Today saw the start of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement in Australia.
In Melbourne, a crowd of around 150 gathered in Treasury Place to deliver a Climate Emergency Declaration to a government building. They marched in protest against both the state and federal governments, led by a group of “climate guardians” dressed in angel costumes, chanting slogans such as “Coal, don’t dig it, leave it in the ground, it’s time to get with it”.
The federal offices avoided any confrontation with the peaceful protestors, locking their gates as the crowd approached. Nevertheless, demonstrators read out the Declaration and handed a copy through the gate to a security officer.
Parallel events were held in Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide.
The Australian protests have not received any media attention to my knowledge. But today was merely the beginning of a planned campaign of civil disobedience which has already had considerable success in the United Kingdom.
London’s Extinction Rebellion was launched last Halloween by over a thousand protestors, of whom 15 were arrested for deliberately sitting in the road outside Parliament. In two open letters published in the Guardian, the Extinction Rebellion was endorsed by approximately 200 high-profile figures including scientists and academics from various fields.
The London campaign continued over the following weeks, as thousands of activists blocked major roads and bridges to disrupt traffic. Other tactics included activists gluing themselves to the doors of government departments, graffiti-ing government buildings, and partially shutting down an airport which plans to expand.
In one case 6,000 people disrupted traffic for several hours, and over 130 activists were arrested. Getting arrested is at the core of the movement’s strategy to use civil disobedience to disrupt society and show their commitment to the cause.
The movement helped convince several British councils, including the City of London, to declare a Climate Emergency.
Extinction Rebellion is associated with a far-left group called RisingUp! and its template for radical organizing. It aims to mobilize 3.5% of the population to leave their comfort zones and engage in nonviolent resistance to bring down the system. However their approach sounds like it is relatively hands-off, allowing decentralized organizing as long as everyone is in line with the basic values.
Why the urgency? To quote the Extinction Rebellion website:
Scientists believe we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown. The Earth’s atmosphere is already over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and the chance of staying below the 2°C limit set in the Paris Agreement is tiny. Projections show we are on course for 3 degrees of warming and probably much higher.
We and our children will face unimaginable horrors as a result of floods, wildfires, extreme weather, crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society when the pressures are so great. We are unprepared for the danger our future holds…
World leaders have failed to adequately confront the existential threats posed by climate and ecological breakdown, let alone the causes of the crises. Polite lobbying, marching, voting, consumer- and shareholder-activism, have all failed. We are now on the brink. If asking the establishment nicely doesn’t get them to act, then the only option left is civil disobedience, to disrupt the ordinary working of things, so that decision makers HAVE to take notice.
Many of the largest mass extinction events in Earth’s history appear to have been caused by runaway greenhouse warming, driven by carbon dioxide triggering an amplifying release of methane and poisonous hydrogen sulfide. We are currently witnessing the latest mass extinction event, through global warming and other impacts on the environment. When you account for shrinking populations as well as extinctions, around half of the Earth’s wildlife has already vanished. And we humans could be one of the species facing extinction.
There is a serious possibility that we are already in the process of triggering a runaway “hothouse Earth”, as warned by eminent climatologists Hans Schellnhuber and Will Steffen. The climate system appears to be teetering on the edge of several destabilizing tipping points – including the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice, which judging from the current trend could happen in the next decade – which could trigger a cascade of feedbacks amplifying global warming to catastrophic levels. As Extinction Rebellion points out, this could conceiveably cause mass starvation within years.
The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.
Of course, no such policy shift has been in evidence. Our political and economic system is not solving the climate crisis. Instead, our elites seem to have total disregard for the future of the general population.
A digital economics professor named Douglas Rushkoff recently recounted an exclusive meeting in which five super-wealthy individuals grilled him on “the future of technology”. He was shocked to hear the real questions they wanted answered: Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis? How will they maintain authority over the security forces guarding their underground bunkers? Should they use special combination locks on the food supply, or make the guards wear disciplinary collars, or build robots to replace workers?
It is high time for policy to be made in the public interest rather than the interests of billionaires. To this end, Extinction Rebellion makes the following demands (which you can read more about here):
- The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
- The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
- National Citizen’s Assemblies to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.
(That last demand is partly to prevent the possibility of a eco-fascist dictatorship, which some fear could result from emergency messaging.)
Now the movement is preparing to go international. Extinction Rebellion is planning more actions for the week starting 15 April in Australia and around 30 other countries.
The rebellion has begun!