Opinion | Extinction Rebellion have an identity crisis


By Leah Martindale, Film and TV Editor

Extinction Rebellion claim to be a movement with everyone in mind. However, it seems as though their actions show their mindset is dangerously narrow.  This is something even students cannot ignore.

Extinction Rebellion, known colloquially as XR, is a ‘do-it-together organisation’ dedicated to tackling the imminent global crisis of climate change, primarily by changing public opinion through protests in order to sway political and social stances on the subject. Despite the XR symbol existing as far back as 2011, their coverage has grown exponentially over the last year in correlation with the likes of teen activist Greta Thunberg. Unfortunately, through thoughtless methods and tone-deaf activism, XR have gained a secondary reputation that is fast outgrowing its original purpose: one of classism, of ignorance, and of selfishness.

Unfortunately, through thoughtless methods and tone-deaf activism, XR have gained a secondary reputation that is fast outgrowing its original purpose

Sir David Attenborough said that ‘Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.’ Those campaigning with XR clearly share his viewpoint. Supported openly by the Socialist Workers Party, it would not be naive to assume the XR movement had a vested interest in the working class’ involvement in the climate strife: after all, climate change is proven to affect the working class, people of colour, and native communities disproportionately.

XR on College Green | Kofo Ajala / Epigram

Despite this, recent actions have undeniably caused a rift between working class communities and those representing XR the loudest. Recently XR protesters stalled the movement of tubes from London’s Canning Town tube station; in an area ranked in the 5% most deprived country wide, this move is tonedeaf at best. Electric trains and public transport are two of the best ways for commuters to lower their carbon footprint, and those deprived of an easy way to work were forced to instead rely on the far more gas-guzzling London black cabs for transport.

Not only do XR’s actions often make little sense from an environmental perspective, they are also portrayed as an extremely homogeneous group of middle class white people. After the backlash of tube-gate, Sarah Lunnon of XR’s political circle said ‘people have given up their jobs to join XR’. While I’m sure we can all agree the climate is a noble cause, how many of us could really give up our jobs to stand around protesting all day? If you are in a position cushy enough to quit your job to become a full-time volunteer protestor, it is unsurprising that you would be completely unaware as to why blocking the nation’s best running public transport system might not be a good idea.

XR protesters mounting the tube in Canning Town | The Guardian 

XR do little to combat the idea of the environment being a ‘white’ issue, either. Despite the environment disproportionately affecting people of colour like myself, the representatives of XR are notoriously white, and have been accused of ‘climate colonialism’. Tone deaf and frankly racist comments like XR’s alleged likening themselves to Civil Rights era activist Rosa Parks only serves to further the divide between communities of colour and fair representation in the fight for all of our planet.

Epigram’s Co-Editor in Chief reportedly saw XR protesters turning an ambulance away from their blockade

Not only are their actions tone deaf, classist, and often just uncomfortable, XR may even be endangering people. Epigram’s Co-Editor in Chief reportedly saw XR protesters turning an ambulance away from their blockade; yes, climate change will kill us all, but blocking emergency care - state funded, might I add, and so accessible (in theory) to all - will kill us faster. The wanton endangerment of people for the sake of disruption will only create more tension and distrust between XR and the layman.

If all of this were not enough, I am particularly shocked and disgusted by XR’s involvement with the police. While I initially found the willingness to be arrested for something you believe in to be brave, or at least in some way noble, it has become apparent that this is merely more than a Blue Peter badge for the middle class. While some of us cannot afford a police record, there are those for whom it will never be a worry, and in fact protesters have apparently shared hints and tips on what foods to try when incarcerated.

The Socialist Workers Party have a duty as representatives of the far-left to distance themselves from the pandering to the police services evidenced by XR’s prominent protesters. The apparent inability for XR to realise in time that their actions are only accessible to certain sectors of society is frankly scary, and even if they were not so weird, there are leniencies awarded to the middle class and white that others simply do not receive.

The climate crisis cannot be ignored, and as sensible, normal, and inclusive members of society we must work to reclaim environmentalism from private school hippies, for all our sake. Native climate activists, children - for they will inherit this earth, and scientists deserve as much of a platform as the 1% dominating the discussion. There is a reason that XR has become synonymous with millionaires' after-school club, and if we are to get anywhere, this image needs to be shattered as quickly as it was developed.

Featured: Kofo Ajala/ Epigram


Leah Martindale

Part-time Film & Television MA student; full-time Instagram storier, and ABBA enthusiast; amateur film critic. Can always be found writing from bed.