For climate action, ‘mass civil disobedience’ is the only way

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For climate action, ‘mass civil disobedience’ is the only way

There is a new climate change movement. Husna Rizvi speaks to Extinction Rebellion about why direct action is our last chance to stop carbon.


A new climate movement is starting in Britain. On Wednesday 31 October 2018 in Westminster, ‘Extinction Rebellion’ started as a protest against the UK government because it did not act to stop climate change. ‘Extinction Rebellion’ is a direct-action group, like Occupy.

In London’s Parliament Square, in front of Gandhi’s statue, thousands of people agreed on non-violent rebellion to force action from the government. They want the government to reverse climate-toxic policies, zero emissions by 2025, and a citizen’s assembly to make the changes necessary to stop global warming.


Two members of Extinction Rebellion were arrested during the group's campaign of civil disobedience.

The group says that peaceful protest is the only way to bring the social change needed to avoid the end of the human race.

They’re not wrong. A one-degree rise in global temperature since the industrial revolution has led to a sea-level rise. The sea-level rise is quickly flooding Bangladesh and other Carribean, Pacific and coastal regions around the world. The group’s action came just a day after the World Wildlife Fund report that humans have destroyed 60 per cent of animal populations since 1970.

It is right that young people are at the centre of the movement. We spoke to fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Stockholm climate activist. She is best known for starting a popular Friday strike movement in Sweden. Thunberg will not go to Friday classes until the Swedish government takes action on climate change.

Thunberg and her parents drove to Westminster in an electric car. There she spoke to over a thousand people. ‘When I was eight, I found out about something called climate change, or global warming,’ she said. ‘It seemed that it was something that humans created by our way of living. People told me to turn off the lights to save energy and to recycle paper to save resources.

‘I remember thinking it was very strange that humans could change the Earth’s climate. Because if it was true, we would talk about it all the time. When you turned on the TV, everything would be about that.

‘Why wasn’t burning fossil fuels illegal? I could not understand that.’

Teddy Walden, 18, is another member of Generation Z who thinks we must do something about climate change.

‘If everyone used things like the Americans, we’d have used five Earths by now. That’s shocking,’ she said. Roger Hallam is an academic and activist and he helped to start Extinction Rebellion. He believes that protests like this one are the only way to force the changes needed.

‘A hundred years of politics shows you can only change the people with power through creating economic costs for the people with power,’ he said.

He says Extinction Rebellion is different from other NGOs. Extinction Rebellion has occupied the offices of Greenpeace, for example, to show that they are not doing enough to talk to governments about reducing emissions.

‘The NGOs have been working for 30 years to reduce global carbon emissions and during that time they’ve increased by 60 per cent. This possibly means hell for future generations.

But Hallam expects the government will not listen to Extinction Rebellion’s demands. ‘They’ll ignore us, and then they’ll fight us and we’ll win. We haven’t started the fight yet – which will be non-violent – but we will in the next two weeks.’

More than a thousand people blocked roads around Parliament Square, and 15 were arrested.


Police at the protest

George Monbiot is an environmentalist and journalist. He was at the protest. He said, ‘We’ve waited long enough, we are waiting no longer. No one will do this for us.’

‘We say we live in a democracy. In many ways it is like a plutocracy – your votes should be important but money is more important.

‘The money of the city, and the fossil fuel industry and the farmers and the fishing industry and the auto-manufacturers and the airlines. People listen to them but not to us.

‘Parliament will not do this for us, businesses will not do this for us and I’m sorry to say that the big NGOs won’t do this.’

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party. He said we should take direct action (NVDA) where possible.

‘We must take NVDA carefully. In that way and for the right reasons we support it 100%,’ said Bartley. His co-leader, MP Caroline Lucas, was arrested in 2013 for direct action against fracking.

‘None of the media reported that the chancellor didn’t talk about climate change in his budget,’ he says. Extinction Rebellion said, ‘If the government does not listen to us, civil disobedience will start on 12 November 2018’. And there will be a return to Parliament Square on 'Rebellion Day', on Saturday 17 November.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)