Thousands of nonviolent protesters are blocking five of the London’s busiest intersections to spur government action on the climate emergency facing the planet.
The protesters are part of a global environmental movement called “Extinction Rebellion,” which seeks to upend the status quo of fossil fuel use and set in motion legislative actions that will bring net carbon emissions to zero by 2025. Already, London’s police force has begun to crack down on and arrest those gathered, but Sophie Cowen, an organizer for the movement, told Global Citizen that the protests have no plans to disperse.
“We’re calling an emergency on the climate and ecological crisis and the criminal inaction of our government for not acting on this emergency,” Cowen said.
“We’re going to stay here until the UK government comes to the table and meets our demand,” she said.
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The organizers of the movement are making three demands of the UK government — acknowledge that the planet is facing a climate emergency, tell the truth about the crisis to citizens, and then take decisive action to deal with it.
Prominent environmental activists and youth groups have joined the London protests, and are urging people around the world to join the movement.
The Extinction Rebellion was borne out of decades of frustration at the lack of government action on climate change. The movement’s name was inspired by the United Nations’ latest report on the planet, which calls for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” to avoid catastrophic consequences.
The report says that the planet is expected to warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2040, and that warming could exceed 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. Such steep temperature increases would cause sea levels to submerge coastal areas, unleash powerful storms, make wildfires and droughts more likely, and displace hundreds of millions of people, according to the report.
The brunt of these impacts will be felt in developing countries, but all countries will be affected.
“Quite frankly, we’re acting in solidarity with people, especially in the Global South, who are experiencing those disastrous results of this emergency,” Cowen said. “We represent everyone, we are in solidarity with anyone taking action at this critical moment in history.
“[The emergency] could be mitigated, but we’re already at a point where there are visibly disastrous results as a result of the human impact on our planet,” she added.
Arrests at Oxford Circus... pic.twitter.com/B609xY6GTY— Extinction Rebellion London Ⓧ (@LdnRebellion) April 16, 2019
It’s not just climate change, either. Another report by the UN found that rampant resource extraction has driven 90% of global biodiversity loss. As a result, the Extinction Rebellion is about a fundamental rethinking of humanity’s relationship to the planet, Cowen said.
In recent months, youth-led environmental protests have exploded around the world, following the solitary protests of 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
Thunberg created the “School Strike” movement that recently resulted in a massive global protest involving more than 1 million students in 126 countries, and spurred Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, to declare an emergency climate summit.
These efforts are part of a long lineage of environmental activism that stretches back decades.
But what makes their actions different is the sheer urgency of the matter. Even though the world is swiftly running out of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to manageable levels, fossil fuel production and consumption continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down.
Mozambique's children are protesting against the inaction of the world's governments on the climate and ecological crisis. Cyclone Idai should have woken governments up but they are still asleep at the wheel. https://t.co/5HQkqqOel4https://t.co/PzxBohj9iu#StopTheMaangamizipic.twitter.com/xT9UCEtd3r— Extinction Rebellion 🐝⌛️🦋 (@ExtinctionR) April 16, 2019
That’s why the new wave of youth-led protesters are taking to the streets — because everything short of direct action seems to have failed to create meaningful change.
“I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them I did everything,” Cowen said.
“This is it. This is an emergency. We can do this — we can make a change if we come together.”