I feel the same glimmers of hope as when the end of Apartheid was nigh.
Climate activists Extinction Rebellion need to think global, act local to meet its ambitious aim of reducing the country’s carbon emissions to zero by 2025 through direct action. This means taking on capitalism and big business by building support in local communities.
This is the advice from more than 50 subscribers to The Ecologist newsletter who responded to the question ‘what should XR do next?’ on Friday, and ahead of today’s announcement that Michael Gove, the environment minister, will meet representatives from the group.
The question was posed after a poll showed that 90 percent of newsletter subscribers fully supported XR following its shutdown of central London, and its direct actions across towns and cities in the UK and the rest of Europe.
“Call out the real beast which is the economic system of neoliberal capitalism,” proposed John Otvos, 71, a retired loudspeaker manufacturer from Woodville, Nova Scotia, Canada. He was among 15 respondents (or 29 percent) who wanted capitalism or big business to be the target of XR actions.
Martin Davies, 59, retired from Milton Keynes was among those arrested during the actions in London. He said XR should “widen and scale up civil disobedience as much as possible including a general strike.”
Gerður Pálmadottir, a lifelong entrepreneur from Hafnarfjordur, Iceland, wants the group to “demand a return to the origin and purpose of economics, which was to make a system enabling all members of society to thrive together on the gifts of earth and the returns of hard work.
He added: “The soft measure to reach that is to demand a Unconditional Basic Income on earth. It will free a lot of people from useless work and steer them into purpose fulfillment, such as re-greening the earth. Teaming up with Earth in order to avoid our own extinction is a purpose worth striving for.”
Felicity Radford, 71, a retired librarian from Bristol, was arrested at the XR protests and was also among the respondents who wanted to target big business. “They should target ecocidal companies to warn them that their time is up unless they change their policies,” she said, adding: “Then, after a pause to see how the government responds, do another massive occupation of London if necessary.”
Margarette Green, 69, from Devizes, wants to “lobby the banks to divest fossils and regenerate forests” while Jill Bruce, 68, the Women’s Institute Climate Ambassador, wants to “avoid disrupting public transport” and instead “target businesses that are adding to the climate change problem”.
Lesley Grahame, 59, a nurse from Norwich, spoke for many when he said XR should “build capacity, target guilty corporations - fossil fuels, finance, big armaments.” Liz Jensen, a writer from Copenhagen, told The Ecologist: XR could invite the corporations causing the worst damage to imagine featuring in future school exam questions about Eco Criminals of History.”
Jim, a land manager from Co Clare in Ireland, said: “Focus on retail, polluting industries and intensive agricultural activities. The highlighting of the high nutrient and energy use by these sectors feeds into the wasteful consumption model of capitalism.
“The retail and online retailers should also be disrupted by protest. The high consumption model of wasteful resource use facilitated by and encouraged by advertising and branding of goods often created in states with poor labour and environmental safeguards, cannot often be highlighted in the countries of manufacture, they can however be highlighted at point of retail.”
Conor Mcdonald, 46, a property owner and manager from Liverpool, concluded: “Let’s start hitting companies and businesses that are committing ecocide. Name and shame. Hit their pockets. If we educate people and they in turn stop using these services, companies will have to change.”
There was also strong support for XR lobbying politicians to bring about change. The second key demand of the group is that the government should declare a climate emergency and introduce the radical target of reducing carbon emissions down to zero by 2025. They have secured meetings with Gove, while Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has ensured there will be a vote in the House of Commons.
Marion Winslow, 64, a psychotherapist from Reading, said: “Ask for a commitment from governments to do everything humanly possible to get a worldwide commitment to act in concert in directly reducing and then eliminating fossil fuel extraction as Mike Berners-Lee argues in his book There is No Planet B.
“Probably through effective use of carbon pricing combined with the 'human technology' of effective communication/Nonviolent Communication and the existing experts in global governance and its challenges. The proposals in the book could also be introduced into citizenship education in schools on a rapid timescale.”
Micheal Shea, 63, retired and living in Sydney, Australia, said that XR should “become more involved in the political process and in more political decision making, politics is responsible for the state the world is in [today].”
There was also a clear call for XR to focus on local action, and for its members and supporters to build vibrant, inclusive and creative groups in their own communities. Schools were also seen as an important space for winning hearts and minds.
Rita Bouchard, 54, from Los Angeles, works in education and said: “Since most educators in some way, shape, or form know and care about climate change, the next thing XR should move on is creating discussion starters.
“The discussion / dialogue starters could be used to gauge student feelings about the climate and set into place inquiry projects where kids can think of solutions. The younger the kids the better, because most kids love the earth and all the organisms that share it. And they have not been so stifled [that they cannot] have creative solutions.
If climate change [action has a] sense of urgency for them, they won’t stop talking about the ideas they have. Teachers willing to implement a participatory curriculum will allow those ideas (however crazy) to be heard and give voice to those kids. This will set into action a praxis leading to self-generating self-motivating community that feels power to change “what is”...Who doesn’t love a youngster who wants to affect change!”
Jacquie Mercer, 59, a technical writer from Cambridge, said: “Could XR block the traffic in a different city each week, going around the country? Could XR be active with the school children who miss school on Fridays? Could campaigners offer to go into schools - on Fridays - to take part in lessons or hold meetings in breaks?”
Mark Keir, 59, a gardener from West Drayton, took part in the London actions and was among those who were arrested suggested that XR activists “take a breather from national actions to regenerate and to consider successes and failings, what to do better and how to escalate.
“Autumn might seem a good time for the next national action though we live in very fluid times. In the meantime, local actions should serve to keep us in the news and public awareness. Personally, I would like to see a revival of the Earth Marches but with direct interaction with communities on the way - such as the Extinction Speech, or engagement with local environmental and social care campaigns.”
The style and ethics of XR was also important to those who responded. There was a call for XR to “keep upping the ante in creative ways, stay loving, demonstrate a better way of being with others,” and also to “become more radical - in a good way.” Other respondents said the actions should be “peaceful” and “cause no harm”
More than 50 readers of The Ecologist gave their views to participate in this article. A total of 23 described themselves as members of XR, while 16 took place in the London direct actions. Three were arrested (and made clear they were happy to have this reported).
Carl Blumanthal, 58, a vet from South Africa, who took part in the London protests, captured the mood when he said XR must “not let up! I think what has been achieved is marvellous. It represents the beginning of the Great Turning. I hear the first creakings of the machine and feel hope… I feel the same glimmers of hope as when the end of Apartheid was nigh.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.