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Extinction Rebellion: Leaving it to the Students

The protestor of school age sported a placard featuring a distorted caricature of Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison: “Scomo was liking it hot.” A glorious spring day, and a gathering was already fussing and buzzing outside the Victorian State Library and students were striking. The placard image was one that toasted both ways – looking “hot” for the purposes of appearance – the lace underwear, the high-heels; and also observing a climate heating the earth to a state of cooked oblivion.

Australia’s Pentecostal Prime Minister was thousands of miles away in Washington DC, spending time with the Big Man Uncle Sam, journeying there happy to be amongst friends (mates, as he would say), fairly indifferent to the climate change protests that have registered across the globe. He had, after all, been elected on a platform sympathetic to renting the earth.

Morrison’s life is sorted in God’s grand if erratic plan, which tends to ignore matters of an environmental nature. Climate change is best left to the hysterics; that’s their business. God’s business is to forgive and move a bit of furniture around in anticipating the admission of more souls to the Kingdom of Heaven. Till that happens for the Bible Bashing here-and-now, coal and other fossil fuels are to be worshipped.

How countries have managed to cope with climate change is a smorgasbord of conflict and desperation. Since 2018, another message, sometimes shrill, sometimes steely and sober, has entered the debate: Extinction Rebellion, a movement that began in the United Kingdom and remains focused on the message of climate emergency and immediate action. From being outré, it is now chic, the subject of petitions. We are frying, goes this message from the children, so listen. Embrace, then, such methods as non-violent direct action (NVDA) encouraged by one of the XR founders Roger Hallam. Embrace a platform, if at all possible, beyond politics.

Within months, the XR movement had made sufficient ripples to impress the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, and various members of the House of Commons. In June, MPs yielded to a core demand of the protest group: convening a citizens’ assembly made up of representative samples of the British population to discuss climate change.

Academics, for one, have hopped onto the bandwagon of children driven protest centred on Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, suggesting that civil disobedience is something worthwhile. This is a good thing for some, given that many have suffered what Christian Smith described in The Chronicle Review as a distinctly cloacal condition, the academic as a bullshit submerged citizen. “BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis in faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.”

While a clear view on non-violent protest is absolutely tenable from a moral and ethical perspective, it is worth considering who tends to be roped into such measures. Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay on civil disobedience remains a canonical text for the effectual protester; it is not sufficient to be merely against a condition or state of society (slavery or war). A platform of activism is needed to “quietly declare war with the State.”

Many academics have no such compunction in battling it out with the State. Middle-class welfare discourages that sort of thing. The first bastion of capitulation in most developed societies is the academic class. Its members are, all too frequently, the accommodators, the conciliators and the surrendering segment of society keen to prevent dissent in choppy waters. They are practitioners of sloth; skivers and shirkers, shifting workloads to adjuncts and sessional staff. Failed academics become, in time, failed managers.

When it comes to the thinking and Thoreau-like matters of disobedience, the heavy lifting, running, and all-round angst is best left to students, however salad-like they might seem. Otherwise, the focus tends to be confined to collective signatures that never go much further than a round robin email of conceited smugness and organisational dullness.

In Australia, an open letter signed by some 250 or so researchers and those loosely defined as members of the academic fraternity (the context is now so diluted as to be meaningless) have expressed their “support or the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement and the global week of non-violent civil disobedience and disruption planned for October.” The language is a bit Johnny-come-lately, an after-party intervention that sounds like the bore who cheered after the fact. “We stand behind XR’s demands for the Australian government to declare a climate emergency and to establish a citizens’ assembly to work with scientists on the basis of current evidence to develop a credible and just plan for rapid total decarbonisation of the economy.”

Important to also note here is the tribalism behind the note: university disciplines chirping and bleating in an effort to identify some fictional solidarity lurking behind the impotence. The children had saved them; they could be relevant!

Given that the modern university is heaving and suffering under siloed hyper-specialised irrelevance, this must have come as a golden opportunity for ineffectual hivers keen to boost their presence and their value before the unalerted public eye. It gave managers a chance to leave their spreadsheets and signatures; it gave the lazed and the crazed a chance to rope in a protest march and badger high school students.

It was also a chance to be righteous, encouraging, in the words of the open letter, “all Australian universities and other major institutions to immediately divest funds from all fossil fuel and other industries which are contributing to the climate crisis, and to redirect investments urgently towards the renewable energy sector and other climate enhancing technologies.” (Climate is already being “enhanced” enough as it is; what is needed, surely, are technologies that moderate that enhancement).

The protests on this September 20, filled as they are with children, many tenaciously bright, do leave one with a sense of returned relevance: the civil disobedient class as resurgent, the activist as debater. But history shows that the students are best left alone to inspire and convince: despots, instructors and the military will eventually follow.


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  1. johno

    How good was the climate march in Adelaide, loved it. Well done Oz.

  2. johno

    Just wished we had a giant blowup scomo holding his lump of coal.

  3. Aortic

    Heard some of the kids who attended the demonstration on Sydney on radio and was mightily impressed by their passion and erudition. If the planet manages to survive, despite the inaction from our coal fired numpties, at least OZ, if these guys are representative , is in good hands.

  4. Michael Taylor

    Carol and I were in s cafe not far from where the town’s school kids held their climate change march.

    I heard some snippets of a conversation between 3 elderly people at the next table. “We need to get rid of all these greenies” blah blah blah. And this doozie: “Trump knows what he’s doing when it comes to nuclear weapons.”


  5. LOVO

    Here in Broken Hill ya coulda heard a sparrow fart in regards to, uummm, ‘action’.
    Disappointed would be an understatement. 😤
    ….and so it goes…sigh…..

  6. LOVO

    Mayhap we could tell our kids how their phones won’t work in an increasingly compromised world.

  7. Zathras

    As inspiring and reassuring as this event seems I suspect it will go the way of the recent student anti-gun protests in the USA and the anti-Trump march in England.

    This time next week it will be back to business as usual and when Morrison returns he’ll brush it off with a few words and move onto something else. It’s the sort of country we are.

  8. johno

    Michael, maybe they were referring to Trumps weather warfare, nuking hurricanes.

  9. Padty

    The ER site, lots of good stuff on CO2 and air pollution, but nothing about the more urgent existential threat, escalating EMF radiation levels. Is it possible students are being manipulated by media hype as a kind of diversion?

    Encouraging, from Oregon Legislature relates “to exposure to radiation in schools in this state; and declaring an emergency.” (Wireless Safety Bill SB283)
    “Directs Oregon Health Authority to review peer-reviewed, independently funded scientific studies of health effects of exposure to microwave radiation, particularly exposure that results from use of wireless network technologies in schools and to report results of review to interim committee of Legislative Assembly related to education not later than January 2, 2021”

    Now ask yourself, how many media outlets in the world ran with that as a topic for their news bulletins?
    It is way past time to get WIFI out of our schools and educate the population on the dangers of EMF radiation.

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