The Intercept - October 12, 2019

"Extinction Rebellion’s No. 1demandis that those in power “Tell the truth” about climate change. It’s why activists scaled the New York Times building in June and unfurled a banner that read “Climate change = mass murder,” with “change” crossed out and replaced by “emergency.” The group demanded the paper of record follow a set ofstandardsthat includes front-page climate headlines daily and the removal of financial conflicts of interest. Policearrested66 people. Less than a week later, New York Citydeclareda climate emergency. (Whether the declaration will have much impact is a separatequestion.) XR pressure later led the Times todrop its sponsorshipof the energy industry’s Oil & Money conference, an event it has had a relationship with for 40 years."

Since the movement was born in the United Kingdom one year ago, it has grown to a network of at least 485 groups in 72 countries. Many observers have responded with a reaction similar to the one elicited by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg: Finally, someone is truthfully confronting scientists’ apocalyptic climate forecasts with the urgency they deserve.

Indeed, Extinction Rebellion’s ambition is no less than to save the Earth. To win, they say they need 3.5 percent of the U.S. population to participate. But whether a largely white, middle-class movement has what it takes to meet a sky-high ambition of mobilizing more than 11 million people to force sweeping climate action is an open question.

In the U.K., the group has been criticized for failing to center those most severely impacted by the crisis — people of color and marginalized communities. The New York-based chapter, founded a couple months after the one in the U.K., is in the midst of developing its own identity and proving that it stands for those who have the most at stake.

To members, sincere in their belief that a mass-appeal climate movement is what’s needed to quell catastrophe, drawing in front-line communities is life or death. As McLachlan put it, “This has to explode. It has to get bigger if it’s going to work.”

Preventing the Airplane from Taking Off

The weekend before the rebellion began, some 40 people sat in a circle in a community art space in the West Village as Bill Beckler, an Extinction Rebellion activist with a neatly trimmed beard and loose-fitting jeans, laid out terrifying climate scenarios. He described “hothouse Earth,” a scenario introduced in a 2018 paper, in which processes initiated by climate heating, like permafrost thaw and forest dieback, become self-reinforcing feedback loops, causing the release of more greenhouse gases and stemming the planet’s ability to absorb them. He referenced another study that says there is a 5 percent chance carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could present an existential threat to humanity by 2100.

“If you told me to get on a plane that has a one in 20 chance of crashing, I wouldn’t get on that airplane,” Beckler said, his voice breaking with emotion. It’s Extinction Rebellion’s job to keep the airplane from taking off. “You guys are the ones.”

Beckler was there to train the group in nonviolent direct action, a requirement for anyone who wants to be arrested at an XR action. He was joined by Chelsea MacMillan, who wore her hair in a tidy pixie cut and had the posture of a yoga instructor.

He asked the group to close their eyes and take a moment of silence to let the facts he’d laid out sink in. “Hope is an empty, useless thing right now that stops people from doing what they need to do,” Beckler underlined.

Extinction Rebellion was founded in October 2018 by activists in the United Kingdom who had been despairing over the climate crisis. One co-founder, 47-year-old Gail Bradbrook, has written that the personal breakthrough that led to Extinction Rebellion was a direct result of two weeks she spent tripping on psychedelics in Costa Rica. Her background is indicative of the emphasis XR places on personal transformation. ...
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