Extinction Rebellion is getting ready for a new national rebellion calling for the government to ramp up action on the climate emergency. We asked XRLewes about its plans and goals, what it thinks of our own MP’s action in climate change – and how local people can get involved.
What’s the September Rebellion about? What will it principally involve?
The September Rebellion will run from Tuesday 1 September in London. The first two days will be focused on Parliament Square. Imagine a large, socially distanced gathering with all the good stuff you’d associate with XR actions – loads of colour, music, performance, dancing and joy. This will be a completely legal event – the Met police have OK’d it – so no chance of being arrested, and totally family friendly.
In the second week of rebellion we’re likely to see more ‘edgy’ actions, with the potential for arrests. We’ve planned it this way for a very good reason. We want our rebels to have a joyous experience over the first few days, and feel completely safe. They can then decide if they feel comfortable taking part in the more radical stuff. For those of us who are understandably nervous about travelling to London, there will be a wave of local rebellions across the UK over the Bank Holiday weekend.
The need for action on climate is now critically urgent – what are you hoping to get MPs to agree to?
You’re right; the urgency cannot be overstated. Last year saw an unprecedented number of wildfires across the globe. In Australia, over a billion creatures died. (Take a moment to think about that. A billion!) But we also saw exceptional fires in the Amazon, Siberia, Alaska, Indonesia and the Congo. Oceans are being heated with the energy of five atomic bombs exploding per second. I could go on and on….but one of XR’s latest “Heading for Extinction” talks will explain it much better.
This is with heating at 1.1 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. The latest scientific studies suggest we’re headed for somewhere between a 2.6 and a 3.9 degree rise, which doesn’t bear thinking about. But we have to face it, and take action to stop it happening.
XR’s three demands remain the same. The Government should tell the truth, act now and go beyond politics – see more on XR’s three demands here.
It’s not for us to tell the Government how to tackle the crisis – that should be their job, using the (binding) decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly. But put very bluntly, they need to do a lot more! The emergency is now part of mainstream debate, and the vast majority of the UK public are in favour of rapid action to reduce emissions. But public support doesn’t bring down emissions, halt pollution of rivers or stop ancient woodlands being felled. Only political will can achieve that.
The government is trying to position itself as committed to “building back better” in the wake of COVID-19 – are we seeing any true signs of that?
In a word, no. So far the Government has set out only £3bn in green spending. This is so inadequate that it’s being challenged in the courts. Also, other infrastructure plans like large-scale road building and HS2 (which won’t be carbon neutral for over 100 years) fly in the face of any sort of green recovery. And it’s not just the Government. Keir Starmer promised to “hardwire the Green New Deal into everything” when running for Labour leader. So far, we’ve seen no sign of that.
The EU as a bloc is doing better. But we’ve still seen huge bailouts handed to polluting industries, without any conditions attached to ensure the money will be used for a green economy and a green society. Basically, right now a great opportunity is being wasted. Governments need to do more – much more.
How can people in Lewes get involved?
If you can get on a train to London and join the rebellion, then that would be amazing! If you can only make one day, then make it the first day – Tuesday 1 September – as we need to get the rebellion started with a bang. If you’re going it’s essential that you receive training in non violent direct action. You can email talksandtraining@XRLewes.org – we’ll also be running ‘roadside’ NVDA trainings in London.
If you don’t want to go to London then don’t worry, there’s loads of other stuff you can do! In Lewes, we have actions running from Thursday 27 until Sunday 30 August. (We might allow ourselves the Monday off!) We need people to help with organising the actions, banner and prop making, stewarding, outreach and recruitment, training, media and communications, legal arrest support for the London rebellion, and regeneration and welfare. We desperately need to recruit “rebel ringers” to phone our existing members and find out what their plans are for the rebellion (it’s surprisingly enjoyable, and you’ll be fully trained.) And we need cash to make all this happen! If you’d like to get involved or donate, you can find out more here and here or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there anything different in the tactics you’re using compared to previous Rebellions? How will the action address the challenge of social distancing?
You’ll definitely see a difference. There’s likely to be less inconvenience to the public by blocking roads, etc., with the main focus being Parliament, plus the big banks and business that drive the climate emergency. It’s obviously essential that we rebel in a responsible way and observe social distancing. Doing this, while still creating a meaningful impact, is likely to be our biggest challenge.
Do you still need people who are willing to be arrested?
Yes, as we get to the ‘spicier’ actions in the second week. ‘Arrestables’ are essential to our movement – but numerically they only form a very small part of XR. There’s loads of stuff you can do if you don’t want to be arrested!
What would be the ideal outcome from the Rebellion in your view?
That is such a good question. First thing to say is that the higher the numbers, the greater the impact we can have on Parliament – so do get to London if you can!
Our first rebellion, in April 2019, succeeded brilliantly. During the next one, in October, we made some mistakes which sadly rather overshadowed all the good stuff. We need to show that we’ve learned from our mistakes, and ensure we’re acting and being seen to act in a responsible way. To be honest, if it’s a ‘consolidation rebellion’ where we can remind ourselves of the joy of rebelling (and it is a joyous, transformative experience), make a reasonable impact, and win some new friends and recruits, we’d probably take that. Then we’ll come again in the spring.
How will this all tie in with the need for global action on climate?
Globally, next year could be huge – we hope (please please please!) to see a change of government in the US, and the UK will be hosting COP-21, the global climate summit. This is a great opportunity. So far the UK government has been talking a good game about this, but again their actions don’t match their words.
They, and every other government, need to be held to account. Today’s politicians can be the ones who make the world into a cleaner, greener, more equal and just place. Or they can fiddle while the planet burns. It’s up to them.
Maria Caulfield MP has called for her own pension fund, the Parliamentary Pension Fund, to divest from fossil fuels. How supportive has she been of XR’s activities?
Interesting question! Her voting record on climate and ecological issues is absolutely dismal. However, she did attend one of our Heading for Extinction talks on Zoom when we invited her. She was engaged, and seemed particularly interested in citizens’ assemblies.
It may well be that Maria’s heart is in the right place, but that she is compromised – as most politicians are – by the system she’s operating in.
How do you see XR’s aims and actions fitting in with those of Transition Town Lewes?
Make no mistake – Covid-19 has been a huge challenge for XR. But one of the good things to come out of it is how we’ve had the time to build bridges with other action groups, including TTL, on things like pollution of the River Ouse, cycle swarms and setting up a Climate Emergency Centre. It’s been really rewarding.
The history of activism shows how momentum based, ‘big picture’ movements like XR and the more localised, granular organisations like Transition Towns have generally struggled to work well together. Well, we’re in an emergency, and working together, creating a ‘movement of movements’ is absolutely essential. We may differ in our methods, but we all want the same thing.
Learn more at http://xrlewes.org