A duty to act: Extinction Rebellion galvanises ordinary people
By BEL JACOBS
“How is it possible to live with despair?” opens the Guardian review of The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen. “If, in the wake of last month’s horrifying UN report on global warming, you’ve been asking yourself this question, take some solace from the knowledge that you’re not alone. Franzen has been grappling with it for years, and as the title of his new volume suggests, his despair at the state of the planet and our absolute inability (“political, psychological, ethical, economic”) to save it is, if anything, deepening.”
As it is deepening for many. Carbon emissions have increased by 60% since scientists first warned of ecological collapse in 1990. This is awful to read, worse to comprehend. And yet, political response has been apathetic. Staring the apocalypse in the face, governments prostrate themselves before big business rather than help us prepare for what is coming. In a clear demonstration of just where the issue stands within the UK government’s priorities, no mention was made of climate change in the recent Budget. Instead the chancellor handed £30bn to road building.
Little wonder that Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, now says that, given the trajectory of carbon emissions, the world could see a temperature rise of three degrees Celsius before the end of the century. Others say nine.
So, if not governments and big business, then who? “Us” is the clear response from a new movement that plans to take a stand against ecological collapse. Co-founded by Roger Hallam, an academic at King’s College who specialises in social change and protest, Extinction Rebellion is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025. At the same time, it is demanding a People’s Assembly to decide priorities for reshaping the economy so that protecting the climate becomes a priority, not an addendum. If those requests are not met - and they will not be met; how could they be? - the aim to embark on a global campaign of peaceful protest.
Don’t dismiss this as the mutterings of a bunch of marginalised misfits. On October 26, almost 100 academics including the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and psychoanalyst Susie Orbach backed Extinction Rebellion with an article in the Guardian characterised by language not normally associated with scientists. “While our academic perspectives and expertise may differ, we are united on this one point: we will not tolerate the failure of this or any other government to take robust and emergency action in respect of the worsening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are incontrovertible, and it is unconscionable to us that our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of an unprecedented disaster of our own making.”
In an efforts to shake readers out of complacency, the article represents a new rhetoric in the fight against the effects of climate change. There is no more time to tiptoe round the issue - when that issue is human extinction. “I represent some 5 million people in the European parliament. But who represents the generations as yet unborn that will have no chance of a decent and civilised life unless we act on climate change?” wrote Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for South West England. “Who represents the thousands of species becoming extinct during the modern era? A mass extinction that is entirely the result of human actions, and which we are living through almost without noticing?”
Extinction Rebellion wants us to take notice. On October 27, a crowd of over 1,000 including Cato, Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the House of Lords and Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, gathered in front of Parliament to launch the campaign. “Thirty three years, I have waited for this,” said environmental campaigner George Monbiot. “This, my friends, is where the full measures begin. We are here to defend the living world that others have not defended. We are here to defend the life support systems that defend us.”
The movement has started. As I write, protestors have glued themselves to the entrance of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), to highlight the havoc being wrought in the UK by fracking. More acts of civil disobedience are set to take place through November and beyond. The visual language of Extinction Rebellion may be incendiary - peppered with skulls and a graphic depiction of an egg timer, the extinction symbol - and its language deliberately urgent (“Hope Dies. Action Begins.”) but ordinary people have been galvanised as never before.
Amongst those attached to the doors of the BEIS is Bell Selkie, 48, a farmer from Wales, and her daughter. “The IPCC report in October gave us six to 12 years, and this is known to be a conservative report. If we don’t respond with a war-style effort now, we are all fucked, all of us. My heart is breaking and I’ve got to do something, and I’m putting my life on hold,” she told the Guardian.
Will it work? Given the forces massed against it - the money, the marketing, the vested interests, the corruption, the sheer global scale of the destruction, the rise of figures such as Trump and Bolsonaro - tackling the effects of climate change will require a group of crystalline focus and resolve, ready to put aside differences for a global future. Is Extinction Rebellion that group? I don’t know. I desperately hope so.
Because everything I’ve read or heard in the past 20 years confirms the need for action. I wanted my daughter and her children to live on a safe, healthy planet. That, according to many, is already too late and so I mentally prepare myself for a world in which she has to endure as yet unknowns: shortages of food, water and medicines; extreme weather patterns that throw daily life off kilter; wars over resources; the utter grief of watching magnificent species, the sentient jewels of our planet, wiped off the face of the earth and the enormous human suffering as poverty and starvation takes hold. Even now, I want to delete these sentences but I can’t. The evidence is overwhelming. And, if we must go down, let’s go down fighting.
November 17th is Rebellion Day, when people from around the country will assemble around Parliament for an act of mass civil disobedience - one of a series of escalating non-violent direct actions organised by Extinction Rebellion.“Any rational person would bet heavily against us,” Rupert Read wrote in The Independent. “But to be able to look our kids in the eye, we need at least to try. Imagine how you’d feel in a decade’s time, once it’s too late – and you hadn’t even tried.”
On November 17th, join the Rebellion.
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