I spent much of last Saturday sitting in the middle of the road on Lambeth bridge. Along with around 6000 others, I participated in a coordinated roadblock on five of the main routes across the Thames.
The sun shone, the mood was peaceful and interactions between the police and the protestors surprisingly cordial. But underneath this tranquil façade lay a darker theme: humans’ self-inflicted extinction of life on earth as we know it. The roadblocks were organised by the group Extinction Rebellion to challenge government inaction on climate change and ecological breakdown and push for a more radical agenda.
The IPCC report released in October gives us just 12 years to drastically change course to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. Yet this alarming verdict seems barely to have registered with our representatives, more concerned with Brexit and keeping the fossil fuel lobby onside.
Some companies, such as IKEA and Mars are doing exciting work to significantly reduce their climate footprints. And business certainly has a vital role to play.
But the bold actions of a few large companies with a good business case for climate action aren’t enough. Just 100 companies are responsible for around 70% of the world’s emissions, mostly powerful fossil fuel companies who won’t give up without a fight… and dramatically more stringent climate legislation, enforcement and investment.
In the absence of this, it’s only right that as citizens we take matters into our own hands. Extinction Rebellion has followed its official ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ at the end of October with a series of acts of non-violent civil disobedience: from disrupting rush hour traffic in ‘swarming’ groups to gluing themselves to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The group’s aims are clearly laid out, and probably too ambitious to wholly succeed: greater transparency and cooperation from the government on the scale of ecological breakdown; net zero carbon emissions by 2025; and a people’s assembly — a random sample of 1000 citizens — to oversee the changes. But if they manage to push the issue of our collective suicide up the political agenda and raise public awareness then their efforts won’t have been futile.
From the suffragettes to the civil rights movement in the US, history is on our side — this kind of action is proven to be effective.
Some critics have questioned whether the energy poured into these actions might be better spent on organised protests, marches, and letters to MPs. The answer to that is: we’ve tried! We’ve protested, we’ve marched, we’ve written… we’ve howled repeatedly into the wind. And none of it has worked.
We have 12 years to save ourselves. It’s time to get radical.