A Rebellion in the Making

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent special report this past October, I could tell who’d read it by the looks on their faces. The researchers, scientists and average folks I consider friends would either shake their heads and sigh with bitter disappointment or break into tears when its more dire predictions came to mind. Not prone to tears myself I just became quiet, trading my usual boisterousness for inactive rumination, while Canadians at large talked of nothing but the legalization of marijuana.

The truth is, legal pot is to climate change what jaywalking is to murder. Thus far our affinity for fossil fuels and deforestation have increased average global temperatures 1°C as of 2015, and the best case scenario presented by the global scientific community has been to halt warming at 1.5°C, as agreed upon during the Paris Climate Conference. But this best case scenario hadn’t been articulated until the release of this October report, putting into sharp focus the consequences of our chronic inaction.

If warming reaches 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels 70-90 per cent of our coral reefs will disappear, our fisheries will draw 1.5 million fewer tonnes of food from our oceans annually, sea levels will rise enough to displace tens of millions from their homes and livelihoods, the north pole will be free of ice once per century, hurricanes and heat waves will be of a severity we have never before encountered, global food and water security will be a thing of the past and mass extinction will hasten as our remaining wilderness is shoved beyond climatic comfort. Should we exceed 1.5°C or reach 2°C, all of these become much worse. Should you have the stomach, the report itself awaits you online.

I’m not trying to scare you – well, maybe I am – but too few people are talking about this, in particular our leaders, and when they do it’s in the context of carbon taxes, pipelines and other hurdles for which we’re destined to reach an ineffectual compromise. The report concluded that if we want the best case scenario for climate change, we need to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (11 years away), reach global carbon neutrality by 2050, and thereafter invest in carbon sequestering technology to remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we possibly can.

Like I said, I became very quiet when I read all this, compiled by the best and brightest of our global scientific community. I wouldn’t blame you for getting quiet too, but some people in the United Kingdom did just the opposite.

It began in late October when a group calling themselves Extinction Rebellion (XR) declared a state of formal rebellion with their federal government. Their three demands were 1) for their government to consistently tell the entire truth about climate change and make it a political and educational priority 2) create a war cabinet dedicated to the defeat of climate change in all its aspects and 3) establish a citizens assembly to keep political leaders on point going forward.

I understood this movement and the desperation which inspired it, and couldn’t suppress excitement when I read about their climate war cabinet, but I didn’t derive much optimism from this isolated rebellion on an island across the Atlantic, that is, until they started making headlines.

This rebellion engages in regular, non-violent acts of civil disobedience, which began with the super-gluing of its members to government buildings and ended, two weeks later, with the blocking of all five major London bridges. I can appreciate the frustration of being stuck in rush hour, but when you consider the true scope of the climate crisis and likewise the slow, uninspired action of our political leadership, I think you can find these people downright empowering – thousands of average folks taking the day off work and risking arrest to bring their famously busy city to a screaming stop. You can’t ignore the guy blocking your car.

This business with the London bridges took place November 17th, and since videos of this action hit the internet Extinction Rebellion chapters have risen in excess of 35 counties, including Canada; actually, including Nova Scotia.

I’m not at liberty to share names, but good, honest, average people have reached out to me, sharing their plans to declare a state of formal rebellion with their provincial and federal governments (there’s an active chapter in most provinces) on February 14th of this year. Their non-violent direct actions (non-violence includes no property damage) will follow on February 16th. To date I’m aware of groups in Halifax, Cape Breton, Bridgewater, Wolfville, Petite Rivière and Mahone Bay.

Like you or me they’re afraid of being arrested, and of the life-long consequences that could entail, but I admire them for seeing the big picture, and for promising not to stop until their town, city, provincial or federal government declares an overdue state of climate emergency and enacts serious progress, which has already been achieved in London, a suite of cities in California and Vancouver, whose city council voted unanimously in favour on January 16th. Halifax followed suit January 29th. The organization growing across Nova Scotia (there’s a PEI chapter as well, no word yet from New Brunswick) is expanding quickly and coordinating with groups across the country, and in the U.K. Come spring, I’m told, these regional acts of non-violent civil disobedience will be organized into a global push, lasting from April 15-21.

This rebellion faces an uncertain future, and no movement is above criticism, but if you feel the need to dismiss these people as emotional hippies, treehuggers or eco-terrorists then you’ve missed the point. Regardless of your opinion on their methods, their message is ironclad and clear as a bell – that the prosperity and abundance we’ve taken for granted, for ourselves and our children, is about to run dry, unless of course we do something about it.

Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, author, and writer active across the Maritimes. This article was originally published with The Reporter.

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