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Civil disobedience for action on climate change

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Mar 13, 2019
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Civil disobedience for action on climate change

I have been spending time with a new social movemement called Extinction Rebellion, which I am writing about for a magazine. Extinction Rebellion -- or XR as it's known -- burst into the headlines in Britain in November when it mobilised 5,000 people to block the five main bridges over the River Thames in London, temporarily paralysing nearby roads. About 15 people were arrested. It has since staged various other protests, and plans many more in the run-up to an 'international rebellion day' on April 15, when thousands of protesters will set up camp in parliament to demand the UK government declares a climate emergency and undertakes a massive programme of action to tackle climate change. Here are XR's demands:

-- The UK government must tell the truth about the scale of the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent polices, 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 reduce consumption levels. 

-- A national Citizen's Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose. 

There are also XR offshoots in many other countries, including the US. You can read more about XR here: https://rebellion.earth/

XR is inspired by successful civil disobedience movements in the past: think Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The basic argument is that governments don't seem to be prepared to take serious action on the climate, despite the increasingly dire scientific warnings and growing evidence of intensifying impacts (such as the devastating wildfires in California). Having studied previous revolutions and sudden moments of social change, XR's leaders believe that non-violent civil disobedience is the only tactic that has a chance of forcing governments to take the kind of drastic action needed to prevent a far greater climate crisis unfolding in the years ahead. There's more about XR in this story by Vice https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/43zbyp/what-radical-climate-protesters-xr-are-planning-next

What do you think? Could mass civil disobedience force governments to take the necessary action to avert climate breakdown? Or will the spectale of mass arrests only polarise opinion and make a consensus on how to respond harder to achieve?

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