According to their website, Extinction Rebellion is “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse.” Initially conceptualized by fifteen people who decided to take it up in their own hands to transform the climate change discourse and movement, Extinction Rebellion or XR shot into the limelight by embarking on a series of unconventional and out of the box actions that steered people’s imagination and attention towards the urgent issue of climate and ecological emergency plaguing the world today. XR activists shut down five iconic locations in central London: Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square, remaining there for ten days. They also succeeded in closing down fossil-fuel companies, and gluing themselves to the London Stock Exchange. This unique form of ‘civil disobedience’, was meant to instill a renewed sense of purpose and suffuse a reinvigorating bout of hope in the deeds and thoughts of people concerned about the pace of global warming.
“This Is Not a Drill” aims to capture the quintessential premise underlying the core and crux of Extinction Rebellion in a set of 30 concise essays. Attempting to conflate the need for ecological preservation with a choice of avant-garde and progressive steps, “This Is Not a Drill” is a handbook if not a manifesto beseeching and exhorting like-minded individuals to take up the cause of environmental protection.
The theme for the book is set, courtesy, a stirring foreword by Vandana Shiva, scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author. After informing the readers about a coming apocalypse in the form of a sixth extinction, Ms. Shiva, conflates genocide with ‘ecocide’, both of which form ‘one indivisible process, and they began with the idea of the colonization of the Earth as the ‘civilizing mission’ of a ‘superior race’. Ms. Shiva before concluding her piece brings our attention to the Hopi people of North America who ‘describe the phenomenon of destroying everything that sustains a society as Powaqqatsi – ‘an entity, a way of life, that consumes the life forces of beings in order to further its own life’
The foreword is followed by thirty short essays penned by an eclectic band of disciplinarians and professionals. Writer, actor and the editor of this handbook, Sam Knights reveals to the reader the three uncompromising demands of XR:
- The government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change
- The government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2025 the three key demands.
- The government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice
Borrowing from Mr. Knight’s theme, renowned environmental lawyer Farhana Yaminmakes a genuine plea for curbing fossil-fuel subsidies for businesses. “They will keep asking for fossil-fuel subsidies. The official estimates of financial support to fossil fuels are between US$ 370 billion and 620 billion over the period 2010–2015, with the UK spending £10.5 billion a year, making the UK the biggest fossil fuel subsidiser in the EU.” The warp and weft of this handbook is the presumption that we no longer can afford to tolerate the now-taken-for-granted precept of “business as usual.” For the circumstances staring us into our collective faces are extraordinarily unusual. The former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, who famously conducted an underwater meeting of his Ministers to highlight the escalating perils of rising sea water levels, appeals to the world to act with the utmost stringency lest coral nations such as Maldives face untimely extinction.
London based writer and musician J S Rafaeli, along with Neil Woods, who spent fourteen years infiltrating drug gangs as an undercover Police Officer, in an essay titled, “Fighting The Wrong War”, outline the key principles, of the concept of ‘Harm Reduction’. Originally conceived by Dr. Russell Newcombe, Harm reduction represents a coherent system, outlined by four key principles of pragmatism, non-judgmental attitude, relevance, and user-friendly disposition. These principles instituted to wean away addicts from the consumption of drugs, may be, according to the authors of this essay, be equally applied to fossil-fuel consumers.
Part II of the book is a guide to civil disobedience. In an essay titled, “The Civil Resistance Model”, British environmental activist, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and cooperative federation organisation Radical Routes, Roger Hallam, lays down the vital requirements for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience/economic disruption. According to him:
- “First, you need the numbers. Not millions, but not a few dozen people either. You need Requirements for a non-violent disruption several thousand: ideally, 50,000;
- You have to go to the capital city. That is where the government is, that’s where the elites hang out and it’s also where the national and international media are usually based. The truth is, they don’t mind you doing stuff in the provinces. They do mind when you set up camp on their lawn, because they are forced to sit up and pay attention;
- You have to break the law. This is the essence of the non-violent method because it creates the social tension and the public drama which are vital to create change. Everyone loves an underdog narrative. It’s the great archetypal story in all cultures: against all the odds, the brave go into battle against evil. Breaking the rules gets you attention and shows the public and the elite that you are serious and unafraid. It creates the necessary material disruption and economic cost which forces the elites to sit up and take notice. Common actions are simple ones: sitting down in roads; painting government buildings;
- It has to stay non-violent. As soon as you allow violence into the mix, you destroy the diversity and community basis upon which all successful mass mobilizations are based. The young, the old and the vulnerable will leave the space. So people need to be trained to stay calm and groups need to be assigned the role of intervening when tempers flare up. This needs to be organized, and non-violent Requirements for a non-violent disruption;
- It has to go on day after day. We all know A-to-B marches get us nowhere – and the truth is, neither does blocking a capital city for a day. It’s in the news and then it’s over. To create real economic cost for the bosses, you have to keep at it. The first day or two, no one is bothered. After a few days it become ‘an issue’. After a week it’s a ‘national crisis’. This is because each day you block a city the economic costs go up exponentially – increasing each day;
- Last but not least, it has to be fun. If we can’t dance at it, it isn’t a real revolution. The artistic communities need to be on board: it’s a festival. We are going to show the media that we’re not sitting around waiting to die any longer. We’re gonna have a party.”
The handbook covers all the bases in so far as organizing a peaceful rebellion is concerned, including even the type of dishes to be served. For example, food coordinator Momo Haque, in his essay titled, “Feeding The Rebellion”, provides the recipe for a simple, albeit nourishing dish using rice and lentils. “Rice and lentils – soaked together for around three hours. Add some spices, maybe cumin, turmeric, chili, ginger, garlic, onion, salt. Add lots of water, cook for an hour or so; when it’s soft and mixed together, it’s ready to serve.”
From plonking down a 21ft pink boat in the middle of a bustling street to supergluing themselves to chairs and door handles, the activists constituting XR are on a mission to save the One Habitable Planet that we have, at the time of writing this review, at least. Unless mankind is successful in identifying a suitable alternative, XR would need every bit of support it can garner if our future generations are to inherit a livable abode.