On the weekend of 13th April, London was descended upon by thousands of people ready to stand and be heard, to demand a Climate Emergency be declared, ready and willing to do whatever it took to reach that goal.
People from all walks of life travelled to the capital to raise awareness of climate change and to make it understood that time is running out for our future.
On Monday 15th April, the International Rebellion commenced. Four key sites were ‘held’ – Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Marble Arch and Parliament Square. By Tuesday evening 290 people had been arrested and The Rebellion had spread with Dutch rebels occupying the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
By Wednesday, Extinction Rebellion reported their membership base growing by 3000 a day, their Facebook friend requests up to 1000 per hour. They were up to 400 arrests. Chris Packham held the stage on a large pink boat in Oxford Circus, talking to the rebels and police alike.
The email update to supporters read; “Around the middle of the day, the crew up on the deck(s) were told of a police complaint with regard to the music – apparently they weren’t playing enough 60s stuff. Negotiations via the XR police liaison led to the crew accepting a request for Faithless, Insomnia, on the condition that the four officers behind the collective request would then dance to the solid gold classic. The conditions were accepted.”
On Thursday, all sites were still held by the rebels. There were reports of police officers turning their backs to the crowds and the media to hide the tears in their eyes. Emma Thompson visited Marble Arch and gave words of encouragement to the brave rebels. A crowd of 200 Rebel cyclists, flags in hand and dancing on the BBC’s doorstep, demanded that the BBC ‘Tell the Truth’ about ecological and climate emergency.
On Friday the police finally managed to remove the pink boat, named Berta Cáceres after the murdered Honduran environmentalist, from Oxford Circus, moving away with chants from the crowd telling the police that they loved them and were grateful for all the times they have worked tirelessly to keep people safe. Arrests were up to 700, but police cells were overflowing and had to work on a ‘one in one out’ basis. A small group of XR Youth rebels held a peaceful protest at Heathrow Airport.
By Saturday XR reported that they were up to 30,000 new members and over 1000 people had been arrested. Officers were under instruction from the Home Secretary to use ‘the full force of the law’ and finally the tired rebels decided to give up their stronghold on the bridge and move to Marble Arch.
Sunday morning in Parliament Square saw a surprise contingent of police move in and those protestors also joined the others in Marble Arch. By Sunday night Marble Arch was the only site held, but spirits were still high. Greta Thunberg delivered a beautiful speech and Massive Attack played to a tired but enthusiastic crowd.
It was at 5pm the following Thursday that a closing ceremony was held and most rebels headed home. XR membership had increased by 40,000 people and the beginnings of change were being seen. It seemed that this time, the media coverage that led the angle of ‘disrupted citizens’ was being ignored and the bigger picture was being understood.
Some of those arrested in the biggest protest the world has ever seen came from the South West. They include teachers, counsellors, musicians, academics, a very large number of pensioners, concerned parents and grandparents and people of different faiths and none. Most have not been involved in such direct action protests before.
Ruth Leonard-Williams, 39 year old mother of two from Ashburton
I didn’t take the decision to be arrested lightly. This kind of action may seem radical, but to me it is entirely proportionate to the extreme gravity of inaction on climate change.
I have been amazed at the response to sharing the story about my arrest. I was keen to spread the word about my decision but nervous that people would be sceptical, annoyed or perhaps even angry with the disruption caused. Instead I have received an outpouring of thanks, supportive messages and hugs in the high street. This is an emergency and we need the government to act now.
John (Jan) Scott
I am a retired 80 year old Merchant Navy Captain with three children, ten grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Our children may witness the death of the natural world. They deserve a better future, and I am compelled to defend this with all my abilities. I have therefore taken the difficult decision, as a law abiding citizen, to support non-violent peaceful direct action until our government takes measures to address the
ecological crisis by taking constructive actions to protect the living world and to reduce our nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases.
On Monday 15th April at Waterloo Bridge London, I was arrested by the Metropolitan Police whilst making a peaceful protest by lying down on the highway of the bridge. After 19 hours in custody I was released pending further enquiries. I believe this was a small gesture compared with the climate crisis we are now experiencing and I am prepared to continue with further significant protesting out of love for the beauty and diversity of the all the living Earth and for all the peoples and life that depend on this world, now and in the generations to come.
David Ramsden, MBE, 61, Head of Conservation at the Barn Owl Trust, Ashburton
Grown up son and daughter, three grandchildren aged 0-4.
I was arrested on the front line on Monday 15th and spent 15 hours in Walworth Police Station. I’ve been actively engaged in nature conservation for 35 years during which I’ve witnessed wildlife decline first hand. We’ve been losing the battle and, personally, I’ve had enough.
Mankind’s treatment of the environment has radicalised me. I am determined to ramp up the pressure on governments. This movement – Extinction Rebellion – is a welcome breath of fresh air. Rebelling against extinction is exactly what I need to do.
Colin Moore, 64, father, husband, former teacher, Green Party candidate in South Hams District Council elections.
Since university I have campaigned for action on environmental issues but have watched things getting steadily worse. I was arrested while in my role as a ‘legal observer.’ I found the police to be friendly and supportive and I had some good discussions with them about the climate emergency. My arresting officer and I even sang Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero; No Limit” while we were waiting to be processed and it sums up for me the approach of XR: solidarity, respect for self and other, friendliness to all, nonviolence and determination in the face of difficult odds. So many others have been arrested, some multiple times – so selfless and brave. Everyone together is strong.
I have enjoyed nearly 60 years of a beautiful and peaceful life and this year three children will be born into my extended family. Having watched Greta Thunberg’s TED talk I cannot wait for these children to grow and say: ‘Why did you not do something about this when you could, when there was still a chance of changing things?’ as Greta has done.
Scientists agree that we now have a very limited time to act to prevent or limit the damage of climate change. I cannot stand by and pretend that this is not happening now. I have to do whatever I can to give children the chance to enjoy the natural world as I have done. No more apathy – there is no time to lose.
Anthea Lawson, 44, writer and researcher, Totnes
I am a mother of two small children and I am terrified for their future. Climate change and the ecological crisis – the mass deaths of multiple species – are already happening as a result of human behaviour. Scientists and respected public figures are explicit that major changes in our impact on the environment, and thus to the form of our economic activities, are extremely urgent if we are to preserve the conditions for human life on earth. Yet there is no sense of urgency in our politics or media; a recent debate in the House of Commons on climate change saw only a handful of MPs even turn up.
Our home, the earth, is on fire, and I was willingly arrested on Monday night on Waterloo Bridge, because I am trying to make this fact known.
I have never done anything like this before. I spent nearly two decades doing the sort of campaigning that involves writing reports and letters, meeting government representatives, and not inconveniencing people. Those tactics can change specific laws slowly, but they’re not enough to make the systemic changes that are now needed so urgently, not when the government is so wilfully blind to the extent of the ecological crisis we are in.
Caspar Hughes, business owner, Exeter
During the first week of Extinction Rebellion action on Waterloo Bridge I had five hours sleep in 60 hours, was arrested twice and spent 25 hours in police cells, laughed and cried more than almost any other week in my life.
I did this because I am terrified about the future we are imposing on our children. My daughter is twelve years old and currently there is approximately a ten percent chance that human beings could become extinct before the end of her natural life.
I have had the pleasure of growing up on the periphery of Dartmoor. I spent most of my primary school years living in South Zeal before moving to Blackaton, near Gidleigh. More recently I spent 24 years in London before moving back to Exeter.
To date I’ve been involved with numerous actions both locally and nationally. I was instrumental in the swarming that XR ran in Exeter recently as well has helping out at the BBC action in December and being arrested at XR’s launch in October.
I got involved in the coordinators group that held Waterloo for six days. Never have I learned so much in such short period of time. It was a pleasure working with the other west country coordinators, to develop strategies to enable public to enjoy the space for as long as possible using nothing but people willing to be arrested as a means to control the space.
We have 11 years to make radical and deep changes to our way of living, if we want our children to have a meaningful existence on our beautiful planet. XR’s International Rebellion may have created the space for this change to happen.
Greta Thunberg, the inspirational 16 year old who has been so eloquent in her fight for the environment, spoke to the government when she arrived in Britain in support of the rebels.
She said: “I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing.
‘Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.
‘Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.
‘You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard.
‘Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.
‘These projections are backed up by scientific facts, concluded by all nations through the IPCC. Nearly every single major national scientific body around the world unreservedly supports the work and findings of the IPCC.
‘Did you hear what I just said? Is my English OK? Is the microphone on? Because I’m beginning to wonder.
‘During the last six months I have travelled around Europe for hundreds of hours in trains, electric cars and buses, repeating these life-changing words over and over again. But no one seems to be talking about it, and nothing has changed. In fact, the emissions are still rising.
‘The basic problem is the same everywhere. And the basic problem is that basically nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises.
‘The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual. The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels – for example, the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine – is beyond absurd.
‘This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.
‘We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: “Have we got enough money to go through with this?” but also: “Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?”
‘That should and must become the centre of our new currency.
‘The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. We say that all those solutions needed are not known to anyone and therefore we must unite behind the science and find them together along the way. But you do not listen to that. Because those answers are for solving a crisis that most of you don’t even fully understand. Or don’t want to understand.
‘You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before. Like now. And those answers don’t exist any more. Because you did not act in time.
‘Sometimes we just simply have to find a way. And I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.
‘I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me.” (Speech edited)
So what has changed? Has the rebellion had any affect? By the time we go to press, XR will have met and been in talks with Sadiq Khan, Michael Gove and John McDonnell. Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party has declared a Climate Emergency and Lesley Griffiths of the Welsh government has done likewise, saying she hoped the declaration would trigger ‘a wave of action’. Closer to home, Teignbridge District Council has joined in, bringing the number of principal councils declared to around 55 in England.
And waves are crossing all boundaries. With similar XR rebellions having taken place across the world over the past few weeks, we now hear that India, the fastest growing economy in the world which has a population of 1.3 billion, has announced that it will ban all single use plastics by 2022. They get through around 15,342 tonnes of plastic every day and the Indian Prime Minister Chowkidar Narendra Modi said; “It is the duty of each one of us to ensure that material prosperity does not compromise our environment.”
Germany, one of the world’s largest users of coal, has announced it is to shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power stations by 2038. Coal currently provides 40% of electricity in Germany but in 20 years it will be run by renewable energy.
Claudia Kemfert, professor for energy economics at the German Institute for Economic research said; “It’s also an important signal for the world that
Germany is again getting serious about climate change: a very big industrial nation that depends so much on coal is switching it off.”
Great oaks from little acorns grow. I personally thank every single person who was able to go to London and stand up for the future of our planet.