By Matthew Taylor
A new group of “concerned citizens” is planning a campaign of mass civil disobedience starting next month and promises it has hundreds of people – from teenagers to pensioners – ready to get arrested in an effort to draw attention to the unfolding climate emergency.
The group, called Extinction Rebellion, is today backed by almost 100 senior academics from across the UK, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
In a letter published in the Guardian they say the failure of politicians to tackle climate breakdown and the growing extinction crisis means “the ‘social contract’ has been broken … [and] it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.”
Those behind Extinction Rebellion say almost 500 people have signed up to be arrested and that they plan to bring large sections of London to a standstill next month in a campaign of peaceful mass civil disobedience – culminating with a sit-in protest in Parliament Square on 17 November.
Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the campaign, said it was calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war.
On top of the specific demands, Hallam said he hoped the campaign of “respectful disruption” would change the debate around climate breakdown and signal to those in power that the present course of action will lead to disaster.
“The planet is in ecological crisis – we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event this planet has experienced,” he said. “Children alive today in the UK will face the terrible consequences of inaction, from floods to wildfires, extreme weather to crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society. We have a duty to act.”
Extinction Rebellion is part of the Rising Up activist group, and organisers have spent the past few months holding public meetings in towns and cities across the country.
Hundreds of people have gathered in libraries and meeting halls, cafes and universities, pubs and churches to hear dire warnings about the consequences of the unfolding climate emergency – and what they can do about it.
“It feels like we are tapping into something very powerful in terms of the frustration and urgency many people are feeling as the evidence mounts of the scale of the climate emergency we are facing,” said Hallam, an academic at King’s College who specialises in social change and protest. He said the group was now getting 20 requests a week from people across the UK wanting to be given the talk.
“To put it simply,” he said, “we’re fucked. From the melting ice in the Arctic to the release of methane from the permafrost, the evidence is overwhelming and people are starting to realise that. What we need now is to start working out what we are going to do about it.”