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Environment

Extinction Rebellion Shuts Down London Bridges as Fresh Protests Sweep the Planet

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Extinction Rebellion is back making headlines.

Founded just last year, the direct action group announced itself onto the world stage in April 2019 with the biggest civil disobedience campaign in modern British history. It shut down London, provoked over 1,000 arrests, and led to the UK becoming the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency.

Now, the movement is five times bigger — and it plans to “shut down” the heart of British government in Westminster, overwhelm a local airport in London, and participate in a global hunger strike in collaboration with Extinction Rebellion groups leading similar protests all over the world. 

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If last time was about shutting down London itself, the new plans specifically focus on shutting down the heart of the political system.

After dousing the Treasury building with 1,800 litres of fake blood from a fire engine on Oct. 3, Extinction Rebellion is spending two weeks demonstrating outside more key government offices, including occupying the space outside 10 Downing Street and the Home Office on Monday.

London is alive once again with the spirit of climate activism: outside the Ministry of Defence, protestors chained themselves to a fake nuclear missile; after taking over Westminster bridge, campaigners started doing yoga; a man used a bike lock to trap himself inside a hearse to block the roads around Trafalgar Square (while others attached themselves underneath it); and after overrunning another bridge in Lambeth, some people even began building a house.

But the fresh wave of direct action is far from limited to London. It’s swept through the world.

While more than 130 people were arrested in London on Monday morning, 50 were arrested in Amsterdam in the Netherlands for setting up a tent on a main road — and 30 were charged in Sydney, Australia, for blocking traffic. 

Activists did the same in Berlin, Germany, although the government are yet to make any arrests; 1,000 protesters in Paris, France, reportedly occupied a shopping centre; and people in New Zealand surrounded a government building that grants oil and gas permits. Extinction Rebellion has said that tens of thousands of people were expected to take action across over 60 countries over the next fortnight.

It echoes the international solidarity of the global climate strikes on Sep. 20, where millions of people in 150 countries joined Greta Thunberg’s call to action for governments to radically escalate their efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

One of the key demands of Extinction Rebellion’s April protests in London was to get Britain to declare a climate emergency. With that achieved, the group now has three more demands to make to the UK government.

Firstly, the group says, the government must tell the truth about its plans to act on that previous declaration. Then it must act by committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 — 25 years earlier than the current legally binding target of 2050. Finally, Extinction Rebellion demands that a Citizen Assembly is created immediately, bringing together ordinary people to respond to the climate crisis in a similar vein to jury service.

Organisers have predicted that 30,000 people are set to participate in the protests in London over the next fortnight. That includes a significant number of activists who have communicated that they would be willing to get arrested for the cause.

“For 21 years my main concern has been to help get rid of UK nuclear weapons,” 81-year-old Sarah Lasenby told the Guardian, a retired social worker among those arrested. “I am still keen to do this but once I came across XR I was so relieved to have something I could do about the ghastly state we have got our planet in.”

“The whole thing is so urgent that it is imperative the government should take serious actions and put pressure on other states and global powers to radically reduce the use of fossil fuels even if this means we need to reduce our comfort at home and so much flying,” she added.