Who are Extinction Rebellion? And what do they want?

Environmentalist group emboldened by previous non-violent direct actions

Meet some of the people behind the Irish branch of Extinction Rebellion, the socio-political movement aiming to highlight the global climate change crisis. Video: Kathleen Harris

 

Politeness, petitions and mild protest “have not got us anywhere”. That is the bottom line for those who make up Extinction Rebellion, whose distinct form of civil disobedience is about to make its biggest global statement yet.

The world continues to generate ever increasing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions; the planet continues to overheat due to carbon pollution caused by humans. We have had three months of record temperatures, Arctic icesheets are melting at a far faster rate than anticipated. That scenario is total justification for their actions, they insist.

In the UK, where they have been most vociferous, they have been accused of pulling huge numbers of police officers away from “normal duties” and costing Scotland Yard vast sums of money – though they stress their approach is non-violent.

They have been described by the establishment including big business as ecomaniacs, ecoradicals and dangerous.

In London last week, dressed in funereal black, ER rebels tried to paint the Treasury red using 1,800 litres of fake blood and an old fire engine with a sign reading “stop funding climate death”.

They are emboldened by the success of last April, which brought major disruption to London, saw more than 1,100 arrests and unquestionably was one of the factors that prompted the UK government to be one of the first countries in the world to declare a climate emergency. Others followed, including Ireland.

They have become more daring and more dramatic in visual effects in spite of the growing frustration of business and fossil fuel industry in particular. Many others have taken to the streets since, including in Ireland, where protests are becoming more disruptive.

In fewer than 12 months, Extinction Rebellion – in parallel with climate activism among young people prompted by the Swedish teen Greta Thunberg – has become the world’s fastest-growing environmental movement.

It has no official spokespeople and no designated leader though it is clear organic farmer Roger Hallam from Wales is a towering presence and tactician. He has studied “how to cause trouble effectively” and relocated to London, the movement’s unofficial HQ, on the basis this is “our last chance to save ourselves”.

It did not, however, come out of nowhere, he has said. “Unlike many of the spontaneous social media-fuelled rebellions and uprisings in recent years, Extinction Rebellion has been carefully planned. For several years, a group of academics and activists have been working on two main questions: Why have we failed to stop climate change? And how the hell are we going to stop it?”

How ER Ireland emerged

In October 2018 they closed five bridges in London – typically, it was something different by way of protest. Following that blockade a public meeting was held in Dublin and a unanimous decision was taken to form Extinction Rebellion Ireland.

“Since that first meeting our growth has been exponential. In less than a year we now have thousands of declared rebels organised in local groups in counties Dublin, Cork, Clare, Galway, Kildare, Kerry, Limerick, Derry, Leitrim, and Wexford to name but a few,” spokesman Dr Ciaran J O’Carroll told Greennews.ie.

“Our rebels come from urban and rural backgrounds. They are young and old and come from all political parties and none. What unites everyone is our vision for urgent and just action on the climate and ecological crisis in Ireland and around the world,” he said.

“We’ve protested in our hundreds of millions – it hasn’t worked. Now is the time for civil disobedience. It’s time to rebel,” he declared in advance of their latest protests.

Now the “international rebellion” is targeting the heart of Government with a high degree of co-ordination of protests – from London to Berlin to California to Dublin – all spread over a week.

Dr O’Carroll added: “We will be shutting down an area of Dublin city centre to traffic, and opening it up for the people so that those in power hear our demands loud and clear.”

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