A mass uprising has begun.
Last weekend, on Saturday 17th November, five of London’s main bridges were occupied by protesters in what was the largest co-ordinated act of civil disobedience the British capital has seen for decades.
Around 6,000 people in total from across the UK were involved, motivated by love for the Earth and rage at the government’s failure to respond appropriately to the cascading climate change emergency. I’m proud to say that I was among them.
At around 10.30 we moved onto the bridges and blocked the roads. We carried banners with slogans such as “Climate Emergency” and “Our Children Deserve A Future”. We sang songs. We spoke and listened to powerful speeches. We occupied the bridges for around five hours, during which time not a single vehicle crossed.
Around 80 people were arrested during the peaceful protest, taken away to waiting police vans amidst warm support and cheers of thanks from other protestors for the sacrifice they were making on behalf of everyone.
The action was organised by Extinction Rebellion, a rapidly growing movement committed to non-violent civil-disobedience as a means of raising awareness about the urgency of the climate crisis and to promote a fundamental change in our political and economic system. It is demanding that the government take radical steps to respond to the climate emergency, believing that through widespread economic disruption it can rapidly bring decision makers to the table and initiate the big changes that are necessary.
At the core of the movement is the willingness of many of its members to be arrested and to go to prison if necessary in order to break the status quo that is currently favouring economic growth and self-serving global hegemonies over the health of vital planetary systems and the wellbeing and security of all.
It’s demands are:
- The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
- The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
- A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.
On October 31st of this year the movement formally declared rebellion against the British government, committing to acts of non-violent civil disobedience until these demands are met. Around 1,000 people attended the event in Parliament Square, where a 500-word Declaration of Rebellion was read out by a spokesman and repeated by those present.
The Declaration, after briefly presenting the dire state of the climate crisis, states that, “when Government and the law fail to provide any assurance of adequate protection, as well as security for its people’s well-being and the nation’s future, it becomes the right of its citizens to seek redress in order to restore dutiful democracy and to secure the solutions needed to avert catastrophe and protect the future. It becomes not only our right, it becomes our sacred duty to rebel.”
Saturday’s action was the first major act of civil disobedience following the declaration. It will not be the last. “We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now,” states the Declaration of Rebellion.
The latest international climate report warned last month that the world has 12 years to reduce carbon emissions by 50% in order to have a chance of averting runaway climate change and its potentially catastrophic consequences. Many informed commentators believe that this is a conservative assessment. Either way, the situation is critical.
If we carry on doing virtually nothing, trusting tiny incremental changes to address the urgent and rapidly worsening crisis, then it seems highly likely that business-as-usual will have made our planet uninhabitable before the children being born today have lived out the natural span of their lives. No-one really wants that to happen. Yet no-one seems willing to grasp the nettle of radical change.
Extinction Rebellion is rising up against the systemic inertia of both governments and the population at large, challenging the status quo that we are all implicated in and which is threatening everybody’s future.
It’s not going to be easy to meet the challenges we face. There will be huge resistance from vested interests of all kinds, including everyone who enjoys the modern consumer lifestyle. The changes will have to be abrupt, given the tiny window of transition we have available. As a consequence many of them will be uncomfortable. If these changes had been begun back in the 1970’s when the oil companies first warned of the dangers of global warming through Co2 emissions then the process could have been smoother. But here we are. 2017 saw the highest levels of greenhouse emissions recorded so far. The 2018 figure is likely to be higher still. It might already be too late to bring these figures down enough in the time that we have. But at least if we act now there is a chance, some glimmer of hope, that we can pull it together.
What needs to become clear in the minds of all is that, at this point, the only alternative to radical change at an international level seems to be apocalyptic catastrophe!
Saturday’s action in London was the dawn of a rebellion which could be our last hope. For that dawn to spread into full day will require a huge groundswell of support from every part of society everywhere in the world. Extinction Rebellion is already bringing together people of very diverse backgrounds and persuasions within the UK, and is beginning to spread into other countries. It must. It is time for us to rise up as one people of many colours and voices, united by the task of defending life on Earth in the name of all the beings whose home this planet is and all those yet to come.