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As anger at climate change boils over – how can we save the planet?

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A renewed wave of rebellion is taking place worldwide to take on the threat of catastrophic climate change. Sarah Bates spoke to activists who are at the forefront of struggles to save the planet
Issue 2632
Extinction Rebellion protesters in London last weekend
Extinction Rebellion protesters in London last weekend (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Warnings are coming thick and fast about how the Earth is hurtling towards climate catastrophe.

The threat has led to a feeling of urgency and need for resistance—and has seen new group Extinction Rebellion (see below) organise thousands-strong protests in response.

Even the conservative IPCC climate scientists’ report last month called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avert the worst-case climate change scenarios.

And, most strikingly, it said we’ve only got 12 years left to make them. Campaign Against Climate Change (CCC) chair Suzanne Jeffery told Socialist Worker, “There’s a growing sense of urgency about the situation.

“And the IPCC said it’s the political will that’s lacking.”

World rulers won’t come out of the COP 24 climate conference in Poland next week with a new political will to avert climate catastrophe. But their inaction hasn’t led to passivity and desperation from ordinary people.

Pockets of resistance are popping up globally—and they have a focus on collective action.

In Australia students have staged walkouts under the banner of “School Strike for Climate Action” throughout November. School student Nia said, “Education is important, but what’s even more important is making sure that we try to do something about climate change.” Further strikes and ­protests have been organised in every state of Australia this week. The Australian walkouts were inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old who camped outside the Swedish parliament to draw attention to climate change.

Greta travelled to London to speak at the launch of Extinction Rebellion.

“Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so I can ‘solve the climate crisis’,” she told the group’s “Declaration of Rebellion” protest. “But the climate crisis has already been solved.

“We have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

In Germany, a major focus of the movement is ending the coal industry. Ende Gelande is a campaign that takes direct action against the RWE coal mining company’s attempts to destroy the remaining parts of ancient Hambach forest in west Germany.

In October it hosted the “largest action of civil disobedience against coal”. Some 6,500 people took part in a weekend of occupations to block the rail tracks that transport coal from the mine.

Selma Richter from Ende Gelande said, “This summer of heat waves and water shortages made us feel directly the threat of climate change.

“But we are not only fighting for our own future. We are also fighting for the livelihoods of people in the Global South who are most impacted by climate change.”

In Britain, Extinction Rebellion organises direct action over climate change. It has captured a mood among ecological activists and those who have never been on a demonstration before.

Founder member Roger Hallam told Socialist Worker, “We need a rebellion against the government to force them to act.


“Our view is that the way to do that is through mass participation and civil disobedience.”

Up to 6,000 activists blocked six central London bridges on 17 November and dozens took part in three days of road blocking “swarming” protests last week.

Roger said that the group’s tactics are just one element of the wider climate movement. “We’re not saying we’re the be all and end all of how to bring about social change”, he stressed.

Extinction Rebellion has taken inspiration from previous struggles. “The peace movement, gay rights, all those were quite robust forms of direct action,” said Roger. “They were hated by a lot of the left and a lot of the right, and disturbed the status quo.

“That’s the tradition we’re coming from and we’ll see what happens.”

The fight against fracking has been one of the big flashpoints of climate change activism in Britain.

Fracking involves blasting high pressure water, chemicals and sand into rock formations to release gas or oil trapped deep underground. It is a dangerous industry that threatens communities and the future of the planet.

It has been spearheaded by the Tory government, which is hand-in-hand with the oil and gas companies. The Tories have even ­re-written laws to make it easier to overturn local planning decisions.

But despite the political support from the top, it’s not going so well for fracking multinational Cuadrilla. It started fracking at Preston New Road near Blackpool in Lancashire in October. But Cuadrilla has had to pause operations for three weeks after fracking caused 36 small earthquakes in the first month.

The fight against fracking has fed into other campaigns. Kim Hunter from the Frack Free Scarborough campaign told Socialist Worker she’s “trying to build a climate movement that is as big as possible and that doesn’t limit itself”.

She explained that getting involved in anti-fracking has led activists into a more generalised political fight. “My aunt got involved because she was concerned about her community,” said Kim.

“But then she starting thinking about agriculture, the climate, the Tories and so on.

“The movement pushes outwards from fracking, but there has to be people there to argue for that.”

Suzanne argued that climate activists also need to “overcome divisions within the working class”.

Some in the labour movement, such as the GMB union, argue that focusing too much on sustainable energy will mean job losses in fossil fuel industries.


This means they are reluctant to oppose fracking.

The CCC’s “One Million Climate Jobs” campaigns argues that a just transition to green energy is possible.

Suzanne argues that “the alternative doesn’t mean working class communities are going to be devastated”.

“Jobs and the environment aren’t mutually exclusive,” she said.

“And there’s a real common working class interest at the heart of fighting for a society where fossil fuel corporations aren’t prioritised at the expense of a safe, liveable planet.”

United opposition to the system will be crucial in the battles to come.

The need to take on the threat to the planet could not be more urgent—and the renewed climate change activism reflects that sense of immediacy.

Roger said that Extinction Rebellion was set up to raise awareness because “there’s a high probability that we’re heading toward social collapse”.

“It’s not inevitable,” he said. “But it’s a credible point of view that on that basis we need to mobilise people round the country and show people what’s really going on.”

Scientists have been saying for years that carbon emissions must be reduced or we will suffer the effects of a drastically heating Earth. But, as the IPCC said, it’s the “political will” at the top of society that is lacking.

In the short term the rich will be able to shield themselves from the worst aspects of climate change.

For instance, millionaires were able to hire private fire fighters to protect their homes during November’s California wildfires while entire working class communities burned to the ground.

Climate change, like every other disgusting symptom of capitalism, will affect poor people first and will have the biggest impact on them.

It’s in the interests of ordinary people to join the urgent battle to save the planet, but also to fight against the capitalist system that produces climate change.

Extinction Rebellion activists say, ‘We are going to take every action that we can’

Extinction Rebellion activists continued their programme of direct action with three days of blockading roads last week. Protestors “swarmed” major roads in central London, stopping vehicles for seven minutes, letting traffic pass, then repeating the exercise.

The biggest action on Saturday drew over 1,000 protesters who gathered in Parliament Square for a memorial service for extinct animals and other enviromental damage.

Extinction Rebellion members tried to bury a cardboard coffin, but were stopped by cops.

More than 50 activists blocked all roads surrounding the square, bringing Westminster to a standstill for much of the afternoon.

Emily said “There is power in this shared mourning. We are going to take every action that we can, we are going to disrupt again and again and again so that space might be cleared where we can create a better future.” Some 14 people were arrested, and one activist superglued herself to the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Dr Gail Bradbook read a letter addressed to the queen outside Buckingham Palace. She said “We are facing the biggest threat to our entire realm and way of life in 1,000 years of our history.

“We know our rights and are in rebellion to save ourselves, our loved ones and our entire nation. We have asked our government to meet with us and address our demands.”

Demonstrations also took place in Sheffield, Bangor, Edinburgh and Frome.

In Manchester, over 200 environmental activists took to the streets, and eight were arrested for blocking a public highway.

It was led by a banner reading, “Declare a climate emergency—carbon neutral by 2025”.

Speakers at one blockade stressed the immediacy of the climate emergency, and the need to get more people involved in the “rebellion in the north”.

Join the protest on 1 December

Together for climate justice – Saturday 1 December, 12 noon, Portland Place, central London. March to Downing Street, where the Frack Free United Declaration against fracking will be handed in

Go to for more details

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