Extinction Rebellion


Text and images by: Charlotte Balchin

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THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Read more..


Charlotte Balchin is a student at the University of Birmingham where she primarily studies climate ethics, development economics and migration. She also helps run the University Environmental society and has been a youth leader on the topic of climate change. Charlotte participated in the Extinction Rebellion protests that were held in London on the 15th April. She has written a first hand account for our newsletter this week. Charlotte is currently a virtual intern with eCoexist.

Charlotte Balchin is part of the Virtual Internship programme run by eCoexist along with the University of Birmingham. To read more about the Virtual Internship Programme click here.

What is Extinction Rebellion? 

Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated as XR) is a socio-political movement which uses nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.

This week I took part in Extinction’s Rebellion week of International Rebellion in London. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a group demanding that governments take far more rapid action against climate change, for example in the UK by demanding that the country is carbon-neutral by 2025. Despite the existence of a Green Party in the UK, the party does not have a lot of influence politically and so is likely to be dominated by other political parties’ views. The Green Party, so far has therefore, not been able to get the government to pass radical climate policies like those demanded by many activist groups. Consequently, Extinction Rebellion as a group, has attracted many people who realise a need for and want more rapid social and political change regarding the environment. Extinction Rebellion was founded in London in October 2018 by activists from an environmental group ‘Rising up!’ and support from 100 academics who declared a need for action.

The Extinction Symbol was created in January 2011 by ESP, an artist from London. It represents the Holocene or Sixth Mass Extinction.The idea of the movement is that there needs to be a social ‘rebellion’ through protest to avoid human (and other) extinction in the future due to climate change. So far it’s spread to over 31 countries.

The Extinction Rebellion website

Protest as a medium of education

The group intends to force governments to change through mass civil disobedience: non-violent protests or other tactics like raising awareness of the scale of the climate issue through talks and workshops. Within the UK there appears a general awareness of environmental issues, particularly within younger generations, however until recently there has not been much in mainstream media for those who are not environmentally-minded to engage with. This has meant that a small number of people have been undertaking environmental action and advocacy, however the majority are merely aware of climate change as a fact, but not engaged in making personal changes or campaigning for more systemic ones.

Does civil unrest bring about change?

My personal experience in the protests this week was one of offerring care and wellbeing: I was playing a support role, giving food, water, acting as someone to talk to or to give those being arrested, emotional help and general advice if needed. I have attended talks and Extinction Rebellion Youth sessions previously, so had some experience of the movement before this week, however had not appreciated the extent of it within the UK or worldwide until this week.

The media so far has been very divided on their opinions of the protests, some highlighting that without civil unrest and outcry often big, systemic change of the type that is needed to deal with climate change does not occur. Others condemned the protest as disruptive without a just cause, or consisting predominantly of those more privileged who do not understand that economic disruption such as coming into work late or not being able to work is likely to be hugely significant for many people.

Personally, I think it is difficult to strike a balance between causing mass disruption economically and physically in the streets, so that the government see a need and want for change, and acknowledging that economic disruption can disrupt the livelihoods of those who do not bear the most responsibility for climate change. It is important therefore to use protest as a tool for change, but only as far as it is effective more than detrimental. The Extinction Rebellion protests this week have caught media and some government attention, and while the focus on climate change needs to be maintained, other strategies such as more direct negotiation should now also be initiated so that the demands of the movement can be more explicitly and tangibly met. Hopefully this will start to occur in the upcoming weeks.

I do think that the protests have been effective, especially with many more places around the world joining in, although it is necessary to address criticisms and continue the pace of the protest so that pressure on the government and polluting corporations can be maintained over the long-term and the movement does not die out. In my opinion, the uniting and supportive atmosphere of the movement, has been very affirming psychologically for those involved. So there definitely appears potential for the movement to continue indefinitely. It is important however to maintain a focus on those who may feel disrupted, alienated or frustrated with the protests as feelings such as these may encourage backlash and obstacles to policy and social change.

Due to the adaptive nature of the movement, I believe that it can be sustained in the long term, however with no clear leadership currently it will be interesting to see how actions and protest develop. Politicians have met with environmental activists very recently after last week’s protests; it’s unclear so far if this has lead to further environmental commitment or merely been an attempt to pacify protesters after over 1000 arrests last week and the police force now very stretched. It is encouraging that the UK has ratified the recent Paris Climate Agreement, has taken some action to mitigate climate change and now met with activists, although many argue that so far this is not enough if we are to meet the target of no more than 2 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels.

Previous mass-mobilisation and protest within the UK have been effective in changing policy and society, for example the suffragette movement in the early 20th century which gained women the right to vote. There is a long history of civil disobedience and protest within the UK, many people also often acknowledging influences from movements such as the USA’s Civil Rights Movement and the Indian Independence Movement.


What moves people to drastic action?

How is Extinction Rebellion different?

In taking part in these protests and a number of regional Extinction Rebellion groups (due to living in two different cities as a university student), I have learned a lot very quickly about organising mass protest and campaigns. Extinction Rebellion as a movement stands out to me from other movements due to its organisation of non-violent training for everyone planning to attend protests and briefings to ensure everyone agrees with the intent and purpose of the protests and activism.

The scale of support infrastructures organised for the protest however is unlike anything I would have considered before: coaches were organised to bring people to London (and other places) for free, kitchens were created for the week, wellbeing and first-aid tents erected, cycle messengers were recruited and many, many more people were involved in supporting the protest such as through managing media accounts, giving speeches, making artwork and handling finance just to mention a few.

My previous thought around protest was very much that individuals would gather for a cause and yet there would not be a uniting and supportive infrastructure. Experiencing otherwise during this week has really opened my eyes to how a sustainable and well-thought out protest can be created. This is something I feel, is extremely important, if mass-mobilisation of people can maintain a clear and united focus, and steadily endure the long years that it may take to tackle these issues.

A tent for creating environmental artwork and painting protest materials
Extinction Rebellion India
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The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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