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Extinction Rebellion (XR)

Does fighting climate change require postponing the fight for system change?

By John Molyneaux, Climate and Capitalism, August 25, 2020

Time is always an important factor in politics and history but never has it mattered as much as on the issue of climate change.

The IPCC Report’s warning in October 2018 that the world has twelve years to avoid climate disaster was undoubtedly a major factor in galvanizing a global wave of climate change activism, especially in the form of Greta Thunberg and mass school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion movement. At the same it is clear that this warning could be, and was, “heard” or interpreted in different ways by different people. In this article I want consider some of those interpretations and their implications, particularly in relation to the question of whether there is time to bring about system change or whether, because time is so short, it is necessary to focus on and settle for changes that can be implemented within the framework of capitalism.

Before coming to that, however, I want to suggest that many an opportunist politician will have heard the twelve year warning quite differently from Greta and her followers. To them twelve years would be a very long time indeed: three US Presidential terms, two full length parliamentary terms in Britain and many other countries; in other words more than enough time to fulfill your ambitions, secure your place in the history books or, at least, secure your pension and several directorships, before anything serious would have to be done at all. The only practical implication of the twelve year warning would be the need to set up various commissions, draw up some action plans, attend a few conferences and generally engage in a certain amount of greenwashing. Should you be the CEO of a major oil, gas or car company exactly the same would apply.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there were large numbers of people, especially young people, who “heard” the warning as meaning that there is literally, only twelve years to prevent global extinction.

These are not equivalent misreadings: the first is utterly cynical and immensely damaging to humans and nature alike; the second is naive but well-intentioned. But they are both misreadings of what the report said and of what climate change is. Climate change is not an event that may or may not happen in 2030 and which might be averted by emergency action at the last minute, but a process which is already underway. Every week, month or year of delay in reducing carbon emissions exacerbates the problem and makes it harder to tackle. By the same token, there is no absolute deadline after which it will be too late to do anything and we might as well give up the ghost.

For a Sustainable Future: The Centrality of Public Goods

By Nancy Holmstrom - Socialist Register, Spring 2020

The most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it absolutely clear that ways of living in the twenty-first century must be premised on the existential threat to our survival posed by multiple ecological crises. Indeed it could all be over before the end of the century. If we do not radically suppress global CO2 emissions, global warming will rise to the point where it cannot be stopped. While not long ago the word ‘catastrophe’ seemed hyperbolic to many, today few could deny it is fitting. Melting glaciers, rising sea level, drought, fires, and flooding all over the world and the resulting migration are catastrophes for those who suffer them – and give us a taste of far worse catastrophes to come. Already the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 150,000 excess deaths per year due to climate change, likely to double by 2030.

After the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center we heard the word ‘security’ incessantly, almost always invoked as intentional threats to our safety and well-being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether they be individuals, groups, or nations. Global warming, on the other hand, is a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action – not what is usually intended by a ‘security’ threat, and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. But it is not only intentional acts that can threaten our safety and well-being. Once threats to our security are conceived more broadly, consider the greater dangers from unclean air and water and contagious diseases, whatever the mix of intentional and unintentional acts that created the problem.

Download (PDF).

Disaster Environmentalism 1: Looking the Future in the Face

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

“Barring a miracle, [a global average temperature rise above pre-industrial levels of] 2 degrees C must inevitably be substantially breached.” Nothing that has happened since the 2015 Paris climate conference has “suggested any reason for doubting that judgement”.

The Industrial Workers’ Climate Plan: A Great Green Charter

By various - Bristol IWW, 2019

An ecology movement that once seemed jaded is budding and blossoming beautifully. The fantastic efforts of the school strikes’ movement and groups like Extinction Rebellion, Earth Strike and the Green Anti-Capitalist Front have forced green issues back into mainstream public debate. This achievement has been marked by declarations that there is a ‘climate emergency’, first by the Welsh and Scottish governments and then, fittingly on 1st May, by the UK Parliament. A fortnight earlier, the University of Bristol had become the first UK university to declare a climate emergency. So successful have these campaigns been that there is now a broad consensus that something must be done. It is essential to build on this achievement and keep up the momentum. We urgently need to continue the conversation about what do to now.

Alongside the general strikes for climate action in September 2019, Earth Strike is therefore proposing that a Great Green Charter would be a powerful rallying document for the environmental crisis of the Twenty-First Century. The nineteenth-century movement called Chartism inspired the idea of a Great Green Charter. The Chartists drew up clear and agreed points which they pursued with a mix of political, economic and cultural approaches. Chartism became the largest reform movement of its time, taken up by thousands of ordinary people across the United Kingdom. The Chartists were successful, in as much as most of the points listed on ‘The People’s Charter’ were eventually attained, and even exceeded. While this was not within the years of Chartism, and achieved only after great struggle, the Chartists defined the terms of political reform for the decades to come.

Read the report (PDF).

Disaster Environmentalism 3: What to Do

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

The gap in disaster environmentalist thinking, the absence of any kind of sense of how society changes, or could be changed, explains its’ exponents political tactics, in my view.

Non-violent direct action (NVDA), which has become a hallmark of XR, is seen as a way of pushing the existing political system to change. For disaster environmentalism, it’s a last ditch attempt: if this fails, only collapse – whatever that means – awaits, and social renewal can only be achieved through “deep adaptation”.

This is underpinned by misunderstandings and half-thought-out ideas about how society changes, in my view.

The danger of co-optation

Read writes that XR wants and needs “to transform the whole existing system […] within years, not decades. Such transformation will mean that many economic interests get challenged, or indeed ended”. This “attempt to rapidly change the entire economic, social and political system” will be far more difficult than the task of previous movements; “the vested interests opposing us are vast, as are the ideologies that have to be overcome or transformed.” And what he describes as his “key point”:

Women and black people could be accommodated into the existing system; in this way the task of the Suffragettes and of the Civil Rights Movement, while hard, was doable. But what we want – need – is to transform the whole existing system, not merely to allow excluded people access to it.

This shows a breathtaking lack of understanding about how the political representatives of capitalism work to co-opt, subvert and control social movements.

To state the completely obvious, while the specific demands of the Suffragettes, for women’s right to vote, has been won, countless aspects of the repression of women have been reproduced by capitalism in new, more sophisticated forms. Women’s legal rights to abortion is currently under threat in a series of countries.

As for the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the gains it won in terms of voting rights for black Americans have been under vicious attack from that time to this. Gerrymandering, ID requirements, laws depriving former prisoners of the vote, and more blatant measures are used across the USA to stop black people from voting. Rights are won in struggle, defended and extended in struggle, and can be lost in struggle.

Disaster Environmentalism 2: Roads to a Post-Growth Economy

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

The disaster environmentalists’ hopes for the future rest not only on “deep adaptation”, but on acceptance that we need to live in a “post growth world”. Rupert Read writes:

It is crucial that we resist growthism, the very widespread drive to keep the economy ‘growing’. For (perpetual) growthism is a perpetual obstacle to collective sanity, to facing the reality of [ecological and social] limits. […] And green growthism is merely a subset of growthism.[1] […]

Society can not afford more growth, Read argues; progress towards understanding this is “glacially slow”. And so:

It still seems, tragically, far more likely that growth will end because of collapse than because of informed decision.

Yes and no, in my view. “Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfilment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production. But, unlike Read, I believe that the way “growth” ends is still to play for.

In my view (not new, from a socialist), all this means challenging capitalism, along with the state and political structures that protect its interests. On that, the disaster environmentalists are agnostic. They talk up the need for systemic change, but combine this with tame, almost naïve, claims about how to challenge the system.

Extinction Rebellion – in or out?

By various - New Internationalist, December 5, 2019

In October 2018, Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a series of protests that mobilized thousands of (many first-time) activists and caught the attention of the media.

The rebels had three key demands: that the UK government tell the truth about the climate devastation by declaring an emergency, the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to overview a repeal of climate-negligent laws and the enactment of new policies in line with climate science.

They injected a new sense of energy and urgency into the climate movement. Thousands joined non-violent actions; London bridges were blocked, hundreds arrested. But the group has also come under fire for neglecting more political questions of justice, power and racism.

One month since XR burst on to the UK climate scene, five climate-concerned campaigners – from both in and outside the movement – give their views:

Blueprint for Europe's Just Transition: The Green New Deal for Europe (Edition II)

By various - The Green New Deal for Europe, December 2019

Europe today confronts three overlapping crises.

The first is an economic crisis, with rising levels of poverty, insecurity, and homelessness across the continent. The second is a climate and environmental crisis, with severe consequences for Europe’s front-line communities and even more perilous ones on the horizon. And the third is a crisis of democracy. Across the continent, people are disconnected from the locus of political decision-making not only in Brussels, but also in the communities where they reside.

These crises are products of Europe’s political decisions, and they are closely bound together. The promotion of extractive growth has driven environmental breakdown, and the devotion to budget austerity — over and above the democratic needs expressed in communities across Europe — has constrained our capacity to respond to it.

A radically new approach is necessary to reverse this destructive trend — and to deliver environmental justice in Europe and around the world. We call this approach the Green New Deal for Europe, and the following report is a comprehensive policy pack-age charting a course through Europe’s just transition.

Read the report (PDF).

XR call for just transition from North Sea oil to renewable energy

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 5, 2019

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland is appealing to North Sea oil workers to support a “just transition” away from oil and towards an energy system based on renewable electricity.

“The current oil and gas workforce can and should be redeployed to replace the fossil fuel that we can no longer afford to produce”, says XR Scotland’s appeal to communities in the north-east of the country that are dependent on oil. “Without a just transition to renewable energy from sun, wind and wave, we are fucked.”

There’s no better way forward for XR than seeking alliances of this kind, in my view. So here’s the whole text of the leaflet. (And if you want to print some off and distribute them yourself, here’s a PDF version.)

Do you think you have skills that could be transferred to the renewables energy industry? YES □ NO □

Do you think that the entirety of the estimated 20 billion barrels of fossil fuel under the North Sea should be produced? YES □ NO □

Do you believe the planet can survive global hydrocarbon reservoirs being drained? YES □ NO □

Do you have children and/or grandchildren? YES □ NO □

Did you think last year, that we would be experiencing a massive fire threat to the Amazon and the Arctic regions, and the loss of the Arctic Sea ice? YES □ NO □

Are you interested in getting involved in the campaign for a planned and just transition to the renewables?

contact neil.rothnie@gmail.com. I’ll put you in touch.

A Real Extinction Rebellion Means the End of Colonialism, Imperialism, and Capitalism

By Jessica Garraway - Common Dreams, September 22, 2019

Land and Water Defender Beginnings

In 2011, as a 20 year old activist new to the environmental movement I joined up with other like-minded people for a retreat in rural Wisconsin to plan and strategize our next steps. As a Black woman, it was painfully obvious that amongst the scores of people in attendance that there were very few people of color present. However, what was even more jarring than the racial disproportionality of the retreat was the attitudes of the white activists.

We were hanging out late at night in the living room of a retreat after a long day of workshops and trainings.

The overwhelming number of white activists and their views on race and the environment came to a head for me when I was asked,

“Damn, how do we get black people to care about the environment?”

This is what a white environmentalist (with dreads no less) asked me years ago. Being new to environmental spaces, I was dumbfounded by this comment. I took a long deep sigh, and thought, aren't I Black? Didn't I spend countless hours turning people out for direct actions? It was at this moment I began to realize that I was scoring points for the organization with frontline folks while within the organization I was in a sea of white people who saw me as a token.

Yet I knew that Black people care about the environment - about lead paint in housing, parks in the neighborhood, clean water and clean air. We have to care because we are disproportionately affected by the processes of capitalist environmental degradation.

Historically “environmentalism” was not the modality through which Black people explicitly addressed these issues. It was only later that I realized the lack of orientation that white-dominated environmental groups had toward people of color, and Black people in particular, helped to reinforce the alienation of marginalized communities from the wider environmental movement.

It is no wonder that so many of our people see environmental issues as largely the concern of privileged white people. Far too often we hear more about the protection of wild places we have little access to and not about the incinerators, refineries and mines that pollute our air and water. Anti police brutality movements such as Black Lives Matter struggles have focused attention on deaths of Black people through police terror, however, it is only recently that cases like Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey, majority Black cities with no access to clean water, have gotten notice.

Because of racist housing practices like redlining, Black people have been forced to live near refineries and incinerators at higher rates compared to white people. According to a recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, white people bear the burden of 17 percent less air pollution than is generated by their own consumption. Meanwhile, Blacks and Latinos experience 56 percent and 63 percent more exposure, respectively, than is caused by their consumption. Even still, it is not the consumption habits of workers that is causing this crisis. It is a political and economic system based on the accumulation of profits and ever expanding markets that is pushing the earth over the edge. Individual actions such as taking shorter showers or passing on plastic straws is not going to change that.

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