11. Extinction Rebellion Comes to Philly

This show aired on Friday May 16, 2019 on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 FM in Philadelphia. You can hear the audio afterwards as a podcast. The script is below. Produced by Meenal & Tanya.


Hello and welcome

Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. I’m joined this week by long-time friend Tanya Seaman. We’ll also have a guest interview with a friend from Extinction Rebellion.

Last week we talked about

Last week we talked about the Paris Climate Accord, that We Are Still In the Paris Agreement as residents of Philadelphia and recently, also Pennsylvania. We tried to understand what this could mean for climate leadership in our region.

We can still remind our Mayor & Council members of their commitment to the Paris Climate Accord back in 2017. Ask them about resolution 170706, and what they’re doing to reduce Citywide emissions 28% by 2025, and by 80% by 2050 — or sooner!

Remember that our Mayor as well as all City Council members are up for re-election this year — next week, actually! — and are more likely to listen to us. You can find their contact details on the Engage page at Philly Talks Climate dot com.

Please make sure you vote next Tuesday, on May 21st! We need to vote for candidates who will Lead On Climate.

This week we’ll talk about a new movement — Extinction Rebellion!

What is Extinction Rebellion? Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.

At the core of Extinction Rebellion’s philosophy is nonviolent civil disobedience. They promote civil disobedience and rebellion because they think it is necessary. They ask people to find their courage and to collectively do what is necessary to bring about change.

What does the Extinction Rebellion movement ask for?

Four things…

  1. Tell the truth — Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act now — Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. This is much sooner than even the Paris Agreement we talked about, which calls for only a 28% emissions reduction by 2025.
  3. Involve the public with Citizens Assemblies – Move beyond politics — Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice. This means moving away from party politics, which usually divide people along party lines rather than uniting them along common concerns. Locally, this seems to line up with local demands for a participatory plan for the future of PGW.
  4. Create a just transition — Government must prioritize the most vulnerable people; it must assist with reparations led by and for Indigenous people and People of Color; it must establish legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity; and it must repair the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of humans and all species in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

Phew! That was a mouthful. But nothing most of us would have a problem supporting, I think!

News You Can Use — Extinction Rebellion and what’s happened in the UK

Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, began publicly with a call to action signed by almost a hundred English academics and published in the British newspaper, The Guardian in October 2018. Here is what they said:

“While our academic perspectives and expertise may differ, we are united on one point: we will not tolerate the failure of this or any other government to take robust and emergency action in respect of the worsening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are incontrovertible, and it is unconscionable to us that our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of an unprecedented disaster of our own making.

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with about 200 species becoming extinct each day. Humans cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or of science with impunity. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak.

Our government is complicit in ignoring the precautionary principle, and in failing to acknowledge that infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources is non-viable. Instead, the government irresponsibly promotes rampant consumerism and free-market fundamentalism, and allows greenhouse gas emissions to rise. Earth Overshoot Day (the date when humans have used up more resources from nature than the planet can renew in the entire year) falls ever earlier each year (1 August in 2018).

When a government wilfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm and to secure the future for generations to come, it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship. The “social contract” has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.

We therefore declare our support for Extinction Rebellion….We call for a Citizens’ Assembly to work with scientists on the basis of the extant evidence and in accordance with the precautionary principle, to urgently develop a credible plan for rapid total decarbonisation of the economy.”

This letter was followed by a second open letter also published in The Guardian, in December 2018 from another hundred academics, authors, politicians, and activists from around the world.

Between the publication of these two letters, between October and December last year, there were several acts of civil disobedience in the UK.

The first event was a sit-in at the UK headquarters of Greenpeace, encouraging Greenpeace members to participate in acts of mass civil disobedience as the only remaining alternative to avert the worst of the climate catastrophe.

The second event was at Parliament Square in London, announcing the Declaration of Rebellion against the UK government. Drawing more than a 1,000 people to listen to the Declaration of Rebellion, the group decided to occupy the street directly in front of the Houses of Parliament. The occupation was joined by Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas and writer George Monbiot, and resulted in 15 people getting arrested for sitting in the street.

Acts of civil disobedience soon resulted in the arrests of over 60 people. By mid-November, people blocked doors to the Department of Business, Energy and Industry Strategy by glueing their hands to the doors. A couple of days later, some people glued themselves to the gates by the Prime Minister’s residence on Downing Street.

On November 17th, a day dubbed Rebellion Day, about 6,000 people blocked the five main bridges over the River Thames in London. The result? Major traffic disruption and 70 arrests. But no political action.

Then came swarming roadblocks where people created roadblocks for seven minutes at a time, repeatedly during rush-hour traffic. In addition to the roadblocks, there were mock funeral marches to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, reading a letter to the Queen, glueing themselves to palace gates, painting climate change graffitti, die-ins at shopping centers, and even targeting the BBC for failing to report on the climate emergency. This last one resulted in a lockdown of the BBC headquarters in London. But no change in reporting by the BBC.

Know that before any of this, organizers spent the past year at many community meetings in the UK, relaying the urgency to act on climate change and building up their base.

January, February and March brought actions in Edinburgh, at the London Fashion Week, and staging the Blood of our Children outside the Prime Minister’s house. During this time, several towns passed Climate Emergency Resolutions. The first of April brought a naked demonstration to the House of Commons, when a dozen people stripped and glued themselves to the viewing glass during a debate.  

And then there were the 10 days in April

Ten intense days in London, with marches, arrests and widespread disruption from the 15th thru the 25th. What happened? The Extinction Rebellion teams blocked roads at high-profile (think very busy) locations in the city. Some super-glued themselves to tops of trains.

Thirteen and fourteen year olds marched along the access road to Heathrow Airport with a banner — Are we the last generation?

Some staged die-ins, others glued themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange.

By April 25th, over 1100 people had been arrested. The local jails were overflowing. Celebrities had joined the Rebellion.

And the result? The British parliament said “it hoped to work with all parties to make progress on climate change”. The environment minister said the “point had been made”, and that it was time to have a “a serious conversation about what we can do to collectively deal with this problem”.  Another politician said that global warming would get “far worse” if the government did not act with “greater urgency”.

While the national government is trying to respond, “scores of councils and local authorities in the UK have declared a climate emergency in recent months – as has the Labour party. Increasing numbers of politicians – certainly on the opposition benches – acknowledge that this is the biggest challenge facing humanity.” 

Others said… “Extinction Rebellion has changed the paradigm of climate protests.”

Where else are people rising up as XR?

At least 4 cities in Australia organized a Declaration Day when people assembled, protested, and demanded that their governments and media declare a state of climate emergency.

Similar actions sprang up last month in Ireland, Canada, France, Sweden, Germany, Colombia, and New Zealand. And in major cities across the world — cities like Berlin, Heidelberg, Brussels, Lausanne, Madrid, and Melbourne.

In the US, Denver, New York City Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Laramie Wyoming and Boston. In New York City, over 60 people were arrested for occupying the street and hanging banners from lamp posts. Chapters are springing up around the globe!

What are the principles of the Extinction Rebellion movement?

All are welcome to participate in the Extinction Rebellion movement. They ask that we abide by a few core principles, such as…

  • A shared vision of change
; one where we create a world fit for generations to come.
  • Set our mission on what is necessary
 — Research has shown that once 3.5% of a population wakes up to an issue, the issue has enough traction to begin working on the demands. Surely more than 3.5% of us are aware of the climate crisis and the need for a rapid transition away from burning fossil fuels.
  • Agree we need a regenerative culture
, one that is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
  • Openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system.Uh-oh, they’re talking about leaving our comfort zones to take action for change. I guess we each need to challenge ourselves to go further than we think we can.
  • Value reflecting and learning
 — This sounds like an iterative process of action, reflection, learning, and back to planning the next set of actions. And being open to learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.
  • Welcome everyone and every part of everyone
 — They say they’re working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
  • Avoid blaming and shaming
 – We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
  • A non-violent network — Using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
  • Based on autonomy and decentralisation
  — We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power.

Anyone who follows these core principles and values can organize actions in the name of Extinction Rebellion.

And now, Extinction Rebellion comes to Philly!

We met some of their members via social media, then one of them came to the monthly chapter meeting of 350 Philly. And most recently, we met Extinction Rebellion in the streets at the two Youth Climate Strikes — in March and in May. They’re people not unlike you and me. Here with us today in the studios is Cam… Hi Cam!

So, what got you to join Extinction Rebellion?

Always been outspoken for the environment. I’ve been aware of the extinction symbol well before I saw the movement Extinction Rebellion on on social media. The events that unfolded in the UK last fall sparked me to get involved. I saw people from all walks of life courageously speaking truth to power while engaging in civil disobedience. I felt like I finally saw an environmental movement whose response to the crisis at hand matched the gravity of the situation. The phrase “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” never made more sense to me, than in that moment and I haven’t stopped since.

Had you been involved in other actions before joining XR?

Actually, this is my first time getting involved in activism. I’ve always been outspoken about social and environmental justice, and until now, I hadn’t taken that extra step. I’ve just realized how easy it was to just step up and show up and I don’t know what was holding me back. Organizing is the antidote to despair.

What is your role with XR Philly?

XR is decentralized and non-hierarchical so I don’t have a role with a title of sorts. I’m a jack-of-all-trades, and lately, I’ve been really focusing on outreach, social media, and really training ourselves to get involved. We’re still a pretty small group in Philly. 

What wins — if any — have you seen? Perhaps in the UK?

Quite a few wins, actually. It really just shifted the conversation in the overall discourse on environmentalism, on climate change, on the ecological collapse in general. But since the week of rebellion in April, they’ve got the government of the UK to decalre a climate emergency. Over 500 regional councils around the world have declared climate emergency, as well as 2 nations (Ireland and the UK). It’s bringing the climate and ecological crises front and center.

What do you think it will take to change the minds (and hearts?) of politicians?

Non-violent non-cooperation. We withdraw our consent and refuse to carry on with our daily activities. Once the system doesn’t operate, once they realize how many people care about the fate of life on Earth, change will seem popular and inevitable. 

What do you think it will take to change the everyday behavior of non-politicians?

Conveying accurately the truth of the dire situation we find ourselves in. We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency that directly threatens our existence as a species as well as life on Earth as we know it. We join you in your anger and grief. We are living during a pivotal moment in human history, if we do not change course as soon as possible, we risk missing the point of no return, runaway climate change. We just need to show that our collective people power works. Time is running out.

I’ve studied what happened in London and I quite like that swarming tactic of blocking roads just for 7 minutes and then disappearing again.  Is there a particular tactic that you like?

The 7 minutes symbolizes that every 7 minutes a species goes extinct.  I like the swarming tactic as well because it doesn’t affect our safety as much. I personally like more artistic choreographed demonstrations that symbolically show how formidable and creative our peaceful disruptions can be.

What can you share about your plans?

XR is planning our second week of non-violent rebellion in the fall and in the meantime we are going to focus on working with the many fantastic groups in this city that have already been on the ground for years fighting against environmental injustice while we focus on outreach and regenerative culture.

How can people reach you? 

Everyone can reach out to us on social media, on Twitter, FB and Instagram find us  @xrphilly. You can also reach out to us directly by emailing xrphilly@protonmail.com.


Engage with Elected Reps

One of the best ways to engage with your elected reps is to actually vote! Our primary elections are coming up next Tuesday May 21st.

Who should you vote for?

Ah… we’ve studied the endorsements of many environmental groups, notably 350 Philadelphia, Neighborhood Networks, Reclaim Philadelphia, Sierra Club and others and have made a list for you. Take a look at the Vote page on Philly Talks Climate.

Not sure where to go vote?

Most polling places are within walking distance of everyone’s homes. Go to Philadelphia Votes dot com to find your polling site.

Connected with Concerned Others

On Sunday, May 19th, join Extinction Rebellion’s Philly team at 11 for their weekly open air gathering at Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia. You’ve heard about Extinction Rebellion in London, blocking bridges and busy intersections, demanding climate action now! It’s time to plan such rebellions here, don’t you think?

Thanks for listening… this is Meenal and Tanya on Philly Talks Climate


Music for this show

  • Extinction Rebellion Acceptance Song, lyrics here, audio here
  • I’m sorry my friend, this is an emergency – I like the “low part”, lyrics here, audio here

Media references

May 12 2019, Extinction Rebellion and the new visibility of religious protest — Climate change is increasingly seen as a spiritual crisis that requires a spiritual response.

May 8, 2019 — The UK has now gone a week without coal power. It’s aiming for the most aggressive climate target in the world. | Lawmakers also declared a “climate emergency” after Extinction Rebellion protests drew down in London.  

It means that by 2035, all new cars must be electric. Forests must expand from covering 13 percent of land today to 17 percent by 2050. All buildings must be retrofitted and decarbonized. People must consume less meat. Thermostats in the winter should be set no higher than 19 degrees Celsius.

Hitting zero net emissions wouldn’t be any more expensive than the current target

May 3, 2019 — Street Roots — Extinction Rebellion: Disruption and arrests can bring social change The scale of Extinction Rebellion’s latest protests has forced climate activism into the mainstream conversation

Through their blockades of iconic central London sites, Extinction Rebellion is keeping climate change at the forefront of the public’s and politicians’ lips, making the seemingly abstract problem facing all of us feel real. And rather than just warning of this climate emergency, it offers a vision of an alternative future, where a Citizens Assembly takes the lead in reducing U.K. emissions to net zero.

May 1, 2019 — REBELS WITH A CAUSE — Extinction Rebellion succeeded where most climate protests fail

Extinction Rebellion has changed the paradigm of climate protests.

April 30, 2019 — New Internationalist — I was wrong about Extinction Rebellion. This is why

Extinction Rebellion’s masterstroke has been the way it used language. By focussing on terms such as ‘extinction’, ‘climate emergency’ and ‘earth systems breakdown’ and the demand of ‘telling the truth’, they have zoned in upon and overturned one of the key blockages to dealing with the crisis: consciousness of its urgency.

In summary then, it is clear that over the last two weeks XR has succeeded through its innovative tactics, in shifting the Overton Window. It has successfully created a sense of emergency, and it has reframed the climate crisis around the truth: that the situation is urgent.

Yet the socialist and Labour movement has in this last week shown the crucial role it too will play, from endorsing the protests to winning power and developing economic policy and political frameworks to force action. Moving forward, these two movements need one another. When I wrote for this publication last year, I was sceptical. My predictions of failure have been proven incorrect – and I couldn’t be happier.

April 26, 2019 — Vox — Why the climate protests that disrupted London were different — Extinction Rebellion skillfully used civil disobedience to sound the alarm on the climate emergency.

April 25, 2019 — BBC — Extinction Rebellion Protests: What happened?

April 25, 2019 — The Guardian — The Extinction Rebellion scorecard: what did it achieve?

April 25, 2019 — Extinction Rebellion protests win political attention in the U.K. | After 1,000 arrests and days of disruption, one group’s direct action has successfully driven climate change up the political agenda in Britain.

But the net result of 11 days of disruption is a huge amount of publicity and the ear of senior politicians.

April 21, 2019 — Forbes — If You Haven’t Heard Of Extinction Rebellion Yet, You Soon Will

If for no other reason than self-interest, politicians and business leaders who think they can continue playing down the issue of climate change or just plain ignore it should give some thought to their own futures.

April 20, 2019 — How Extinction Rebellion planned its eye-catching London protests


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