work due to a road block likely to cause someone to reconsider their meat consumption, or a cancelled flight due to drone action going to encourage someone to consider if they should really be flying in the first place – or will such actions just provoke anger towards a group that are trying to protect all of our futures?
Climate change is an existential threat to our existence, so it’s unsurprising people are feeling the need to take whatever action they can – and it might be working. In what was viewed as a victory for XR following weeks of protests in April of 2019, the government declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ and in July 2019 the UK became the first major economy to pledge to reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. These are significant steps towards tackling arguably the biggest threat to humanity so far. But, with Boris Johnson appointing a pro-fracking minister for the environment, and the clock ticking, XR have a long way to go to achieve their demands.