Extinction Rebellion is marching because billions of lives are at risk from the climate emergency

Climate column: Whilst we are distracted by the pandemic tragedy, the UK Treasury and Bank of England are borrowing billions of pounds and using it to bail out industries which destroy our planet

Donnachadh McCarthy
Tuesday 01 September 2020 17:30
Extinction Rebellion activists march through Lewes

Why is Extinction Rebellion out on the streets again today staging ten days of disruptive climate and nature protection actions in the middle of a pandemic?

The simple answer is because our government is continuing to fail to act with the depth of urgency that the climate and ecological emergencies demand, just like it failed tens of thousands of Britons who needlessly died from Covid-19 by failing to act with the urgency the pandemic demanded in March.

Billions of lives are at risk from climate-related crises, compared to the millions at risk from Covid-19. Failure this time on the climate would mean the end of life as we know it.

Rather than simply declaring a climate and ecological emergency as they did 18 months ago, XR is now demanding parliament pass the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill), which mandates urgent action.

Whilst Britain is distracted by the pandemic tragedy, the UK Treasury and Bank of England are borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds of Covid-19 recovery funding from future generations and using it to destroy their futures by bailing out the old dirty fossil-fuelled economy and pesticide corporations. It is unconscionable to us in XR that this could pass without major protests.

It has been almost two years since the first XR Rebellion was launched in Parliament Square on an equally sunny October Saturday morning, with speeches from Gail Bradbrook from XR, Greta Thunberg from Fridays for Future and others, calling for mass, peaceful, and direct actions to wake the world up to the depth of the crises and the fact that we have to undertake unprecedented civilisational changes to avert the obliteration of what is left of nature and the destruction of the stable climate upon which we depend.

Little did those gathered there that day or the 15 of us who were arrested for peacefully sitting on the ground outside the entrance to parliament, realise that that day’s protests and arrests would light a fire that zoomed around the world. It led to thousands of arrests globally and a myriad of peaceful, non-violent direct actions that would force the climate and ecological emergencies onto the top of the global media and political agenda.

The UK parliament passed a Climate and Ecological Emergency Declaration,

Thunberg addressed the UN and EU leaders, student strikes packed city centres across the world and for nearly 12 months a flame of hope flickered. Maybe finally our leaders would take the actions necessary to save us and what was left of nature. But as the illumination from the first Extinction Rebellion fireworks started fading, it became clear that the new generation of populist authoritarians led by Trump in the US, Putin in Russia and Bolsonaro in Brazil were determined to continue pouring more fossil fuels onto our burning planet.

The urgent UN COP 26 summit in Glasgow was postponed for a year due to Covid-19, losing another precious year before global action has even a whisper of a chance of being speeded up.

The corporate media returned to promoting high-carbon lifestyles and attacking climate activists, with a little bit of window-dressing in their editorials calling for action by 2050 (i.e. long after they have to pay for it with lost fossil fuelled advertising).

As the host of the next global climate summit COP26, the UK government has a unique moral responsibility at this historical moment to provide the leadership necessary to ensure humanity pulls itself and what is left of nature back from the edge.

The UN secretary general said in 2018 that the world has to start cutting carbon emissions radically by the end of 2020 if we are to avoid an existential crisis. The temporary emission reductions due to the pandemic has given some leeway for next year’s delayed summit.

But the UK’s leadership is currently abysmal. Aside from the successful elimination of most coal from the national grid, the government’s own statutory climate advisers recently said the government was off-track in a shocking 17 out of their 21 sectoral indicators.

They also terrifyingly warned that we now needed to start preparing for a 4C rise in temperatures, a rise that two years ago they said we would probably not be able to adapt to.

By publicly seeking to maximise profits from the UK’s fossil fuel deposits and by giving the go ahead to huge new coal, oil and gas developments, our government destroys any potential to provide a positive example to the world.

Worse, the Bank of England continues to lend to the UK’s financial industry, which is one of the biggest investors in the expansion of the global fossil fuel industry – along with the UK’s oil twins BP and Shell, which despite expensive greenwashing, are likewise planning well over £100bn of new investments in fossil fuels.

Extinction Rebellion protests this week rightly call out this hypocrisy and a lack of leadership by the Johnson government. But they also recognise the failure in climate leadership by the UK banks and media corporations, who provide the finance and manipulate public opinion on climate inaction.

Hence, government, media and the banks will all be targets for peaceful and direct actions over the coming week. Come and join us.

We need more than 100 non-arrestable supporters for each rebel willing to risk arrest in our Gandhian actions. Everyone is welcome. Bring a facemask and help us ensure responsible social distancing is kept as far as possible.

Help us create the required pressure to get the CEE Bill into law.

If not now, never?

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