Extinction Rebellion campaigners arrested in London

New campaign group Extinction Rebellion is using non-violent civil disobedience to start a conversation about the state of the planet – and to try and force the government to make urgent changes. On Saturday 16 November, 82 activists were arrested during protests blocking five London bridges.

Extinction Rebellion protesters in London
Extinction Rebellion protesters in London

Image: Julia Hawkins / Flickr / cc by 2.0

Green World

Dozens of environmental campaigners have been arrested following protests on Saturday (17 November) that saw thousands of activists gather to roadblock five bridges in central London as part of a series of escalating non-violent direct actions to raise awareness of impending climate breakdown.

Organised by campaign group Extinction Rebellion as part of its ‘Rebellion Day’, protestors sat and lay in roads across Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo, Westminster and Lambeth bridges, blocking the flow of traffic.

In total, according to the organisers, 6,000 took part, 82 of whom were arrested, mainly for breaches of the Highway Act – all have been released under investigation. After leaving the bridges, protesters gathered to plant trees in Parliament Square.

Green Peer Jenny Jones was present at the weekend’s protest and told the Guardian: “It’s fine to think we are a rich country, the sixth biggest economy in the world, but actually we won’t do any better than anywhere else because climate change will massively affect us too.

“Basically, conventional politics has failed us – it’s even failed me and I’m part of the system – so people have no other choice.”

Climate emergency

Extinction Rebellion was launched at the end of October by Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, Simon Bramwell and other activists from the campaign group Rising Up! after the release of high-profile reports on climate change and biodiversity loss, including one from the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which sets out the dangers of a 1.5ºC rise in global temperature and called for urgent, systemic change to avoid catastrophe.

In the same month, WWF published a study that showed mass wildlife decline over the past 50 years, with each of the world’s species falling by an average of 60 per cent during that time – a horrifying trend the report links undeniably with human activity.

Extinction Rebellion points to toxic levels of air pollution, increasingly extreme weather events, rising sea levels and even more devastating wildfires – California’s deadliest, currently still raging, has left 77 dead so far and hundreds reported missing – as evidence of a climate emergency and the need for immediate action.

In order to bring about urgent policy interventions to tackle global warming, as well as to start a national conversation about the climate emergency, the group advocates a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience. Notably, members of Extinction Rebellion declare themselves prepared to be arrested and to go to prison as a result of their protests. The group advises its members on how to deal with police during a protest, as well as what to do in the case of an arrest.

On Twitter, the group writes: ‘Only through daily disruption will the gov’t [sic] recognise the gravity of the crisis we all face and agree to meet with us to address demands for radical action’.

What is the group demanding?

Extinction Rebellion makes three demands:

  1. The government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.

  2. The government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.

  3. The establishment of a national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

The group would like to see the reversal of a number of current government policies on the environment, including banning fracking and plans for a third runway at Heathrow, as well as more investment in renewable energy.

Referring to themselves as ‘conscientious protectors’, the activists are drawing support – and gaining members – from a wide cross-section of society. A long list of academics, as well as some politicians, announced their support for the campaign in an open letter on 26 October. A number of prominent Green Party members have been involved with the group, including Molly Scott Cato MEP, who was one of the key signatories of the letter, and Rupert Read, who has campaigned for the BBC to stop giving a platform to climate change deniers.

Further action organised by Extinction Rebellion is planned for 21-23 November.