How Ethical is Extinction Rebellion?

Extinction Rebellion. I don’t think I was the only one completely unaware of what this organisation was when Jack Harries went on the Victoria Derbyshire programme in March to explain why he’d glued his hands to a door.

And yet, now it’s one of the most recognisable campaign group names in Britain right now – up there with The People’s Vote. Unlike the latter, though, I don’t think this organisation is going to be booed on Question Time any time soon. It’s pretty difficult to argue against their cause.

Their methods of campaigning, though – that’s a different matter. There’s an interesting debate to be had as to whether their civil disobedience is justified. Do their highly disruptive means justify the ends? Exactly how ethical is Extinction Rebellion?

Their protesting on public transport in London last month, for example, meant that people with mobility issues that needed the Tube to get around were faced with a huge amount of distress in figuring out a way to get from Point A to Point B. Civil disobedience also takes up vital police time, which is all the more valuable at the moment due to the effects of the past decade’s austerity cuts on the force. But, like Harries says to Victoria Derbyshire, getting arrested and gluing your hands to things gets the public attention crucial to a cause such as this;

“If that’s what it takes to elevate the conversation to where it needs to be, then that’s something I’m prepared to do.”

A point he also draws attention to is the fact that climate change is bigger than cuts, or money, or even politics itself. All those things can be changed by us humans with a few shifts in power, but climate change waits for no one’s power shifts, no one’s debates. It’s here. But I don’t think I’m the only person who feels uncomfortable facing up to realities like that. It’s not something many of us really want to talk about. That’s perhaps why Extinction Rebellion are getting out the glue – it’s just another way to look at something we’re normally scared to think about.

Whilst I can say it’s justified, can I say it’s realistic for all of us to start sacrificing our everyday lives for the cause? Get arrested, perhaps even imprisoned? Not quite. Marches or petitions would need no defending, and would be a more achievable form of protest for those of us not ready to get on the wrong side of the law. But it’s clearly the case that whatever has been tried so far just isn’t working – the government doesn’t seem to be panicking on anywhere near the level that their public is. Environment Secretary Michael Gove (yes, he’s genuinely in that position of power now) admitted that “there is more to be done” without promising that any more is actually going to be done. But, if nothing else, Extinction Rebellion have given the rest of us awareness of the issue, and that’s always a good start to enacting change at higher levels. Like Dr Gail Bradbrook said, a co-founder of the organisation,

“If we treated the wellbeing of the biosphere with the same integrity and seriousness with which we treated the integrity of the banking system you would rapidly see the alignment of resources and planning that would achieve these kind of goals.”

Now we just need politicians to realise that the health of the globe is a liiittle more of a priority than the health of their bank accounts. Whatever you think about Extinction Rebellion’s methods, there is no debate as to how much of a threat climate change is to us all, and they’re the ones putting the spotlight on the fact we need to stop it. Articles have been written about what their aims are (even if such articles are somewhat critical). But they are absolutely justified in placing climate change as a global issue – it is literally the globe itself with the issue, after all.


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