Extinction Rebellion — Zero Emissions & Zero Class Consciousness

Extinction Rebellion’s minimal hourglass symbol outside a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

A week ago I saw this flier announcing a community meeting held by Extinction Rebellion.

Only a short walk from where I live, I decided to check it out. And I learned quite a bit about XR.

What was most memorable was that the speaker, who’s name I don’t recall, broke into tears on three or four occasions. Maybe this sounds cynical, but it seemed calculated and reminded me a bit of Glenn Beck’s histrionics. One thing that caused him to not just tear up but sob, voice cracking, tears flowing, was the disappearance of fireflies in West Virginia. And, yes, it’s tragic. But it made me wonder: does Extinction Rebellion, which provides training for their speakers, encourage people to do this? Moreover, it made me suspicious as to the depth (or lack thereof) of his thoughts on the subject that he then added that he didn’t know, but imagined, that the firefly die off was attributable to global warming and to emissions in particular. He didn’t seem to consider habitat destruction, pesticides like Roundup, or other ecocidal causes. He didn’t seem to think about anything very critically at all. All of which is to say, XR (as it’s abbreviated) is problematic in form and content alike.

Actually, to be frank, the whole thing was so tiring and uninspiring that I’m having trouble writing about it.

I’m having trouble writing about XR’s goal of having a thousand people arrested in New York City by the end of the year. He spoke about that at some length. Arrests, he said, would help grow the movement. Growth, he maintained (in ironically ecocidal/neoliberal fashion prioritizing quantity over quality) is key for their success.

I’m having trouble writing about the speaker’s contradictory statements concerning, among other things, violence; they “welcome everyone” into their organization (including sexists and racists, he said) except those who advocate violence. I guess he hadn’t thought about the degree to which racism and sexism are intrinsically violent. And when I asked if he could reconcile this contradiction he wasn’t able to do so.

I’m having trouble writing about their goal of forcing the US government (not to dissolve, or even reform, but) to form a citizen’s assembly of 5,000 randomly selected people and to be bound by whatever this group, in their wisdom or lack thereof, decides to do about the crisis. Hopefully they don’t decide to initiate some sort of genocidal campaign, or launch aluminum particles into the stratosphere or some other techno fetish. Who knows what they could decide to do.

I’m also having trouble writing about the speaker’s insistence that we are all equally responsible for catastrophic climate change. When I asked whether he thought the boards of directors of the major polluting entities, or the Defense Department, or Exxon and other corporations that misled the public about the damage they were inflicting for profit, are just as responsible as people who are powerless to make equivalent decisions, he said that Extinction Rebellion is not interested in blaming people. That just makes everyone defensive, he said. I didn’t press him on it, but I wondered if he was projecting.

I suppose I’m having trouble as well writing about XR’s four goals: telling the truth, 0 emissions by 2025, the Citizens’ Assembly, and Equitable Transition. Of the four the last, equitable transition, seems to have some radical and emancipatory potential. And I wonder if the Citizens’ Assembly will need to follow any guidelines to ensure that this goal isn’t jettisoned. Hopefully the XR people have thought that one through. But how would you know? Maybe I should research the matter. But I’m not only having trouble writing about it, as I mentioned; I’m having trouble reading about it, too. Maybe I just need some coffee.

I’m also having trouble writing about how it would have been nice to hear more about the equitable transition, and how this could be something to really flesh out and not simply entrust to the existing plutocratic, ecocidal governments of the nation states of the planet to bring into being.

I’m having trouble writing about all of these things, and more, but I was just left so tired and uninspired by the whole affair. And it’s so hot. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a day or two, but probably not.

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Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber.