There is one desperate chance left to thwart the impending ecocide and extinction of the human species. We must, in wave after wave, carry out nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to shut down the capitals of the major industrial countries, crippling commerce and transportation, until the ruling elites are forced to publicly state the truth about climate catastrophe, implement radical measures to halt carbon emissions by 2025 and empower an independent citizens committee to oversee the termination of our 150-year binge on fossil fuels. If we do not do this, we will face mass death.
The British-based group Extinction Rebellion has called for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience on April 15 in capitals around the world to reverse our "one-way track to extinction." I do not know if this effort will succeed. But I do know it is the only mechanism left to force action by the ruling elites, who, although global warming has been well documented for at least three decades, have refused to carry out the measures needed to protect the planet and the human race. These elites, for this reason alone, are illegitimate. They must be replaced.
"It is our sacred duty to rebel in order to protect our homes, our future, and the future of all life on Earth," Extinction Rebellion writes. This is not hyperbolic. We have, as every major climate report states, very little time left. Indeed, it may already be too late.
In Britain, Extinction Rebellion has already demonstrated its clout, blocking roads, occupying government departments and amassing 6,000 people to shut down five of London's bridges last Nov. 17. Scores of arrests were made. But it was just the warm-up act. In April, the group hopes, the final assault will begin.
If we do not shake off our lethargy, our anomie, and resist, our misery, despondency and feelings of helplessness will mount. We will become paralyzed. Resistance, especially given the bleakness before us, is about more than winning. It is about a life of meaning. It is about empowerment. It is a public declaration that we will no longer live according to the dominant lie. It is a message to the elites: YOU DO NOT OWN US. It is about defending our dignity, agency and self-respect.
The more we free ourselves from the bondage of fear to throw up barriers along the forced march toward ecocide the more we will be enveloped by a strange kind of euphoria, one I often felt as a war correspondent documenting horrific suffering and atrocities to shame the killers. We obliterate despair in our acts of defiance, even if our victories are Pyrrhic. We reach out to those around us. Courage is contagious. It is the spark that ignites mass revolt. And we should, even if we fail, at least choose how we will die. Resistance is the only action left that will allow us to remain psychologically whole. And it is the only action left that has any hope of halting the wholesale extinction of the human race, not to mention most other species.
"The times are inexpressibly evil," Daniel Berrigan wrote. "And yet -- and yet ... the times are inexhaustibly good. In this time of death, some men and women, the resisters, work hardily for social change. We think of such people in the world, and the stone in our breast is dissolved."
"People have to go to the capital city," said Roger Hallam, the co-founder of Rebellion Extinction and a researcher at King's College London, who spoke to me from London. "That's where the elite is, the business class. That's where the pillars of the state exist. That's the first element. Then you have to have a lot of people involved. They have to break the law. There's no point in just doing a march. They have to literally close down the streets. They have to remain nonviolent. That's absolutely crucial. Once you get violent, police and the state have an excuse to remove you. It's got to be cultural. You make it into a sort of Woodstock affair. Then thousands more people come onto the streets."
"There's a fundamental difference between breaking the law and not breaking the law," he went on. "It's a binary difference. When you break the law, then you're massively more effective in terms of material and psychological influence as well as media interest. The more dramatic the civil disobedience, the better. It's a numbers game. You want people blocking the streets, but you need 10, 20, 30 thousand. You don't need 3 million. You need enough for the state to have to decide whether to use repression on a mass scale or invite you into the room. The gambit, of course, particularly in the U.K., is that the state is weak. It's been hollowed out by neoliberalism. They're going to find themselves overwhelmed. We will get in the room."
"We're going to start on that Monday [April 15]," he said. "We're going to block several major roundabouts in central London. We're going to spread across the city -- swarming. When the riot police or the police come, we're going get up and go somewhere else. This is a tactic we innovated in November. We'll give the authorities a fundamental dilemma: 'Do we allow these people to continue blocking the center of a global city, or do we arrest thousands of people?' If they opt for arresting thousands of people, lots of things are going to happen. They will be overwhelmed. The police force in the U.K. is underfunded, like most of the public sector. There's massive disaffection amongst the police. I won't be surprised if they form a union and say, 'We're not doing this anymore.' I've been arrested 10, 12 times in the last two years. Every time, police come up to me going, 'Keep it up, mate. What you're doing is great.' We're disciplined, nonviolent people. They're not going to get pissed off at us. They also know it's over. They spend their days scraping mentally ill people off the streets. There's no glamour in being a police officer in a global city. The security forces are something you want to subvert, not denigrate."