With high-profile direct actions across London, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement has captured media headlines, garnered influential supporters, and inspired a wave of participants across the globe. From blocking bridges to occupying government departments, XR has sounded alarm bells at the extinction before us, demanding a more radical response.
As global carbon emissions surge, and extreme weather ravages communities from Iraq to Uganda, the need is certainly acute. Many have indicated that the emergence of XR marks a step change in the fight to tackle climate change, with the movement well-positioned to break the deadlock of past activism, and usher in a new phase of invigorated climate politics. Even the Financial Times has paid notice to the fact that ‘tediously law-abiding, taxpaying homeowners’ are now among the activists getting arrested and taking action.
Yet XR has also faced a range of criticisms not unfamiliar to the environmental movement. The movement’s embracing attitude to the police, the absence of safe spaces policies, and its particular messaging, have echoed longstanding questions around the inclusivity and priorities of the environmental movement.
On November 17th, as thousands of XR participants blocked bridges across the Thames, just hundreds of yards away, 30,000 people marched as part of a major demonstration against racism and fascism. This moment symbolises perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to the systemic change we need, as surmised by sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos: ‘the tragedy of our time is that domination is united and resistance is fragmented.’
As XR sets its sights higher and expands internationally, the need for a critical conversation about its role and potential within a more potent global climate movement gain importance.
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