Extinction Rebellion: Who are they and what are their aims?

Extinction Rebellion protesters Image copyright Getty Images

Environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion is staging protests intended to cause “major disruption” in five UK cities.

So, who are its supporters and what are they hoping to achieve?

What is Extinction Rebellion?

Extinction Rebellion (“XR” for short) describes itself as an international “non-violent civil disobedience activist movement”.

It wants governments to declare a “climate and ecological emergency” and take immediate action to address climate change.

Its origins can be traced to a group called Rising Up!, created in 2016 by a small group of activists.

Image copyright Getty Images

Extinction Rebellion was launched in 2018 and organisers say it now has groups in dozens of countries.

In June, activists blocked traffic in New York, several German protesters chained themselves outside Angela Merkel’s Chancellery in Berlin, and in Paris the police used pepper spray to clear activists blocking a bridge over the Seine.

The group uses an hourglass inside a circle as its logo, to represent time running out for many species.

Are its aims realistic?

In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has three main demands:

  • The government must declare a climate “emergency”
  • The UK must legally commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025
  • A citizens’ assembly must be formed to “oversee the changes”

Reducing CO2 emissions to almost zero in six years’ time would be extremely ambitious.

Severe restrictions on flying would be needed. Diets would have to change, by drastically cutting back on meat and dairy. And there would have to be a massive increase in renewable energy, along with many other radical changes.

But those involved with Extinction Rebellion say the future of the planet depends on it.

“We have left it so late that we have to step up in a semi-miraculous way to deal with this situation,” said co-founder Gail Bradbrook.

However, the group doesn’t say what the solutions to tackle climate change should be.

Instead, it wants the government to create a “citizens’ assembly”, made up of randomly selected people representing a cross-section of society.

Its members would decide how to solve the climate crisis, with advice from experts.

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Media captionWho are Extinction Rebellion?

What are its tactics?

In its latest protest, Extinction Rebellion is using five colourful boats to stop traffic in Cardiff, Glasgow, Bristol, Leeds, and London.

Its biggest protests were in April, when activists brought some of London’s busiest routes to a standstill over 11 days.

More than 1,100 people were arrested – most on suspicion of not following police instructions to move.

It can be a crime to obstruct people going about their business or to trespass on property in a way that disrupts the lives for others.

Some activists glued themselves to trains and to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange. Some marched on Heathrow Airport and others chained themselves up.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Extinction Rebellion uses an hourglass inside a circle as its logo

About 100 people staged a “die-in” – lying down as if dead – inside the Natural History Museum.

Internationally, Extinction Rebellion estimates an additional 400 of its activists have been arrested since 31 October 2018, including about 70 in New York City.

What have critics said about them?

It is not difficult to find people who object to Extinction Rebellion’s tactics – from delayed drivers on Twitter to newspaper columnists.

Its supporters have been criticised as “environmental fanatics” who plan to ruin thousands of holidays and risk alienating thousands of potential supporters.

April’s London protests had cost the police an extra £7.5m Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Activists staged peaceful protests by lying down on busy roads across the capital

Some people trying to travel across London during the protest criticised the disruption, while others said the vandalism was “disgusting”.

Extinction Rebellion says anyone angered by its protests should “find out more about the severity of the ecological and climate crisis”.

It has also defended causing criminal damage, such as smashing windows. It says such tactics are sometimes necessary and that it is “super careful” not to put anyone at risk.

Who supports Extinction Rebellion?

Young people are most likely to agree with its aims, a survey of 3,000 people conducted by YouGov in April suggests.

Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 47% either “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” the disruption of traffic and public transport to highlight Extinction Rebellion’s aims.

Extinction Rebellion gets most support from younger adults

Adults asked if they broadly support or oppose disruptive climate protests

That compared with 36% of those aged 50-65 and 28% of over-65s.

It has also received support from public figures, such as the actress Emma Thompson and politicians Diane Abbott and Caroline Lucas.

Since the start of the year, Extinction Rebellion says it has raised more than £500,000. Most of its funds come from crowdfunding.

And the band Radiohead recently said proceeds from previously unreleased music tracks would go to Extinction Rebellion.


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