Extinction Rebellion have begun a bank holiday weekend’s worth of protests, targeting regional airports, HS2 sites and the headquarters of oil companies ahead of mass gatherings in major cities.
Thousands of people are expected to gather in London, Manchester and Cardiff for days, perhaps weeks, of protest from September 1. As with former ‘uprisings’, demonstrators are expected undertake a number of different forms of non-violent disruption, including blocking traffic and leading large-scale marches.
Protests in the coming days and weeks will directly target seats of power – political, financial and industrial – with campaigners heading to Westminster and the headquarters of major banks.
Chris Newman, a GP who worked at a Nightingale Hospital during lockdown and founded Doctors for XR, said: “The government have signalled that Covid is now controlled enough for schools to reopen.
“But just as children need an education to have successful lives, they need a planet that isn’t wrecked by short sightedness, in order to be healthy.
“With this is mind returning to the streets to peacefully protest government negligence is our duty and our right.”
Ahead of the action the environmental group accused the Met Police of “trying to crush” protests after they were sent an open letter by Scotland Yard reminding them of Covid restrictions on mass gatherings – despite political campaigners like Extinction Rebellion being exempt from the regulations.
But what do the protesters actually want?
In a nutshell, they are calling on the government to address the issue of climate change much more urgently. They are appealing to lawmakers to “take responsibility and enact immediate, profound and sweeping changes to address this present-day crisis”.
Although many people in recent years have taken steps to live a more sustainable life – think bamboo straws and reusable shopping bags – the activists want government to take much bigger steps to limit climate change.
Poppy Silk, 19, a Bristol University student and member of Extinction Rebellion Youth, said: “During the pandemic, the government has proved that they are unable to keep us safe in the face of emergency.
“Now is the time for adults to listen to young people and join the youth in demanding the government address the climate and ecological crisis in a way that addresses the deepening inequality in our society. We have signed petitions, striked from school for two years and still they refuse to care about our futures.
“As Greta Thunburg says, when it comes to action the world’s leaders are still in a state of denial.”
Extinction Rebellion itself is founded on three central tenets: “tell the truth”, “act now” and “beyond politics”.
The first of these calls upon government to acknowledge the dire need to confront climate change, by declaring a climate and ecological emergency and working with as many organisations as necessarily to facilitate change as urgently as possible.
The second demand protestors are making is for the government to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2025 and halt biodiversity loss – the extinction of both plant and animal species.
In June 2019, Theresa May’s government committed to cutting emissions to zero by 2050. But Extinction Rebellion has said that this target does not go far enough to protect the planet.
Third, campaigners want the issue to be resolved “beyond politics”, calling for government to form – and be led by – a citizen’s assembly which would deal with issues around “climate and ecological justice”.
This demand was partially met in Autumn 2019, when 30,000 people were invited by the government to take part in a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change.
While the step was welcomed by activists, Extinction Rebellion have spoken publicly about why the current process is inadequate.
One of the main concerns revolves around the fact that the current Assembly has only been allowed to address how to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – which many campaigners say is far too late to achieve any meaningful change.
No interrogation of why 2050 is an inadequate target for net zero has been allowed during the assembly.
Extinction Rebellion have also raised concerns with the fact that the Assembly is advisory only, which means the government can totally ignore its findings if it chooses to do so.
Crucially, six parliamentary select committees commissioned the Assembly, but the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has not taken part despite being immediately relevant to the conversation – raising questions about what – if anything – will be done with the recommendations.