The ‘Extinction Rebellion’ hopes blocking traffic spurs climate action – will it?

The ‘Extinction Rebellion’ hopes blocking traffic spurs climate action – will it?

By Luke Vargas   
Photos courtesy: Vladimir Morozov, Extinction Rebellion
Photos courtesy: Vladimir Morozov, Extinction Rebellion

Climate change protesters in the UK have made headlines by snarling traffic and public transit, but is their message getting across?

UNITED NATIONS – Climate activists calling themselves the “Extinction Rebellion” made headlines in the U.K. this week, snarling London traffic and public transit in a bid to convince the British government that failure to increase climate efforts will lead to an imminent “mass extinction.”

Demonstrators began a two-week “international rebellion” on Monday and have made their presence known by blocking major intersections and train lines, and on Friday, they hope to ramp up the pressure by disrupting operations at London’s Heathrow Airport.

The Extinction Rebellion may have succeeded in generating news coverage, but is the group’s message getting across?

“I fully support the student-led protests that are going on in the U.K., but I also find this mobilization for climate action a bit disturbing to be honest.”

Laurence Delina is post-doctoral associate at Boston University and the author of four books on climate change mitigation and social mobilization.

“What worries me the most is the slogan that because of climate change, human civilization might not survive for these children. To be clear, young people are 100% right to be up in arms about climate change. It’s also right that they need powerful images to grab people’s attention, yet some of this imagery that’s being bandied around the Extinction Rebellion movement is quite frightening, which can easily backfire – even disengage people – and even worse can be perceived as a form of manipulation.”

Citing the success of nonviolent social movements for civil rights in the U.S. or democracy in Myanmar in the 1980’s, Delina says the Extinction Rebellion must do more than voice anger, and actually sell the public on the moral urgency of their cause.

“Protesters didn’t put an end to status quos by declaring an emergency – they called it out for what it was, and that was prosperity to some at the expense of other peoples’ lives and dignity.”

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