“Action is therapeutic.”
— David Hogg, student, Parkland High School
The movement’s graphic logo is a circle encompassing an hourglass, symbolizing that time is running out for Planet Earth. Its aim is to force the world’s governments to cease conducting business as usual, and address the environmental crisis as what it is — an emergency. Its means is nonviolent resistance through direct action. It calls itself the “Extinction Rebellion.”
On the day this column is published, my wife and I will be packing to return from an extensive tour, by train and on foot, of the United Kingdom, where the Extinction Rebellion was born. However, this article was written seven weeks before today’s date, so there will likely be more recent acts of civil disobedience and political reaction to report on. We’ll take that up in the next installment of Your Ecological House, but here I’ll provide some background on the birth and startling early achievements of the movement.
A large proportion of the global population, perhaps as much as 40%, understands the urgency of addressing climate change, the sixth extinction and other growing environmental threats. Frustrated by decades of mostly hollow policy declarations and inaction by the world’s governments — and inspired by the successes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. — these people, many of them young, have decided that it’s time to stop talking and start acting. Their feelings are perhaps best summed up by the words on a mural, attributed to the graffiti artist known as Bansky, that appeared on a London wall during the April, 2019 round of protests: “From this moment, despair ends and tactics begin.”
On October 26, 2018, a few months before that mural appeared, a group of 100 British academics published an open letter stating that when a government “willfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm…The social contract has been broken.” It is “therefore the…right [and] moral duty [of citizens] to bypass the government’s inaction…and to rebel to defend life itself.”
The authors went on to state the demands of the Extinction Rebellion, that (1) “The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency…” (2) “The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels and (3) a national “Citizens’ Assembly” will be formed to oversee changes.
On Halloween, 2018, the more than 1,000 people assembled in Parliament Square to hear the “Declaration of Rebellion” against the UK government and speeches by climate leaders such as writer George Monbiot and 15-year-old Swedish global climate strike leader and Nobel Prize nominee Greta Thunberg.
Well, on “Rebellion Day,” November 17, 2018, approximately 6,000 people took part in coordinated actions to block the five main bridges over the River Thames in central London (70 were arrested). There were smaller actions in Stockholm, Dublin, Belfast, Copenhagen, Berlin, Madrid and New York.
On “Rebellion Day 2,” December 16, 2018, Extinction Rebellion blocked the Roads to Parliament Square and held a mock funeral march from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace. Ongoing smaller actions were held at BBC headquarters and various government departments while small groups “swarmed” individual bridges, closing them for seven minutes.
In April 2019, during eight continuous days of protests, at least 50,000 people engaged in acts of civil disobedience that affected hundreds of aspects of British Government, business and society.
So far, 49 UK cities and the parliaments of Scotland, Wales and England herself have met Extinction Rebellion’s first demand and declared a state of climate emergency.
Will the declarations mean anything? Perhaps we should ask the British, who well remember a declaration that was made in 1776 at our ecological house.