By Joe Montero
Hundreds of supporters of Extinction Rebellion descended on Melbourne’s central business district and caused significant disruption on Friday last week.
This the latest of a series of actions around Australia, was aimed at raising the radical idea that we are facing a crisis of such magnitude, that rebellion to force through change is the only option.
Participants swarmed at Melbourne Central, on the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets. This means that rather than march to a point, they appeared there from all directions at a given time. They then regrouped first at Bourke and Swanston Streets, and subsequently, at Elizabeth and Flinders Streets.
The method was aimed to cause traffic chaos on the night of the blockbuster Collingwood-Geelong football match at the MCG.
Speakers made it clear that this is only a taste of what is to come.
The Extinction Rebellion approach is different. Based on the need to declare a climate emergency, acting on it with action to reduce net carbon emissions to net zero by 2015, and establishing a citizen’s assembly system to oversee the existing political system and create the conditions for a far more real democracy is quite revolutionary.
As expected, those who want to leave things exactly as they are beginning to react. Attacks on Extinction Rebellion are starting here in Australia. Usual suspects like the Murdoch stable’s Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair are aiming their sites and firing the first shots. They can be expected to become louder in the near future. The more strident traditional right sees the rebels as troublemakers.
There is also an attack form parts of the traditional left. Their accusation is that Extinction Rebellion supports capitalism and is financed by millionaires, and is therefore a deliberate diversion from the real political battle.
Such thinking is confused and only goes to show their own ineptitude and entrapment in political dogma and fine sounding phrases, which have little connection to the reality. This failing is both the main cause and the ongoing condition of their banishment to the political fringes.
Nevertheless, the attack from this quarter can sow confusion and promote division at its worst. This is why Extinction Rebellion has an interest is answering their accusation.
It is not necessary to to agree with every comma and full stop to appreciate that the fundamentals of what Extinction Rebellion represents. Or to appreciate that this movement is capturing the mood of a growing section of society and opening up the possibilities of what can be achieved.
Extinction Rebellion is not about tampering at the edges and propping up capitalism. There is explicit recognition that the present political and economic system, firmly in the grip of corporate power, is incapable of meeting the needs of both the environment and human society. It must go and be replaced by something entirely different. There is no other choice.
The stark reality is that just 100 corporations are responsible for 71 percent of global carbon emissions, and it is their integration with the political system that is making it possible for them to continue with business as usual. This power must be taken on.
A fundamental change is needed to do this. And the answer put forward by Extinction Rebellion is building a grass roots voice through the participation of ordinary people. In the process of doing this, a new political power will begin to emerge and be the agent of change.
This might look to be over ambitious to some. But is it? The science is telling us that we have only a small window of opportunity to avert a climate catastrophe. Our society is in long-term economic decline and the social cohesion that has been in place for a long time is starting to unravel.
Society is polarising. The gap between those at the very top and the rest is widening, and the distrust of politicians and institutions is greater than at any other time in living memory.
Recognition of the reality of the climate emergency, falling faith in the political and economic system and recognition of the need to act, are what is creating the conditions where a growing portion of society, is looking for new answers.
The instability that this brings about may be marginal at the moment. But it brings the potential for quick deterioration, and this means the possibilities to bring about change could rise along with it. What was thought unreachable only a short time ago may suddenly become obtainable.
It is this shift that made it possible for Extinction Rebellion to grow in the United Kingdom and is now making it possible for it to grow in Australia.
In an interview with The Canary, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion in the United Kingdom, Gail Bradbrook said, “we’re obviously about systemic change…I hope that’s obvious. We’re talking about citizens assemblies. Were talking about debt refusal and changing the financial system and so on.”
She continued to explain that political power exists not in the people but in the hands of an elite and that the answer to this is in the collective power of ordinary people. The ultimate goal of rebellion is to build this collective power.
“Transformation of the political system, society and economy to ones which maximise well being and minimise harm. The existing political and economic system is set to destroy civilisation and much, if not all life on Earth, if allowed to continue.”
There is also the rider that is a movement is going to draw in new people it has to talk in the language that is meaningful to more than the converted. It means involvement with others so that we can find the direction together, accept all positive contributions and learn from each other.
After all, there is something to the idea that we should all practice what we preach. If one proposes a collective solution, the point is to act collectively and strive to be an effective role model, laying the foundations today, for the future one wants to make a reality.