October 2019FocusEscalation: Peaceful Protest to Violent Rebellion2019

Focus on Escalation: London

Alyssa Veltre
Staff Writer

The Extinction Rebellion, an UK climate activism group, took to the streets and the airwaves early in October to protest a period of environmental breakdown. Hundreds of protesters partaking in peaceful civil disobedience quickly turned into an organized rebellion blockading London. According to The Guardian, the protest even spread to other cities around the world.

Activists hope to force political leaders to expedite legislative decision to address the climate emergency by carrying out various unusual activities; from gluing themselves to government buildings to locking themselves in funeral hearses at Trafalgar Square, The Guardian reports. There were more than 300 arrests as of October 8, and campaigners hope there will be more. This is in addition to the 1,000 who were arrested during the April protests. Other protest sites include Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, and New York City.

While most of the disobedience is loud, it remains civil. The group has recently called for members to get arrested so they can “use the judicial system as a platform to force change,” according to the New York Times. The group also demands a focus on capital cities to “maximize disruption.” This is in contrast to previous climate protests by different groups at traditional sites, like power stations.

Roger Hallam, a co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion, encourages campaigners to take inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement and the Gilet Jaunes. “We need only a few hundred thousand people to actively break the law and support such activities to put us in the ball park of structural change,” Hallam wrote in his research as a doctoral student. Hallam recommends hunger strikes as well.

Organizers plan to maintain protests for at least a fortnight, or until their demands are met. “While we squabble over Brexit, the planet is burning,” said Zuhura Plummer, one protestor from Oxford. “The moment to act is now, not 2050.”

The Extinction Rebellion has three core demands: the government must “tell the truth” by declaring a climate emergency, commit to net zero emissions by 2025, and create a citizens’ assembly to create policies on the ecological emergency, according to the official Extinction Rebellion website.

While the protests have been tolerated by Londoners, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained unimpressed, referring to protestors as “uncooperative crusties,” reports BBC. He said at a book launch, “I am afraid that the security people didn’t want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties and protestors of all kinds littering the road.” He went on to mock them as “nose-ringed” and “annoying.”

Despite Boris Johnson, the Extinction Rebellion continues to garner support from high-profile figures and groups. Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, expressed his support and the band Radiohead donated proceeds from a set of tracks to the group, according to the New York Times. Greta Thunberg also attended the group’s first major event declaring rebellion outside Parliament just weeks after the UN reported a climate crisis would arrive by 2040.

The UN report predicted food shortages, wildfires and mass die-off of coral reefs. The Arctic sea ice is 10 times more likely to disappear over the summer, heat waves will increase, 411 million will be subject to severe urban drought, and 80 million could be left homeless from flooding from rising sea levels if the temperature rises by so much as one more degree. These statistics are drastically reduced if temperatures even rise only half a degree more, but nations are not even on track for the one degree mark, according to the New York Times.

James Hansen, the scientist who warned of climate change in congressional testimony 30 years ago, said, “I find the people who think we are doomed to be very tiring and unhelpful.” He added, “I think we are capable of being smart.”

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