A civil rights movement to save the planet

Children protesting
In an age of selfishness, the achievements of Extinction Rebellion prove we are still capable of taking collective action.


Storm Deirdre was sweeping across the UK as members of my local Extinction Rebellion group in Cornwall unfurled banners to capture the attention of drivers coming on and off the ferry across the Tamar River.

As we stood there being battered by wind and rain while cars, buses and lorries fed by fossil fuels rolled off the ferry, it was easy to wonder what difference we were actually making. Yet many of the people driving their vehicles honked their horns in support and we responded with waves and songs.

Just over a month later, on 22 January this year, Cornwall Council passed a motion declaring a climate emergency and calling on central government to provide the powers and resources necessary to enable Cornwall to become a net zero carbon emitter by 2030. Similar motions are being declared up and down the UK by local councils at parish, town, district, metropolitan and county level.

Political community

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Extinction Rebellion’s message – and the need driving it – is this: time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis of runaway climate breakdown, mass extinctions of species, and the unravelling of planetary systems that support all life.

Extinction Rebellion is a movement for civil disobedience born out of recognition that existing political institutions, national and international, are incapable of generating the political will to meet the urgency of the time.

By generating political will organised through a culture of decentralisation and regeneration, Extinction Rebellion is bridging imaginative capacities from the ideas of European liberal humanism (with its story of the individual as hero against the forces of society pushing down on him/her) into a story sourced in recognising interconnectedness as a vital need not only for ecological resilience, but also for deepening human experience.

Through this recognition that interconnection is at the root of resilient systems, it is helping citizens discover unused capacities in political community. I explain below what I mean by political community, as opposed to an ordinary sense of community, by reference to Murray Bookchin’s idea of social ecology and Karl Marx’s distinction between human rights (droits de l’homme) and civil rights or civil liberties (droits de citoyen).

Whilst the views given here are mine rather than those of the movement, they have evolved out of my membership of my local Extinction Rebellion group in Cornwall and of Extinction Rebellion UK’s stewardship and strategy teams.

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This Author 

Mothiur Rahman is a non-practising solicitor specialising in public law, planning and governance. He is a co-founder of the Community Chartering Network and is setting up a legal innovation lab called New Economy Law. He is a member of the political strategy team for Extinction Rebellion UK. 

Image: Nuala O'Leary, Extinction Rebellion

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