Extinction Rebellion, An International Movement, Asking Governments To Declare Climate Emergency

By Abdul Quddus Suhaib

t’s been 50 years since we first started talking about the rising temperatures and its impact on our environment and on the climate. It’s been 30 years since the first intergovernmental panel on climate change was formed to tackle this problem of warming planet. Around the same time, the first international environmental treaty was signed to take measures to limit emissions. It’s been more than 20 years since Kyoto protocol was adopted, in which the states were committed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. It’s been 7 years since the most radical, authentic scientific report on climate change was published which stated that the climate change have had a widespread impact on human and natural systems. And it has been almost 5 years since the theatrics on actions to stop global warming was played.

Yet Carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 90% in the last 50 years. Wildlife populations have decreased by 60% in last 50 years. In Asia, typhoons have intensified by almost 15 % in the last 40 years. The world has lost more forest area than the size of South Africa in the last 30 years. Insect life has declined by three quarters  last 25 years. And it’s almost been 3 years since the US walked out of the Paris agreement.

This is a strange paradox of our times, that when a beast is staring down at us and when we know the only sane thing for us to do is to run, we walk towards it mindlessly or as the Extinction Rebellion calls it “we are sleep walking towards the edge of a cliff”. The situation would not have been this worse as Naomi Klein says in her book On Fire, that if we had decided to act on the reports and recommendations given to us, we were not meant to be doomed, it’s just that we lacked the political will to act. It’s because the present political system is broken.

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But Extinction Rebellion believes, extinction and extermination are not inevitable and can be stopped through cooperation. It introduces itself as a more radical movement which believes in a “need for a non violent civil disobedience movement to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse”. Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) wants governments to declare a “climate and ecological emergency” and take immediate action to address climate change. It was established in the United Kingdom in May 2018 with about one hundred academics signing a call to action in support in October 2018. In November 2018, five bridges across the River Thames in London were blockaded as a protest. In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion occupied five prominent sites in central London. Some activists glued themselves to trains and to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange. Some marched on Heathrow Airport and others chained themselves up. They believe that the present politics of voluntary agreements are bound to fail and there is need for citizens assemblies. To defend the rights of humans we need to defend the rights of Earth and hence they are calling for something called as Earth democracy.

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They start with acknowledging the fact that the catastrophe which we are witnessing is not restricted to climate change. It brings with it, the collapse of biodiversity, mass migrations, famines, droughts, wildfires, collapse of entire ecosystems, threat to democracy and society as a whole. The problem is not just climate, it’s ecology, environment, biodiversity, capitalism, colonialism, power, inequality, greed, corruption, money, broken system, imagination.

Image by Extinction rebellion

They approach the solution to this problem in two ways, the first is to “tell the truth“, because “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. The second is to “act now” since “Power concedes nothing without a demand”. We can’t fixate the climate change on merely maths and science, we need to take people into the equation. We need to tell the truth about people who are at forefront of this crisis, the people in Maldives and Marshall islands who are loosing their homes to sea level rise, the indigenuos people who are fighting for survival, the farmers who are loosing their crops to extreme weather. We need to tell the truth about the neocapitalistic model, the cosumeristic society, the corrupt politics, and the fractured economics.

They argue that our responsibilities don’t end by merely stating the truth, but we need to “act now” if we want to save this planet and one of the most powerful ways to bring about change is when people are willing to be imprisoned for non violent civil disobedience. They have 3 levels of actions: disruption, outreach and visioning. What needs to be understood is, it doesn’t take much to bring down a regime, as the political scientist Erica Chenoweth says, to achieve social change the active and sustained participation of 3.5% of population is all that is needed. Extinction Rebellion talks extensively about how these movements have to be run. The importance of using cultural tools, outreaching media, staying nonviolent, decentralizing the movement, having a loose vision so that more people can join your bandwagon. It currently has about 650 groups in more than 45 countries.

Extinction Rebellion uses mass arrest as a tactic to try to achieve its goals. But in a police state like India I don’t know how far this tactic would work. With the shift towards majoritarianism how movement of this nature could be built.