Extinction Rebellion: All will fail unless it turns it’s focus to the the targets that matter.

Photo: Francesca E. Harris

Extinction Rebellion has the potential to be an incredibly powerful movement for real social, environmental and political change, but without a focus and determination on ensuring the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system they will neither achieve this nor prevent our extinction. — Zac Arnold writes.

In my mind, there is no doubt that the Extinction Rebellion movement that has surged across the globe in recent months is an immense achievement. Predominantly led from the grass roots with small groups, often referred to internally as “Affinity Groups”, organising their own direct action exercises without restriction. Naturally, however, a leadership free structure is always a difficult thing to achieve in a society so dominated by top-down institutions.

According to the group’s website “Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.” The movement was officially launched in London on October 31st, 2018 when an estimated 1,500 protesters converged on Parliament Square, blocking roads at the key London junction, to launch the declaration of rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion protesters block Parliament Square Junction during the launch of their declaration of rebellion in London on October 31, 2018. (Image: Graeme Robertson)

Since October the movement has gone from strength to strength and rightly so. When you have a clear message, a distinct and eye catching brand and an issue that resonates and has an impact on everyone, you have built the foundations for a strong social movement that is radical and capable of enacting real change for the majority.

There is also no doubt that the vast number of hugely dedicated and determined individuals have pinned down the methods necessary to ensure that, although reluctantly, the Rupert Murdoch’s of this world provide them with the coverage in order to make sure the conversation spreads. But none of these things matter unless the movement you are building is focused on destroying the right enemy. That enemy is capitalism.

Extinction Rebellion activists from Bristol help block roads in Central London as part of the International Rebellion which began on April 15, 2019 and is due to conclude at the end of this week. (Image: Vladimir Morozov)

Now we have reached a pivotal junction in this vibrant movement. Just yesterday, in a letter to The Times, business leaders signalled their support for the Extinction Rebellion action stating that “the multi million-pound costs that the Extinction Rebellion protests have imposed on business are regrettable, as is the inconvenience to Londoners” but they go on to claim that many in the business community support the agenda of Extinction Rebellion, if not their methods.

Whilst this may look like a great milestone in the campaign to achieve such backing from the corporate elite such as the former Chief Executive of multi-national conglomerate Unilever, Paul Polman, but in reality the only way to successful minimise the risk of a climate catastrophe, the only way to do so is to target the heart of the problem. The system.

A protester is carried away by police on Waterloo Bridge in London on Tuesday April 16, 2019. (Image: Getty)

This is where the issue begins. Extinction Rebellion have three clear demands, and nowhere in any of them do they mention the culture of capitalism, the banking sector, the fossil fuel industry. None of these fundamental contributors to the imminent climate emergency are even mentioned in passing and for XR to truly achieve it’s aims, it needs to change this. It needs to refine it’s focus to the right targets and the dismantling of the capitalist class that really fuels this crisis. Ending climate change will require the end of capitalism as we know it, but have Extinction Rebellion got the nerve to bring this about?

As Phil McDuff explained in his piece for the Guardian last month, “we will simply have to throw the kitchen sink at this. Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it. We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital”.

Jon Lansman’s Momentum has targeted over 40 HSBC branches across the UK with occupations and protests over recent months. (Image: LAW)

The entire capitalist system, as we known it, is built on a foundation of greed and selfishness. It has been built deliberately to line the pockets of the privileged few while the many suffer as a result. Our entire system is rigged in favour of an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions and the only way to stop it is replace it. We need to look at how we earn money, how we make energy, how we work, how we travel, how we do business. Everything needs a fresh start before it is too late.

Christian Aid protest against HSBC’s investment in the fossil fuel industry in Norwich on March 13, 2019 (Image: Christian Aid)

However, in order to tackle these root causes of climate change, Extinction Rebellion and the wider environmentalist and green thinking community must be willing to pick up the sword and pick the right targets to aim their increasingly large actions. Other campaign groups and organisations such as Momentum and Christian Aid have started the trend in targeting the very source of the problem. Finance.

HSBC have poured £43 billion into fossil fuels over the last three years, not to mention their complicity in other international humanitarian crises such as the ongoing occupation of Palestine. A financial system that floods the climate change industry with funds is the kind of target that we need to be looking at. This is the kind of target that we need to be dedicating our time to.

I have been told that I am not allowed to criticise Extinction Rebellion because we all need to “remain united”. This is advice that I take and discard of. We should never be in a position where we are forbidden from criticising some of the actions of a group because we agree with the overarching cause and method. In my view, Extinction Rebellion have thus far failed to pick all the right targets.

A splinter of Extinction Rebellion protesters glue themselves together and lock themselves to a fence outside Jeremy Corbyn MP’s North London home during the first week of the International Rebellion (Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

During the first week of Extinction Rebellion’s two week long International Rebellion in London, environmentalists and climate change activists managed to successfully glue themselves together outside the North London home of the jam making, bicycle riding, allotment growing, vegetarian environmentalist and leader of the socialist Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

The group of 4, who had splintered away from the main events of the week, said that they wanted Corbyn’s Labour to “go further” than simply “declaring a climate emergency”. They seemed to forget how Labour had shifted in recent years and how Labour has been continuously producing new policies to lead the green transformation. They also seemed to forget how Corbyn is merely leader of the an opposition political party. Not currently in power.

“Apologies for any inconvenience — we are trying to save the world”. XR demonstrators bring central London to a standstill with 24 hour direct action. (Image: Jacobin)

Within the same week protesters managed to super glue themselves to the top of a train and initiate a whirlwind of memes about a flight from Los Angeles. Although I do not agree with targeting a more environmentally friendly form of transport such as trains, at least I can see what they were attempting to achieve on this occasion.

On it’s current trajectory, the Extinction Rebellion movement is managing to fulfil it’s current purpose incredibly successfully. This purpose is to achieve a wider public awareness of the issue at hand and the very real threat of imminent extinction. But now, something needs to take the lead and turn this organised, mass, civil disobedience into the movement to change the world for the better. Whether it be Extinction Rebellion that leads us on this path is yet to be seen.

Climate change protesters stop a Transport for London train in central London during the International Rebellion (Image: The Independent)

We are on the edge of what could potentially be a movement that transforms the world for the better, a movement where the many take back what belongs to them. Or, this could fizzle out and we could miss the opportunity of multiple lifetimes.

XR is a thriving socio-political movement that much like Brexit will change the political landscape for the long run but we need to ensure that we take this opportunity. We simply need to ensure that our focus, as climate activists and environmentalists, is placed in the best place to inflict maximum damage and to force action because corporations, the banking sector and the government will not give in easily.

But even with the level of enthusiasm and a strong focus on the capitalist class, this will not be enough to achieve the change necessary. We need to work with trade unions. We need a general strike and we need a government capable of tackling the threats we face but at the moment it looks as though we don’t have a government at all.

Protesters glue themselves to the London Stock Exchange on the final day of the International Rebellion, April 25, 2019. (Image: REX)

UPDATE: Since publication, Extinction Rebellion campaigners have staged an action outside the London Stock Exchange, gluing themselves to the building. It’s a move in the right direction. There is still time, the rebellion is just beginning.

Zac Arnold is a Labour Candidate for Lydney East in May’s Local Elections and is Campaign Coordinator for Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party.




Inclusive structural innovation through informed, unapologetic and creative disruption to accepted knowledge, institutions and practices. Formerly, Zac Arnold.

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Jacob Bradfield

Jacob Bradfield

Inclusive structural innovation through informed, unapologetic and creative disruption to accepted knowledge, institutions and practices. Formerly, Zac Arnold.

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