Translated from The Ilmastotiede blog
If you’ve seen news reports of this winter’s climate campaigns, you may have spotted logos and banners of Extinction Rebellion. Is it just another new climate movement? It didn’t really show up on my radar until after I started wondering why climate activism suddenly seems to be following very similar trajectories in many countries.
How did the Finnish school strikes start? What about the support campaign collecting signatories among the scientific community? Similar campaigns seem to have appeared almost simultaneously in other countries too. Is it only imitation, or is there some international coordination in play?
Extinction Rebellion in Finland
In Finland, the campaign to collect signatures from the scientific community was arranged by Extinction Rebellion activists. The movement arrived here in November. Over 1200 members of the scientific community signed the letter supporting climate school strikes. The most known climate scientists of them was probably Markku Kulmala,
The supporting letter has a link to the British counterpart which explicitly mentions Extinction Rebellion. The first signatory is one of its founders Alison Green, who resigned from her job as Pro-Vice Chancellor at Arden University to concentrate full-time on Extinction Rebellion activism.
Early members of the Finnish Facebook group of the movement include leftist and green electorates, core members of the Ilmastoveivi campaign, employees of the Finnish Environment Institute, the ministry of environment, Sitra, and universities.
It is possible that Extinction Rebellion had some influence in the recent wave of school climate strikes. Famous striker Greta Thunberg explains on Facebook it was originally an activist called Bo Thorén who came up with the idea, which was then further developed with his group of activists. Thorén has been a central member of XR Sweden, so there may be a relationship.
Thunberg participated in Extinction Rebellion’s Declaration of Rebellion which kick-started the movement’s public activity in London, October 2018.
The April revolution
But what kind of movement seems to be behind much of the climate activist events reported in the Finnish and international media this winter?
Extinction Rebellion Finland sect has compiled a list of educational videos on YouTube. Those as well as other background material make it very clear what the goal of the movement is: no more and no less than a global revolution. This is not a figure of speech. A few examples follow.
One of the founders, the main theorist Roger Hallam describes on a lecture video what he did after failing as an organic farmer:
I decided to come down to London to take out the system because I didn’t like it very much. That’s my plan. And I obviously wanted to study how to do it effectively so that’s why got myself into King’s College.
Another lecture recounts how Extinction Rebellion will save the world:
Name of the game: got to bring down all the regimes in the world, ideally simultaneously, and replace them …
The practical implementation happens by paralysing major cities with masses of people. According to Hallam, disabling traffic for a sufficiently long period of time would result in e.g. food shortages.
“Once that happens the regime will fall”.
On the Russian media RT as well, Hallam thoroughly explains the practical details of the planned toppling of governments. In two half-an-hour episodes the RT host repeats Extinction Rebellion’s message without any criticism and describes western democracies as corrupt and criminal.
Rising Up! describes its tactics:
Our tactics draw upon state of the art knowledge and experience gleaned from successful global, mass, grass-roots movements which have changed political landscapes and bought down regimes.
The plan is to replace the ”criminal” western political systems with a ”better democracy” designed by Extinction Rebellion in which e.g. voting is no longer needed (sortition is preferred instead). The practical post-revolution steps have also been thought out well in advance.
The Arab Spring was a model already for the Occupy movement. It’s mentioned in Extinction Rebellion’s background material too. Roger Hallam believes that if taking down the British government is successful ”in a few weeks”, then the aggressions would quickly spread to many other countries, as happened with Arab countries in 2010 to 2011.
The schedule of this western Arab Spring is also mentioned in these materials. The global revolution is to take place starting 15th April, 2019. Roger Hallam surmises the movement may fall apart soon after if it fails to take down governments. He estimates the possibility of success is 60%.
The founder of Extinction Rebellion doesn’t seem to worry about publicly speaking about the plan. On a lecture video he states that 99.999% of people aren’t interested in what he says. On the other hand, he thinks his method is so ingenious that governments will be powerless against it even if they know about it in advance.
History of the movement
While Extinction Rebellion usually describes climate change as an existential crisis requiring immediate massive societal changes, the importance of the issue diminishes more and more as you track the movement’s history back in time.
In the Rising Up! philosophy brief climate change is mentioned once, as one of the many grievances of modern society. Occupy movement in turn had no obvious connection to climate, but was borne as a criticism against economic inequality and the perceived societal unfairness.
At least two founding members, the aforementioned Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook have described in public sources how they ended up establishing Extinction Rebellion. Deep discontent toward the society and willingness to do something about it is apparent in both stories. In neither of them, however, climate change appears as an original motivator.
The same activists have been in the business of anti-capitalism for many years and demanded increasingly drastic societal changes – in the last few years the objective has become outright revolution. Only reasons used to justify the change have varied along the way.
The purely ”instrumental value” of climate panic is quite obvious in a blog post by one of the founders telling what the movement is actually about. The title says, ”Extinction Rebellion isn’t about the climate”.
And I’m here to say that XR isn’t about the climate. You see, the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system of that has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life. This was exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread around the globe through cruelty and violence (especially) over the last 600 years of colonialism, although the roots of the infections go much further back.
He goes on to say that the ultimate purpose of Extinction Rebellion is to dispel the delusions of the current system, problems ”deeper” than climate change, some of which he thinks are white supremacy, patriarchy, Eurocentrism, heteronormativity, and class hierarchy.
These ultimate problems don’t seem like something that could wipe the human race out of existence within a few years. The urgency of the climate crisis emphasized in the activism can probably be explained by Hallam’s theory that mass movements like this tend to last only for a few months.
The two Roger Hallam lectures published on YouTube this month [March], lasting for about four hours in total, don’t contain a climate change or science section. In fact, Hallam claims that climate change isn’t really happening yet. It’s mainly mentioned in passing, e.g. when he describes what the motor of the revolution is:
Impossible demands, missing means
On the facade the movement has three demands: governments have to tell the truth about the eco-crisis, drop carbon emissions to zero by the year 2025, and adopt a Citizen’s (sic) Assembly in the governmental process.
The movement has been criticized not only for the completely unrealistic emissions demand, but also for not giving any kind of suggestion about how it could be reached.
All of this is, however, completely logical if you consider the actual goal of the movement. The demands aren’t meant to be viable but impossible. Reaching an agreement would mean the failure of the revolution plan. Even entering negotiations would be a serious threat for success, consuming the limited momentum of the movement.
The FAQ states that the movement doesn’t want to put forwards specific solutions – ”it is down to the Citizens Assembly to come up with solutions, having first heard from various experts.” In a video lecture Hallam considers this ”fundamental ambiguity” a game changer. Each participant can keep their own vision. Nobody wants to oppose the utopian better democracy and probably expects their own position to prevail when the solutions are considered post-revolution. This way, the support for the movement can be maximized and tearing differences about the practicalities avoided.
Get high, save the world
One of the founders of Extinction Rebellion Gail Bradbrook recounts the genesis on her behalf in the Emerge podcast (6:00). She had been interested in social change for years. After having her first child in 2008 she became conscious of the deep injustice of the world and decided that mass civil disobedience is the way to fix it.
Bradbrook then says she experimented with many societal movements and campaigns without much success. As a starting point for the rebellion which seems to have been a central part of her adult life, she doesn’t mention climate change at all. The problem seems to have rather been related to economic inequality.
Next, the Extinction Rebellion genesis takes a mystical, if not a supernatural turn. Bradbrook, identifying as a neo-pagan, says that after the Occupy movement faded out she was so lost that the only way forward was to take a flight to Costa Rica and pray the Universe for help. As a part of the ritual, she says, she used the Iboga and Ayahuasca psychedelics.
With the help of the latter Bradbrook prayed to gain enlightenment about the ”codes of social change”. Even though the substances helped in rewiring her brain, the next attempt of activism back in Britain was another flop, though the tax disobedience endeavour resulted in meeting with Roger Hallam.
And lo and behold, in the four-hour meeting Hallam explained his own theses of implementing a revolution speaking thusly: ”here you have the codes of social change”. On hearing him repeat the exact words from the Ayahuasca ceremony, Bradbrook knew her prayers had been answered.
This miracle led to founding of Rising Up!, the precursor of Extinction Rebellion.
Bradbrook goes on to say (from about 20:00 onward) how psychedelics-aided magical ceremonies have been utilized later as well for advancing the movement. If I understood right, on one moment of despair the female members of Extinction Rebellion gathered to pray with the help of an ancient Celtic herb. And behold, only two days later a new important figure, Jem Bendell, joined the movement.
I don’t know how official the role of narcotics use is in Extinction Rebellion, but some background materials emphasize the importance of a spiritual aspect to the activism.
Events ”preparing for the rebellion” have been arranged in co-operation with The Psychedelic Society.
One interview reveals that Extinction Rebellion gatherings involve spiritual ceremonies and many of the activist have a background in spiritual movements. In this context the term probably means something like neo-paganism or shamanism, probably involving appropriate drugs.
The movement portraying as academic and science-based actually rather resembles a religious cult. Mystics and spiritualism are a well tried way to control the masses. Sacrifice, ”ultimately dying for the cause”, is one of the key building blocks of Extinction Rebellion. As we know, the same outcome has historically been often achieved in the religious context.
Does Russia have a finger in this pie too?
In the recent years, Russia has been suspected of involvement in everything under the sun. The Finnish media hasn’t paid attention to the claims of Putin’s environmental and climate propaganda – perhaps because in this field it’s difficult to find a difference between our mainstream media and Russia Today.
A House of Representatives report from last year claims Kremlin is investing heavily to influence opinions via e.g. the social media to advance its energy-political interests. The report says both republicans and democrats agree that Russia is manipulating environmental activists. It cites Hillary Clinton according to whom anti-fracking activist groups have received substantial financial support from Russia.
This year some European politicians, most importantly Merkel, have claimed Russia is behind the school strikes.
If hybrid operations like this are in progress, then Extinction Rebellion might be one of the most probable channels for it. One of the father figures of the movement and a founder of Occupy, Micah White, claims in The Guardian that he was contacted by a Russian disinformation agent in 2016.
He also says Occupy got substantial support from Russia. According to him, RT (Russia Today) ”aggressively” supported the movement. US intelligence authorities also say RT is one of the channels for Kremlin’s environmental propaganda. White claims one of the Occupy activists got his own TV show aired on RT called Redacted Tonight as a reward for his activism.
RT has given a lot of airtime to Extinction Rebellion this year. In addition to the aforementioned Redacted Tonight, a show called On Contact (linked above) dedicated two 30-minute episodes for showcasing the ideology and goals of the movement.
Extinction Rebellion operates almost everywhere in the world – except Russia and China. The RT segments never mention any need for revolution in Russia but concentrate on western countries.
Representatives of Extinction Rebellion have to some degree slipped from the strategy of ”fundamental ambiguity” as laid out by Hallam. Certain positions regarding the emission reduction solutions have been taken.
Professor Gary L. Francione wonders about the movement’s negative stance on veganism. A representative of the movement argues that ”climate deeds” by ordinary people would just distract from achieving political change.
The movement seems to oppose geoengineering as well. I haven’t seen an official position on nuclear power but one of the founders, the aforementioned Gail Bradbrook has given comments critical of nuclear power.
It has also been made clear that reducing emissions by replacing coal or imported gas with domestic shale is out of question. In fact the movement has actively opposed(e.g. with a distributed denial of service attack) fracking.
An explanation for opposing everything could be that any credible solutions to reduce emissions would be a threat to the goal of revolution. On the other hand, these stances seem to be pretty well compatible with the interests of Kremlin.
Mode of operation
Roger Hallam’s vision for regime change is based on paralysing the society by masses. He explains on RT (14:20) that the two main mechanisms of toppling a government are 1) disruption, 2) sacrifice. Hallam says the activists have to be ready to ultimately even die for the cause.
In addition to blocking traffic routes, disruption includes property damage (Hallam: ”property damage in particular is good stuff”).
A central concept is backfiring effect which means the counter reaction among the public when the government tries to remove the activists from the streets in order to maintain its functions. Central to Hallam’s plan is the use of vulnerable groups of people and upping the ”level of illegality” until the government has no choice but to react.
The backfiring effect, according to Hallam, is essential to success. It’s a leverage effect using which a relatively small core group of activists can mobilize thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to get behind the movement.
”People will see in the 6 o’clock news ten-year-olds and grannies getting dragged off by the police.”
In the initial phase, of course, a sufficient number of ”true believers” prepared to sacrifice themselves (go to jail or even get killed) is required. According to Hallam, the way to motivate this self-destructiveness is to get the activists emotionally engaged – in this case through ”climate grief”.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the campaigns this winter have concentrated on school kids. Hallam explains that the most important groups are children, young people, old people, and women. Key ideas are the vulnerability of the activists, the violence resulting sooner or later from the illegal activity, and the public’s sympathy gained from this.
Children and other vulnerable groups agitated by climate fear are to be used as a weapon against the society but also as a kind of human shields. The plan from the beginning has been that a part of them will get hurt or even die in order to gather support and more people on the streets – that’s some climate parenthood for you.
TV interview of the chairman of Finland’s ”climate parenthood” association, Sampo Koistinen, wearing an XR badge
In one of his lectures Hallam says: ”this theory is based on young people and old people taking the forefront”. Most of the people pushed in the front line won’t know the actual goal of the protests and don’t even care. Approximate translation from one of the videos:
”Most people don’t really care. Nerdy intellectual people care, which is why nerdy intellectual people are never on the front line. … It’s mainly people who are excitable, who want something interesting to go on.”
The inevitable violence and deaths would let the activists to be portrayed as victims, and the police as oppressors. The tipping point is reached when new people arrive on the streets faster than they can be removed – jails getting filled up and police resources running low. The RT host says that part of the police force is also expected to defect and take the activists’ side.
Extinction Rebellion emphasizes it’s a ”non-violent” movement. The term isn’t very apt when ”passive agitation” of police violence is a key part of the plan. Paralyzing societal functions with traffic blocks would of course mean e.g. preventing medical care and harming innocent outsiders.
The Occupy movement was also touted as a non-violent movement. According to Wikipedia the death count rose to 32 and over 400 suffered injuries. According to Reuters the activists used at least scissors as a weapon.
The first demand of Extinction Rebellion is that governments will have to tell the truth about climate change. The clear implication is that they currently don’t. This would mean the movement’s position is that e.g. the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is lying about climate change.
Roger Hallam claims human extinction is imminent within one to two generations. In the RT segment he justifies the claim just verbally with an original calculation of his own. ”Climate change is just simple mathematics”. On RT he uses the already worn-out doctor allegory (”no use to deny if the doctor tells you”) at least five times.
The main theorist of Extinction Rebellion doesn’t clearly know physics or climate science very well, and admits in the lecture videos he’s bad with numbers.
Even though the main argument remains that from authority, the message at the same time is that experts aren’t telling the truth. In the centre of the movement is therefore an assumption of some kind of a conspiracy between governments (the rich elite) and scientists.
Hallam claims that already two degrees of warming would make agriculture globally infeasible. As far as I know scientific studies don’t support the claim. Some recent studies, based on newer model runs have estimated that even a bigger warming could benefit global agricultural production compared to the current situation.
The studies considered by the latest IPCC assessment report estimate that a couple of degrees of warming in this century might result in net benefit in the global well-being, and the impact of three degrees would be in the order of a couple of percent of the economic growth (AR5 wg2 10.9.2). The views of the scientific community are far from Extinction Rebellion’s claim that humanity would go extinct in the next few decades.
Extinction Rebellion is not about climate change but some kind of world revolution. The climate panic agitation taken to the extreme is just the latest tool in the box of a group which has pursued the same goal for a long time.
School strikes have been welcomed in Finland too as a way of participating in the public debate, but it’s clear Extinction Rebellion doesn’t want to participate in the democratic process but to take it down.
Recruiting children and young people to be used as cannon fodder in a plan based on violence and self-destructiveness isn’t activity that one would hope Finnish politicians and the scientific community to support.
These two twitter threads were the basis for this article. The may contain links, images, etc. which weren’t mentioned here: