Extinction Rebellion
Extinction Symbol.svg
Named afterAnthropocene extinction
Formation31 October 2018; 3 years ago (2018-10-31)
FoundersRoger Hallam
Gail Bradbrook
Tamsin Omond[1]
Simon Bramwell[2]
Founded atStroud, United Kingdom
TypeAdvocacy group
PurposeClimate change mitigation
Nature conservation
Environmental protection
Region
International
FieldsConservation movement
Environmental movement
AffiliationsRising Up![3]
Animal Rebellion[4]
XR Youth
Websiterebellion.global

Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated as XR) is a global environmental movement,[5][6] with the stated aim of using nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.[3][7][8] Extinction Rebellion was established in the United Kingdom in May 2018 by Gail Bradbrook,[9][10][11] Simon Bramwell,[2] and Roger Hallam, along with eight other co-founders from the campaign group Rising Up![9][12]

Its first major action was to occupy the London Greenpeace offices on 17 October 2018,[13] which was followed by the public launch at the "Declaration of Rebellion" on 31 October 2018 outside the UK Parliament.[9][14] Earlier that month, about one hundred academics signed a call to action in their support.[15] In November 2018, five bridges across the River Thames in London were blockaded as a protest.[16] In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion occupied five prominent sites in central London: Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, and the area around Parliament Square. In August 2021, the Impossible Rebellion targeted London.

Citing inspiration from grassroots movements such as Occupy, the suffragettes,[16] and the civil rights movement,[16] Extinction Rebellion aims to instill a sense of urgency for preventing further "climate breakdown",[16][17] as well as the ongoing sixth mass extinction.[18] A number of activists in the movement accept arrest and imprisonment,[19] similar to the mass arrest tactics of the Committee of 100 in 1961. The movement uses a stylised, circled hourglass, known as the extinction symbol, to serve as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species.[20][21]

Extinction Rebellion has been criticised as "environmental fanatics" who risk alienating thousands of potential supporters.[22][23] Extinction Rebellion's 2019 protests cost the Metropolitan Police an extra £7.5 million. Activists identifying with the movement have also defended causing property damage, such as smashing windows.[24][25] Extinction Rebellion has said such tactics are sometimes necessary and that they are careful not to put anyone at risk.[26] In a YouGov poll of 3,482 British adults conducted on 15 October 2019, 54% "strongly opposed" or "somewhat opposed" Extinction Rebellion's actions of disrupting roads and public transport to "shut down London" in order to bring attention to their cause, while 36% "strongly supported" or "somewhat supported" these actions.[27][28]

Extinction Rebellion placard containing its logotype with the extinction symbol
Extinction Rebellion placard containing its logotype with the extinction symbol

Stated aims and principles

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Aims

Extinction Rebellion's website, at the time of the group's inception in the UK, stated the following aims:[29][30]

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.[31]
  3. Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens' assembly on climate and ecological justice.

When the movement expanded to the United States, a further demand was added to that group's list: "We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all."[32][33]

Principles

XR states the following on its website and explains the following in its declaration:[7][34]

  1. "We have a shared vision of change—creating a world that is fit for generations to come.
  2. We set our mission on what is necessary—mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change by using ideas such as "momentum-driven organising" to achieve this.
  3. We need a regenerative culture—creating a culture that is healthy, resilient, and adaptable.
  4. We openly challenge ourselves and this toxic system, leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.
  5. We value reflecting and learning, following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action (learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences).
  6. We welcome everyone and every part of everyone—working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
  7. We actively mitigate for power—breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
  8. We avoid blaming and shaming—we live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
  9. We are a non-violent network using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
  10. We are based on autonomy and decentralisation—we collectively create the structures we need to challenge power. Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion."[35]

Organisation

Structure

A protest in King George Square, Brisbane (2020)
A protest in King George Square, Brisbane (2020)

Extinction Rebellion is a loosely networked, decentralised, grassroots movement, with largely autonomous local groups - which often collaborate on actions - forming the bulk of the movement's organisational capacity. A local group is generally based around a specific geographical locality such as a suburb, city or in some cases a larger region. The movement also organises around largely autonomies affinity groups.[36][5][37][38]

Anyone who takes action in pursuit of "XR's three goals and adheres to its ten principles, which includes non-violence, can claim to do it in the name of XR."[37]

The Economist identified the group as using the tenets of holacracy to operate more effectively given strong state opposition.[39]

Organisation and roles

Extinction Rebellion has a decentralised structure. Providing that they respect the 'principles and values', every local group can organise events and actions independently. To organise the movement, local groups are structured with various 'working groups' taking care of strategy, outreach, well-being, etc.[citation needed]

Wings

Doctors for XR

A group of health professionals named 'Doctors for Extinction Rebellion' supports XR actions and organise demonstrations on their own, warning about the effects of climate change on human health. The are notably present in the United Kingdom[40] and Switzerland.[41][42]

XR Youth

Main article: Extinction Rebellion Youth

A youth wing—XR Youth—of Extinction Rebellion had formed by July 2019.[43] In contrast to the main XR, it is centered around consideration of the Global South and indigenous peoples, and more concerned with climate justice.[32][44] By October 2019 there were 55 XR Youth groups in the UK and another 25 elsewhere.[44] All XR Youth comprise people born after 1990, with an average age of 16, and have been as young as 10.[44]

Christian Climate Action

Believing humans to be God's stewards of the earth, XR's Christian wing, the Christian Climate Action, has been involved in numerous direct action campaigns and other protests to bring awareness of climate change and the climate crisis. It has called for churches in the UK to help alleviate poverty and inequality caused by climate change and has also written to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over the Church of England's lack of support for the group.[45]

It has a membership of over 1000 (with around 150 taking direct action).[45] It is associated with Camino to Cop26, a women-run faith group that walked 500 miles to the COP26 conference in Glasgow to protest world leader's lack of action on climate change. Other groups such as Marcha a Glasgow, the Pilgrimage for Cop26 and the Young Christian Climate Network also walked to the conference; they have described the journey as a pilgrimage.[46][47]

History

For a chronological guide, see Timeline of Extinction Rebellion actions.

"Declaration of Rebellion" at Parliament Square, 2018
"Declaration of Rebellion" at Parliament Square, 2018

Extinction Rebellion originated in the United Kingdom at a meeting of activists including Gail Bradbrook, Roger Hallam and Simon Bramwell in April 2018, at which they drew up a number of goals.[2] About one hundred academics signed a call to action in their support in October 2018,[15] and XR was launched on 31 October by Hallam,[48][49] Bradbrook,[48][49] Simon Bramwell, and other activists from the campaign group Rising Up![12]

Grassroots movements such as those of Occupy, Gandhi's Satyagraha,[16] the suffragettes,[16] Gene Sharp,[50] Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the civil rights movement have been cited as sources of inspiration[16] In seeking to rally support worldwide around a common sense of urgency to tackle climate breakdown,[17] reference is also made to Saul Alinsky. His "Pragmatic Primer," Rules for Radicals (1972),[51] is seen as offering insights as to "how we mobilise to cope with emergency", and "strike a balance between disruption and creativity".[52] Roger Hallam has been clear that the strategy of public disruption is "heavily influenced" by the community-organizing tactician: "The essential element here is disruption. Without disruption, no one is going to give you their eyeballs".[53]

A number of activists in the movement accept arrest and imprisonment, similar to the mass arrest tactics of the Committee of 100 in 1961.[19][54]

On 9 December 2018, a second open letter of support signed by another hundred academics was published.[55]

"Rebellion Day" on Blackfriars Bridge, 2018
"Rebellion Day" on Blackfriars Bridge, 2018

Extinction Rebellion has taken a variety of actions since 2018 in the UK, United States, Australia and elsewhere.[39]

On 5 October 2021, the group blocked streets in Zurich, Switzerland, demanding that the Swiss government take measures to address climate change in the country.[56]

On 4 November 2021, Extinction Rebellion demonstrators blocked the Schlumberger Gould Research Centre in west Cambridge to oppose the research into fossil fuel extraction by an American corporation. The demonstration was scheduled to coincide with the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which is focusing on energy.[57]

In April 2022, activists from Extinction Rebellion blocked key bridges across London, among them two Olympic athletes. Protestors had been arrested after climbing oil tankers, anchoring themselves to structures, or blocking roads at oil depots. Nine people were charged after Just Stop Oil, an XR affiliate, held a demonstration at an oil terminal near Tamworth, Staffordshire.[58]

Arrest as a tactic

Extinction Rebellion uses mass arrest as a tactic to generate attention to their cause by wasting police time and disrupting others.[59][60] Extinction Rebellion's founders researched the histories of "the suffragettes, the Indian salt marchers, the civil rights movement and the Polish and East German democracy movements", who all used the tactic, and are applying their lessons to the climate crisis.[61] Co-founder Roger Hallam has said "letters, emailing, marches don't work. You need about 400 people to go to prison. About two to three thousand people to be arrested."[59]

In June and July 2019 some of the Extinction Rebellion supporters arrested that April appeared in court in the UK. On 25 June a 68-year-old protester was convicted of breaching a section 14 order giving police the power to clear static protests from a specified area, and given a conditional discharge.[62] On 12 April over 30 protesters appeared in court, each charged with being a public assembly participant failing to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer at various locations on various dates. Some pleaded guilty, and were mostly given conditional discharges. The trials of those who pleaded not guilty are to take place in September and October.[63][needs update]

In London's April 2019 protests 1130 arrests were made,[64] and during the two-week October 2019 actions in London as part of "International Rebellion", 1832 arrests were made.[65] This included the Green Party Member of European Parliament for the West Midlands, Ellie Chowns, as well as Green Party co-leader and Leader of the opposition on Lambeth Council, Jonathan Bartley.[66]

Support and funding

During the 'International Rebellion', which started on 15 April 2019, actions and messages of support arrived from various sources, including a speech by actress Emma Thompson, a planned visit by school strike leader Greta Thunberg, and statements from former NASA scientist James Hansen and linguist and activist Noam Chomsky.[67]

A study conducted during the first two days of the mid-April London occupation, polling 1539 participants, found that 46% of respondents supported the rebellion;[68] however, an opinion poll of 3482 British adults in October 2019 found that support was lower and that 54% of respondents strongly or somewhat opposed actions aiming to "shut down London"[69] The protests on 17 April had blocked access to means of transport including buses, alienating travellers.[70][71]

In May 2019, Roger Hallam and eight others stood as candidates in the European Parliament elections in the London and the South West England constituencies as Climate Emergency Independents.[72][73] Between them, they won 7,416 out of the 3,917,854 total votes cast in the two constituencies.[74][75]

In June 2019, 1,000 healthcare professionals in the UK and elsewhere, including professors, public health figures, and former presidents of royal colleges, called for widespread non-violent civil disobedience in response to "woefully inadequate" government policies on the unfolding ecological emergency. They called on politicians and the news media to face the facts of the unfolding ecological emergency and take action. They supported the school strike movement and Extinction Rebellion.[76]

In July 2019 Trevor Neilson, Rory Kennedy and Aileen Getty launched the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF),[48][77] inspired by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion protesters in the UK in April.[78] It donated almost half a million pounds to Extinction Rebellion groups in New York City and Los Angeles and school strike for climate groups in the US.[48][77][78] In September 2019 Getty pledged $600,000 (£487,000) to the Fund.[79]

Christopher Hohn gave £50,000 to the group and the charity he co-founded, The Children's Investment Fund Foundation, has donated more than £150,000.[80][81]

Michael Stipe is a supporter; all profits from his debut solo single, "Your Capricious Soul", will go to Extinction Rebellion.[82][83]

On 6 February 2020, the environmental organization Mobilize Earth debuted Guardians of Life, the first of twelve short films that highlight the most pressing issues facing humanity and the natural world. Funds raised by the project will go to Amazon Watch and Extinction Rebellion.[84]

In September 2021, YouGov asked 3,296 British adults for their opinions on Extinction Rebellion, of which 19% were "very positive" or "fairly positive", and 49% were "fairly negative" or "very negative".[85]

Criticism

Diversity

Ben Smoke, one of the Stansted 15, writing in The Guardian, criticised XR's tactic of mass arrest. He wrote for XR to casually speak of imprisonment undermines the negative experiences of incarceration on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK. He also wrote that for XR to be supporting peoples' court cases risks drawing significant "resources, time, money and energy" from the environmental movement, from the individuals involved, and which could otherwise be directed towards people most affected by climate change. Smoke instead recommended tactics that are not only the preserve of those able to afford the expense and time of arrest. He also wrote that though mass arrests may be intended to cause government to focus more on tackling climate change, it might instead cause government to increase anti-protest legislation.[59]

The critique of XR's middle class white privilege, that its mass arrest tactic does not consider that people of colour will not be treated as leniently by the system as white people, was also highlighted in an open letter from Wretched of the Earth, an environmental group that focuses on black, brown and indigenous voices, to XR.[32][86] The group responded to this critique with a thank you, pointing out their solidarity and commitment to diversity of membership as well diversity in styles of engagement (for example, one does not need to volunteer for a prison term in order to be an active member of XR).[87]

Some in Extinction Rebellion have also called attention to Martin Luther King Jr. (one of XR's guiding inspirations[88][11]) in this regard, noting that his call for civil disobedience to end segregation was a call directed toward all who were willing and able, regardless of race or colour.[89]

When the movement expanded to the US, a fourth demand was added to that group's list of demands: for a "just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable and indigenous sovereignty [and] establishes reparations and remediation led by and for black people, indigenous people, people of colour and poor communities for years of environmental injustice."[32]

Class

Karen Bell, senior lecturer in human geography and environmental justice at the University of West of England, Bristol, wrote in The Guardian that environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion are not strongly rooted in working-class organisations and communities, which she said is a problem because building the broad-based support necessary for a radical transition to sustainability requires contributions from all strands of environmentalism, especially working class.[90] Labour Party shadow cabinet member Lisa Nandy criticised the organisation in The Guardian in October 2019, saying "calls for individual action can't just be modelled on the lifestyles of middle class city dwellers".[91]

George Monbiot has also written in The Guardian that "Extinction Rebellion is too white, and too middle class."[61] The Canning Town protest, in which two activists scaled a train at Canning Town station, then kicked working class commuters who attempted to remove them from the train before being dragged onto the platform and mobbed,[92] focused attention on class issues and led to an apology from an XR spokesman.[93][36][94][95][96][97][98]

Timescale

According to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, which supports XR's course of strong action and demands, the time frame being urged by XR is "an ambition that technically, economically and politically has absolutely no chance of being fulfilled." Due to the inaction of governments in the past, it would be difficult to achieve net zero in such a short time frame. It said that one way to go net zero by 2025 would include the scrapping of flying and 38 million petrol and diesel cars would need to be removed from the roads. Twenty-six million gas boilers would need to be disconnected in six years.[99] The Rapid Transition Alliance and the Centre for Alternative Technology are more positive about the date specified.[100][101]

Alleged extremism

A report called "Extremism Rebellion" by Policy Exchange, a UK-based conservative think tank, said that Extinction Rebellion is an extremist organisation seeking the breakdown of liberal democracy and the rule of law,[102] and called for the criminalisation of the group; the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 was based on the 2019 report by Policy Exchange, which received in 2017 a $30,000 donation by US-based oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil,[103][104] to target Extinction Rebellion.[105]

In 2019, the South East Counter Terrorism Unit police authority listed Extinction Rebellion, alongside neo-Nazi and Islamist terrorist groups, as a threat in a guide titled "Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism". After media inquiries, they recalled and disavowed this guide,[106] saying the presence of Extinction Rebellion was an error.[105] Priti Patel, who advocated for the aforementioned policing bill, defended the decision to designate Extinction Rebellion as an extremist group after the guide was disavowed.[105]

Politics and ideology

Extinction Rebellion's third demand ("Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens' Assembly on climate and ecological justice") has been summarised by its leadership as a demand to "go beyond politics".[107] This demand has been criticised by socialists, including individuals who have participated in the movement's action. Writing for The Independent in April 2019, Natasha Josette, an anti-racist activist and member of Labour for a Green New Deal, critiqued Extinction Rebellion both for marginalising ethnic minorities and for not recognising that "the climate crisis is the result of neoliberal capitalism, and a global system of extraction, dispossession and oppression".[108] Also writing for The Independent, Amardeep Dhillon argued that XR's narrow focus on net zero carbon emissions meant that it ignored extractivism and the threat to the environment posed by companies in the extractive sector using greenwashing to defend and advance their economic interests, suggesting that XR's position "threatens to give carte blanche to governments and corporations who are happy to shift the burden of climate destruction onto poor and indigenous communities of colour in the global South".[109]

In October 2019, Erica Eisen, an XR participant, wrote an article for Current Affairs in which she linked the movement's "beyond politics" slogan not only to the demand for a citizens' assembly but also to a refusal to take stances on issues beyond the environment, in order to gain as broad a base of support as possible, highlighting the movement's ban on organising community groups based on political identity. She argued that "our current economic system is [not] compatible with continued life on this planet. It is unrealistic and irresponsible to pretend that a proposed climate solution which keeps capitalism intact is any kind of solution at all." In her view, failing to articulate an anti-capitalist position undermined the movement's credibility by "lend[ing] tacit support" to large companies responsible for environmentally destructive behaviour. She also suggested that failing to embrace leftist positions would give space for far right groups to piggyback and exploit environmentalist rhetoric, citing the examples of the Christchurch mosque shootings and 2019 El Paso shooting, both of whose perpetrators left manifestos which mentioned environmental concerns.[110] Writing for i-D in December 2019, Nathalie Olah drew parallels between XR and earlier decentralised protest movements such as the events of May 68 in France and the Occupy movement, suggesting that a shared lack of clarity in concrete demands had stunted the political impact of the latter two movements and arguing that climate change and class politics were "inextricable" as "a small minority are responsible for a high proportion of emissions, and because the poorest stand to face the worst repercussions".[111]

Media coverage

Analysis of the October 2019 "International Rebellion" indicates that "the movement was mentioned more than 70,000 times in online media reports. Of these, 43.5% of online coverage was in the UK followed by 15.2% from Germany, 14.6 % in Australia and 12.1% in the US."[112]

Bibliography

Filmography

See also

References

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Further reading

  • Bell, Karen (2021). "Working-class people, Extinction Rebellion and the environmental movements of the Global North". Diversity and Inclusion in Environmentalism. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-003-09918-5.
  • Bell, Karen; Bevan, Gnisha (2021). "Beyond inclusion? Perceptions of the extent to which Extinction Rebellion speaks to, and for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and working-class communities". Local Environment. 26 (10): 1205–1220. doi:10.1080/13549839.2021.1970728.
  • Berglund, Oscar; Schmidt, Daniel (2020). Extinction Rebellion and Climate Change Activism: Breaking the Law to Change the World. Springer Nature. ISBN 978-3-030-48359-3.
  • Booth, Ella (2019). "Extinction Rebellion: social work, climate change and solidarity". Critical and Radical Social Work. 7 (2): 257–261. doi:10.1332/204986019X15623302985296.
  • Buzogány, Aron; Scherhaufer, Patrick (2022). "Framing different energy futures? Comparing Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion in Germany". Futures. 137. doi:10.1016/j.futures.2022.102904.
  • Demos, T. J. (2020). "Extinction Rebellions". Afterimage. 47 (2): 14–20. doi:10.1525/aft.2020.472004.
  • Fotaki, Marianna; Foroughi, Hamid (2022). "Extinction Rebellion: Green activism and the fantasy of leaderlessness in a decentralized movement". Leadership. 18 (2): 224–246. doi:10.1177/17427150211005578.
  • Furlong, Caitlin; Vignoles, Vivian L (2021). "Social Identification in Collective Climate Activism: Predicting Participation in the Environmental Movement, Extinction Rebellion". Identity. 21 (1): 20–35. doi:10.1080/15283488.2020.1856664.
  • Gunningham, Neil (2019). "Averting Climate Catastrophe: Environmental Activism, Extinction Rebellion and coalitions of Influence". King's Law Journal. 30 (2): 194–202. doi:10.1080/09615768.2019.1645424.
  • Richardson, Benjamin J. (2020). From Student Strikes to the Extinction Rebellion: New Protest Movements Shaping our Future. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 978-1-80088-109-9.
  • Slaven, Mike; Heydon, James (2020). "Crisis, deliberation, and Extinction Rebellion". Critical Studies on Security. 8 (1): 59–62. doi:10.1080/21624887.2020.1735831.
  • Smiles, Tom; Edwards, Gareth A. S. (2021). "How does Extinction Rebellion engage with climate justice? A case study of XR Norwich". Local Environment. 26 (12): 1445–1460. doi:10.1080/13549839.2021.1974367.
  • Stuart, Diana (2020). "Radical Hope: Truth, Virtue, and Hope for What Is Left in Extinction Rebellion". Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 33 (3–6): 487–504. doi:10.1007/s10806-020-09835-y.
  • Stuart, Diana (2022). "Tensions between individual and system change in the climate movement: an analysis of Extinction Rebellion". New Political Economy: 1–14. doi:10.1080/13563467.2021.2020740.
  • Westwell, Emily; Bunting, Josh (2020). "The regenerative culture of Extinction Rebellion: self-care, people care, planet care". Environmental Politics. 29 (3): 546–551. doi:10.1080/09644016.2020.1747136.
  • Zantvoort, Fleur (2021). "Movement pedagogies in pandemic times: Extinction Rebellion Netherlands and (un)learning from the margins". Globalizations: 1–14. doi:10.1080/14747731.2021.2009319.