Extinction Rebellion (XR) aren’t your average protest organisation. They are super savvy. I base this on the fact that they have gone from nothing to capturing the world’s attention in just over one year. Their official launch date was 31st October 2018 and their map of local XR Groups reveals a global proliferation that would make wannabe business moguls weep with jealousy!
It certainly can’t just be the message. The scientific community have been trying to galvanise climate change action, and to a lesser extent the extinction message, for decades. XR certainly make no attempt to wrap the science up in palatable half-truths. Matt Ward, the speaker at a recent XR talk, warned the audience that we could feel emotionally rather battered. He wasn’t lying.
Part of their success must be that they are taking the message straight to the heart of professional middle-class England where 9 to 5 high consumption lifestyles are the accepted norm. No woodland fires and off grid living was required to hear this message. Comfortably sat in a capacious Banqueting Hall surrounded by opulent swag and tail damask curtains, a painting collection set to rival the National Portrait Gallery and twinkling antique chandeliers to warm the soul. As Al Gore would say, the message may be full of “uncomfortable truths,” but it was wrapped up in a relatable way. Now that is smart!
Matt Ward presenting an Extinction Rebellion talk at Salisbury Guildhall.
The timing of course is also right. The scientists and many other NGOs have done the donkey work for decades allowing the message to slowly seep in. We have watched from the side-lines as powerful oil companies have manipulated the system, distorted the science, causing confusion, disbelief and inaction. ExxonMobil is still doing it, giving Trump a get out clause for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. This does not mean however, that all the US people agree or are following his lead.
Then there is Greta Thunberg! A young Swedish climate change activist, doggedly sitting outside her parliament, missing school, with one simple message. If this is an emergency, why aren’t those in power doing something? Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, she has turned what many would see as a disability, into a “superpower.” Her purity, integrity and passion are cutting through the haze of all things egotistical that our capitalist system enables.
Regardless of the why and the how, it seems that people are ready to hear XR’s message. Like Greta, they are tackling two interconnected parts of the extinction crisis. That being climate and ecology. The XR speaker Matt Ward points out that 4 out of 5 extinction events have been due to the climate, number 5 was of course courtesy of a meteor, and the present 6th extinction event that we are now entering, is driven by humans. But even that, as we know, is also climate related.
Climate Change Impacts – What we Know
So what should you know? The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that global CO2 emissions must drop by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. Instead of dramatically reducing emissions, the Met Office is forecasting a worrying increase of global CO2 for 2019. The IPCC believe we can adapt to climate change impacts more easily at a 1.5ºC rise in global temperature (above pre-industrial levels) as opposed to 2ºC. However, that scenario isn’t exactly a bed of roses!
By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm lower at 1.5ºC than 2ºC. However, if greenhouse gas emissions don’t change, the IPCC is forecasting a 110cm sea-level rise. The FireTree Flood App gives you an indication of how our future might look but with many cities located near the sea or tidal rivers this does not bode well. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90% at a 1.5ºC increase but at 2ºC, almost all would be lost (>99%). Coral reefs not only provide a habitat for over 1 million aquatic species, food for local communities and an income worth billions of dollars but protection for coastal cities from storms.
Climate Change Impacts – What we Don’t Know
The really scary bit are positive feed-back loops, which when it comes to climate change are far from positive. These processes amplify other connected processes. For example, as global temperatures rise, Arctic sea ice melts. As the area of this highly reflective surface reduces, less solar energy is reflected back to space, amplifying global warming on Earth. Once these “tipping points” are reached, climate change impacts could become irreversible. As we have no idea when this could happen, we don’t know how much longer we have to get our act together.
This might all seem rather depressing. However, the good thing about XR is it is filled with people from every walk of life and being judgemental is not something they do. There is an appreciation that we are trapped in a fossil fuel system and that it’s hard to make changes. I very much got the impression, that where ever you are on that making a change spectrum, you would be welcomed.