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What Is Extinction Rebellion?

This radical ecologist movement is characterised by its non-violent action and its wish to spark off an epiphany in the minds of citizens and governments over the need for a paradigm shift to prevent the destruction of living beings. Here are some explanations.

Extinction Rebellion defines itself as “an international civil disobedience movement combatting ecological collapse and climate chaos”.

Its name is often shortened to XR, like in its logo. Social, ecologist and international, it stands up for the use of non-violent civil disobedience to prompt governments to take action to avoid tipping points in the climate system and the loss of biodiversity, and to address the risk of social and ecological collapse.

Its logo symbolises ongoing mass extinction, with a sand timer in the middle of the Earth showing that the days of many species are numbered, the sand timer also being the X in XR.

History and modus operandi of Extinction Rebellion

Its origins

The movement came about in the UK, in 2016, when a group of British activists set up Rising Up!, a movement aimed at protection of the environment via direct action and civil disobedience. In 2018, some of its members sought more effective ways of taking action than standard street demonstrations. Extinction Rebellion appeared in May 2018, and its founders include Tasmin Osmond and George Barda, who took part in the Occupy London social movement, as well as Gail Bragbook, a Doctor of Biophysics, and Roger Hallam, a farmer and civil disobedience researcher. However, Extinction Rebellion has neither a leader nor a hierarchy. This movement draws its inspiration from the actions of the Occupy London movement, and the philosophy of protest via non-violence and civil disobedience advocated by Gandhi, as well as those of the suffragettes. Its founding principles also include kindness between members, no blaming of individuals and autonomy of the crews. This is how the movement brings together children, senior citizens and students alike, and people from all social classes.

Its official setup

On 26 October 2018, UK newspaper The Guardian printed an opinion piece signed by some 100 academics calling for urgent action amid the ecological crisis and stating their support of the Extinction Rebellion collective.

On 31 October 2018, the movement was officially launched by a declaration of rebellion in front of the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the UK Parliament in London. Some 1,000 people took part, including two members of the UK Green Party and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. A week of militant actions followed, including “rebellion day” (17 November 2018), during which London’s five main bridges were blocked off. Since then, Extinction Rebellion has spread to a great many countries such as India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, the USA, Quebec, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and France.

The Extinction Rebellion modus operandi

Its modus operandi involves lots of spectacular high-impact actions, like occupying parts of cities. Its members go right ahead and stick themselves to public buildings with superglue, obstructing road traffic and preventing access to major companies’ head offices.

The first “international week of rebellion” was staged from 15-21 April 2019. In London, large numbers of militants blocked iconic places such as Oxford Circus, Marble Arch and Oxford Street for some ten days. They staged a “die-in” at the Natural History Museum, whereby some 100 people lay down on the floor under the skeleton of a blue whale. These actions led to more than 1,000 arrests and forced the UK Parliament to declare a “state of climate emergency” pursuant to a motion tabled by the Labour Party. Proof that it can work?

Extinction Rebellion in France

The French branch came into being in November 2018 and carried out its first action on 24 March 2019, on place de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Square) in Paris, where several hundred militants and like-minded people stated that they were taking part in a rebellion. In February 2019, 260 Swiss, French and Belgian researchers stated their support for Extinction Rebellion in French daily Le Monde and Belgian newspaper Le Soir. At the same time, a die-in in tribute to extinct species and those going extinct took place in the Great Hall of the Natural History Museum (Muséum d’histoire naturelle) in Paris. In April 2019, during the “international week of rebellion”, French militants were prompted by Greenpeace, ANV-COP21 and Friends of the Earth to block access to a branch of the Ministry of Ecological Transition and the Total, EDF and Société Générale towers in La Défense. The second “international week of rebellion” started in France on 5 October 2019 with the occupation and obstruction of access to the Italie Deux shopping centre in the 13th district of Paris. Then, from 7 October, the activists occupied the place du Châtelet square and the pont au Change bridge in Paris.

In mid-April 2022, between the two rounds of the presidential election, some 1,000 people flocked to the Porte de St Denis section of the Grands Boulevards area of Paris, turning the place into a big public forum where anyone could air their views on failure to take action on climate issues and the solutions needed.

The four main demands of Extinction Rebellion

Extinction rebellion France - WE ARE CLEAN - CLEAN LIVING

The movement orchestrates its actions around four key demands

1. Recognition of the seriousness of the current ecological crises and honest communication on the subject

Governments, elected officials and businesses must recognise the unprecedented threats to the entire biosphere, including humanity. They must openly take their share of responsibility for the destruction of ecosystems, climate change and the depletion of natural resources. They must also recognise the profound incompatibility between the current economic development model based on growth and profit and the limits of our planet.

2. Immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, through reduced consumption and planned energy descent.

“Good intentions”, “non-binding agreements” and “roadmaps” will not change the situation. The government must be forced to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

3- An immediate halt to the destruction of marine and land-based ecosystems, which is causing a large-scale extinction of living beings.

The ongoing extermination of life on Earth is on a scale comparable to the great geological extinctions. The destruction of ecosystems, animal and plant species through overexploitation and pollution is a direct consequence of the development of our modern societies. Compensatory measures are doing nothing to stop the ongoing mass extermination. Biodiversity must be recognised and respected for its intrinsic value, and not only for the “services” that it provides. We need to fight for societies to humbly acknowledge their place in the biosphere and engage in an ecological restoration process commensurate with the damage caused.

4- The formation of a citizens’ assembly responsible for deciding on the measures to be put in place to meet these objectives and ensuring that the transition is fair and equitable.

Supported by a great many famous people, from English actress Emma Thompson to the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and from the Mayor of Geneva to Nobel Prize winners, hated by some politicians, Extinction Rebellion is both fascinating and divisive. In any case, in the space of four years, and despite the pandemic, the movement has succeeded in making itself high profile and newsworthy through its high-impact actions, to the point of attracting criticism even from other ecologist movements. Some see Extinction Rebellion as eco-fascist, others as good-natured, and others still see it as unrealistic idealism proposing no concrete solutions… You be the judge.

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