Understanding Extinction Rebellion
For some time now I've been thinking about joining Extinction Rebellion (XR). Finally they were the bang that needed to happen for the politicians to seriously take notice of the strength of feeling towards climate change policy inaction. They were the bang I needed to change my policy. But then I questioned them as a group, it seemed like being part of what they were doing was something only some people could be part of. It seemed like another group reserved for the few and was at odds with the rest of the nation. Closer to home, they were a group that was polarising amongst my peers. And even though I found myself relating to what they were campaigning about, I was torn- was I brave enough to side with XR? Was it about bravery?
I see now that for XR the kind of action and civil disobedience they’ve been carrying out has been the only way to get policy makers and corporations to prioritise Climate Action. What they’re doing is for all of us.
One third of workers in the United Kingdom have less than £500 in savings for a rainy day. Too many live with profound insecurity. They are too busy finding the next meal for their own children to worry about the planet that their grandchildren will inherit. It’s up to those who can to push the extreme, push open the doors of the Overton Window of discourse.
Even though it can be alienating to some people that’s irrelevant- what they're fighting for is what affects all of us, it's human rights, social justice, things like air pollution, things like telling us that living in certain areas of London will mean a 10% diminished lung capacity for all children growing up in the area.
Things like the last five years – from 2014 to 2018 – are the warmest years ever recorded in the 139 years that NOAA has tracked global heat. CO2 is at its highest level for 12 million years with our oceans absorbing 93% of all warming to date. And that 60% of wildlife has been lost since 1970.
And what about the fact that we're in a country where we can actually freely protest, carry out civil disobedience - hundreds around the world have and continue to be murdered for speaking out on climate change.
How did it get this far?
Where is policy now?
2018 was a record year for carbon emissions. The use of wind and solar energy rose by double digits that year, but renewables are still just 13 per cent of global energy consumption. This is only going to get larger, but fossil-fuel burning will increase too, as the world’s population grows, gets richer and consumes more energy. No major carbon-emitting economy except India is doing enough to keep the rise in temperatures below 2C, says research group Climate Action Tracker.
As Simon Kuper pointed out in the FT last weekend, “the harsh fact is that going carbon-neutral would be more painful than most greens admit, Many politicians are now promising “green growth”. Maybe one day we will indeed enjoy renewable-powered overconsumption. However, for the next two decades at least, until greener technologies arrive, cutting emissions will hurt.”
XR has moved decision makers to change policy and focus towards “green growth.”
The civil disobediences they appeal to have won monumental rights and changed political regimes, but I fear they will not be able to transform the capitalist economic relations that continue to cause climate breakdown.
What more needs to be done to fight climate change?
As some governments legislate to totally exile fossil fuels, most are lagging. For those we can work with, radical lawyers are needed to leverage the legal system into forcing governments into action consistent at least with the Paris Agreement. According to experts like Farhana Yamin who spoke at Chatham house recently during Climate Action Week - most climate law is inadequate, so we should attempt to create new law mandating action and experiment with legal innovations like leveraging human rights law to create new possibilities for movement building and policy formation.
Banks should stop fossil fuel finance. They should focus on moving capital into social and environmental investment. We were fortunate to attend the Katapult summit back in May- SOCAP meets Burning Man - meets TechCrunch Disrupt. We need more of these events, that bring together the best brains and financiers and impact businesses. It’s a $17 trillion industry afterall.
- Nationalise and liquidate the fossil fuel industry
Environmentalists such as Bill McKibben say we now have the tech we need to combat the climate crisis - engineers have managed to dramatically lower the costs of wind and solar energy. But finance is still pouring money into private fossil companies, Barclays Bank alone has given $85bn of financing for fossil fuels since 2015. Fossil companies need to be brought under public management- and held accountable for prioritising green projects. This would force finance into more zero-carbon infrastructure projects; and so decarbonise industry, transport and agriculture. Owen Jones shares more radical solutions in the Guardian.
What about business today, what can we learn from XR? How can we use our position of privilege?
Business is where we can effect the most change, we have to be radical. The way we see it, most businesses to date have shunned social and environmental costs focusing solely on making money for shareholders. We as businesses have a responsibility to replace shareholder primacy as the organizing idea of capital markets and install in its place “value for all.”
Whilst the government is tying itself in knots and rigging the markets to benefit capital at the expense of people and planet we as businesses should focus on people and planet, then profit.
To coin a phrase used by BCorp, 'use Business as a force for good.'
What this means in essence for us as a brand is to always be transparent, truthful, never compromise on the impact, prioritising it and where moneys going. We’ll seek ways to always better our supply chain, how we source and send stuff. Take radical steps to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. Work with others to create new solutions together.
We’ll encourage people to support brands that are actively spreading awareness about this emergency, and doing something about it when it comes to their businesses.
We’ll do it in an inclusive and non preachy way. We need to keep pushing that window of adoption around climate change wide open. And we want our OB community to help us, contributing to what we do - helping raise awareness and celebrating the journeys and victories of the world’s preservation.
As employees we are also consumers and we can be civilly disobedient in how and what we buy. Buy less, buy better, use our purchasing power. Bring in lunch when you can, take a bag everywhere you go, think about your footprint, push your family and friends to change their habits. And the only option is something covered in plastic leave it in the supermarket in protest.
This is a Climate emergency.
Add activism to everything you do.
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