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Extinction Rebellion, Shock Troops of Burgeoning Direct-Action Environmental Movement

They are seen as the shock troops of a burgeoning direct-action environmental movement

FILE - Extinction Rebellion activists march through East London, Britain, July 13, 2019. VOA

They are seen as the shock troops of a burgeoning direct-action environmental movement. Earlier this year, members of Extinction Rebellion brought the center of London and some other major British towns to a standstill by barricading bridges, standing on top of trains, and blocking major thoroughfares and crossroads.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), a campaign of civil disobedience born in Britain and aiming to address a worldwide climate crisis, has been endorsed by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the teenage poster child of environmentalism. XR has pledged to cause more disruption, arguing that governments are not doing enough to stop the “climate emergency.”

The group, which is spawning similar campaigns in the United States and Australia, says climate activists have no choice but to take matters into their own hands. It demands that governments prevent further biodiversity loss and commit to producing net-zero greenhouse gases by 2025. Otherwise, XR says, there will be a mass extinction of life forms on the planet within the lifetimes of the demonstrators themselves.

The group’s next target is next month’s star-studded London Fashion Week. Activists have promised to shut down the five-day runway event in a bid to raise awareness of the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry.

Extinction Rebellion, Troops, Environmental
FILE – Extinction Rebellion climate activists raise a mast on their boat during a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain, July 15, 2019. VOA

“We need to change our culture around consumption,” said climate activist Bel Jacobs. “People have no idea how environmentally destructive fashion is.”

Greenhouse gas emissions from making textiles was estimated at 1.2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent in 2015, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a British environmental charity.

‘Cultish nature’

XR’s actions have been applauded by many environmentalists, who say the only way to make governments, people and corporations sit up and take climate action is to shock them into it. But the radical philosophy underpinning the group, which includes wanting to set up citizens’ assemblies that could overrule parliament, is drawing increasing criticism from foes, who compare the group to a millenarian sect.

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“The cultish nature of XR’s activities is a little spooky,” said Austin Williams, director of the Future Cities Project, a group that focuses on urban planning and futurist technological solutions.

Sympathizers acknowledge that XR hasn’t helped itself with some of the remarks made by its leaders. Co-founder Gail Bradbrook said her realization that humanity was on the brink of extinction came from taking huge doses of psychedelic drugs, which “rewired” her brain and gave her the “codes of social change.”

Roger Hallam, another co-founder, has said, “We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose. And yes, some may die in the process.”

Hallam is not a scientist but has a track record as a political activist, and holds a Ph.D. on “digitally enhanced political resistance and empowerment strategies.”

Extinction Rebellion, Troops, Environmental
FILE – Police remove a climate change demonstrator during a march supported by Extinction Rebellion in London, Britain. May 24, 2019. VOA


Several leading XR adherents have announced they’ve decided not to procreate in response to the coming “climate breakdown and civilization collapse,” arguing the world is too horrible a place to bring children into it.

The BirthStrikers, as they are nicknamed, received some endorsement earlier this year from U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said the climate emergency “does lead young people to have a legitimate question — ‘Is it OK still to have children?'”

XR critics have compared the BirthStrikers to the Cathars, a medieval religious sect that encouraged celibacy and discouraged marriage on the grounds that every person born was just another poor soul trapped by the devil in a body.

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XR has also seen defections. Sherrie Yeomans, coordinator of XR blockades in the English city of Bristol, left the group, saying, “I can no longer surround myself with the toxic, manipulative Extinction Rebellion cult.”

Johan Norberg, a Swedish author, historian and XR critic, worries that the group is fueling anxiety while not being practical about the possible solutions to global warming.

“I guess it depends on your definition of cult,” he said. “But I think it is a growing, but very radical, sentiment that I fear plays a part in giving people anxiety about their life choices, and also leads us to thinking about these things in the wrong way,” he told VOA.

Extinction Rebellion, Troops, Environmental
FILE – Protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion walk to Hyde Park in London, April 25, 2019. VOA

On the BirthStrikers he said: “The bizarre thing is that they just think of another human being as a burden, a mouth to feed. But they also come along with a brain to think, and hands to work. I don’t know what scientific insight and which technology will save us from not just global warming but also the many other problems that will affect us — the next pandemic, natural disaster and so on — but I know that the chance that we’ll find it is greater if we have more people alive, who live longer lives than ever, get a longer education than ever, and are more free to make use of the accumulated knowledge and technology of mankind to take on those problems.”

Norberg points to a future of “electric cars and, soon, planes,” and biofuels made from algae and extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. He worries about the economic consequences if the abrupt zero-growth goals of XR were adopted.

“It would result in a reversal of the amazing economic development that has resulted in the fastest reduction of poverty in history. A lack of growth and international trade would result in human tragedies on a massive scale,” he said.

XR response

XR’s co-founders say Norberg’s formula won’t halt climate change and stop extinction. They defended themselves against critics’ cult charges, arguing recently in an article in a British newspaper, “We’ve made many mistakes, but now is the time for collective action, not recriminations.”

“Extinction Rebellion is humbly following in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” Hallam said. “After covering basic material needs, human beings are not made happier through consuming more stuff.”

Bradbrook told reporters in London, “We oppose a system that generates huge wealth through astonishing innovation but is fatally unable to distribute fairly and provide universal access to its spoils. … We need a ‘revolution’ in consciousness to overturn the system.” (VOA)

Next Story

Environmental Groups Pushing for Federal Endangered Species List to Include its First Firefly

Ignoring the mosquitoes, Davis heads to the open bed of his pickup truck, opens up a notebook-size metal testing kit

Environmental, Beetle, Luminescent
A July 16, 2019 aerial photo shows a wooden road built on pilings in one of the freshwater wetlands in coastal Delaware where the Bethany Beach Firefly, which some environmentalists want added to the federal Endangered Species List, was previously found. VOA

Peering through the darkness under the faint light of a peach-colored moon, wildlife biologist Jason Davis spots a telltale green flash in the bushes.

Quick as a flash himself, Davis arcs a long-handled mesh net through the humid coastal air, ensnaring his tiny target.

Ignoring the mosquitoes, Davis heads to the open bed of his pickup truck, opens up a notebook-size metal testing kit, and begins examining his find. Two minutes later, he makes his pronouncement.

“That is what I am calling bethaniensis,” he declares.

Environmental, Beetle, Luminescent
Peering through the darkness under the faint light of a peach-colored moon, wildlife biologist Jason Davis spots a telltale green flash in the bushes. Pixabay

“Photuris bethaniensis,” aka the Bethany Beach Firefly, was first identified in the 1950s, and has been found only in a sliver of southern Delaware coastland. Now environmental groups are shining a beacon on the luminescent beetle, whose unique habitat is threatened by coastal development, sea level rise, invasive plants and insecticides.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, both based in Oregon, are pushing for the federal Endangered Species list to include its first firefly.

Their petition to the Department of Interior says the Bethany Beach Firefly “is at immediate risk of extinction” from the “imminent destruction” of much of its habitat, noting plans to build expensive beach homes in one of the largest of the rare freshwater swales where the firefly has been found. The swales are shallow depressions tucked among sand dunes and fed by underground aquifers and rain water.

The Bethany Beach Firefly is already on Delaware’s endangered species list, but that only it makes it illegal to transport, possess or sell them. The state has been unable to intervene in the development project because, unlike other states, Delaware does not regulate most freshwater wetlands, which account for about 75% of all wetlands in Delaware. State environmental secretary Shawn Garvin suggests that should change.

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“This is just an example of why the state would like to have some ability to engage in these types of projects in nontidal wetlands,” Garvin said.

Meanwhile, to avoid having to obtain a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge or fill in the wetland, the developer of the Breakwater Beach project has built an elaborate elevated wooden cul-de-sac on pilings in anticipation of building the homes, also perched on pilings.

“That firefly was at the top of my list to do a petition for fireflies,” said Tara Cornelisse, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But when we were certain about the development going on in one of its habitats, that’s when we elevated it to an emergency listing.”

Immediate federal protection is unlikely, and the developer is moving forward with construction. A petitioner can request an emergency listing, but federal law does not provide for a separate emergency process. Guidelines call for a decision within 90 days on whether a yearlong review is merited to determine whether action is warranted. Actually getting listed can take much longer still: “I think the average is 12 years,” Cornelisse said.


Environmental, Beetle, Luminescent
Quick as a flash himself, Davis arcs a long-handled mesh net through the humid coastal air, ensnaring his tiny target. Pixabay

The petition says the Breakwater Beach development is destroying one of only seven freshwater swales where the firefly was previously found.

“They were superabundant in that one spot,” said Christopher Heckscher, an environmental scientist at Delaware State University who “rediscovered” the Bethany Beach Firefly in the late 1990s.

A lawyer for the developer questioned the petition’s timing and said it relies on limited data from two decades ago.

“Breakcap LLC has no reason to believe that any fireflies live in or along the interdunal swale within Breakwater Beach, let alone that Breakwater Beach is critical habitat for any species,” attorney Francis X. Gorman wrote in an email.

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“It is curious that they are now — only after Breakcap LLC has obtained all required legal approvals to construct Breakwater Beach — seeking to have the Bethany Beach firefly listed as a federally-endangered species, notwithstanding the admitted decades-long understanding of the firefly’s alleged limited range,” Gorman added.

Davis, a biologist with Delaware’s environmental department, began a survey in late June. He said his team caught and released about a dozen Bethany Beach fireflies at four of the first 20-odd sites they checked.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll hopefully find some more,” said Davis, who hopes to survey at least 40 freshwater swales. He’s been limited to state coastal parks, because no private property owner has given him permission to survey their land.

“Photuris bethaniensis” wasn’t considered a separate species until Frank Alexander McDermott, a DuPont chemist with a lifelong fascination with fireflies, published his findings in the Smithsonian Institution’s “Proceedings of the United States National Museum” in 1953. He described a beetle with a distinct “double greenish flash” he first spotted at the north end of Bethany Beach in 1949. It took him several more years to capture enough specimens to make a scientific determination.  Few paid much attention to the firefly thereafter, until Heckscher began a three-year survey in 1998.

“No one knew if it was still around or how common it was at all, pretty much because no one had been looking for it,” said Heckscher, who found the firefly at seven of 18 swales he visited.

Davis said he had planned his survey before the federal petition was filed.

Establishing that the firefly still exists is “very important,” he said. “I feel like the more we learn, the more questions we have.” (VOA)