What I think about the Extinction Rebellion protests7 min read

With peaceful protests, mass arrests and roadblocks, Extinction Rebellion are trying to catch our attention again.

How likely is XR to be successful with their current demands? Will their current methods increase the public’s support or turn them away?

The Facts

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an international movement that uses civil disobedience to protest mass extinction and climate change. XR reasons the need for protest by claiming that “the world war – of profit versus life – is already underway”.

It’s not about the future, it’s about what’s already happening in the present and has been happening for centuries now.

The world is dying, not quite to-be-dead. There is a delicate difference in those two states. ‘To-be-dead’ is a confirmation of all hope being lost – that is, luckily, not the case. Yet. That is why XR is protesting right now.

Extinction Rebellion is not just a rebellion to end mass extinction. It’s also a rebellion against all social injustice that still occurs on our planet – because the truth is that climate change is racist, sexist, and it inhibits children the right to their futures. It is everything that’s wrong with our beloved home; both physically and mentally.

XR has three demands for the UK government:

  1. Tell the truth” by declaring a climate emergency to the public.
  2. Act now” to reduce mass extinction and greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
  3. To go “beyond politics” and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly.
Climate change protest
The climate protestors are known for making creative signs and posters. Sebastian Dooris/Flickr

Methods and Criticisms

Extinction Rebellion’s civil disobedience involves non-violent protests as well as planned mass arrest: both particularly difficult for the police to control.

Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, explains the logic behind this strategy in his book, A Common Sense for the 21st Century: Only Nonviolent Rebellion Can Now Stop Climate Breakdown and Social Collapse. He explains that the attention needed to express the solemnity of the matter can only be achieved through disruption and law-breaking. He also observes that only through a willingness to be arrested and go to prison can protests be taken seriously. His final strategic consideration is that protests must be non-violent and respectful, thus he created the “civil resistance model”. 

These methods have been criticised on numerous occasions.

Damien Gayle claims that XR’s casual ‘sacrifice’ of imprisonment undermines the hardships of people who haven’t got the privilege to make that choice. He elaborates that black and other ethnic minority groups in the UK can’t trust the system in the same way white people can, and therefore haven’t got the opportunity to make this ‘sacrifice’ for the movement.

Essentially, Gayle argues that ‘’sacrificing’’ yourself in getting arrested is a sign of white privilege.

Ben Smoke is another person to knowingly disapprove of this type of action. He sees all the “resources, time, money and energy” as a huge waste, which authorities could be using for environmental development instead. He additionally highlights that this method might cause an increase in anti-protest legislation.

It’s Not All Arrests, Chaos and Calamity

Some have described their experience with XR as “calm”, one of whom includes vlogger Beth Morse, who attended their Memorial and Funeral Procession. This funeral march was open to “all [those] deeply concerned by the climate and ecological crisis” so they could come together to “mourn all the life we’ve lost, are losing and are still to lose”.

Beth’s vlog explains why the sixth mass extinction happening right now is the scariest mass extinction the world has ever faced. She explains how our actions are causing it, but that we have a choice, an obligation, to stop it. Dinosaurs, among many other pre-historic animals, didn’t have any say in their extinction. But we do.

“Very calm” and “really happy and confident”, she thought she would be nervous about joining the protest but showed a sense of surprise in her report.

Climate Angels at Extinction Rebellion Declaration Day Melbourne
Climate Angels at Extinction Rebellion Declaration Day in Melbourne. John Englart (Takver)/Flickr

Our Opinions

On the third level of our library, I asked a few City students about their opinions on the XR protests. This is what they said:

A second-year Accounting and Finance student relayed that she agrees with their vision and mission, but she is “not very sure” of their methods.

A second-year Civil Engineering student suggests that they keep their protest one-day-long each time so to not turn the public away from them. She doesn’t want to see this happen because she too wholeheartedly believes climate change is very significant and must be communicated.

A third-year Mathematics student also believes that climate change is a real and imminent threat that needs to be resolved with utmost urgency but feels that “extremists give us, people who care about the environment, a bad image”.

A Third-year Computer Science student was exposed to the Extinction Rebellion through a Red Rebel Brigade activity on a Twitter post and subsequently considered them to be part of a “satanic cult due to media representation”. However, upon searching them up, he decides that they fight for a “really good cause” and “would support them”. It seems that students support their cause but are cautious about their methods so far due to “bad image” or certain media representation.


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What Does the Future Hold for XR?

Personally, I believe protesting the climate crisis is necessary – but approaches and demands need to change if results are to be expected.

I don’t think the ‘inconvenience’ of protests will turn the public away from them. The public is waking up and understanding the gravity climate change imposes on our survival.

However, I worry that their law-breaking image might be frowned upon by the public sector. While that might not concern the general public, it could hinder them in receiving support from world leaders and local governments.

This matters because though illegality might catch people’s attention, it might turn away public sector workers from supporting them – something evident in this online comment regarding XR: “I too would be happy to be arrested – but only when I am retired… In the public sector where I work – we are not allowed to talk to them, they are seen as extremists!!” 

XR should be more considerate of the effect that their mass arrest tactic is having on minority groups in the UK. If climate change is to be treated like a socio-economic battle (which it is), XR needs to extend that battle against the imbalance of how different people are treated due to their socioeconomic backgrounds.

This is important because climate change is everyone’s fight. Everyone should be able to fight it, so using methods that are disadvantageous to certain groups is both unfair and impractical.

What Happens Now?

If world leaders are to meet the demands, the demands themselves must be more realistic. The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has already claimed that XR’s demanded time frame “has absolutely no chance of being fulfilled”. To meet XR’s request, “Flying would need to be scrapped and 38 million cars would need to be removed from the roads. In addition, 26 million gas boilers would need to be disconnected within six years.”

Climate change and mass extinction are looming hazards. Not something we must face in the future, but now.

We should all fight against it and do our part– but sensibly, considerately and most importantly, pragmatically.

Further Resources

I came across these and would recommend everyone to read or view the list below:

Tanjin Huda


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