| It's gettin' hot in here|
|—Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam.|
Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) is a global movement of environmental activists established in the United Kingdom in May 2018 and launched at the end of October by Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, and other activists from the campaign group Rising Up! It focuses on non-violent direct action, such as street protests, blocking traffic, and chaining or gluing themselves to things: they aim to create disruption, attract public attention, and get members arrested to overwhelm the police and justice system, hoping that such disruption will force the government to take action.
It emerged from a new wave of environmentalism motivated by things like Greta Thunberg's school strikes movement, which led to students in several countries taking the day off school and calling for action and education about climate change. XR is in some ways the adult version of this. XR is critical of representative democracy (as reflecting vested interests not people's wishes) and wants a different way of doing things, although members don't seem entirely sure of what that should be. XR has called for a very rapid transition to zero-carbon emissions, which has thrown up debates about the practicality and social effects of such a transition.
- 1 Organisation
- 2 History
- 3 Demands and goals
- 4 Criticisms
- 5 People
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
It is loosely structured with no overall authority or leaders and local groups conducting individual actions. This is in contrast to traditional environmentalist campaigners such as Greenpeace, which have a hierarchy, governing bodies deciding direction, etc.
This decentralisation often causes problems, such as on 17 October 2019 when a small group of XR campaigners targeted the London Underground despite most XR members thinking they shouldn't target an electric mass transit system.
Actions in UK
- 17 October 2018: sit-in at Greenpeace's London offices
- 31 October 2018: assembly in Parliament Square, London
- Nov 2018: blockaded Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
- 17 November 2018: blocking bridges over river Thames in London
- 25 January 2019: occupied Scottish parliament building
- February 2019: disruption of London Fashion Week
- 1 April 2019: stripped naked in House of Commons viewing gallery
- 15 April 2019: a large-scale demonstration in London with protests at several city-centre sites and parallel actions in Edinburgh. This also included protests on the Docklands Light Railway, near Heathrow Airport, and outside Jeremy Corbyn's house.
- June 2019: protests against air pollution in Lewisham
- October 2019: a further wave of protests in London, including street closures and other protests against specific targets such as Google.
A mall in Paris was occupied the 5th of October until early the next day.
Demands and goals
The British movement has advanced three demands, one very specific and two very vague; they are expressed in various ways but can be summarised:
- "Tell the truth": The government must tell the truth about climate change (you can argue what this means)
- "Act now": Reduce emissions to zero by 2025 (and preserve biodiversity)
- "Beyond politics": Set up a citizens' assembly to oversee the changes required to reduce emissions (although it's not clear precisely what its powers would be or whether the government would be bound to accept its conclusions)
The American movement added a fourth goal, that any action should protect indigenous people, and the most vulnerable; and include reparations towards Blacks and other groups that have historically been shitted-upon.
Climate change poses a risk to many organisms and threatens to seriously disrupt human societies through disruption to agriculture and food supplies, flooding, deaths from excessive heat, and other mechanisms. However, it is debatable whether it truly poses an existential threat to the human race. While the potential impact of climate change is very serious, wildly exaggerated claims — such as when Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam claimed on the BBC on August 17, 2019 that "the science predicts" "the slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century" — are not supported by the current published research.
Viability of citizens' assembly
The existence of a citizens' assembly to guide priorities for decarbonisation is a central plank of their plans, providing some democratic input while circumventing conventional democracy. Citizens' assemblies are bodies — a cross between a jury and a public inquiry — where citizens weigh up evidence, possibly direct further evidence-gathering, and hopefully come to a conclusion about future actions. They have not been widely used, and have tended to focus on issues which either have comparatively low importance (electoral reform), or where the choice is fairly simple (abortion law reform). In this case they state the assembly should "create a roadmap". It isn't clear how much it should be involved on drafting specific proposals or whether its decisions should be automatically enforced.
XR's position here reflects a frustration with representative democracy, which tends to be slow and based on consensus or at least the ability of certain sectors of society to slow down change. However, it's not clear the citizens' assembly would be any more decisive or effective: this seems to go against the urgency of their other demands. They say, "This process can take from months to years", which doesn't leave much time afterwards for implementing the decisions. Perhaps they see the assembly having more of an oversight role, judging progress, rather than a policymaking one, while a strong leader is empowered to quickly enforce their demands.
It also isn't clear what would happen if you held a citizen's assembly and they decided it wasn't worth the effort to fight climate change. Or if they decided on something (e.g. building lots of nuclear power stations) with which XR wasn't comfortable.
While their goal is clear, they are very vague about how to achieve it, leaving it up largely to the citizens' assembly and government. This contrasts with other organisations' specific plans such green new deal proposals, and ideas such as banning/phasing out petrol and diesel motor vehicles: such schemes wouldn't be sufficient for net-zero emissions by 2025, but they are comparatively specific and can be analysed, assessed, and implemented.
Feasibility of zero-carbon goal
While proposals for a zero-carbon society have been worked out, most take far longer than the 2025 deadline that XR demanded.
Lack of focus on individual responsibility
Their proposals are all aimed at getting the government to take action, not at calling on individuals to change their own lifestyles. This arguably reflects the failure of calls for people to reduce their emissions and the acceptance that voluntary action would have only a small effect, while a significant change in carbon outputs will require legislation. Despite this position, XR members have been attacked for individual failings (both jet-setting celebs and ordinary people allegedly driving into London to take part in protests), although many of the loudest criticisms of XR hypocrisy have come from people on the right (or general trolls/assholes) with little or no interest in actually combating climate change, suggesting they too are hypocrites.
Despite the source, some allegations of hypocrisy may be valid, as when actor Emma Thompson took a transatlantic flight to participate in protests rather than use a video link. Several celebrity supporters have admitted to living high carbon lives, while claiming that they can't decarbonise without wider changes to society. However, some activists such as Greta Thunberg have proven notably more devoted to a low-carbon life, e.g. embracing veganism and refusing to take flights.
While individual action isn't sufficient, averting climate change requires both individual and state action, and individual actions can have a ripple effect.
But it may be necessary for an organisation aiming for mass membership and mass support to not alienate people by being judgmental, both to attract wider public support, and to avoid internal meanings devolving into "I'm greener than you" slanging matches and unceasing splits, schisms, and all the other politicking that so often destroys radical organisations. As an organisation without formal membership or authority, they have no real way of kicking out people who drive SUVs anyway.
They have often pursued a strategy of general disruption, sometimes targeting bad actors such as fossil fuel companies, but often not. This included blockading public transport (the London Docklands Railway and the London Underground), despite the fact that public transport is generally seen as a solution to fighting climate change. They claim that they are seeking to cause "economic disruption" rather than targeting specific polluters.
Tactic of mass arrests
They have been criticised for their plans to have large numbers of activists be arrested and jailed. In particular they have promoted jail as a fun experience where you can read or do yoga. This does not accord with reality. Their plans for large numbers of activists to be arrested at once will make it impossible to provide legal support for them; it also ignores the fact that jail is particularly dangerous for black people, even if middle-class, middle-aged white activists might have it easier.
As well as the primary focus of tackling climate change, it has an increasing number of other goals including tackling pollution and opposing loss of biodiversity, and local groups have campaigned under the XR banner on local issues like air pollution on a local level and particular trees being chopped down. While these are often in accord, it's not clear what would happen if, for example, construction of mass transit required chopping down trees.
During the occupation of a newly built mall in Paris, a small event started a debate in the lefties' circles. During the event, a tag appeared that read "Fuck the police". After that, a video went around social media showing an XR member wiping the tag and explaining:
You can say 'fuck the minister', you can target a person, but the police doesn't decide anything, it's the minister who does. [...] we don't agree we're not against the police, we're against people who take decisions against the climate, it's nothing to do with it. The consensus of this demonstration is to be non-violent...
Some people reacted saying that police violence had been serious issue in France especially in the past year during the yellow-vest protests. Police brutality against minorities in the poorer suburbs has also been a reality for a while. Along that logic, defending the police's action is undermining other struggles for social justice. This was especially painful to some as a movement against police brutality (Comité Adama, similar to Black Lives Matter) was taking part in the demonstration.
This led to a wider criticism of non-violence for three main reasons:
- The yellow vests only started gaining leverage after they starting breaking and burning stuff
- The non-violence of XR could be a tool for the state to discredit other protest movements in comparison. "See, you can do this without violence, if you resort to violence your arguments are invalid". In other words, the current government could pitch the environmentally conscious middle-class against the lower class and minorities whose priority is more social and economic justice.
- If you create your own police within your movement, are you truly a democratic movement, are you truly letting all the different voices express themselves ?
Although XR claims to be non-violent and has not committed any act of violence, its founder Roger Hallam has said that they are going to force the governments to act, and in the case governments do not, then they we will bring them down and some may die in the process.
It "isn't about the climate"
According to Extinction Rebellion co-founder Stuart Basden, "we won't fix" the climate and in fact "XR isn't about the climate." Basden believes that the climate breakdown is just a symptom of a toxic system of that has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life. He thinks that "Europeans spread their toxicity around the world", bringing torture, genocide, carnage and suffering to the ends of the earth, and named some of the constructed delusions caused by this spread and that have been coded into societies and institutions around the world: white-supremacy, patriarchy, Eurocentrism, hetero-sexism/heteronormativity, and class hierarchy.
Although it is a decentralised, officially leaderless movement, a number of individuals have been invoked as founders and intellectual sources, such as Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, Simon Bramwell.
Hallam (b. 1966) is seen as one of the main thinkers and strategists behind the movement. He was formerly an organic farmer in Wales, and appears to have become a more serious activist in 2017, enrolling at King's College, London to take a PhD in issues around civil disobedience, social change and campaigning, but also taking direct action to demand the university divest from fossil fuels and call for action against pollution; his protests included vandalism, a 14-day hunger strike, and putting daffodils around the campus.
He claims to have studied past revolutions and protest movements to identify the factors necessary for success: he favors direct, non violent action over both electoral politics and violent revolution, and claims that if XR can win the support of 3.5% of the population of a country such as the UK (2.3 million people in the UK), it can achieve its goals. Drawing on research such as Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, he has expressed his system in terms of three principles to follow. First is large-scale non-violent civil disobedience causing widespread disruption, non-violence because it allows participating by all, young and old, and targetting the centres of power with stunts that get attention. Secondly, he calls for personal sacrifice such as a willingness to be arrested, and thirdly to be respectful to other activists, the police, and the public in order to win public support. It is modelled on campaigns such as the Civil Rights protests in the US in the 1950s and 1960s, and the opposition to communism notably in the Baltic states around 1990. Whether this will work or is the best method is unclear; there are many counter-examples of peaceful protests that achieved nothing and alternative tactics that achieved more. And it's not obvious how you can be polite while maximising disruption.
Hallam has more recently got in bother for downplaying the seriousness of the Holocaust, calling it "just another fuckery in human history", while the Holocaust considered by many as unique in its extent and deliberate, mechanized nature. This attracted criticism from Extinction Rebellion Germany and Extinction Rebellion UK, the latter swift to explain that Hallam was speaking in a personal capacity to promote his book, rather than for XR, and Hallam agreed to suspend all his media appearances while XR pondered a course of action.
As of 2020, he has started a splinter group, the Beyond Politics Party, with the aim of bringing down the government and setting up citizen's assemblies. Their early strategy was to throw pink paint at organizations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the UK Green Party, in an ally-attacking stunt similar to Michael Moore's promotion of a documentary attacking renewable energy. To their credit, XR has cut ties with Hallam and has no affiliation with this new party.
Gail Bradbrook (b. 1972) is a biophysicist and activist and co-founder of XR. Her other protests include against fracking and incinerators. She was a founder of Compassionate Revolution, an ancestor of XR via Rising Up! She has attracted some interest for her promotion of psychedelic drugs, saying "The system resides within us and the psychedelic medicines are opportunities to help us shift our consciousness", and adding "I don’t think we necessarily have time to wait for the science to tell us these medicines are useful. The indigenous cultures have already shown us the ways." In 2019, some newspapers also got very angry because she flew to Costa Rica three years before, where she took drugs and posted on social media about monkeys (clearly not things a newspaper journalist would ever do).
Rupert Read (b. 1966) is a reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, a Green Party campaigner, and spokesperson for XR. He's known for telling children they may never grow up, to the consternation of many climate scientists, and for claiming the UK needs to shut out immigrants to reduce their ecological footprint.
Jem Bendell is a founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria, known for his doomist Deep Adaptation paper which is poorly sourced and has been roundly debunked by climate scientists, yet serves as a primary source for the movement's activism. Despite his smarmy moralizing towards anyone who disagrees with him, he advocates for the notoriously energy intensive bitcoin and insists it's okay for him personally to have double the carbon footprint of the average Brit because his work is too important to avoid flying.
- "Extinction Rebellion campaigners arrested in London". 19 November 2018.
- Demands, XR website, accessed 14 June 2019
- Extinction Rebellion activist dragged from roof of London Underground train, The Guardian, 17 Oct 2019
- See the Wikipedia article on Extinction Rebellion.
- Climate protesters glue themselves together outside Jeremy Corbyn’s house, Metro (UK), 17 Apr 2019
- Extinction Rebellion protesters stop rush-hour traffic in London, The Guardian, 14 June 2019
- Extinction Rebellion defies protest ban and targets Google, The Guardian, 16 Oct 2019
- Demands and Principles, US XR website, accessed 17 Oct 2019
- Will climate change kill everyone — or just lots and lots of people?, Kelsey Piper, Vox, 13 June 2019
- "Prediction by Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam that climate change will kill 6 billion people by 2100 is unsupported", Climate Feedback
- See the Wikipedia article on Citizens' assembly.
- Any new prime minister is doomed if they don’t fix Britain's democracy, John Harris, The Guardian, 17 June 2019
- Assemblies, XR website, accessed 14 June 2019
- Green New Deal Group website, Green New Deal Group
- Green New Deal, New Economics Foundation
- Labour members launch Green New Deal inspired by US activists, The Guardian, 22 Mar 2019
- Sorry, Emma Thompson, but you’ll never be perfect enough to save the planet, Zoe Williams, The Guardian, 6 May 2019
- Extinction Rebellion: Celebrity backers admit 'hypocrisy', BBC, 16 Oct 2019
- Climate change action: We can't all be Greta, but your choices have a ripple effect, Justin Rowatt, BBC, 20 Sep 2019
- Climate-change protesters disrupt London docklands train service, Reuters, 17 April, 2019
- Extinction Rebellion told prison is not a 'yoga retreat', BBC, 3 May 2019
- Extinction Rebellion protesters who want to be arrested: be careful what you wish for, Ben Smoke, The Guardian, 15 April 2019
- Are Extinction Rebellion whitewashing climate justice?, gal-dem, 18 April 2019
- Reporterre article
- Ouvrez les Guillemets, YouTube
- Stuart Basden (January 10, 2019). "Extinction Rebellion isn’t about the Climate".
- See the Wikipedia article on Roger Hallam (activist).
- Who is Roger Hallam? The Ex King’s student and organiser of Extinction Rebellion, The King's Tab (London, UK), 11 May 2019
- From Extinction Rebellion to revolution: strategies compared, Nick Wright, Morning Star, Oct 17, 2019
- Now we know: conventional campaigning won’t prevent our extinction, Roger Hallam, The Guardian, 1 May 2019
- Extinction Rebellion founder’s Holocaust remarks spark fury, The Guardian, 20 Nov 2019
- Extinction Rebellion UK’s response to Roger Hallam’s comments in Die Zeit, XR, Nov 20, 2019
- Update on process regarding Roger Hallam, XR, 4 Dec 2019
- XR co-founder makes his formal exit after furore.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gail Bradbrook.
- Extinction Rebellion founder calls for mass psychedelic disobedience, New Scientist, 19 August 2019
- Extinction Rebellion founder blasted after 11,000-mile flight to Central America for luxury break away, The Sun, 14 Oct 2019
- Dr Tamsin Edwards: "Rupert, I am shocked at this talk. Please stop telling children they may not grow up due to climate change. It is WRONG and deflects from the fact it is poor people who are at risk due to inequality exacerbated by shifts in weather."
- Love immigrants, rather than large-scale immigration
- The faulty science, doomism, and flawed conclusions of Deep Adaptation
- Letter to Deep Adaptation Advocate Volunteers about Misrepresentations of the Agenda and Movement
- Blockchain is facing a backlash. Can it survive?
- Carry on flying: why activists should take to the skies