Exploring The Extinction Rebellion: What Have They Taught Us?

extinction rebellion


The Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement has been in the press a lot lately, blocking roads, holding up the House of Commons and holding non-violent protests all around London. Spurred by the increasingly urgent climate crisis, XR are demanding governments take meaningful action, and quickly.

Based on an IPCC report that there are only 12 years remaining in which to reverse climate change effects, the group has chosen an hourglass logo to represent how we are running out of time. The collective has certainly made people stand up and pay attention, with PR consultants Pagefield stating that XR have aroused unprecedented levels of participation and “extraordinary levels of awareness that many brands can only dream of.” The group is certainly not without its critics, but here’s what they can teach us all.

The youth are humanity’s greatest hope

XR is an impressive force, and many of its most passionate and effective members are surprisingly young. The simple truth is that the youth of the world have been the ones to take up the responsibility of addressing the crisis despite apathy and resistance from older generations.

If anything, the movement has reminded us of the power of ardent idealism to redress serious injustices – injustices that affect us all. XR relentlessly asks us to think ahead, to the future, and about those of us who will be forced to live in the world we are creating now. And they’re succeeding: the movement has so far pressured several councils and local authorities to declare climate emergencies and start taking real action.

We can longer afford to be squeamish about the truth

This leads to another way in which the XR is different from climate activism to date. Many people perhaps unconsciously hope that environmental activism can be effective without necessitating too much change or inconvenience. The XR group can teach us to face facts with unflinching clarity: it is no longer enough to pay lip service to our global crisis while continuing with the status quo.

The old message was: do what you can, and every bit helps. The XR movement asks far more of us: we have no choice at this point but to make significant changes and face uncomfortable truths head-on. The group’s 3 demands are crystal clear – tell the truth, reduce emissions to zero by 2025 and create a Citizen’s Assembly to oversee changes. This directness and bravery is certainly inspiring.

Everyone is involved, and communication is key

The people orchestrating the movement are smart, and they’re serious about what they’re doing. They remind us of something that it’s all too easy to forget: that certain problems are so big that they can’t be tackled by just one person. The group has risen to logistical challenges by developing their own sophisticated means of communication. Despite their broad demographic, they’ve coordinated civil disobedience on an impressive scale.

The movement is a thoroughly modern one, and implicitly teaches us that if we are to move effectively as one, humanity needs to embrace and work with its diversity. The group not only works hard to maintain a dynamic online presence, to manage their resources, to deal with media, and to stand down resistance with poise and conviction – they do so with openness to new members, new ideas and new suggestions. It truly is a movement of a new breed – and even those who don’t agree with their tactics can take a page from their book when it comes to truly coherent action.

Changes that matter start with mindset

The conversation around climate change is itself changing. Humanity has never faced a problem of this kind before, or of this scale. XR is serving as an early model for how we think about ourselves, our place in the global community, and our culpability as individuals in making a difference.

By bravely risking their own arrest and more, these activists are demonstrating a commitment to something that goes beyond private individual interest, and beyond the comfort of denial. The group is going further than its predecessors, towards completely reframing our entire way of life. Rather than positioning environmental protection as an optional niche interest, the hard-nosed group tells it like it is: “ecocide” should be illegal under the law, and if we don’t act soon, we are not simply harming the environment, but causing our own extinction.

The XR movement is still in its infancy, and there’s no doubt that some missteps are to be expected. But perhaps the greatest lesson we can take from the organisation is that we need to act, despite our fear and uncertainty, and despite being unprepared, if we hope to survive the oncoming crisis.

Author – Ruby Clarkson.

Ruby Clarkson is a freelance writer who is passionate about our planet and the animals that we share it with. When she is not writing, she is either out in the garden or wrapped up in a blanket with a good book. Accompanied by a bar of chocolate of course.