On 15 April, the Extinction Rebellion group began a protest against climate change in London which is now entering its second week. Since the start of the protest, more than 1,000 people have been arrested and over 50 have been charged, in what organisers have described as the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.
Extinction Rebellion is an international protest group that uses non-violent civil disobedience to campaign on environmental issues. Demonstrations have included blocking bridges to traffic in London and a semi-naked protest inside the House of Commons. The group says climate breakdown threatens all life on Earth, and so it is rebelling against politicians who “have failed us”, to provoke radical change that will stave off a climate emergency.
On Sunday 21 April, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist, spoke at the Extinction Rebellion’s camp at Marble Arch.
The Nobel Peace Prize nominee said: “We are now facing an existential crisis, the climate crisis and ecological crisis which have never been treated as crises before, they have been ignored for decades. And for way too long the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything. We will make sure that the politicians will not get away with it for any longer.”
Oscar winning actress and writer Emma Thompson also joined the protesters, saying it was the “first real hopeful movement I’ve joined”.
Speaking from the blockade at Oxford Circus, she said: “Our Planet is in deep danger, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are going to face problems the likes of which we cannot even begin to imagine. Unfortunately our governments haven’t listened to us, so now we have to make them listen.”
Makeshift camps at Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge have now been cleared and protesters left Marble Arch on Monday 22 April, after eight days of occupation. Later the same afternoon, at least 100 protesters laid down under the blue whale skeleton at the Natural History Museum in a coordinated “die in” and it was suggested a similar disruptive action would take place at Parliament Square on Tuesday 23 April. The Metropolitan police said it was imposing pre-emptive conditions restricting any demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday to the lawn in the centre of the square.
Ronan McNern, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, told The Guardian: “We think they want everything cleared by the end of the week. People are willing to be arrested. There is a deep sense we do not want to be attached to any single site. What this disruption is doing, we are the news now. It is making people talk in pubs and buses about Extinction Rebellion. It makes them think about their existence which is under threat.”
However, demonstrators have suggested temporarily ending disruptive tactics to focus on political negotiations, as the campaign enters its second week.
As a solution to the “climate breakdown and ecological collapse that threaten our existence” Extinction Rebellion is proposing three key steps. The government must, in their words, “tell the truth” about the scale of the crisis the world now faces. Secondly, the UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. The third step is the formation of a Citizens’ Assembly to “oversee the changes” that will be needed to achieve this goal.
The Metropolitan police said that as of 10am on Monday, 1,065 arrests had been made and 53 people charged in relation to the protests and it has needed support from about 200 officers from other forces to deal with the protests, which have been peaceful.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said 9,000 officers had been involved in policing the protest so far.
He told The Guardian: “I share the passion about tackling climate change of those protesting, and support the democratic right to peaceful and lawful protest, but this is now taking a real toll on our city – our communities, businesses and police. This is counter-productive to the cause and our city.”