The world-wide Autumn Uprising protests by Extinction Rebellion began on October the 7th. Extinction Rebellion state “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.” (1)
This essay will explore some of the scientific evidence, state the three demands of Extinction Rebellion and express some of the reasons that members of the public have decided to protest in London with Extinction Rebellion.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) back up what Extinction Rebellion state. Joyce Msuya, the Acting Executive Director, UN Environment, writes “In this drive towards a green economy, greater sustainability and the hope that we can thrive rather than survive, there has never been a more critical moment than now. The science and the data are crystal clear on the multitude of challenges that we face, but also the small window of opportunity we have to turn things around.” (2) The report goes on to say “The warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as evidenced by observations of increases in global temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and increased environmental degradation.” (3)
Scientists, world leaders, the media and the public have known about global warming and climate change for many years, but over the past six to twelve months the terminology has changed. Instead of hearing about global warming and climate change, the message has altered to climate emergency and global heating.
Anon (photo above) says “I remember in the 1970’s, when I was a teenager, hearing somebody on some talk show, speak about global warming, and I remember as a kid thinking ‘what is this all about’, and here we are almost 40 years later, and now it’s a reality.”
In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote” The Worlds Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (written by Henry Kendal and signed by over 1,700 scientists). It highlighted and warned about the irreversible damage that human beings are causing the natural world. The report states “Our massive tampering with the world’s interdependent web of life—coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change—could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand. Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threats.” (4)
Almost every day the media has a new report based upon a recently released piece of scientific research, often declaring that the state of the ecology is more precarious than previous models had shown. A recent study by Eric Rignot found that “Antarctica now sends six times more ice plunging into the sea each year than it did in 1979.” (5)
The rate of climate change has even evoked fears within the scientific community. Professor Sir David King stated as much to the BBC recently and his fears were supported by other climate scientists. (6)
Marlowe Hood wrote an article which was titled “Earth warming more quickly than thought, new climate models show.” Hood explains how continued burning of fossil fuels are warming the environment at an alarming rate, and that global heating will happen at a higher rate than expected, and to reach the Paris Agreement global warming cap of less than 2 degrees Celsius is increasingly unlikely, and unless urgent action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, then global warming could reach 7 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels by 2100. Hood notes that “With only one degree Celsius of warming so far, the world is coping with increasingly deadly heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones made more destructive by rising seas.” (7)
Mike, who had travelled from Cornwall to be with Extinction Rebellion for one week said “The rate of change is rapidly accelerating, crisis is closer than most would realise.”
Evidence of the climate emergency are seen in global temperature rises, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreats, decreasing snow cover, sea level rise, declining artic sea ice, extreme events (wildfires, tornados, rainfall, heatwaves, blizzards, ice storms, dust storms, droughts (8)) and ocean acidification (9)
The evidence is becoming clearer each day. It would be unfair to say that governments are not acting, but it also shows that the action taken is minimal, and not in line with what is required to limit global CO2 emissions quickly enough to prevent a planetary catastrophe. These actions have also only decreased the United Kingdom’s CO2 consumption by 10% (CO2 emissions have reportedly been cut by 42%. CO2 emissions are the amount of CO2 by national industrial activity and consumer usage, whereas CO2 consumption includes the CO2 produced elsewhere for goods and utilities that are imported). (10)
It is the lack of credible action by the UK Government, along with the failure of the Government and the media, which have fuelled Extinction Rebellion’s Protests around the world, and in London in April and October 2019. The failure to take appropriate action is why Extinction Rebellion feel that civil disobedience is the only course which could push the Government into adopting suitable climate policies.
Willy, an environmental scientist with Extinction Rebellion believes the Government is fully aware of the action they need to take, but are only paying lip service too. He says “There is a disconnect from what we know and how we act, civil disobedience seems to be the only way we can deal with the urgent crisis.”
Extinction Rebellion declare “We believe the government has failed to understand the severity of this crisis. We believe that we must now take radical action to reduce the very worst effects of climate breakdown and, in doing so, reform and extend our broken democracy. We therefore have three key demands: 1/ the government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change. 2/ the government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2025. 3/ the government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.” (11)
The protests in London have been mass, non-violent civil disobedience and have had a diverse following. Protestors have included scientists, ecologists, MP’s, the medical profession, and people from all generations, races and socio-economic backgrounds. Doctors for Extinction Rebellion marched from Lambeth to Trafalgar Square on Saturday. Jo from Doctors for Extinction Rebellion explained that their March was in relation to air pollution in the UK. She stated that “Over 40,000 people per year, in the UK, die as a result of the air pollution which is way beyond legal levels.”
David Boyd, the UN’s special representative on human rights and the environment “criticised the UK government for ‘failing its citizens by producing air quality plans so weak that they breached its legal duty’.” (12)
It is of note that respected medical professionals who have flourishing careers are willing to be arrested because of their concern about the lack of urgent action by the government. This highlights the seriousness of the climate emergency, and demonstrates that the crisis is not in some distant future. People around the world, and in the UK are dying now.
The civil disobedience by the protesters in London has seen people block major roads around London including Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Millbank and outside of The Bank of England.
Marjorie expressed her views on civil disobedience, stating “We’ve been writing letters, talking to our MP’s for decades, nothing has changed. We’ve got to do something to make them act.” Marjorie’s views are precisely the reason Extinction Rebellion has chosen the civil disobedience method. This is a technique inspired by the action and writing of Henry David Thoreau, and most was most notably evidenced by Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. (13)
Extinction Rebellion state “We have to be clear. Conventional campaigning does not work. Sending emails, giving money to NGO’s, going on A-to-B marches. Many wonderful people have dedicated years of their lives to all this, but it’s time to be honest. Conventional campaigning has failed to bring about the necessary change. Emissions have increased by 60 per cent since 1990 and they are still going up, increasing by 2.7 per cent in 2018. Looking at that thirty years of appalling failure, the reason is clear. The rich and powerful are making too much money from our present suicidal course. You cannot overcome such entrenched power by persuasion and information. You can only do it by disruption.” (14)
Non-violent civil disobedience does interrupt the normal ebb and flow of life in a city. It has an impact upon people’s livelihoods, businesses and has an impact upon the economy. It is believed that this kind of action will make life so uncomfortable for the government that they will be forced into taking substantive action on the climate emergency.
Dave, a member of the public and not linked to Extinction Rebellion, and who wasn’t protesting had a positive view of the protests. He said “It’s a good way to promote change. Change doesn’t necessarily happen without some kind of moving force. It’s got to be done I think. The fact that people are willing to be arrested shows that serious change is needed, if it means that much to people.”
The level of policing is another interesting facet of this March. If we cast our minds back to the Poll Tax riots in 1990, we note that despite the protests being violent there were only around 400 arrests. This was despite the police noting that around 3,000 of the 200,000 protesters had committed acts of violence. (15) Extinction Rebellions Autumn Uprising has seen over 1,750 arrests. It’s hard to get one’s head around why a non-violent and peaceful protest has led to this disproportionate level of arrests. Anon, quoted earlier in this essay, went on to say “it’s a good sign actually, for these kind of movements, when that starts to happen, it sucks but it’s a good sign. It means it’s starting to ruffle the right kind of feathers.”
Despite the argument that it is too expensive to immediately take action to achieve the Paris Agreement figure of 2 degrees C, the reality is that, worldwide, there would be a saving of around double what was spent. Climate change is expensive in terms of human suffering, sickness and death, these have major impacts upon the economy, as do intervening in and clearing up after wildfires, droughts and other climate disasters, not to mention the civil collapse, civil war, displacement, supporting refugees and managing immigration. The Co-Chairs message in GEO 6 states that “The health benefits from reduced air pollution of achieving the 2 degrees Celsius target could be 1.4 – 2.5 times the cost of mitigation, the higher figure involving benefits of $US 54.1 trillion for a global expenditure of $US 22.1 trillion. (16)
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney expressed similar concerns this week during an interview with the Guardian, saying that “Companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt, the governor of the Bank of England has warned.” The same article went onto state “The Bank of England has said up to $20tn (£16tn) of assets could be wiped out if the climate emergency is not addressed effectively.” (17)
The scientific eveidence is clear. We must sieze this small window of opportunity to take the drastic action required. If we do not, then we are walking face first into an irriversible ecological catastraphe, which will make it impossible for humans to survive on this planet.
It is clear that we are now in the middle of a climate emergency. People and animals are dying, ice sheets are melting and fires are burning. We are walking towards mass extinction and causing irreversible harm to our only home planet. If we do not act now then it will be too late.
Richard Keys photosociology.photography
1 Extinction Rebellion; 2019; The Truth: Online; AT https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/
2 United Nations Environmental Programme; 2019; Global Environmental Outlook, Healthy Planet, Healthy People; Online; AT https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/global-environment-outlook-6 pp XXVII
3 United Nations Environmental Programme; 2019; Global Environmental Outlook, Healthy Planet, Healthy People; Online; AT https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/global-environment-outlook-6 pp 24
4 Union Of Concerned Scientists; 1992; World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity; Online; AT https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/1992-world-scientists-warning-humanity
5 Fox, A; 2019; East Antarctica’s ice is melting at an unexpectedly rapid clip, new study suggests; Science Mag; Online; AT https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/east-antarctica-s-ice-melting-unexpectedly-rapid-clip-new-study-suggests
6 Harrabin, R; 2019; Faster pace of climate change is ‘scary’, former chief scientist says; Online; AT https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49689018
7 Hood, M: 2019; Earth warming more quickly than thought, new climate models show; Online: AT https://phys.org/news/2019-09-earth-quickly-climate.html
8 Carbonbrief.org; 2019; Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world; Online; AT https://www.carbonbrief.org/mapped-how-climate-change-affects-extreme-weather-around-the-world
9 Shaftel, H et al; 2019; Climate Change: How Do We Know?; Online; AT https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
10 Schraer, R; 2019; Climate change: Is Greta Thunberg right about UK carbon emissions?; Online; AT https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/science-environment-48025650
11 Farrell, C, Green, A, Knights, S and Skeaping, W; 2019; This Is Not A Drill, An Extinction Rebellion Handbook; London; Penguin Random House pp 11
12 DEFRA group press office; 2019; World Environment Day 2019; Online; AT https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2019/06/05/world-environment-day-2019/
13 Eschner, K; 2017; Martin Luther King and Gandhi Weren’t the Only Ones Inspired By Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’; Online; AT https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/martin-luther-king-and-gandhi-werent-only-ones-inspired-thoreaus-civil-disobedience-180963972/#GYesEkjvAJZBlCXE.99
14 Farrell, C, Green, A, Knights, S and Skeaping, W; 2019; This Is Not A Drill, An Extinction Rebellion Handbook; London; Penguin Random House pp 100
15 independent.co.uk; 2010; The Battle of Trafalgar Square: The Poll Tax Riots Revisited; Online; AT https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-battle-of-trafalgar-square-the-poll-tax-riots-revisited-1926873.html%3famp
16 United Nations Environmental Programme; 2019; Global Environmental Outlook, Healthy Planet, Healthy People; Online; AT https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/global-environment-outlook-6 pp XXIX
17 Carrington, D; 2019;Firms ignoring climate crisis will go bankrupt, says Mark Carney; Online; AT https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/firms-ignoring-climate-crisis-bankrupt-mark-carney-bank-england-governor