I was wrong about Extinction Rebellion. This is why.

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I was wrong about Extinction Rebellion. This is why.

The labour movement and environmentalists need each other, says Isaac Rose.


Cyclists lay down in the Extinction Rebellion protest at the Tate Modern in London, Britain April 27, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

In December 2018 New Internationalist invited me to write something for ‘Extinction Rebellion – in or out?’. It was an article about opinions on the then new climate movement. I was not sure how Extinction Rebellion (XR) could bring the change needed urgently to stop climate breakdown. I said that environmentalists should talk with the Labour Party and trade unions together - and they should not take direct action. Politics, not protest should be the best way.

After the last two weeks, I know I was wrong. It’s now clear that XR is different from past environmental movements. They used non-violent action to do what past environmental movements dreamed of. They shut down areas of central London for over a week and changed the way the media reported climate breakdown.

And XR ended the action in its own way. The police did not stop it like the Occupy movement but XR decided to stop their protests and I am sure they will continue again later.

Extinction Rebellion used language very well. They used language such as ‘extinction’, ‘climate emergency’ and ‘earth systems breakdown’, and the demand of ‘telling the truth’. They made it clear that climate change is a crisis and action is urgent.

Eco-socialism, not green capitalism

In the last 30 years fossil fuel companies and their friends on the Right have tried to confuse us about climate change and the truth. Now it is clear we must tell the truth.

That does not mean we don’t need politics. XR blocked bridges and made it clear there is a crisis but this is not enough to stop climate breakdown. A political struggle is also needed. We must win against powerful interests like the fossil fuel companies.

I think Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour movement are important here. Climate breakdown is the result of capitalism. Capitalism demands continuing growth. It wants to destroy parts of the natural world. It makes the rich richer thanks to the people who work.

No more ‘business as usual’

Labour in power with a government will not need to listen to fossil fuel supporters and the power of business. Then Labour will bring the urgent economic policy needed to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. The Conservatives have failed for 10 years with this. They took no action and undid much of the good work of the last Labour government. After XR it is clear that the Labour movement is changing. There is talk from the party leaders, union leaders, and Labour campaigns for a Green New Deal. XR has made this politically possible.

Labour also needs to build on the work of XR and others, and so far it has done this well. Labour MPs supported the protests, they had a meeting with Greta Thunberg, and Corbyn will try to make Parliament the first in the world to say there is a climate emergency.

When I wrote for New Internationalist in 2018 I was not sure about XR. But now I know I was wrong and I am very, very happy!



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