The Extinction Rebellion (XR) has rapidly made a name for itself - by way of unleashing an unprecedented scale of non-violent direct-action (NVDA) in London.
The first phase of protests came to a head with ‘Rebellion Day 2’, in which we marched on Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. The movement is internationalising. But what next for XR in the UK?
XR is starting to facilitate actions everywhere. Of course, the thing about the climate is that it is under threat by all manner of human activities. Most obviously, the way we grow our food, what industry does, and the way we travel.
The rebellion challenges oligarchy and neoliberal capitalism for their rank excess, and the political class for its deep lack of sincerity. But the changes that will be needed to arrest the collapse of our climate and biodiversity are now so huge that this movement is concerned with nothing less than changing our whole way of life.
I live in Norwich. I’m a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia and I have thrown myself headfirst into this movement nationally - and also locally.
Our long-term aim is to create a situation in which the government can no longer ignore the determination of an increasingly large number of people to shift the world from a direct course towards climate calamity. That will only happen if the movement causes trouble everywhere, not just in London.
So, in places like Norwich - and I predict you will soon see the same happening across the country - some of us have started putting our bodies on the line for the sake of our common future.
Last week, Norwich XR undertook its first NVDA. The Councils in Norfolk are determined to build a truly appalling new road, across a river that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation.
This road would of course be a contribution to increasing our nation’s carbon emissions at the very time we need to slash them. And it would threaten to help extinguish the area’s biodiversity.
Norfolk County Council is running a sham consultation, trying to get the public to fixate on which route should be built across the Wensum, rather than on whether the road should be built at all. It is quite obvious that building a new road like this is the height of absurdity, even insanity, at a time when the UN - which is actually highly conservative in such matters - is telling us that we need to halve our carbon emissions within a decade.
We occupied the consultation exhibition space in the centre of Norwich. We presented passers-by with genuine information instead, explaining why this road is the worst of all the dreadful road projects that have been proposed/built in Norfolk, and in particular why its climate-irresponsibility is absolute and unacceptable.
We effectively shut down the ‘consultation’ for three and a half hours. There were about 50 of us. Too many to easily deal with or intimidate. So, although the managers of the space threatened to call the police on us to force us to leave, in the end they appeared not to have done so. We were able to blockade the ‘consultation’ for the whole time.
I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction we garnered from the vast majority of passers-by. I think that one reason is that we were not inconveniencing them (apart from a tiny handful who actually wanted to see the Council’s rubbish materials about the road ‘options' - but we let them through). We were inconveniencing the powers that be.
I’d like to draw a general moral from that. I believe that XR actions ought to target politicians (local and national), civil servants, the authorities, big business, the very rich – not ordinary people.
Sure, shutting down roads is a perfectly legitimate tactic, because transport emissions are killing us, and still rising. But it is often not a very effective tactic – because it often annoys ordinary people.
If we close down government departments, local Councils and parliament, executive offices, carbon-polluting factories and the like, we are far more likely to keep the broad mass of the public with us, while we civilly disobey.
Those who took part in this NVDA in Norwich, especially the many newbies to this game, were emboldened.
On 15 December, there will be a day of XR action across the UK. Norwich XR will without doubt be playing a part in that.
We already have a plan in mind to up the ante against this awesomely-terrible road-building plan whose absurdity we've put on the map.
XR is already beyond expectations - and certainly beyond London. If we are strategically and tactically smart, and keep many people on side, we will radically subvert the powers that be and the fossil economy. We might even win…
Rupert Read is a reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia.