“On 31 October 2018, we declared ourselves to be in open rebellion against the U.K. government.” And so was born one of the most promising efforts today to make urgent the fight against climate change: Extinction Rebellion.
Alarmed by the IPCC report released earlier that month giving the world’s nations only 12 more years to drastically cut greenhouse pollution — or else — and frustrated by their government’s inaction on climate, a handful of concerned citizens decided it was time to take their own urgent action against the government.
So they came up with a plan to make a ruckus, get on TV doing it, and make the government pay attention.
The crazy part is that it worked.
Though less than a year old, this decentralized movement of non-violent civil disobedience reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street has already accomplished a lot. By blocking streets, bridges and traffic circles in London and other British cities for days on end, protests have snarled traffic, made commuters grumble, gotten activists arrested — and of course, won the media coverage they were seeking. Lots of media coverage.
Adept at street theater, the group has used music, food, clothing and props (including a sailboat painted pink and displaying the motto “Tell the Truth” on its bow) to make protests into street parties. Getting the public involved has made it harder for the police to haul protesters away so quickly, which in turn, has gotten each action more attention.
The campaign’s carnivalesque protests ultimately got the attention of Britain’s elites, who were suddenly ready to negotiate. A day after activists met with senior officials in various government ministries, the U.K. became the first country to declare a state of climate and environmental emergency.
It remains to be seen whether this declaration will make much difference in government climate and energy policy. Meanwhile, XR (as the movement is known) has spread across Europe and across the globe, holding actions from Pakistan to Austria to Chile.
They’ve even come to the United States. XR chapter members in Washington, DC glued themselves to the underground passage between the Capitol building and the Cannon and Rayburn office buildings. Texas XR activists glued themselves to the entrance of a Chase bank office in Austin.
And now their new (pink) book, just released in June of this year, This is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, will help XR reach even more people who think that the climate should become an emergency issue.
Will XR have any more lasting effect than the Occupy movement has? Or, once the police clear the streets of protesters’ tents, will the news media, the government and the public forget all about it?
I hope that XR will get luckier than Occupy did. Given the renewed interest in climate action across the world but especially in English-speaking nations over the last few months, today may be a better moment in history for such activism to flourish and grow. If American climate activists adopt some of the movement’s energy here, we can help.
Reminiscent of some of the smart, attractively designed and eclectic manifestos put out during the heyday of the Occupy movement nearly a decade earlier, this book of essays is fun and thoughtful. Light on science (thank goodness!), essays first briefly summarize the climate crisis and then go into more depth on climate politics and finally offer practical advice for activists.
And it may even prove useful if you want to organize a bridge-blocking in your city to try to get your government officials to take climate change seriously.
This article was adapted and reposted from my author website.
— Erik Curren, Transiton Voice