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The extinction rebellion

Jul 15, 2019 • 17m38s

Extinction Rebellion is not focusing on one project; it’s focusing on the system as a whole. And change can come from just a small segment of society participating in sustained non-compliance.

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The extinction rebellion

35 • Jul 15, 2019

The extinction rebellion

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

The extinction rebellion is a global, non-violent protest movement focused on climate change. The difference is that it is not focused any single project: it’s taking on the system as a whole. Scott Ludlam on how the actions of only a small number of people could change everything.

[Theme ends]

[Crowd sounds]

Archival tape — Unidentified activist 1:

“If they’re not going to change anything, what’s going to happen to humankind, what’s going to our… what’s happen to the whole world?”

Archival tape — Unidentified activist 2:

“And I’m proud to be an extinction rebellion activist. I am currently locked into a tube underneath a truck in Marble Arch. Our tube is called Greta, this is the very truck she spoke from yesterday…”

ELIZABETH:

So Scott, if we start with extinction rebellion, where did it come from and when did it start?

SCOTT:

The extinction rebellion started about this time last year in the UK.

ELIZABETH:

Scott Ludlam is a writer and former senator. He wrote about non-violent protest movements in the latest issue of The Monthly.

SCOTT:

It's a group of academics and activists and campaigners who are very concerned, I suppose, with the political drift around climate change and the mass extinction that's unfolding right around us and really wanted to shake up the tactics.

Archival tape — Unidentified reporter 1:

“The police, having kept their distance over the last 24 hours, really, have just moved in, arrested actually part of the tactics of the group here. They’re describing this action as non-violent civil disobedience.”

Archival tape — Unidentified activist 1:

“First time I’ve ever been arrested...”

SCOTT:

It's very in-your-face direct action and it is designed to make it impossible to ignore the fact that we're ploughing towards catastrophe. It's exploded across the UK, Western Europe, North America, and there's quite a big presence of extinction rebellion here in Australia.

Archival tape — Greta Thunberg:

“A great number of politicians have told me that panic never leads to anything good and I agree. To panic, unless you have to, is a terrible idea…”

ELIZABETH:

And then how does what's happened with extinction rebellion tie to figures like Greta Thunberg?

SCOTT:

Greta is a Swedish high school student who decided that there was very little point studying at school if the future that she was studying for was kind of being stolen in front of her eyes. So she decided to take Fridays off school and stand outside the Swedish parliament with a placard and it caught on, it caught fire.

Archival tape — Greta Thunberg:

“We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and the extinction rate is up to ten thousand times faster than what is considered normal. And that is why millions of children are taking it to the streets. You need to listen to us.”

SCOTT:

According to their website, the School Strike for Climate had 2 million participants in every time zone on Earth at the last big school strike a couple of months back. That's the tip of the iceberg because what is provoking is a very different kind of conversation with parents, with teachers, obviously with politicians who don't understand why they're doing it and want them to stop.

And it's very powerful to see the emergence of a movement which is very future-focussed, because it's led and organised by the people who are inheriting the decisions that are getting made today.

ELIZABETH:

What are some of the main tactics of extinction rebellion. You mentioned that they’re non-violent but what are some of their other tactics?

SCOTT:

It's very strictly non-violent but it's also very confrontational and provocative.

Archival tape — Unidentified activist 1:

“We have lost so much of our woodland in the last 4 years...”

SCOTT:

It's a different tactic to what we might have seen in the past and are still seeing very presently in Australia and around the world, where non-violent movements tend to cohere around particular sites of contest, so whether it be a gas pipeline, uranium mine, coal mine...

This is different. Extinction rebellion is in the big cities. It's not going after a particular project, it's going after the system as a whole. And rather than just holding a march or a demonstration and then going home, the explicit proposition is to bring cities to a standstill, to make business as usual visibly and viscerally impossible to carry on as it is.

Non-violent movements have a much greater chance of success, even in authoritarian regimes. The aftermath and the backwash is more likely to be peaceful than if it was an armed struggle, an armed uprising that occurred. And you don't need everybody.

Based on the work of a US researcher by the name of Dr. Erica Chenoweth, if you have three and a half percent of the population in sustained non-compliance, her and her colleagues, who have studied revolutionary movement around the world, didn't find any instances where movements weren't successful. Now that is an oversimplification, it doesn't tell you how to get there. It doesn't tell you what happens when you hit that percentage and the government says, “Okay. What are you demands?” But it's useful to recall that we don't need everybody.

ELIZABETH:

What do you think of their chances of success, to reach that tipping point, that three and a half percent that we need?

SCOTT:

It’s absolutely doable. The real question is, do we hit that critical mass in time, in the time that we have. And I have a lot of hope. But it's not that everybody has to go out and put their arm in a lock on pipe and hold an intersection like if that's your thing, then that moment is coming and that you'll be in good company and they'll be training and they'll be support. But also, I think diversity isn't just for nature, diversity is for social movements as well, so that we mean it when we say there is a place in this movement for everybody - if you're an artist, if you're a creative person, if you're an engineer, if you're an architect, if you're an anarchist, if you work in finance if you work in the resources sector there's a place in this for everybody and that's how it should be.

ELIZABETH:

So what do Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate look like in Australia?

SCOTT:

Extinction Rebellion’s very active right across the country, not just in the capital cities. And I think at the moment we're seeing the flowering of a couple of really powerful important new movements that are making their way amidst the existing ecosystem of groups. You've got extinction rebellion that are kind of bounced out of the UK, proposing to do frontline civil disobedience and large scale arrestable action. And the school strike for climate, which originated in Sweden, was inspired actually by the student led gun control movement in the United States. A couple of students here in Victoria grabbed the idea of a school strike and it caught on. It caught on in a huge way here in Australia. I think, to their credit, they're adapting the style of the movement to Australian organising culture in the local context. So they haven't simply rolled into town and tried to pull off something gigantic like they've done in London. They are only two amongst a much larger ecosystem of groups that are engaged in either civil disobedience, non-violent direct action, or other forms of non-violent confrontation.

Archival tape — Protestors:

“Climate Justice Now...Climate Justice Now...”

ELIZABETH:

So as part of your reporting, you got to speak to Nyah Shahab who's one of the main organisers of the school strike for climate.

Archival tape — Nyah Shahab:

“It’s Nyah, I’m a 17 year old school striker from Melbourne, and currently I’m striking outside the parliament house of Victoria for the fourth day in a row…”

SCOTT:

She's absolutely remarkable. I mean, the School Strike organisers that I've come into contact with this research and in the past are all really remarkable young people.

Archival tape — Unidentified man 1:

“Why do you think it is that all the students get out to protest?”

Archival tape — Nyah Shahab:

“This is our way of saying: no, we want you to listen to us, and this is our way of rejecting your behaviour. We’ll go to school if you respect what we want for our future.”

ELIZABETH:

What did Nyah tell you about her involvement and how she came to the movement?

SCOTT:

She spoke of the privilege that she had to be involved in this work when a lot of people's voices are simply chopped out of the debate. The people who are most at risk from the damage inflicted by climate change and biodiversity loss and extinction, these people don't have a megaphone, they don't have a huge presence in our public debate, and that was the reason that she gave me for sticking with it and for doing it.

ELIZABETH:

And she's in the middle of Year 12, like her final year at school. But she also told you she's angry.

SCOTT:

Yeah, yeah she's angry. And I would be interested to know if people aren't angry, how come? What part of what's going on here have you missed, if you're not.

ELIZABETH:

What is it the organisers of extinction rebellion are actually asking for?

SCOTT:

One of the reasons for their success is that their demands are very legible. The first of them is tell the truth and declare a climate emergency, and for a citizen’s assembly, for a deliberative body, rather than assuming that parliaments can sort this out.

In the UK I think it was a really valuable case study of the power of strength in numbers, of having a unified and legible demand and of being completely unyielding. So, they locked down central London for 10 days, and a week after they decided to clean up after themselves and vanish, they were invited to meetings with the mayor of London, and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn about a week after that, I think, moved a motion that the UK declare a climate emergency.

Archival tape — Jeremy Corbyn:

“We have no time to waste. This is no longer about a distant future. We’re talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes of the members of this house…”

SCOTT:

Now it's a non-binding motion but already the UK is on an interesting path of closure of its coal fired power stations and a big installation of renewable energy. So they are on their way much more significantly than we are here. And I think it was a valuable example of the power of mass coordinated civil disobedience to get a result. I think what extinction rebellion is doing, and I think they're right, is they're diagnosing the political logjam, the political paralysis and they're saying: the system as it's currently constructed is not going to save us. It's really not. We need a circuit breaker and this is one way of doing that.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back

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ELIZABETH:

So extinction rebellion is a non-violent mass protest movement originates in Europe. But protests have also been happening here in Australia. What have the results been in Australia in comparison?

SCOTT:

In comparison with the UK, the movement is smaller and it hasn't scaled to the degree yet and we're yet to see very large scale civil disobedience on the scale of London. But that takes time. And that's obviously not a criticism as you can't build to that scale rapidly. It actually takes time to train people, to skill people up, and to be prepared for the consequences of, for example, large numbers of arrests. I'm actually of the view that it's been very smart on the part of local extinction rebellion organisers to not just shoot for the moon straight away but to build.

Before the movement kind of burst into the headlines earlier this year in London, they had spent a year putting a platform together, putting a movement foundation together. And so you can't expect results overnight I guess.

ELIZABETH:

And why do you think these principles of direct action, why are considered necessary by protestors involved in extinction rebellion and other non-violent movements?

SCOTT:

It's necessary for a number of reasons but the main principle in play is that at the moment while it may be unlawful to lock down a road, it's entirely lawful to extinguish entire ecosystems. It's lawful to open a coal mine that condemns millions of people to catastrophe and poverty. It's lawful to frack the absolute shit out of the Northern Territory and Western Australia and set real disasters in motion. And so non-violent direct action, it's a shock, it's a surprise, it's confrontational, it annoys politicians. It forces people to find out what it is that people are demonstrating about. And as they saw in the UK and as I have no doubt that we will see here, you're also creating a media spectacle, you're building community, you’re building solidarity, you're creating very high profile actions that draw in more support, and you're building a movement.

We've been told as a society and as communities in the western world and in the global north that the Government's got this, industry's got this. International negotiations, we got this. We'll have targets. We'll have laws. And we'll reform. And slowly we will sort this out. And it is now so brutally obvious that that's not true.

They don't got this. In fact government is facing in precisely the wrong direction. It's compromised. It is wholly owned by fossil capital and young people aren't buying any more that this system is going to sort it out. We're told if you buy a keep cup, you've done your bit. If you change diet habits, you've done your bit. If you drive a different car, you've done your bit. None of those things are harmful in fact they're all great ideas and we should all do those things. Flying less eating a lot less meat, you know those individual consumption choices in aggregate do matter.

But if we're content to believe that that's all it takes and we leave the vast bulk of the system intact, then we're all going to go down with our keep cups in our hand. It doesn't matter if we sought our yogurt containers into different coloured bins. If the hundred corporations that are responsible for the vast amount of carbon pollution are allowed to do so in an unrestrained way. You can't present people with an accurate sense of just how much danger we're in, and then as your solutions suggest a keep cup.

ELIZABETH:

Scott, the history of success of non-violent direct action in Australia is varied and deep. Can we briefly go to that and talk about some examples of successful interventions from activists, particularly those that have been led by Indigenous Australians?

SCOTT:

The campaigns that have been successful have been the ones that have acknowledged the existing decades and centuries of struggle of Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people have been fighting extinction, dispossession since 1788. The modern environment movement which has been around for 20-30 years is very recent layer on top of a very old struggle.

Archival tape — Unidentified woman 1:

“People visit this area from all over the world. All over the world, people know how important this piece of country is. We want Jabiluka lease properly recognised and returned to Kakadu National Park, under the control and management of the Mirarr people. For a better future for all of us. Thank you. ”

[Crowd cheers]

SCOTT:

The successful campaigns, Jabiluka being one Bentley blockade being one the Wommadan and Kimberley coast campaign being one, and I think Adani is gonna be another where you had direct action as a part of the campaign that was well integrated with all the other strategies that were going on too.

ELIZABETH:

Are we still at a point where we can arrest the impact of climate change?

SCOTT:

Climate change is real and it's present and it's been it's been rolling, you know, there are scientists who argue that we hit the overshoot mark in the 1970s, before a lot of today's climate activists were even born. There are others, and I would say probably the vast majority of people working in this space, who say we need to hit the brakes now. We have a decade.

[Music starts]

We're now in the age of dangerous climate change and we have to brace for those impacts. And that is going to hit people differentially and it's already hitting people very hard. You know it's certainly an end game for civilisation and that's where people start talking about the real extinction crisis and the end of civilisation. But we're not there yet. And it's not useful to be terrifying people into despair. Despair is not a good place to work from. We don't have the luxury to imagine failure. If we have this narrow window then we need to seize it and use every single day that we have.

ELIZABETH:

Scott, thank you so much.

Thank you.

[Music ends]

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[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Labor has criticised the Morrison government's decision to cut deeming rates by up to one percentage point for pensioners - the figure used to determine earnings on investments. The opposition says that the cut is not enough and has called for an independent body to set the rate. The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has said that will not happen.

And in sport: Chess grandmaster Igors Rausis has withdrawn from competition after photographs emerged of him using a mobile phone in a bathroom during a tournament in France. Rausis is a Latvian-Czech player who became a grandmaster in 1992. The director general of the International Chess Federation said he had been under suspicion for years. The alleged cheating has been reported to French police.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Tuesday.

[Music ends]

Extinction Rebellion is a global, non-violent protest movement, aimed at addressing climate change. The difference is that it is not focusing on one project; it’s focusing on the system as a whole. Scott Ludlam on how change can come from just a small portion of society participating in sustained non-compliance.

Guest: Former Greens senator and contributor to The Monthly Scott Ludlam.

Background reading:

The extinction rebels in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

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35: The extinction rebellion