Most Australians are pretty sympathetic to the whole protesting thing. After all, we’re a functioning democracy with largely robust protections for free speech and political expression, a situation that requires some base level of tolerance for activism no matter how irritating it may be. Besides, it can be fun in a morbid kind of way to poke a stick into the eye of the system and notice how fragile it really is – the climate strike kids had a great afternoon blocking major intersections all over the country a few weeks ago, yelling slogans and waving handmade posters mocking Scott Morrison and his (allegedly perverted) affinity for chunks of coal.
The Extinction Rebellion movement is of a different character altogether. No doubt there is some overlap between the unwashed masses that might have frequented the climate strikers, kindred spirits they must be, however the Extinction Rebellion movement has a notably harder edge. Currently encamped in that statement of nineteenth-century pride in the products of capitalism, the Carlton Gardens on the fringe of the Melbourne CBD – in addition to other locations near major cities worldwide – the movement is indulging in a week or so of intensively disruptive activism designed to increase awareness of ‘the climate emergency’.
Unlike the cute climate kids, Extinction Rebellion counts amongst its members people who are happy to be arrested in the cause of stopping climate change, as well as few who’ve stoically confessed that they’d be willing to die for the movement – as in, they love the earth so much that they’d die to save the earth, thereby removing themselves from it in the ultimate act of dedication, or some such. In any case, it was dramatic enough to lure in a few of what passes from jouralist from The Age, who faithfully noted down the officially sanctioned Extinction Rebellion talking points and turned it into some kind of weird PR infomercial/self-flagellation exercise that allegedly has news value.
Of course, the general willingness to literally become a martyr for the cause piqued my interest, and I couldn’t resist the urge to check out the official (very professionally made) Extinction Rebellion – styled XR – website.
The climate strike, endearing as it was, didn’t really have the level of fervent mortal dedication required to cut through the everyday climate apocalypse white noise, but XR, with its remarkably bold message and branding, offers the average punter something a bit more stimulating. WE ARE IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY the website declares – below this, the demands of the movement, and a sudden realisation that this is all very silly.
XR, to put it mildly, has absolutely no hope of ever meeting their objectives nor even approximating them. They want the Australian government to firstly declare a climate emergency. To be fair, on this they have quite a decent chance of succeeding given that governments are generally partial to engaging in strictly symbolic declarations, treaties and other nonsense.
The next two demands – both of which constitute the core of XR’s existence – are pure fantasy. XR wants carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025 (read: de-industrialisation) and the creation of a ‘citizens assembly’ to take all the messy politicking out of climate policy.
This is precisely the point at which XR stops being an advocacy group and becomes a cult – they are, in their own words, committed to the achievement of (at least) two demonstrably unachievable goals on the threat of the earth ending. The cynical observer might well ask if XR’s members truly believe in the fulfilment of its objectives as written – what if this is part of the usual fringe advocacy strategy of taking a deliberately extreme position from which to negotiate a compromise?
To this, the obvious response is: what if some members don’t think this is a tactic? What happens if they think a mere six years remain in which to solve the carbon emissions problem in its entirety? What is happening to the minds of the activists who don’t think this is a pressure tactic, and believe it to be a verbatim political demand?
We should feel immensely sorry for anyone who became caught up in XR for the right reasons – say, caring about unsustainable deforestation or irreversible ecosystem destruction – because XR itself is means to an assured failure that XR itself states cannot be accepted. There is absolute certainty that XR will fail, yet it has members who are willing to die to make it succeed. This is genuinely tragic, and in practice no different to any other cult that manages to draw in a few suckers to die futile deaths.
The West has had climate anarchists in the recent past – think Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
But he was one. XR is an army. And’s difficult to see how groups like XR prevent their members sliding into toxic and potentially murderous nihilism when they’re already content to die for the cause.
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