‘Taking the streets’: Extinction Rebellion’s climate strategy is catching on
MIDDLEBURY — What was striking about Dan Batten’s Extinction Rebellion Vermont presentation at Ilsley Public Library recently wasn’t the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence pointing to potential climate catastrophe — it was the amount of brand-new information:
•In a paper released in May titled “Existential Climate-Related Security Risk,” the Australian National Center for Climate Restoration suggested that “climate change now represents a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization.”
•On May 8, Rolling Stone magazine reported that, according to the International Monetary Fund, the United States has spent more money subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years ($649 billion in 2015 alone) than it has spent on the entire budget for the Pentagon ($599 billion the same year).
•At the same time, UN scientists warned that up to 1 million species were at risk of going extinct, some within decades, which would endanger Earth’s life-support systems — and eventually humanity.
•Last month, while U.S. farmers in the Midwest continued to struggle with catastrophic flooding, temperatures surpassed 120 degrees F in India and Pakistan.
•According to a June 5 article in Forbes magazine, an appellate judge with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Ore., suggested that evidence presented by the 21 young plaintiffs suing the U.S. government over climate change showed possible “criminal neglect” by the government. But it would take another six months to decide whether the suit could go forward.
After detailing corporate cover-ups, government inaction, political district gerrymandering and new (and sometimes more dire) climate science, Batten in his June 6 presentation concluded that “the system as it exists today” is not capable of addressing the current climate crisis.
“We’ve voted,” he said. “We’ve gone to court. We’ve sent sternly worded letters. We have to do more. Instead of doing all those things that aren’t working, we choose to rebel. We’re going to fight back.”
Extinction Rebellion, which styles itself as “XR,” was launched in the United Kingdom in 2018, not long after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that “rapid and far-reaching” reductions in carbon emissions must be achieved by 2030 in order to avoid setting the Earth on a course toward irreversible climate catastrophe.
A U.S. Extinction Rebellion group launched soon afterward.
“We declare nonviolent rebellion against the U.S. government for its criminal inaction on the ecological crisis,” XR U.S. announced on its website.
Activists list the following four demands, which are slightly different from the British group, and which they say are “in the process of development”:
•The government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and work with media to communicate the urgency for change.
•The government must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases.
•“We demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.”
•“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.”
The last demand, for “climate justice,” is a critical component of the U.S. XR movement, Batten said.
Extinction Rebellion has been criticized for making “unreasonable” demands, especially around achieving net zero emissions by 2025, which would require radical political, economic and societal change.
XR VT shut down the Vermont House of Representatives in May, which led to the arrests of three protestors, and the group has promised to return to Montpelier when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Similar actions are taking place, or being planned, around the world.
This spring a series of protests closed five bridges in London, snarling traffic and bringing the city to a halt. More than 1,000 people were arrested. In response, the UK Parliament soon afterward passed a motion declaring an environmental and climate emergency.
Author and climate activist Bill McKibben issued a public thank-you to the group in April:
“Everybody’s paying attention,” he said in a video message. “Everybody’s inspired. You’ve put your finger on the key issue of our time and put it on in a way that makes people notice.”
Though still in its infancy (there were 10 people at the Ilsley presentation), XR VT is building “affinity groups” around the state — which at the moment include Brattleboro, Burlington, Montpelier and the Upper Valley, where 65 people showed up for the first meeting — and will be working with allies and regional groups to organize future nonviolent direct actions, some for this summer.
Batten will give XR VT presentations in other Vermont locations in the coming weeks, he said, and hopes to establish an Addison County affinity group in the near future.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
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