In October, thousands of dedicated individuals, concerned for the fate of the planet, staged one of the most adventurous protests in recent memory under the collective action of activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR). Although only one year old, XR has raised substantial awareness (and a few hackles) of the arguably unappreciated dangers of climate change. They have achieved this through a multitude of disruptive yet peaceful actions around the world. Centred on London, this October's globally coordinated action was the biggest yet. As such, staff and students from the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) decided to critically explore the protests with a teach-out in the protest-strewn hear of London.
Trafalgar Square to Westminster
Heading first to a Trafalgar Square filled with tents and protestors, we witnessed a small number of critically-placed interventions aimed to disrupt the usual bustle of central London. We could see individuals seated atop towers at main junctions and crowds gathered around what we could only assume were other protesters chained and/or glued to the road and/or each other with police officers attempting to remove them carefully from their binds without harm. Every now and then officers would emerge accompanying or carrying arrestees from the crowd who applauded in gratitude at the time and liberty sacrificed for the cause. The atmosphere was one of pleasant energy.
From Trafalgar we walked around Westminster where most other protest sites had already been cleared considering the significance of the historical locations once at the centre of the British Empire. Pausing for discussions in St. James' Park we considered the motivation, demands and tactics of XR and how they resonate with the work of the IGP and content of the MSc Global Prosperity degree programme.
Tell the Truth
XR's motivations are undeniably sound to anyone who takes the time to read a little into the extent of the climate emergency: from ecological destruction to the threat of climatic feedback loops leading to exponentially increasing and irreversible temperature rises. Yet the nuances and interconnectedness of these threats is hard to articulate concisely. Perhaps this is why XR's first demand, "Tell the truth" places the onus of that task on the government; it is just too long an explanation to be communicated properly through a soundbite interview with an excitable protestor.
As academics working towards global prosperity we have perhaps been too much in the background, but we increasingly aim to voice the IGP's practical research in a tone which compliments the more sensationalist awareness-raising conducted by XR. Indeed, the work of the IGP is well placed to influence XR's second demand, "Act now." We discussed some of the alternative values and forms of governance that will be necessary to fully realise XR's aims and how rethinking notions of prosperity could make adaptation to a changing climate both more palatable and even address social issues such as loneliness and inequality.
We especially considered IGP's new 'Transforming Tomorrow Initiative' and the way it engages with XR's third demand, "Beyond politics". XR specifically calls for the establishment of 'citizen assemblies' to lead the necessary action on climate and ecological justice. Ground up thinking and community engagement such as 'Citizens' assemblies' are certainly a part of the IGP's playbook and it is exciting to envisage how our ongoing research around the world might contribute to a collection of political tools which can help to pull us out of the climate emergency and enhance the lives and prosperity of all at the same time.
While we find XR inspirational, we thus hope that our research and forms of engagement can go some way towards helping to actualise the broader aims of the movement.
Photo credit: David Bent
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