02. 05. 2019

A Great Big Shout-Out to Extinction Rebellion!

What a fortnight!

To have the utterly remarkable Greta Thunberg here in the UK for a couple of days was so inspiring. Her ‘truth to power’ take-down of UK parliamentarians, reducing the sanctimonious Michael Gove to the role of penitent schoolboy caught out in his pathetic lies, was impeccably well-judged. And unforgettable.

But it’s really the Extinction Rebellion story that has had my spirits soaring. In 11 momentous days, between 15th and 25th April, they’ve transformed the politics of climate change in the UK by relying so faithfully on the science of climate change – and outcome that has hitherto eluded climate change campaigners over the last 20 years.

So how did they do that:

By establishing a tone from Day 1 that was inclusive, creative, respectful – in a way that added a new dimension to the long and honourable history of Non-Violent Direct Action here in the UK.

By reinvigorating a lot of green campaigners with an unapologetic appeal to them to ‘get up and go again’.

By waking up a huge number of worried-but-not-engaged people who just needed a ‘now-not-tomorrow’ nudge.

By successfully bridging the generational divide, movingly, without making a big deal out of it.

By achieving a significant media impact (in both print and social media), with most of it positive, even if too much of it was still in the category of ‘grudgingly positive’.

By forcing our politicians to confront their own inadequacies in this area, caused as they are by varying combinations of indifference, ignorance and ideology.

By providing ‘cover’ for a critical report due out on May 2nd from the Committee on Climate Change, which will be recommending measures for the Government to get its wretchedly underperforming climate strategy back on track.

By leaving us in no doubt that this is just the start!

Even more remarkably, they achieved all this on the basis of just three demands, each of which now needs to be reaffirmed in the light of the last fortnight:

1. Tell the truth.
Such significance in three short words!

Without having a chance to lay bare what that ‘truth’ really looks like, XR has brought it home to people that everything they’ve heard about climate change before now has NOT been the truth. From our politicians, from our business leaders, from mainstream commentators and pundits in the media, and from the majority of academics, we have not been hearing the stark and deeply uncomfortable truth about the science of climate change.

I want to return to what that truth is in another blog next week. But for the moment, I just want to celebrate the fact that there are now thousands of people out there questioning that reality who had no inkling of what was going on before now.

2. Set up a Citizens’ Assembly.
Yes to this! People need a chance to hear for themselves what that ‘climate truth’ really sounds like, and then to think for themselves what needs to happen in response to that truth.

But I do have a slightly different take on this. At the moment, XR is pressing for one mega National Citizens’ Assembly. I don’t believe that will work. More importantly, I think that this misses out on a fantastic opportunity to change the rules of the game in an even more dramatic and democratic way.

Shouldn’t XR be pressing for a Citizens’ Assembly in every single local authority in the country? We need to do everything we can to avoid the potential horror story of the usual London/Southern/elitist/middle-class biases, and take this phenomenal challenge in human history to people across the whole of the UK.

So here’s an idea: in following up on their meeting with the ever-more-slippery Michael Gove on Tuesday, could XR press him for funding to establish a Citizens’ Assembly, in the first instance, in every local authority that has already declared a ‘climate emergency’?

This would then empower campaigners in every local authority that has not yet declared a climate emergency to get after their elected representatives, using all the incredibly effective tactics of XR over the last couple of weeks, to declare a climate emergency – and then set up a Citizens’ Assembly with the money coming directly from a contract with Michael Gove. He is, after all, on the public record now, so tellingly, at feeling deep climate guilt in the face of Greta Thunberg’s ‘you’re all liars’ broadside.

3. Net zero emissions by 2025.
This is absolutely what’s needed from the perspective of the science as we know it today.

But, equally, it’s absolutely not possible. It would mean going onto the equivalent of a war-footing economy, by the end of the year, and then legislating from that point on for dramatic changes in every single aspect of the economy. And people just aren’t ready for that. You might think that the limitations of unfettered neoliberal market forces were already all too clear for all to see, in so many different aspects of our lives. But you can’t just tell people that’s the way it is. You have to bring people with you, every step of the way.

But there’s one big problem here. The simple point is that ‘the market’, as it is regulated today, will never deliver such a transformation. Those market forces have, after all, successfully blocked even moderate measures to internalise the true cost of our greenhouse gas emissions in our daily lives.

Not only is the current generation of politicians completely incapable of engineering such a transformation, but, more importantly, the majority of citizens are equally unprepared. And if we want the Citizens’ Assemblies to work properly, you can’t pre-impose an outcome before people have had a chance to think and decide for themselves.

XR has done an astonishing job securing people’s support for everything they’ve achieved so far. They now need to be true to that remarkable democratic commitment.
 

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05. 05. 2019
Andrew Harmsworth

Great summary post, Jonathon! Completely agree with you about Citizens’ Assemblies in every local authority. As you might imagine, significant plans are already afoot in Cambridge, there is a real sense of things falling into place with very wide community engagement. But it won’t be easy at all - a signal, in the form of funding, from Westminster, would really catalyse action. One thing’s for sure, nothing is going to be the same again. All the best - A.

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