Charlie is a university student studying climate ethics, international development and migration. She joined the climate change campaign group Extinction Rebellion earlier this year.
I have always been sustainably-minded, embracing things such as reducing plastic waste, not buying new clothes, and cutting down dairy and meat consumption in an effort to be more environmental. Until recently joining Extinction Rebellion (XR) however, I have felt largely unable to make a significant difference to climate change, always feeling that my actions were only being undone by polluting corporations and consumer culture.
I got involved in Extinction Rebellion a few months ago; most recently taking part in the London protests ‘International Rebellion’. Extinction Rebellion is a socio-political movement demanding that governments take more rapid action against climate change. For example, in the UK they are demanding that the country is carbon-neutral by 2025. Nonviolent civil disobedience is used to protest climate breakdown, the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
Extinction Rebellion protests in London
I first came across the movement while running an Environmental Society at university. XR Birmingham approached us and asked if we’d be interested in hosting them for a talk. Initially, hearing that they were associated with words like ‘arrest’ and ‘mass extinction’, I was unsure how to feel, even worried that I’d unwittingly given extreme activists a platform without really knowing what they stood for.
Extinction Rebellion did teach me that personal changes such as using paper straws or cloth tote bags are important but significant structural and economic change needs to happen rapidly to truly combat climate change. I think deep down I had always known this as a truth, but only with the regenerative and supportive culture of XR, combined with their demands to ‘tell the truth’ about the climate crisis, was I able to address and confront these fears and then begin to take more impactful action.
I played a wellbeing role at the recent London protests, giving out food and water, acting as someone to talk to or giving those being arrested emotional help and advice. Despite attending talks and Extinction Rebellion Youth sessions previously such as Non-Violent Direct Action Training, I still did not appreciate the extent of the movement until the ‘International Rebellion’ week. Feeling united with an international movement has really encouraged me and created a sense of hope I didn’t have before. Since the protests, I have spoken to a number of people in India about joining XR India while working online as part of a sustainability internship and have helped to set up two Extinction Rebellion University groups at the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick.
My other focus at the moment is making meetings and protests more inclusive, accessible and intersectional, by taking into account differences such as class, race or ethnicity as potential barriers to feeling included within XR. A number of criticisms of the London protests were that there was not a significant enough focus on this, which should be addressed urgently.
During the protests I had a lot of criticism from people who felt that because the UK is not a high emitter of climate pollution compared to other countries such as India and China, our protests were unnecessary. The UK is still investing in and financing fossil fuel projects internationally, and yet we have the capabilities to redirect this finance into greener, more sustainable projects – either through diverting our financial support towards green development abroad or through ensuring our domestic energy is fully sustainable. The message of the XR protests was not only aimed at governments but organisations with multinational impact who contribute to global climate deterioration, such as Shell or BP who have a presence in a number of countries.
Something I think is overlooked is the ability of citizens in countries like the UK to protest freely (or with few long-term repercussions), about a matter which affects humanity globally. I truly believe that it is a necessity for me to exercise my right and ability to protest for rapid climate action for that those unable to protest in many countries due to harsh anti-protest measures or those facing issues like food instability and conflict. Climate change will not affect the ‘Global North’ in as extreme ways as it will affect many other countries, and yet so many of the worst affected countries are contributing the least to climate change.
Until significant changes are made within societies, Extinction Rebellion and similar movements (such as Youth Strike for Climate) are necessary. Activism in any form is useful in bringing awareness to an issue, but I think that the lengths and extent of non-violent ‘civil disobedience’ individuals are willing to go to for climate action is very telling that there is an urgent want and need for change. Seeing young people involved is particularly exciting and inspiring, and I think that those involved represent a new generation who are increasingly beginning to see a need for an economic and social overhaul, and who are willing to demand this from leaders and corporations alike.
Often youth are dismissed as being inexperienced or less educated than those older than us (both often untrue), but with a rise in movements like XR/XR Youth or Youth Climate Strikes across the world I am hopeful that climate activism will be able to create significant change that is needed now more urgently than ever.