9 Insights From Working With Extinction Rebellion

From the 23rd of August to the 4th of September 2021 I conducted Media Monitoring for the Extinction Rebellion media team, analysing every article about XR during the protest. Having conducted similar work on behalf of XR for the 2019 international rebellion, I am probably one of the best positioned people on the planet to emphasise the merits, successes and criticisms of the world’s most effective climate protest infrastructure. Below I have provided the 9 key insights from analysing the 2021 rebellion.

  1. Every article that criticised Extinction Rebellion failed to mention the Paris Goals and the IPCC report.

  2. With 650 groups in 45 countries, XR has become the greatest global infrastructure for the participation in climate protest.

  3. XR’s most effective when representing the global climate struggle and represents those that cannot stage internationally significant protest or may not be able to protest at all because of political repression. XR exhibited this political and moral leadership through actions outside the Brazilian Embassy against the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and the destruction of indigenous communities.

  4. The media and social media coverage of XR events in London makes it representative of the global climate crises. Media outlets like the Guardian, the BBC, and the Times are enjoyed globally and news on Social Media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are communicated to all countries.

  5. XR seem scared of engaging with the question of China which is understandable given Chinese aggression towards criticism. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the question of China’s use of fossil fuels. 85% of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels. 60% from coal. It has been reported that China is adding ‘three new highly efficient coal mines each month’ and a 2019 Greenpeace East Asia study indicates that China has put over five times more coal power into the Belt and Road Initiative than into wind and solar, moreover, through the Belt and Road initiative ‘China’s commercial banks face few restrictions on funding coal fired plants’, with coal plants being built in European sites like Bosnia and Herzegovnia.

  6. Extinction Rebellion did a very good job of associating themselves with the IPCC science. While we have political representatives working in response to the IPCC Science, Extinction Rebellion are the most significant participatory expression of the climate anxiety and communication of the 6th IPCC report.

  7. The climate struggle is essentially a strategy game. This game must be introduced in every discussion on the climate crises. It has four parts:

    – The idea that humans are responsible for the climate crises as a consequence of burning carbon.

    – The IPCC predictions of the rate of global warming – the latest report suggests that ‘we are now expected to release enough carbon emissions to cause the planet to warm by 1.5 C by 2040, although with the current trajectory of emissions this will likely be closer to 2034’.

    – The international climate goals signed by 197 countries: staying below 2 C by the end of the century and preferably to 1.5 C.

    – The predictions of what happens at every stage of warming. For instance:

 ‘at two degrees, the ice sheets will begin their collapse, 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unliveable, and even in the northern latitudes heat waves will kill thousands each summer. At three degrees, southern Europe would be in permanent drought, and the average drought in Central America would last 19 months longer and in the Carribean twenty one months longer. In northern Africa, the figure is sixty months longer – five years. The areas burned each year by wildfires would double in the Mediterranean and sextuple, or more, in the Untied States. At four degrees, there would be eight million more cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone and close to annual global food crises… Damages from river flooding would grow thirty fold in Bangladesh, twentyfold in India, and as much as sixtyfold in the United Kingdom… Conflict and war could double’ (David Wallace Wells, the Uninhabitable Earth, Page 12)

If you can understand these four points, then you are able to understand and communicate the climate struggle.

8. The electoral significance of Extinction Rebellion’s Impossible Rebellion: The most significant evidence of XR’s influence on politicians is to be found through the Guardian reporting how, at the same time XR protests were to begin around the London Stock Exchange, the Liberal Democrats introduced a policy that ‘new listings of fossil fuel companies would be immediately banned on the London Stock Exchange’ and ‘Fossil fuel firms already listed in the UK would then have two years to produce a coherent plan about how they would reach net zero emissions by 2045, or risk being struck off the LSE’. 2 days after XR protested on London Bridge to ‘make pensions green’, the Liberal Democrats introduced policies to ‘disinvest from fossil fuels by 2035, with all companies with fossil fuel assets removed from the exchange by 2045’. Zeynep Tufekci emphasises that the success of 21st century hyper networked movements lies in the ability to effect narrative capacity, disruptive capacity and electoral capacity. Through the Impossible Rebellion XR have effectively exhibited strong narrative and disruptive capacity. The Liberal Democrat’s policy pledges strongly align with the action of XR protestors demonstrating significant evidence of XR’s electoral impact on politicians.

9. Extinction Rebellion has a unique ability to hold private companies accountable through civil protest: three days after Extinction Rebellion demonstrated outside the Science Museum in response to an exhibition which had received Shell’s sponsorship, the FT reported Shell’s offer to install 1/3 of Britain’s on street sites. XR hasn’t been mentioned in the article, yet given this report came just three days after the protest, the correlation suggests it is a direct response from Shell. Beyond company policy, unlike critical journalists, Shell were keen to respond to XR protests with climate science stating that ‘we seek to avoid, reduce and only then mitigate any remaining emissions. Developing carbon capture and storage and using natural sinks are two of a range of ways of decarbonising energy’. Companies are aware that they are guilty. XR protests will make them terrified fearing that they may lead to mass civilian international protest and boycott. XR’s actions holding one firm accountable may serve as representative to all fossil fuel companies.