It’s time to add global justice to XR’s demands
Extinction Rebellion must recognise the impacts of colonialism and capitalism, and demand a just transition for all, argues Aranyo Aarjan (*)
By red pepper - 10. October 2019
At the 2019 Labour Conference, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s speech was remarkable for a number of reasons. It outlined the most radical fiscal policy proposals of a major political party in the Global North for decades, including a four-day working week, workers’ right to company shares and new universal basic services programmes. His most radical statement was however identifying the urgency and importance of the fight against climate change.
Following this recognition, McDonell pledged ‘reparations’ to countries in the Global South for Britain’s history of colonialism and early industrialisation by providing free or cheap access to the technologies developed by state investment as part of the Green Industrial Revolution. Not only was this an extremely rare instance of a prominent member of the political class acknowledging the damage caused by Britain’s colonial legacy, it also serves as an operational way to rethink the priorities within the present climate change movement.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) has undeniably been very effective in mobilising thousands of people and forcing the issue of climate change at the front and centre of public consciousness – not just in the UK, but globally. Its April protests, which shut down large swathes of Central London and became headline news, eventually forced the government to declare a national climate emergency. A recent poll commissioned by Christian Aid found that 71 percent of the British public consider climate change to be an issue of greater pressing long-term concern than exiting the European Union.
Yet elements of XR’s tactics, as well as its conceptual framework – which is reflected across the broader mainstream climate movement – leave a lot to be desired. As two weeks of International Rebellion get underway, including protests around Westminster and across the UK, it is time to be honest about climate emergency in the Global South and to take an explicitly anti-capitalist stance.
XR have made three key demands to the British government. First, that they must tell the truth regarding the urgency of the climate crisis and declare a state of national emergency. Second, they must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. Third, they must set up and follow the decisions of a Citizen’s Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
In considering these demands, we must first ask: exactly which ‘truths’ we are referring to? For example, it is true that the per capita CO2 emissions in the richest half of world countries accounts for 86 percent of total global emissions. It is also true that the increasingly prevalent extreme weather events caused by climate change are far more likely to affect the poorer countries in the Global South. People fighting the direct impacts of climate change in their own communities, primarily in the Global South, are being murdered at a rate of four people every week. These basic truths are notably absent from XR’s core narrative.
Second, and relatedly, when it comes to the matter of a Citizen’s Assembly, whose voices will be represented? As McDonnell mentioned in his speech, Britain was among the first countries to become industrialised, beginning our current trajectory towards catastrophe. The early industrialisation of Britain and the other colonial powers was only possible in part through the deindustrialisation of colonised nations. Today, centuries later, the dynamic has hardly changed: the ecological costs of the North’s overconsumption continue to be outsourced to the South.
Consequently, and on the flip side, increasing ecological crises will inevitably lead to increased migration as entire countries become uninhabitable and conflicts arise over resource shortages. This burgeoning reality requires a radical rethinking of current immigration policies, particularly by states in the Global North, which have the greatest capacity to accommodate people displaced. Instead, increasingly xenophobic and racist brands of politics are on the horizon. We can’t have a truthful discussion about the dimensions of climate change without addressing these issues as well.
We can’t have a truthful discussion about the dimensions of climate change without addressing the xenophobic and racist brands of politics on the horizon.
Another, larger truth is that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with the actions needed to tackle climate change. This is hardly, if ever, mentioned by XR. Not even the most aggressive current proposals for investing in green energy can effectively neutralise the increasing energy demands of a growth-driven economy and keep the global mean temperature rise to less than 1.5°C. Market-based ‘solutions’ to climate change, such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems that allow corporations to buy the right to pollute, have been proven to not work. Not only is the free market already massively skewed in favour of the fossil fuel industry through subsidies and tax credits, but many of these free market schemes – such as the recent UN-led initiative for ‘blue carbon’, using coastlands for their carbon storage capabilities – have resulted in grave socio-ecological consequences for indigenous communities. It is time for a different approach.
Global Justice Rebellion
A coalition of international activist groups has come together in order to challenge these prevalent discourses, particularly within XR. Under the banner of Global Justice Rebellion, we are hosting one of the twelve named XR hubs in Central London throughout the ongoing October Rebellion. The space is hosting talks, workshops, arts and music events, debates and celebrations which are expressly platforming and led by groups working on the frontlines of the climate crisis in the Global South. Activists from Asia, Africa and Latin America are sharing their perspectives on issues ranging from the impact of mining on indigenous communities to the neo-colonialism of NGOs, among many other topics. We are running the space with the aim of adding a fourth demand for global climate justice to the existing three – as has been done by XR in the United States. This move can help us build an internationalist movement of solidarity in recognition of the fact that our different struggles ultimately depend on one another.
The fourth demand can help us build an internationalist movement of solidarity in recognition of the fact that our different struggles depend on one another
The Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide campaign is just one group present at our site in Victoria Gardens. The campaign was launched by an alliance of pan-African academics and activists to petition the British government into creating a commission for truth and reparatory justice for Britain’s role in the history of slavery, colonialism and ecocide in Africa. Kofi Mawuli Klu, one of the group’s co-vice chairs, explained: ‘Tracing the present Climate and Ecological Crises to their beginning clearly shows the huge ecological debt owed to the peoples colonised with the reactionary violence of ecocide by the ruling classes of Europe through Imperialism, now still being criminally enforced as Neocolonialism. That is why there can be no seriously effective climate and ecological redress without reparatory Justice.
XR highlights the need to look for solutions beyond politics, and there is an element of truth to that stance. But that shouldn’t have to mean absolute political neutrality. The general elections that will almost inevitably be called in the coming weeks will be an unprecedented opportunity. The pledges made by the Labour Party at their 2019 conference are by far the strongest we have seen in terms of tackling the consequences of climate change in a holistic manner – not just through the Green New Deal but also through pledges to end the ‘hostile environment’ and close detention centres. It ought to be XR’s prerogative to use their influence to make such promises a reality.
However, given how deeply the structural injustices of capitalism and colonialism are embedded in the current political system, we also need to look for solutions outside of those institutions. At such a crucial juncture in our history, it is vital to build solidarity between resistance movements working on the ground in defiance of the climate crisis.
People living in the Global North may find it difficult to envision the full extent of damage done to poorer regions of the world through practices entwined with, and fuelling, climate change, because those stories have been left out of the dominant narrative. The Global Justice Rebellion could prove to be a vital catalyst in reshaping our ideas, by bringing those stories to the forefront, and helping to foster a worldwide web of people power that can truly fight to reclaim our future together.
(*) Aranyo Aarjan is a writer and a spokesperson for the Environmental Justice Bloc, one of the groups organising the Global Justice Rebellion.
A CALL FROM RX UK:
Support our arrestees
The brave XR folk being arrested right now in London need our help with their legal costs.
More than 1,100 have now been taken from the capital’s streets this week, offering up their liberty for the future of our fragile planet.
And over a thousand more who were arrested during the April Rebellion are systematically being charged and hauled in front of the courts. Please support our rebels now:
As our fellow rebels take their message into the courtrooms, we need to support them as much as we can.
The legal bill for the April defendants alone is estimated at over £750,000. To date our combined XR legal fundraising has generated £250,000. An incredible amount, but not yet enough.
And this is a battle we cannot lose.
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AN IMPORTANT NOTE FOR ALL XR REBELS FACING LEGAL ACTION:
Dear rebels, please be aware that the existence of this XR legal fundraiser does not mean that all your legal fees will be paid. Please don’t take any action, in the courts or on the streets, without first being clear about this. To explain, the current combined solicitors’ fees faced by those arrested during the April Rebellion alone are estimated at over £750,000, so any funds you might receive will likely only cover a proportion of your total legal bill. These funds are also not to be used to pay court-issued fines or court costs, only solicitors’ fees, and can be applied for once your legal proceedings have concluded. Details of how to make an application for a share of the fund will be released shortly after the October Rebellion. Stay strong! XR Legal Support
Robinson backs Extinction Rebellion’s disruption of ‘business as usual’
Former president likens climate change activists to protests over apartheid and slavery
Former president Mary Robinson is pictured in Iveagh House in Dublin where she delivered the Michael Sweetman Memorial Lecture on Friday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Former president Mary Robinson has defended the Extinction Rebellion campaign of civil disobedience, saying the protesters were correct to disrupt a “business as usual” attitude towards the threat posed by climate change.
Speaking on Friday after making a speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Robinson likened the demonstrators, who are blocking public roads and disrupting flights, to the peaceful protests against apartheid in South Africa and slavery. Extinction Rebellion activists last week sprayed 1,800 litres of blood at the UK treasury building in London.
“What Extinction Rebellion are essentially trying to do is disrupt and the truth is we need disruption,” she said while taking questions after delivering a lecture named in memory of the late economist Michael Sweetman.
Mr Sweetman, who championed EU membership before his death at the age of 36 in the Staines air crash of June 1972.
Mrs Robinson said that after attending a recent meeting in Rome with business figures and investors from the fossil fuel industry she had “no sense that oil and gas companies in any way are in a hurry to get out of oil and gas”.
She said they needed to be forced to change from the “billions” being made from oil and gas to the “millions” to be made from clean energy.
“It will not happen in a business as usual, easy way; it will only happen if there is enough disruption of business as usual and one way of disrupting is Extinction Rebellion,” she said.
Litigation and shareholders speaking out at company meetings were other ways, she added. Companies needed to change their attitude toward oil and gas so they could be considered as bad as the banned product asbestos.
“We cannot get a safe world for our children or grandchildren with business as usual. We have to disrupt that business as usual,” she said.
‘Moved to tears’
The former UN high commissioner for human rights, who later oversaw UN efforts to tackle climate change, said she was “moved to tears” when listening to teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg rebuke world leaders at last month’s UN general assembly.
“Greta is right to be angry. The climate crisis is worse than we think and it is getting worse more quickly than scientists had thought would happen,” Mrs Robinson said during the lecture.
The former president urged people to “get angry and take action” so as to put pressure on political leaders to act on climate change.
Mrs Robinson made her remarks as the Extinction Rebellion protests in Dublin continued. A crowd of around 150 protesters marched from the Extinction Rebellion Ireland camp in Merrion Square to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on Adelaide Road.
The protesters pasted excerpts from scientific papers about the impact of burning methane gas on to the exterior wall of the department and obstructed the main entrances to the building.
There was no Garda presence at the protest, which was organised to object to the Government’s decision to put the Shannon Liquefied Natural Gas terminal forward for inclusion on a special European list called Projects of Common Interest (PCI). The protesters are concerned that the terminal in the Shannon estuary would be used to import gas fracked in the United States.
Organiser Aisling Wheeler said Minister for Climate Change Richard Bruton was promoting the terminal’s inclusion on the PCI list “despite having no mandate from the parliament”.
“If it gets on that list, it can completely bypass planning. It has priority access to the grid, and if that happens, that means renewable don’t,” she said.