Read, Debate: Engage.

Extinction Rebellion to save the planet?

May 13, 2019
topic:Climate action
tags:#extinction rebellion, #United Kingdom UK, #environment
located:United Kingdom
by:Federica Tedeschi
More than 1,000 activists were arrested during the 11-day Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in London, according to the Metropolitan Police website.

The protests, which ended on April 25, were part of a global movement of people who took to the streets in more than 80 cities in 33 countries all over the world and were organised by apolitical British climate group Extinction Rebellion, which ‘uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change (…) to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse’.

What lies behind the ‘biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history’? The climate group’s website highlights how our way of life is damaging the planet and therefore they are calling to both ‘halt biodiversity loss and go carbon neutral by 2025’, and establish a citizens’ assembly on climate justice.

During the protests activists overall blocked Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus with protest camps. Also on the list Marble Arch, where hundreds camped in tents until the very end of the peaceful rebellion. Highlights also include a mass ‘die-in’ inside the London’s Natural History Museum staged by some protesters, as well as disruptions to the capital’s rail network with some activists who glued themselves to a train at Canary Wharf station on day 3 of the rally. While protest camps had mostly been cleared, some activists started the final day of protest by forming a human chain at the London Stock Exchange, where they glued themselves to a wall.

Were activists privileged people who could afford to spend almost two weeks protesting instead of working?

‘The protest has been criticised as a white middle-class movement of people that can afford to be here and this has come out a lot in the press. It is absolutely not true as protesters are from all over the country, all walks of life, all ages and backgrounds’, said activist Tom D., interviewed by FairPlanet on April 25.

Tom D., who has been variously involved with Extinction Rebellion since the movement started last year, travelled all the way from Yorkshire and took a 2-week unpaid holiday to be in London and contribute to stop climate change. During the whole protest, he also looked after other activists and waited for many arrested people to be released overnight.

After the climate protest closing ceremony, FairPlanet also talked to Extinction Rebellion volunteer Alanna Byrne, a Londoner and press officer who had always wanted to play a part in tackling environmental issues, having grown up in an environmentally conscious family.

She liaised with the press throughout the protests and shared with us some of the most emotional moments she witnessed: ‘I was the press point at Oxford Circus, where we had a pink boat with the word  ‘Tell the truth’; I think it was amazing. Then it was taken back by the police on Easter Saturday when everybody was finally arrested.  It was such an iconic moment with protesters following the boat and singing’.

‘The last person to be removed and arrested (in Oxford Circus) was a seven-month pregnant woman called Hannah who was locked on to an iron bar with another woman. And she'd been there for around 30 hours. That was absolutely incredible to witness and to speak with her’, stressed Ms Byrne.

Among the crowds marching through the capital and occupants in various strategic London sites, there were families with their children as well as grandparents talking about their fears for their grandchildren’s future and being arrested for that purpose.

‘There have been over a thousand arrests, but the vast majority of those have been very peaceful and some of the interactions that I've had feedback from, like from friends who have been in custody, were very positive. Police officers thanked them for what they were doing because the police also fear climate change. They have families and children, too’, pointed Tom D.

Extinction Rebellion supporters have faced plenty of criticism on social media and in the streets of London, especially as they caused travel disruptions which in turn affected many businesses.

The movement was very apologetic about those consequences, however unavoidable.

‘Disrupting people lives was not the point of what we were doing; the message was that short-term disruption is necessary because if we do not take action now the disruptions in the future are going to be so much worse and I think people are beginning to understand that’, stressed Alanna Byrne.

The closing ceremony, which was held in Hyde Park, ended the long protest four days before than planned. Have climate activists successfully gotten the message across, then?

‘The point was not occupation. We wanted to hold these sites for a length of time to have this space and talk about our message with the public and a wider audience. The general consensus from everybody was to have a citizens’ assembly to discuss what we should do and we've achieved what we wanted to achieve right now, which was getting our message across,’ pointed Ms Byrne.

Even young climate activist Greta Thunberg joined Extinction Rebellion movement in London, which received extensive media coverage both in the UK and abroad, but what about the Government?  Are politicians going to do anything to contribute halting an environmental breakdown?

‘We've been contacted by Michael Gove and by other MPs who have come and spoken to us and we welcome that, but actions speak louder than words and until action is taken, then we will be keeping them very much on track,’ added Alanna Byrne.

She also said that the almost 2-week movement is ‘just’ a good start, as Extinction Rebellion is now planning to build an international community, with different countries working closely together.

Note: The first big action of Extinction Rebellion took place in November 2018, when thousands of protesters in London occupied five bridges across the Thames over extinction crisis, in a huge act of peaceful civil disobedience. The movement is run by volunteers who receive ‘volunteer expenses’ (Extinction Rebellion).

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
United Kingdom
Embed from Getty Images
What lies behind the ‘biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history’?
Embed from Getty Images
The climate group’s website highlights how our way of life is damaging the planet and therefore they are calling to both ‘halt biodiversity loss and go carbon neutral by 2025’
Embed from Getty Images
Were activists privileged people who could afford to spend almost two weeks protesting instead of working?
Call to Action
Support Extinction Rebellion, fight the climate crisis!
Support now