The University of Northern British Columbia’s fall semester is coming to a close, and the local news is full of all the fun and fantasy that comes with the holiday season. Broaden your scope a little, however, and students and academics across the globe are using this year’s holiday media to discuss a much less heart-warming topic. Check your recent Twitter feeds, and you might be inundated with images of over one thousand protesters blocking off the main city streets of London, England, as part of the newly formed “Extinction Rebellion.” The group, whose main composition is formed from students, academics, politicians, thinkers, and the “common people” of the United Kingdom, seeks to force the British government to acknowledge the rapid deterioration of our planet and take radical action to mitigate our losses as a human race. The protests in London have been going strong for nearly three weeks, and although many describe it as a “peaceful protest,” it has certainly been disruptive for the day to day welfare of London’s tourist and urban population. Publications by Vogue, The Guardian, and Ecowatch state that because the protest has been going on for so long, the local police have begun to make arrests of those actively involved in the protest, due to their blockage of major highways and tourist centres. Nearly 100 people have been arrested at this time, according to the Guardian.
In order to understand where the Extinction Rebellion is coming from, it is first important to know what their goals are. A Twitter and Instagram post from the group on October 31st, 2018, states “This is our darkest hour. Humanity finds itself embroiled in an event unprecedented in its history. One which, unless immediately addressed, will catapult us further into the destruction of all we hold dear: this nation, its peoples, our ecosystems and the future of generations to come. The science is clear — we are in the sixth mass extinction event and we will face catastrophe if we do not act swiftly and robustly… We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now. We act in peace, with ferocious love of these lands in our hearts. We act on behalf of life.”
The lengthy letter is captioned “The DECLARATION OF REBELLION against the criminal inaction of the UK government on #ClimateBreakdown has just been made,” and only garnered nearly 1000 retweets. The physical response, however, was phenomenal, as the protesters that did show up were not only numerous, but successful in paralyzing the city of London almost immediately, blocking all five of London’s bridges and debilitating any travel inside or out of the city for approximately six hours before London’s Metropolitan Police were able to successfully intervene. The day with the largest response, to date, was on November 17, when an estimated 6000 Extinction Rebellion activists occupied London’s main roadways. Climate Home News’ Chloe Farand writes that the Extinction Rebellion has grown large enough to start setting its sights farther than the United Kingdom, and is working with the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, and Spain to expand its non-violent direct climate actions internationally. The most recent news regarding the protests in London is that the protesters have converged on central London, marching a coffin down Downing Street to Buckingham Palace with the intention of burying it to signify the death of our planet. Responses by local political officials have been limited unless they are in support of the Extinction Rebellion as a whole.
Brent Patterson of Rabble.ca states that “This past weekend, Extinction Rebellion gatherings were organized by Extinction Rebellion Vancouver and Extinction Rebellion Toronto.” He questions whether we will see occupations of the Cambie Street Bridge in Vancouver and the Alexandra Bridge in Ottawa similar to London, and what the reaction will be from the local public. In London, the reaction has been inherently positive, as many new members of the Extinction Rebellion have joined since the beginning of the protest. Will we see a similar response from Canadian citizens? Should we? More importantly, how has the government reacted to the protests in the United Kingdom, and how might we expect our government to respond here in Canada?
As students and faculty of a university that boasts one of the best environmental health and study focuses in Canada, awareness regarding these Extinction Rebellion actions has been stunted at the very least. Is this a good thing for students who are being taught to be aware of the environment and its traumas?
One aspect to be decided, is whether the participants of the Extinction Rebellion are carrying out their actions with good cause. Is a non-violent but direct protest an appropriate way to get the point across that our planet is dying and it is more than likely that we will all go down with it? Is it true that “biodiversity is being annihilated around the world,” as ExtinctionR on Instagram says? If this is the case, what is our responsibility as citizens of nations, provinces, cities, and homes to react to this incredible failure by our governmental institutions and organizations?
Ultimately, is it right to support the Extinction Rebellion?
As a student of this university, I would say that it is our responsibility to become as educated as we can about the matter. If these rebellions are seeking a place in Canada, we should be aware that they are happening and what they stand for before they get here. Therefore, I welcome everyone to do your own research, look at what the Extinction Rebellion could mean to you, and to respond to the idea that our planet is dying. It is up to us whether radical change is necessary and how best to apply it. If we are able to learn as much as we can before the time comes to make a choice, we will be much better prepared to make a good one.
How will you act on behalf of life?