Making Every Day, Earth Day

The science is clear. We are facing a climate crisis — a crisis that could cause “irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies”. We need to take dramatic action to cut emissions in half within 12 years, in order to limit the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Just as the problem is a systemic one, so is the solution. We cannot lose any more time pinning all our hopes on governments — which have not taken action at the scale and pace needed. That’s the thinking behind both the international Fridays for Future school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion movement, which is now present in 80 countries.

Extinction Rebellion has 3 core demands for the government: declare a climate emergency, act now to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2025, and create a Citizen’s Assembly to represent the people’s voice in overseeing the progress.

Their main tactic has been non-violent, mass civil disobedience through blockades at iconic central London sites, including fixing a boat at the junction of Oxford Street and Regent Street and occupying Waterloo Bridge. The aim of the movement is to cause disruption as a starting point to ‘breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation’. As described at today’s Citizen’s Assembly at Marble Arch, the movement is about joining up existing resistance efforts across groups in the UK and internationally, to create collective politics against an ‘economic system that doesn’t serve us’ and for a “different kind of politics which allows all of us to be heard”.

Politics of Belonging

This is exactly what George Monbiot describes is the necessary foundation of systemic change to combat climate change: a ‘politics of belonging’. This system combines representative democracy and community action, giving people a sense of belonging — and responsibility — to improve their communities. Since the Extinction Rebellion protests started, over 50,000 people have joined the movement . While critics say they’ve caused unnecessary disruption and wasted police time, rebels argue that disruption is necessary to prove to the government that there is mainstream demand for change.

Whether you agree with their methods or not, through their actions, the Extinction Rebellion has accomplished some really important things. First, it has put climate action on the public agenda, and shifted mainstream media coverage from the initial discussion about civil disobedience and arrests, to the important ‘why’ driving these tactics. Secondly, it has demonstrated what productive community action can look like. When visiting all of the Extinction Rebellion locations, there was an overwhelming feeling of positivity and hope — I saw people picking up their litter, answering each others’ questions, sharing food and smiling at strangers (gasp!). I felt like I was at a festival. Protests also remained non-violent: over the week, no police officers have been injured.

The transformation of Waterloo Bridge into ‘The Garden Bridge’, was particularly special. It reminded me of the Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia, where every Sunday for 25 years now, cars are banned on 75 miles of roads to make way for cyclists and pedestrians. While walking the ‘Garden Bridge’ or joining the crowd at Oxford Circus, I felt the protests accomplished what the Ciclovía set out to do: they allowed citizens to “take over the city’s public space”, “feel that the city belongs to them” and that “everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal”. This positivity was a breath of fresh air (literally) compared to the sometimes defeatist public discourse on climate change.

Participatory Culture

We all have a role to play in stopping the climate crisis — starting with how we lead our daily lives and how we engage in our communities. Research shows that a participatory culture becomes the norm when 10–15% of people in a geographical community engage in community projects. This is the premise behind the Extinction Rebellion’s goal to mobilize 3.5% of the UK’s population. Maybe you want to participate, but you don’t see yourself taking part in a protest or civil disobedience. Instead, could you see yourself taking other climate actions in your community, like:

  1. Contributing to a local community fridge to reduce food waste
  2. Donating to reforestation or rewilding projects to sequester carbon
  3. Organizing a Meat Free Monday event at work

The Extinction Rebellion has proven to me that collectively, we’re capable of causing disruption — and positive change. You are not alone and you are not powerless in the face of climate change. You are part of a global community of people who are committed to protecting life on earth, including our own.

Let’s continue to remember and use that power. That way, every day can be Earth Day.