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Extinction Rebellion and climate change activism: Breaking the law to change the world

The panel

At an online event on 21 January 2021, Black and Green Ambassador Olivia Sweeney joined a panel to discuss Extinction Rebellion and civil disobedience. Dr Oscar Berglund from the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment introduced the discussion. The panel, chaired by Andrew Kelly, Director of Festival of Ideas also included Dr Alix Dietzel, Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Bristol, and Manu Maunganidze, Diversity Facilitator: Environment, Education and Culture.

Dr Oscar Berglund has recently written a book on Extinction Rebellion (XR) which covers questions it covers such as ‘are XR democratic?’ and ‘ is civil disobedience justified and effective?’. He argues that XR need to pay more attention to capitalism and the political economy, and talked about what lessons there are to be learned from XR for the wider climate movement. Who and what stands in the way of climate action?

The panel shared their reflections on Dr Berglund’s book. Olivia, who also talked about her personal experiences of climate activism, raised some of the issues with XR including a lack of explicit demands around climate justice, and an unwillingness to engage with solutions.

“Climate justice is at the heart of tackling climate change and by framing change in this light, just transitions will be pushed forward.”

Olivia Sweeney, Black & Green Ambassadors 2020/21

Olivia proposed a movement of movements so that XR, a predominantly white middle class movement, doesn’t dominate climate activism. She asked:

“Is the extent of XR’s purpose to bring climate change up the agenda, and now it is time to give way to a movement that can take climate activism to the next stage?”

You can watch the full panel discussion below: