IMG_20200123_084746 In these dark days I keep starting blog posts and then abandoning them half finished, since if even I can't be bothered to write them it seems unlikely that anyone would bother read them. Will this post on XR - Extinction Rebellion - fare any better? If you're reading this, it has...

Last week or so there was a manifestation on the Milton Road. That's a pic showing the road leading out of Cambridge. If you turn left in the picture above, you go into the science park. I'm standing on the corner leading into the business park. This is about 8:45 am. By blocking the outward-leading road they are minimising fuss; at this time of day, the inward-going road is far busier; blocking that would probably back up to the A14 causing chaos and fun - well, fun if you're a cyclist, as I am.

FWIW the tactics were - or so I'm told - to shuffle on when the lights are red, and then stay there for 5 minutes through several green phases. Then have five minutes off, and repeat, from 7:30 to 9. They explain - at least to those at the head of the queue - what they are doing and, I presume, for how long. Those at the back just get to fume, I presume. Although traffic jams in Cambridge are hardly uncommon. Also, all this was known in advance: the estate managers mailed all the bizniz folk days beforehand. Happily for XR, many people chose to work from home to avoid disruption. Less happily, they chose to do it just for the morning and then drove in anyway.

Anyway, enough of that. In the course of fb'ing this, I got pointed at RUSHING THE EMERGENCY, RUSHING THE REBELLION? STORY AND VISION FOR XR IN 2020 By Marc Lopatin, Skeena Rathor, Rupert Read. Sorry about all the shouting but some of these people are quite shouty - notice the megaphone in my picture. Interestingly, the critique in that doc echoes stuff that I found RR saying (after ATTP raised the issue, so he gets a nod) somewhat earlier: Climate activists often compare their struggle to victories from the past. But in my view comparisons which are often made – to Indian independence, the civil rights movement or the campaign for universal suffrage, for example – are over-optimistic, even fatuous. These historical movements were most often about oppressed classes of people rising up and empowering themselves, gaining access to what the privileged already had. The Extinction Rebellion challenges oligarchy and neoliberal capitalism for their rank excess and the political class for its deep lack of seriousness. But the changes that will be needed to arrest the collapse of our climate and biodiversity are now so huge that this movement is concerned with changing our whole way of life. I offer you that to show his viewpoint; I think he is wrong, but I've said that before, so won't push that here.

Our authors start with soft soap: Over the last year and a half, you have come together and created something truly beautiful and so on. But quickly come to the point: XR is at a turning point... or see us plagued by the incoherence that many of you have been feeling since last October’s Rebellion. And this is kinda the point. You can do demos and get lots of PR - the press loves a Newe Thinge - but at some point you run into the problem that effective demos means inconveniencing and annoying a lot of people. Which people will stand for, for a while, but if you just turn yourself into a chronic nuisance, you're going to be unpopular. Which won't work brilliantly for something aspiring to become a popular uprising.

They ask: this pamphlet is about how XR can grow and catalyse by first taking an honest and searching look at itself. What are our blind spots, tensions, and paradoxes that have produced success and incoherence in almost equal measure/amounts these past months? Rest assured that the "honest and searching" look will not involve examining the science: the emergency is taken for granted and will not be questioned.

Complexity and fragility

They state, as an article of faith, how vulnerable the complex human systems that sustain our lives are to a near-term future characterised by shock, disruption, and even breakdown. But is this true? To them, it is so true that it requires no evidence. A quick Google provided me with nothing to the point. I'm reminded of AMOC shutdown: simple models tend to show "catastrophes"; more complex AOGCMs don't. But what of human society? We recently suffered what many tell us what a grievous shock: the "great crash" of 2009. But, no-one starved to death2. Our massively complex society just dealt with it. There may be a parallel with "daisy world", where adding the daisies stabilises the middle bit, but transfers the jump to the end. Do feel free to put useful references in the comments.


For unclear reasons, equality appears to be the cure for fragility: they want lived reality can pivot from vulnerability to radical equality. Frustratingly, this too is so obvious to them that they feel no need to justify it. Perhaps their logic goes: more equality implies a less complex society implies (by the previous dodgy logic) less fragility. But why (other than the purported link to less fragility) would I want a simpler society? I feel no urge to return to the Goode Olde Dayes of Happy Peasants, no matter how lovely their literature and world view was1 - and that, of course, wasn't written by the peasants and was also highly unequal. Complex societies are better at freedom. So I think they need to fill in their logic on this one - though, to be fair, this is a document for the choir, not for the unwashed masses.


There's then some weird stuff like XR co-founder Roger Hallam noticed that successful rebellions tend to get a small percentage of the population taking part in illegal action, a far smaller number arrested, and a far smaller number imprisoned. He reasoned that if XR attained those numbers, then rebellion will be successful. But that simply does not follow. This is new to me, but would explain some of their activity. I agree with our three authors that the reasoning is indeed flawed. The rest of it I didn't read in detail; it seemed somewhat repetitious and angsty and unsurprisingly floundering about what to do next.

The polluter elite

As usual,the problem is the "polluter elite". If by "elite" they are thinking globally, and means essentially all citizens of the West, then they might be right. But I don't think they are. They mean the nasty rich folk, not all the nice middle-class folk who fly off on holiday each summer. Or possibly they mean different things according to who they are talking to. It's hard to tell. But, either way, recall that it isn't the Evil Fossil Fuel Companies emitting those greenhouses gases, it is you me and our fellow citizens.

2021 update: speaking of the polluter elite: the founder of Extinction Rebellion has admitted that she drives a diesel car.


For out of olde feldes, as men seyth, Cometh al this newe corn from yer to yere.
On morality.
* He Tells Us It's the Institutions by Arnold Kling
Why Extinction Rebellion’s Tactics Are Deeply Misguided - Mike Hulme
* [2021/11] What next on climate? The need for a new moderate flank by Rupert Read. Despite calls for honesty it is still far too optimistic / giving on XR.


1 Also, as Lewis notes, their literature could be pretty damn dull.

2 Consider the usual platitudes offering sympathy for those who nonetheless suffered to have been ritually uttered.

1 comment:

crandles said...