It comes with a mantra of doom. “Unless we start cutting carbon emissions radically within two years, humanity faces extinction.” Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion (also known as XR), told Inside Over quoting UN General Secretary António Gutteres (speaking in September 2018)
Is it so simple, or quite so black and white? Despite the stark warning, not everyone is on board, distracted, I suppose, by the immediacy of life.
“How long are you going to be?” One frustrated consumer at Canning Town tube station – Thursday morning rush hour October 17 – calls out to an Extinction Rebellion activist standing on the roof of a train. “We are trying to get to work!”
For those on the crowded platform, patience was evaporating. The necessity of holding onto a job will mean they keep a roof over their head, be able to feed themselves and their families, and sustain relationships with loved ones, family and friends.
In Canning Town underground there was a clash of agendas.
A frustrated workforce trying to get to their jobs to keep their own lives operating, facing off against the assumed righteousness of a cult-like organisation who have been preaching death and doom.
They may be right, but on that particular day the angry group, though not all unsympathetic to the XR cause, had more immediate issues.
The man on the train roof is hauled to the platform and beaten by the crowd. Some intervene to stop the activist from receiving serious injury while an Extinction Rebellion cameraman has his equipment thrown to the ground and he is likewise punched and kicked.
Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, was formed on October 31, 2018, when 1500 protestors protested at Parliament Square, London. In 12 months the group has grown rapidly, and now has 500 groups across 74 countries.
They come with a philosophy of peaceful protest and civil disobedience, and a reputation for attracting publicity and carrying out a whole series of stunts and events.
In November 2018 they successfully blocked five London bridges bringing central London to a standstill. People have also super-glued themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace, to each other and trains, and in October this year, the group announced two weeks of protests on the streets of London.
Bizarrely, some of the protestors have taken to dressing in scarlet, their faces painted white to mimic Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale novel-turned-television series. They are the invention of Bristol’s Invisible Circus. Known as the Red Brigade, bringing oddly sinister comparisons with the Italian Brigate Rosse, infamous in the 1970’s and 1980’s for kidnappings and assassinations, this section of Extinction Rebellion tend to wander silently around like some kind of mute army.
There has been significant criticism of the movement and the fact that they are mostly white, middle-class and privileged. Some argue they are in danger of becoming a vehicle for a few luvvies who, because of “jet setting” lifestyles, have been described as “hypocrites”.
In April this year, Emma Thompson was described as such when she flew 5,447 miles from Los Angeles to join protests in London – some said, perhaps unfairly, she hadn’t clicked onto the irony.
Olivia Coleman and Benedict Cumberbatch, who was named as ambassador for Indian car brand MG earlier this year, are also supporters of XR, while Belgian royalty, in the form of Princess Esmeralda, got in on the act when she was arrested in October.
There have also been questions and criticism over the nature of the people bankrolling the organisation.
English rock band Radiohead have pumped £250,000 into XR. Recently, they have been crisscrossing America and Canada on tour. In July 2020 the band will be on tour again, in the USA, UK and Europe. Presumably they will be travelling by plane?
Unless, of course, by then, they will have taken to cycling to gigs? Other celebrity donors include the aforementioned Emma Thompson,- and Joesph Corré, artist son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
On October 16 this year, a group of celebrities wrote in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, saying that while they accepted they were “hypocrites” for leading “high carbon lives”, they also recognised that “life on earth is dying”, adding that because of who they are and the lifestyles they follow, they are always open to media attack.
Signatories included Sienna Miller, Jude Law, Bob Geldoff, Peter Capaldi, Benedict Cumberbatch and Glastonbury festival organiser Emily Eavis
US-based Climate Emergency Fund, whose co-founders include Rory Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy and oil heiress Aileen Getty, have also financially supported Extinction Rebellion.
“I am a personal funder of Extinction Rebellion,” Billionaire Hedge Fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn told me through his public relations people via email. “I recently gave them £50,000 because humanity is aggressively destroying the world with climate change and there is an urgent need for us all to wake up to this fact.”
Extinction Rebellion’s International co-ordinator Johnathan Mintram was a bit more forthcoming when he said: “The UN Secretary-General has been clear that we’ve probably got about 16 or 17 months to do something. Given the time we are working to, we need finance to do the training, the outreach, the mobilisations. So, while the individuals who gave money might have lifestyles that have a high carbon footprint that in many ways is unfortunately inevitable as things stand.”
In a report, provocatively titled “Extremism Rebellion”, the British centre-right think tank described Extinction Rebellion as anti-democratic and anti-capitalist. The authors, Richard Walton, former head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command (SO15), and Tom Wilson, described as Senior Research Fellow in the Security and Extremism at Policy Exchange suggest that XR’s ambitions : “reach far beyond environmentalism…it is a campaign that seeks to use mass civil disobedience over climate change, to impose full system change to the democratic order.”
“Full system change” sounds pretty radical.
“We are transparent about our funding,” Donnachadh McCarthy tells me irritated. “Why isn’t the media asking who is funding the think tanks who are trying to destroy us? The Policy Exchange has issued a report calling us an extremist group… and yet the media is giving coverage to think tanks that aren’t transparent. We are facing a… multi-billion pound misinformation campaign across the planet trying to persuade people that oil corporations are doing the right thing. The fact we have raised £1.5million is tiny compared to what has been thrown at their misinformation campaign to help people destroy our planet.”
In the end, we are left to wonder, what is the price for the survival of humankind?