Faced with political inaction, environmental activists are drawing attention to the climate crisis by declaring open rebellion against their government.
A letter by Tamsin Omond, Extinction Rebellion
“I’m writing this on the train ride home from COP24.
During this journey I’ve been watching news of Extinction Rebellion’s actions, disrupting 15 cities across the UK. The pictures of people taking up public space with die-ins, mock funerals, road-blocks, spray painting the facades of institutions that slow down climate action, even the symbolic planting of trees in otherwise neat British greens, dominate my twitter stream. Then, as if to crown these regional rebellions, I get sent this from New York: https://theintercept.com/2018/12/15/extinction-rebellion-nyc-climate-activism
Whatever happened over the last couple of weeks in Katowice, Poland (and I will get onto that) has not put out the fires of Extinction Rebellion. Ours is a new movement aligned with the same energy that is powering people led activism around the world, from children taking part in school strikes to young people holding their political elite to account on Capitol Hill.
Extinction Rebellion launched its Declaration of Rebellion in London on 31st October 2018.
Since declaring open rebellion against our UK government we have shut down 5 central London bridges with over 5000 brave rebels for an entire day, blockaded Government departments, spray-painted those departments (and also Downing Street — where our Prime Minister lives), held queer parties outside the Brazilian Embassy (and spray-painted that embassy too). We have caused a ruckus and because of that we have created so many headlines talking about climate action (really though — google us!).
Our online audience has gone from a few hundred to over 100,000. We’ve even held meetings with government ministers to discuss our demands. It’s way too much to write here but suffice to say, you don’t need everybody to commit to arrest, nonviolent civil disobedience and active rebellion against the government. It’s what Margaret Mead said: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” As the dust settles from the COP24 we want you to consider participating alongside these people and bringing your support in any way that you can.
But I’ll come back to that.
"We can’t do anything until we become aware of what we face and begin to deal, to cope, to respond to all the feelings that awareness of this existential threat creates in us."
First, what was I doing at COP? I never planned to go, but as it approached it became clear that, for Extinction Rebellion, it was an opportunity to meet with many people who have spent their lives campaigning — both inside and outside ‘the system’ on climate change. I didn’t go to COP to engage with the political process. I’ve already been to two COPs — once in Copenhagen (when Obama was meant to fly in and save the world) and once in Paris (the outcome of which still hasn’t been made legally binding by the countries who signed up to it). I have had my fill of being disappointed by the top down governance systems that could put in place a global plan to cut carbon and could empower and pay reparations to those communities most at risk from our climate impact. The global elite has nothing to win (at least in the short term) in doing these things so these COP meetings have become a talking shop where governments and businesses congratulate themselves for the bare minimum action that they are taking in the face of the climate crisis.
I went to have conversations with people who might want to come on board and help us organize towards a global rebellion week that will begin in your city (and if it’s not happening already there, please — make it happen!) on 15th April 2019. I found there was a huge appetite for this. People were hungry to get involved in this kind of bottom up organizing.
The sad thing about extinction rebellion rising is that we rise because there is no hope left except in what we can kindle between ourselves. This means that when I get excited about how far and fast we are spreading, the counter-weight is that more people are getting involved because they are waking to precisely how dark the present and the future are. Extinction Rebellion spreads fast and far — yes because of the tactics/historical precedent and yes because we are opening a space for human honesty and emotion in the face of this existential threat — but most of all we grow because the cold hard facts of where we as a human species are going. The part we play in mass species and our own extinction is finally disrupting the denial onto which we all have clung. It is good that there is still hope to kindle in this darkness, but it is a very deep and heavy hope.
It is a hope built on recognising, speaking, sharing the truth. Not the truth like “I had eggs for breakfast even though I’m meant to be a vegan”. It’s a much more existential truth than that. It’s the truth that asks us what on earth are we doing with our lives at this urgent moment of global breakdown. A truth telling that demands: disrupt your ‘normal’ life, your ambitions, your careers, because, in the context of climate change you are mad to believe in the promises of ‘normal life’. That world that was never ‘normal’ but pretended very persuasively it was is ending and it’s time we all became part of what might/could/may emerge from this emergency (otherwise what will emerge may be more terrifying than any human-led evils — and there have been many that the world has yet witnessed).
This is not alarmist. The facts of the science are there and now we must all decide what we want to do in the face of them. This is your invitation to rebel.
Where do we go from here? Forwards. It’s the only direction that makes sense. If you’re worried about climate change, if you’re just beginning to notice that the weather is not what it used to be, that seasons are changing and that we are fast driving species extinct then you are on a good and important path to awareness. We can’t do anything until we become aware of what we face and begin to deal, to cope, to respond to all the feelings that awareness of this existential threat creates in us.
If we are on the brink of causing extinction — not only of our natural world, but even of ourselves and of our species, then what should we do about that?
Talk to someone. Share what you have learnt about climate change and what living in the midst of this extinction and injustice makes you feel. We’re not a society that does grief. We keep up appearances. We carry on as normal even when the world is falling apart. But it doesn’t need to be this way. We invite you to stop for a moment and imagine how it would feel to be part of a movement that is humbly asking what can we do about this, and then we invite you to roll your sleeves up, quit your job and get involved.”
Extinction Rebellion Demands:
1. 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.
2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
3. A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.