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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

Activist Greta Thunberg Declines Environmental Prize

But Sofia and Isabella Axelsson quoted Thunberg as saying that “what we need is for our rulers and politicians to listen to the research"

Activist, Greta Thunberg, Environmental
Greta Thunberg marches in the climate strike through downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada October 25, 2019. VOA

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has inspired millions across the world to stage protests urging leaders to better tackle global warming, has declined an environmental prize, saying “the climate movement does not need any more prizes.”

Two fellow climate activists spoke on Thunberg’s behalf at an award ceremony Tuesday in Stockholm for the regional inter-parliamentary Nordic Council’s prizes, reading a statement thanking the group for the honor. Thunberg, 16, is currently in California.

But Sofia and Isabella Axelsson quoted Thunberg as saying that “what we need is for our rulers and politicians to listen to the research.”

The Nordic Council hands out annual prizes for literature, youth literature, film, music and the environment, each worth 350,000 Danish kroner ($52,000).

Activist, Greta Thunberg, Environmental
Two fellow climate activists spoke on Thunberg’s behalf at an award ceremony Tuesday in Stockholm for the regional inter-parliamentary Nordic Council’s prizes. Pixabay

It was not the first prize that the climate activist has won or been nominated for.

Three Norwegian lawmakers nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year because they believe “the massive movement Greta has set in motion is a very important peace contribution.”

Last year, about three months into her school climate strike campaign, Thunberg declined another award, the Children’s Climate Prize, which is awarded by a Swedish electricity company, because many of the finalists had to fly to Stockholm for the ceremony.

Thunberg notes that flights contribute to global warming, so she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for two weeks on a zero-emissions sailboat to reach New York. There the Swede scolded a U.N. climate conference in September , repeatedly asking, “How dare you?”

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“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and yet all you can talk about is money. You are failing us,” she said.

Weeks later, Thunberg won the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel” — “for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts.”

In May 2019, she was featured on the cover of Time magazine, which named her a “next generation leader.” (VOA)