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Opinion: Extinction Rebellion -- What and Why?

Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

Extinction Rebellion:  the movement is defined in Wikipedia as “a socio-political movement with the stated aim of using civil disobedience and non-violent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.  I think that line misses the mark in an important way:  the aim of the movement is not “to protest” but to convince governments to act to slow climate change and the other human-caused effects that are endangering all of life on earth.  Wikipedia comes closer to the mark (but still  misses it) a little further along, when it states, “Extinction Rebellion wants to rally support worldwide around a common sense of urgency to tackle climate breakdown.”

As for the rather namby-pamby term “the risk of climate breakdown” (et cetera), that risk is becoming astronomically high, according to increasingly urgent reports and calls for action from the world’s pre-eminent climate scientists:  from the IPCC -- https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/; from the director of the Potsdam Climate Institute, Hans Joachim Schnellnhuber – as reported by the BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48964736 ; and in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikehughes1/2019/08/02/climate-change-18-months-to-save-the-world/#44bf905049bd.

Another element of anxiety is the number of additional factors that contribute to global heating which are not accurately accounted or in the calculations relied upon by the IPCC and by individual countries as they estimate their total emissions.   Feedback loops; methane emissions from fracking and from ocean clathrates; wildfire emissions; and the heat-trapping effects of short-lived but numerous jet con-trails in the stratosphere, to name just a few.

 Perhaps the increasing awareness of urgency – of how much further down the road to irremediable, runaway global heating and climate chaos we are, than we thought we were mere months ago -- explains why people join Extinction Rebellion and risk arrest and incarceration or hefty fines for their actions.

A recent account in The Guardian by  author and lecturer Dr. Steve Melia, about his arrest for participating in an Extinction Rebellion traffic-blocking protest, provides a short explanation of why he did it:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/07/climate-change-extinction-rebellion-london-protest-arrested

I know people who have joined Extinction Rebellion groups because they cannot just watch and do nothing.  They have commented that it’s also therapeutic to join together with others who are afraid for the future of their children, and for the future of civilization, and the future of much of life on earth – and to take action to try to convince governments, and others with power, to act.  To slow global heating and the resulting string of disasters that come along with it: unpredictable weather, extreme weather, killing heat waves, unexpected floods, larger and wilder wildfires, larger and wetter hurricanes, larger and more hazardous hailstones, melting permafrost, burning boreal forests, more intense lightning storms,  die-offs of various plants and animals, and reduced agricultural production – and more -- which will lead to food shortages, more wars, and mass migrations of climate refugees. Not to mention unprecedented economic costs.   

The website for the International Extinction Rebellion movement is at https://xrebellion.org/  and it refers to the “criminal inaction” of the world’s governments.  It makes three demands: 

·       Governments tell the truth about the ecological crisis

·       Zero emissions & drawdown by 2025

·       Participatory Democracy

The Canadian and BC governments have each declared that there is a “climate crisis.”  The  Canadian government declared on June 17, 2019, that "climate change is a real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity" and that “Canada is in a national climate emergency which requires, as a response, that Canada commit to meeting its national emissions target under the Paris Agreement and to making deeper reductions in line with the Agreement's objective of holding global warming below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius."  The motion passed by a vote of 186 to 63.

The following day, the Canadian government also voted in favour of proceeding with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, designed to carry increased production of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands.  The following month, Teck Resources Limited’s application to go ahead with a massive new tar sands operation in Alberta (the “Frontier” mine) was green-lighted by the National Energy Board, even though – as reported in an article in The Narwhal – the project will result in the removal of old-growth forests, the destruction or permanent alteration of fish habitat, the release of a large amount of carbon pollution and the loss of wetlands and areas of “high species diversity potential.”

The panel found these impacts were outweighed by economic benefits, and said “the project is in the public interest.”  This may seem shocking, but is not surprising, given that the NEB consists largely of people with backgrounds in engineering, economics, and -- predominantly --the “energy sector.”  One lone member among eight (or nine, if you count a “temporary member”) has a background in biology. 

It isn’t that surprising that such a group would think it’s worth sacrificing life on earth as we know it for a bit of short-term gain in share value. Or that such a group would equate additional earnings (for a while) in the fossil-fuel sector with “the public interest.”

As for BC’s declaration, it didn’t cause any fading of the BC government’s support for Liquified Natural Gas development, including fracking (which has been banned in several jurisdictions) and the construction of the problematic Site C dam to provide energy and water for the fracking – even though the effects of LNG production and use have been analyzed and found to be possibly  as harmful as using coal.

These are just two examples of governments failing to take the drastic action needed to curb climate change.  There are many others around the planet: .  So, increasingly anxious, depressed, and worried parents and grandparents – well-educated people who follow the news on climate and the environment, rather than just the “news” on celebrities’ shenanigans and the latest crimes, or the news as interpreted by ideologically biased media, are joining Extinction Rebellion.  They’re also joining “climate grief” groups for solace and help in coping with what they know.

Meanwhile, the great majority of our friends and neighbours don’t seem bothered by it at all. That doesn’t help relieve the levels of anxiety and depression, though.