Extinction Rebellion: a new form of governance?

This comes to the Next Century Foundation from Evelyn Hull:

Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience group, demanding immediate action to address our climate emergency, has gained both attention and support over the last few weeks. Starting on the 15th of April, the group organised 10 days of protest in London, causing disruption through, marching, blocking roads and even gluing themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange. Their extreme measures have sparked debate and some have condemned their actions as causing too much disruption, and even as counter-productive. However, the group’s message that the real disruption will come if we fail to make drastic changes to address climate change, is compelling. Extinction Rebellion, by name, comments on a seemingly taboo subject; the reality of climate change and, as one of their demands, challenges politicians to face the facts and tell the truth.

Indeed, the group has shifted the boundaries of debate, demanding representation and forcing politicians to engage in the conversation. Serving as a wake-up call, the protests have, for the very least, sparked unprecedented levels of discussion about climate change. In a very short period of time, their first demand, has on paper, been met. After deliberations in parliament, led by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Government has declared a climate emergency. This could be seen as a ceremonial response and is not legally binding, thus its significance depends on sustained political will. However, the progress made is impressive and discussions with Michael Gove, the Environmental Secretary, even suggest a relative openness to the idea of developing citizen assemblies, the second demand of the group.

Perhaps the most interesting impact of Extinction Rebellion is the way in which it is questioning the legitimacy of our current democracy. The movement calls for democratic evolution through the creation of collective decision making facilitated by citizen assemblies. The group uses a crowdsourced strategy to brainstorm ideas and offers an environment to promote open and inclusive discussion. Many have commented on the way in which the group has served as an emotional outlet, giving legitimacy and empathy to their concerns and further providing practical means of initiating change. The group has engaged many people because it offers a feeling of hope and allows citizens to feel the importance of action. This feels particularly pertinent at a time when political disillusion is high.

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