Who is behind Extinction Rebellion in Glasgow?

10 May 2019


Photograph: Extinction Rebellion Scotland

The Glasgow Sloth spoke with three members of the climate change activism group to find out more about their motivations

Climate change is being discussed all over the world and in the media. On 2 May 2019, the UK Committee on Climate Change released a report recommending net zero emissions by 2050 to stop global warming.

Earlier this month, the UK Parliament declared an environmental and climate emergency, which was one of the key demands of Extinction Rebellion in a series of protests. The protests saw thousands of people coming together in London to march against climate change.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an international movement of environmental activists using non-violent civil disobedience to fight for a radical change over climate change issues.

The Glasgow Sloth spoke with three Extinction Rebellion Glasgow members to find out who is behind the environmental activism group and why are they fighting for climate change.

Beth Johnstone, a student at the University of Glasgow – where the activism group is also represented with almost 300 members in their Facebook group – Jack Hutchcroft and Bobbie Winter-Burke shared their testimony.

When did you join Extinction Rebellion and how did you find out about the group?

Beth Johnstone: I heard about the group through a friend that shared my concern about the state of the planet. She told me she’d heard of this movement that was gaining some traction – when I watched some of the initial clips I remember crying; it was the first sign of hope I’d really seen that as a species we weren’t going to just sit back and allow our home to be destroyed. This was in October 2018.

Why did you get involved and why Extinction Rebellion and not another activist group?

Jack Hutchcroft: I still believe the only way we can mitigate and adapt to climate change is through a mass political movement. I am not sure why I was attracted to Extinction Rebellion rather than any other group, perhaps it seemed more accessible. It didn’t seem like you would be expected to have any experience in activism and they also did a great job of communicating the urgency of the issue.

BJ: Groups like Greenpeace – sorry to name drop – seem to have started with good intentions, but are too corporate for me to really believe in them. Never mind the fact that there is evidence to show they have some links with industries such as animal agriculture in ways that indicate certain levels of corruption. I like that XR is completely grassroots, and serious about being heard, seen, and making a difference. In my opinion, it is too late in the game for the slow process of petitioning and trying to change the system using the system – radical change requires radical action, hence why XR is more effective and why I am inspired by it as a movement, over commercialised environmental organisations.

How do you fit your Extinction Rebellion responsibilities around the rest of your life?

JH: This can be tricky, especially since it seems so much more important than everything else in my life. I have found a good balance of just going to meetings once a week and then doing a bit of organising or outreach on my days off.

BJ: I have spells of being more and less involved depending on other commitments I have. Everyone is different in terms of availability (in terms of both time and emotionally), and in my experience other XR activists are understanding and accommodating of this.

What are the responsibilities of a climate change activist?

JH: We have to show that system change is not only possible, but also necessary. It is essential to show that climate change is oppressive, discriminatory and mostly caused by a wealthy minority.

BJ: To practice what you preach, and maintain solidarity with other people within the movement – this is a fight, which can only be won through inclusion, as opposed to exclusion.

Bobbie Winter-Burke: We encourage people to lead sustainable lives. Some of the things we do as part of our actions is just be in nature because that is what we are actually fighting for. We are fighting to keep the natural world and maintain the ecosystems and the biodiversity. It is precious to us.

What are you all fighting for? What are your protests all about?

JH: As our most common chant goes, we want “climate justice”. I like that phrase because implies the great unfairness of the climate and ecological disaster that we are in. Of course, we want a carbon neutral economy, but it is not as simple as Shell and BP being more “sustainable”, it is more fundamental than that. Colonial capitalism got us into this mess, to get out of it we need to overthrow that ideology.

BJ: Simply – for life. For biodiversity, for being human, and for the wellbeing and safety of future generations. The way we are currently functioning as a society is not sustainable, as a group we wish to draw attention to these unsustainable practices, stop them, and hopefully reverse some of the damage.

BWB: We want to show that the actions that the government and councils are taking are not good enough. The government and the media are not telling the right stories to make people realise how serious the situation is. People that have been active all of their lives feel that whatever they do is not making an impact. So, they think that the next step is letting themselves being arrested. This is so important that they are willing to do it.

What are Extinction Rebellion’s motivations and aims?

JH: I think Extinction Rebellion’s main motivation is the terror of the future we are currently heading for. We have very clear demands: Tell the truth about climate change and act as if the truth is real.

BJ: Our core aims are to get governments to tell the truth regarding the state of emergency we face in relation to ecological collapse, for them to then act on this truth by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. We also want a citizen’s assembly to be created in order to make key decisions regarding climate and ecological justice. Beyond this we wish for the most polluting companies to be held accountable for the ecocide they are committing which is endangering not only the wellbeing of future humans, but also all life on earth.

BWB: We want to have a representative citizens’ assembly – people from around Scotland, randomly selected would sit with panels of experts. These people can bring different ideas and then it is debated to see if it would really work for Scotland. Then, hopefully, come up with a proposal that goes to a referendum.

What are you doing as an individual for climate change and sustainability?

JH: As an individual, I do not eat meat and I have a reusable coffee cup but that is probably more about my own piece of mind than a genuine effort to make a difference.

BJ: I have committed to avoiding air travel, eating a plant-based diet, using natural alternatives to household chemicals such as cleaning products and beauty products, I am also trying to reduce my plastic use among other things – even small steps have considerable impact.

What would you say to anybody thinking about joining Extinction Rebellion?

JH: I would really like to emphasise that being in XR does not mean you are up for being arrested, that is a just one part of what we do. There are so many ways to get involved, so many things we need help with. If it is the latter, XR could really benefit from critical perspectives as well as political experience, so please get involved. Either way I would recommend coming along to a meeting, what is the worst that could happen?

BWB: People can get involved in many ways. Every Monday to Friday at lunchtime, we have a group of people that have lunch outside the Glasgow City Chambers, so the councillors can see that we are still there. That is a minimal risk thing to do because it is just being there, talking to each other and having lunch together. Keeping the pressure on, but in a very low way.

Infographic: Sofia Teixeira Santos

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