Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated as XR) is a global environmental movement with the stated aim of using nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.
|Named after||Anthropocene extinction|
|Motto||"Rebel for life"|
|Formation||31 October 2018|
|Purpose||Climate change mitigation|
The Climate Mobilization
Extinction Rebellion was established in the United Kingdom in May 2018 with about one hundred academics signing a call to action in support in October 2018, and launched at the end of October by Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook, and other activists from the campaign group Rising Up!. In November 2018, five bridges across the River Thames in London were blockaded. In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion occupied five prominent sites in central London: Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, and the area around Parliament Square.
Citing inspiration from grassroots movements such as Occupy, Satyagraha, the suffragettes, Gene Sharp, and the civil rights movement, Extinction Rebellion wants to rally support worldwide around a common sense of urgency to tackle climate breakdown and the sixth mass extinction. A number of activists in the movement accept arrest and imprisonment, similar to the mass arrest tactics of the Committee of 100 in 1961.
The movement uses a circled hourglass, known as the extinction symbol, to serve as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species.
Stated aims and principles
- Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
- Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
- Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens' assembly on climate and ecological justice.
When the movement expanded to the United States, a further demand was added to that group's list: "We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all."
- "We have a shared vision of change—creating a world that is fit for generations to come.
- We set our mission on what is necessary—mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change by using ideas such as "momentum-driven organising" to achieve this.
- We need a regenerative culture—creating a culture that is healthy, resilient, and adaptable.
- We openly challenge ourselves and this toxic system, leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.
- We value reflecting and learning, following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action (learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences).
- We welcome everyone and every part of everyone—working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
- We actively mitigate for power—breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
- We avoid blaming and shaming—we live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
- We are a non-violent network using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
- We are based on autonomy and decentralisation—we collectively create the structures we need to challenge power. Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion."
Extinction Rebellion is a loosely networked, decentralised, grassroots movement. Anyone who takes action in pursuit of "XR's three goals and adheres to its ten principles, which includes non-violence, can claim to do it in the name of XR."
Organisation and roles
Extinction Rebellion has a decentralises structure. Providing that they respect the 'principles and values', every local group can organise events and actions independently. To organise the movement, local groups are structured with various 'working groups' taking care of strategy, outreach, well-being, etc.
For actions of non-violent civil disobedience, people can register to specific roles such as visitor, blocker, guardian angel (taking care of blockers), peace-keeper (maintaining non-violence), media contact (spokesperson), police liaison, legal observer, speaker, etc.
A youth wing—XR Youth—of Extinction Rebellion had formed by July 2019. In contrast to the main XR, it is centred around consideration of the Global South and indigenous peoples, and more concerned with climate justice. By October 2019 there were 55 XR Youth groups in the UK and another 25 elsewhere. All XR Youth comprise people born after 1990, with an average age of 16, and some aged 10.
Extinction Rebellion was established in the United Kingdom in May 2018 with about one hundred academics signing a call to action in support in October 2018, and launched at the end of October by Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, Simon Bramwell, and other activists from the campaign group Rising Up!.
Grassroots movements such as Occupy, Gandhi's Satyagraha, the suffragettes, Gene Sharp, Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement have been cited as sources of inspiration In seeking to rally support worldwide around a common sense of urgency to tackle climate breakdown, reference is also made to Saul Alinsky. His "Pragmatic Primer," Rules for Radicals (1972), is seen as offering insights as to "how we mobilise to cope with emergency", and "strike a balance between disruption and creativity". Roger Hallam has been clear that the strategy of public disruption is "heavily influenced" by the community-organizing tactician: "The essential element here is disruption. Without disruption, no one is going to give you their eyeballs”.
A number of activists in the movement accept arrest and imprisonment, similar to the mass arrest tactics of the Committee of 100 in 1961.
Extinction Rebellion has taken a variety of actions since 2018 in the UK, USA, Australia and elsewhere.
An assembly of more than 1000 people took place at Parliament Square, London on 31 October 2018, to hear the "Declaration of Rebellion" and occupy the road in front of the Houses of Parliament. In November 2018, activists blockaded the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; unveiled a banner over Westminster Bridge; glued themselves to the gates of Downing Street; and closed an access road to Trafalgar Square. On "Rebellion Day" about 6,000 people blocked the five main bridges over the River Thames in London for several hours—The Guardian described it as "one of the biggest acts of peaceful civil disobedience in the UK in decades". On "Rebellion Day 2", the roads around Parliament Square were blocked and a mock funeral march travelled to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace; there were also actions in Manchester, Sheffield, Machynlleth and Edinburgh.
|“||Organisers say they hope the campaign of 'respectful disruption' will change the debate around climate breakdown and signal to those in power that the present course of action will lead to disaster.||”|
|— Damien Gayle, The Guardian|
In January 2019, XR staged an occupation of the Scottish Parliament's debating chamber in Holyrood, Edinburgh. In February council chambers were also occupied by XR groups in Norwich and Gloucestershire. A week later neighbouring Somerset County Council declared a climate emergency, citing school strikers and XR as having some input into the decision. In late February, following an XR petition, Reading Borough Council also declared a climate emergency, aiming to cut carbon emissions by 2030, a week after discussions with the XR Reading group and a day after the warmest winter day on record in the UK.
In February, 'Swarming' roadblocks were held outside London Fashion Week venues and XR called on the British Fashion Council to declare a 'climate emergency', and for the industry to take a leading role in tackling climate change. In March, around 400 protesters poured buckets of fake blood on the road outside Downing Street to represent the threatened lives of children. On 1 April, protesters undressed and glued themselves to the glass in the House of Commons viewing gallery during a debate on Brexit.
Starting Monday 15 April, Extinction Rebellion organised demonstrations in London, focusing on Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and the area around Parliament Square. The intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street (Oxford Circus) was blocked with a boat, to which activists glued themselves, as well as gazebos, potted plants and trees, a mobile stage and a skate ramp. Sites at Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and the area around Parliament Square were also occupied and Shell Oil Company's headquarters was targeted. On 16 April on Waterloo Bridge, police stopped making arrests after running out of holding cells. By the end of that day an estimated 500,000 people had been affected by the disruptions and 290 activists had been arrested in London. In Scotland, more than 1,000 protesters occupied the North Bridge in Edinburgh for seven hours. On 17 April activists including 83-year-old Phil Kingston climbed onto the roof of a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf station whilst another glued himself to the side. On 18 April, the fourth day of continuous occupations at the four locations, the arrest figure had risen to 428. Also on 18 April activists held a series of swarming (short duration) roadblocks on Vauxhall Bridge. On 19 April, around a dozen teenagers approached the access road to Heathrow Airport holding a banner. Police partially cleared the Oxford Circus site, including removing the boat, whilst activists still occupied the road. The police said 682 people had thus far been arrested in London. On 25 April protesters glued themselves across the entrances to the London Stock Exchange, whilst others climbed on to a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf holding banners. Activists gathered at Hyde Park to end the 11-day demonstrations in London, during which 1,130 people had been arrested.
In July in East London there was a series of seven-minute Dalston traffic blockades, a mass bike ride through the A10, Olympic park traffic blocks, and a people's assembly outside Hackney town hall. Also in July, protests in Bristol, Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow and London focused on different threats for each city, with a boat in each location.
Extinction Rebellion targeted London Fashion Week (LFW) in September 2019 with three days of actions in order to raise awareness about the environmental impact of the fashion industry and fast fashion—"the United Nations has said it uses more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined".
On 3 October Extinction Rebellion activists used an out of commission fire engine to spray the front of the Treasury in London with 1800 litres of fake blood, holding banners at the front of the building that read “STOP FUNDING CLIMATE DEATH”. The protest was held to highlight the “inconsistency between the UK Government’s insistence that the UK is a world leader in tackling climate breakdown, while pouring vast sums of money into fossil exploration and carbon-intensive projects.” The protesters sprayed the building for several seconds until they lost control of the hose. Eight people were arrested.
As part of a two-week series of XR actions which they called "International Rebellion", to take place in more than 60 cities worldwide, events were planned around London from 7 to 19 October to demand the UK government take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. Despite much, and sometimes heavy, rain throughout this period, the protests went ahead. On 6 October an 'opening ceremony' at Marble Arch was attended by more than a thousand people. On 7 October, several thousand people shut down parts of Westminster in central London, blocking Whitehall, the Mall, Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and Victoria Embankment. On 8 October, an Extinction Rebellion group including scientist Matthew Shribman organised for 1,000 trees to appear outside the UK parliament, with the first 650 allocated to British MPs. Over 400 MPs collected trees, and some publicly committed to accelerate reforesting in the UK.
On 10 October at London City Airport, a sit-in was held at the exit of its DLR railway station, with activists supergluing themselves to the floor. Two flights were delayed by activists who had purchased tickets. Other activists climbed onto the terminal roof while former paralympian cyclist James Brown climbed atop a British Airways aircraft, livestreaming the event online. On 11 October, XR activists obstructed access to the BBC's Broadcasting House main doors. Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium demonstrated with XR in London in April 2019, and was arrested, and later released, on 10 October after joining a sit-in protest at Trafalgar Square. She said "The more people from all sections of society protest, the greater the impact will be", and that, having the ear of high-ranking people, she raised climate issues whenever possible. Over 1000 arrests had been made by 11 October.
On 12 October, XR held a "funeral procession" along Oxford Street which it claimed had 20,000 participants. The same day, animal rights activists affiliated with XR (Animal Rebellion) said 28 of their supporters were arrested while attempting to block access to Billingsgate Fish Market.
Beginning early on Monday 14 October, hundreds of XR activists occupied Bank junction, outside the Bank of England in the City of London, London's financial district, focussing on the financial institutions "funding environmental destruction". That night police, controversially, banned all the Extinction Rebellion protests from the whole of London, starting at 9 pm, under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. Around the same time, police began clearing people and tents that remained at the camp on Trafalgar Square, cutting free and arresting people who had locked themselves in place; police had until then allowed the Square to be occupied.
XR continued with a protest at the Department for Transport at 8 am on 15 October, during which Gail Bradbrook stood on top of the building's entrance until she was arrested. Bradbrook "called on ministers to explain how their continued expansion of roads and airports fitted with a net-zero emissions target." There was much criticism of the police ban, described as "chilling and unlawful", by individuals and organisations. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who would normally expect to work with the police, appeared to distance himself from the ban. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the ban was a "huge over-reach of police power"; Liberty said it was "a grossly disproportionate move by the Met and an assault on the right to protest". XR applied for urgent judicial review of the ban. On 6 November the high court ruled that the Met's section 14 order was unlawful because it went beyond the powers granted to police by the Act.
On 16 October, mothers of infants held a sit-in outside Google's London headquarters in King's Cross, in protest at the company's funding of climate deniers. At the same building, XR Youth climbed on top of the entrance to YouTube, with a banner reading "YouTube, stop climate denial", relating to its hosting of climate change denial videos. George Monbiot and Jonathan Bartley were arrested on Whitehall.
On 17 October, XR activists targeted rail and underground services near to the Canary Wharf financial district by climbing onto or gluing themselves to trains at Shadwell, Stratford and Canning Town stations. At Canning Town, a largely working-class neighbourhood, an activist was dragged from the top of a tube train and beaten by angry commuters. XR's lack of class and race awareness, and the confused message in blockading public transport, was highlighted by many in the media. In a statement, XR apologised; elsewhere, one XR spokesman said the protest was "a huge own goal" while others in XR appreciated the significant media attention that it generated. More than 3,700 people took part in an online poll in advance of the action with 72% against it "no matter how it is done". In response to the poll, some in the affinity groups planning the action pulled out while others continued. The group's decentralised structure allows individual groups to act on their own. Later, XR said it has to learn from the event, with future strategy being reassessed, especially with its own internal decision making.
On the morning of 18 October, Oxford Circus was blocked using a pyramid structure made of wooden poles, to which some people locked themselves on to and others climbed up. Later, a protester free solo climbed half way up Big Ben using the scaffolding currently surrounding it, and unfurled two large banners, reading: "No pride on a dead planet" and "Citizens Assembly".
On 20 October, a protest performance piece was made in the National Portrait Gallery against its sponsorship by BP, who XR claims is "funding extinction". Three protestors lay on the gallery floor wearing only underwear while others poured fake oil over them; a monologue was given and information handed out. The protest was on the final day of the BP Portrait Award exhibition and in a room in which pieces sponsored by BP were on display.
New York City actions
On 26 January 2019, Extinction Rebellion NYC activists formed the extinction symbol with their bodies on the ice at the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink. An activist climbed and hung a banner on the large gold Prometheus statue. On 17 April 2019, over 60 activists were arrested at a die-in in the streets around New York City Hall. On 22 June 2019, 70 activists were arrested for blocking traffic outside of The New York Times headquarters in midtown Manhattan. On 10 August 2019, over 100 people were arrested at a joint-protest shutting down the West Side Highway, in protest at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency's alleged human rights abuses at the US-Mexico border and its role in mass deportations. On 5 September 2019, traffic was blocked at multiple intersections in midtown Manhattan to bring attention to the fires in Amazonia. On 6 September 2019, an XR activist climbed the Unisphere in Queens, New York. On 6 October 2019, Extinction Rebellion protesters splashed fake blood on Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture.
In the week beginning 15 April 2019, XR activists occupied the Parliament of South Australia's House of Representatives and part of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, forming human chains. Similar actions took place in Berlin, Heidelberg, Brussels, Lausanne, Madrid, Denver and Melbourne. Also, a railway line in Brisbane, Australia was disrupted.
On Monday 7 October 2019 Extinction Rebellion (XR) held a global day of “civil disobedience” with disruptive actions causing chaos and outrage in major cities around the world. Protesters in Berlin gathered at the Victory Column near the Brandenburg Gate Monday morning. The action continued into the evening with Potsdamer Platz, which was at some point occupied by some 3,000 protesters, according to the local media. Protesters blocked roads across Australia and New Zealand, with police in Sydney arresting at least 30 people. Activists in Wellington, New Zealand, staged a "die-in" at an ANZ Bank branch, demanding that it “divest away from fossil fuels,” with some protesters gluing their hands to the windows. Others occupied the lobby of the Ministry of Business and Innovation. In Amsterdam more than 100 protesters were arrested after they erected a tent camp on the main road outside the national museum Rijksmuseum. In Paris, about 1,000 protesters backed by the yellow vests movement occupied a shopping centre. In Vienna, protesters also blocked traffic in the city.
On 21 October 2019 in Jersey, XR activists caused disruption during morning rush hour, blocking the road while cycling slowly into St Helier. They then staged a 'die-in' in the town centre.
On 6 December 2019 Extinction Rebellion activists blocked streets for 7 hours in Washington, DC, calling for an end to World Bank funding of fossil fuels.
Arrest as a tactic
Extinction Rebellion uses mass arrest as a tactic to try to achieve its goals. Extinction Rebellion's founders researched the histories of "the suffragettes, the Indian salt marchers, the civil rights movement and the Polish and East German democracy movements", who all used the tactic, and are applying their lessons to the climate crisis. Co-founder Roger Hallam has said "letters, emailing, marches don’t work. You need about 400 people to go to prison. About two to three thousand people to be arrested."
In June and July 2019 some of the Extinction Rebellion supporters arrested that April appeared in court in the UK. On 25 June a 68-year-old protester was convicted of breaching a section 14 order giving police the power to clear static protests from a specified area, and given a conditional discharge. On 12 April over 30 protesters appeared in court, each charged with being a public assembly participant failing to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer at various locations on various dates. Some pleaded guilty, and were mostly given conditional discharges. The trials of those who pleaded not guilty are to take place in September and October.
During the 'International Rebellion' which started on 15 April 2019, actions and messages of support arrived from various sources, including a speech by actress Emma Thompson, a planned visit by school strike leader Greta Thunberg, and statements from former NASA scientist James Hansen and linguist and activist Noam Chomsky.
A study conducted during the first two days of the mid-April London occupation found that 46% of respondents supported the rebellion; however, a larger opinion poll later found that support had declined and that 52% of respondents now opposed actions aiming to "shut down London" as the protests on 17 April blocked access to means of transport including buses, alienating travellers.
In May 2019, Roger Hallam and eight others stood as candidates in the European Parliament elections in the London and the South West England constituencies as Climate Emergency Independents. Between them, they won 7,416 out of the 3,917,854 total votes cast in the two constituencies.
In June 2019, 1,000 healthcare professionals in the UK and elsewhere, including professors, public health figures, and former presidents of royal colleges, called for widespread non-violent civil disobedience in response to "woefully inadequate" government policies on the unfolding ecological emergency. They called on politicians and the news media to face the facts of the unfolding ecological emergency and take action. They supported the school strike movement and Extinction Rebellion.
In July 2019 Trevor Neilson, Rory Kennedy and Aileen Getty launched the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), inspired by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion protesters in the UK in April. It donated almost half a million pounds to Extinction Rebellion groups in New York City and Los Angeles and school strike for climate groups in the US. In September 2019 Getty pledged $600,000 (£487,000) to the Fund.
Michael Stipe is a supporter; all profits from his debut solo single, "Your Capricious Soul", will go to Extinction Rebellion.
Ben Smoke, one of the Stansted 15, writing in The Guardian, criticised XR's tactic of mass arrest. He wrote for XR to casually speak of imprisonment undermines the negative experiences of incarceration on black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK. He also wrote that for XR to be supporting peoples' court cases risks drawing significant "resources, time, money and energy" from the environmental movement, from the individuals involved, and which could otherwise be directed towards people most affected by climate change. Smoke instead recommended tactics that are not only the preserve of those able to afford the expense and time of arrest. He also wrote that though mass arrests may be intended to cause government to focus more on tackling climate change, it might instead cause government to increase anti-protest legislation.
The critique of XR's white privilege and that its mass arrest tactic does not consider that people of colour will not be treated as leniently by the system as white people, was also highlighted in an open letter from Wretched of the Earth, an environmental group that focuses on black, brown and indigenous voices, to XR.
Karen Bell, senior lecturer in human geography and environmental justice at the University of West of England, Bristol, wrote in The Guardian that environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion are not strongly rooted in working-class organisations and communities, which she said is a problem because building the broad-based support necessary for a radical transition to sustainability requires contributions from all strands of environmentalism, especially working class. George Monbiot has also written in The Guardian that "Extinction Rebellion is too white, and too middle class."
When the movement expanded to the US, a fourth demand was added to that group's list of demands: for a "just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable and indigenous sovereignty [and] establishes reparations and remediation led by and for black people, indigenous people, people of colour and poor communities for years of environmental injustice."
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, which supports XR's course of strong action and demands, said that the time frame being urged by XR was "an ambition that technically, economically and politically has absolutely no chance of being fulfilled." They calculated that to go net zero by 2025, flying would need to be scrapped and 38 million petrol and diesel cars would need to be removed from the roads. Twenty-six million gas boilers would need to be disconnected in six years.
- This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook. London: Penguin, 2019. ISBN 9780141991443.
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XR launched a free newspaper in the UK in September 2019, called The Hourglass. 110,000 copies were printed of its first edition.
- Citizen Science, cleanup projects that people can take part in.
- Ende Gelände 2018
- Ende Gelände 2019
- Environmental direct action in the United Kingdom
- Fossil fuel phase-out
- Global catastrophic risk
- Global Climate March
- Individual and political action on climate change
- Low-carbon economy
- Overshoot (population)
- Peak oil
- People's Climate March (disambiguation)
- School Strike for Climate
- Societal collapse
- Sunrise Movement
- The Limits to Growth
- World Scientists' Warning to Humanity
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Glasgow - Messages saying “Act Now” and “The future you fear is already here”, Bristol - “Tell the Truth”
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