Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a global movement that uses nonviolent civil disobedience and regenerative culture to attempt to drive political change to address the climate crisis. XR has been occupying Australian city streets in recent months. There has been significant media coverage and mass arrests.
XR has three demands:
- Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
- Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
- Government must create and be led by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Meredith Knight, a real estate property manager in her late 50s and a member of the Uniting Church, has participated in several XR actions, including a flash mob at Central station, rallies and a march. SSH asked her about her motivation and experience.
How did you come to participate in the XR actions?
I’ve come to environmental activism through singing. Since 2015 I’ve been part of the environmental choir, Ecopella, which sings at festivals, events and protests. I heard about Extinction Rebellion through Ecopella. Now I also sing with XR’s Sydney choir, the Black-Throated Finches (named after the endangered species threatened by the Adani coalmine). Singing is a great medium for getting a message across. A lot of people relate really well to the music and the lyrics – it is a powerful way to educate. Once your eyes are opened to what is happening with our climate and the Earth, you are impelled to take action.
XR’s disruptive tactics are controversial. Can you explain why you think these tactics are important?
Climate scientists and other reputable experts, such as Sir David Attenborough, are saying that we are in a climate catastrophe. So an extreme situation requires an extreme response. As Greta Thunberg, founder of the climate strikes, says, “Act like your house is on fire. Because it is.” In the last couple of weeks we’ve had catastrophic bushfires so early in the season. The severity of these fires is being exacerbated by climate change, and I hate to think what might happen in January and February. The politicians aren’t listening, mostly the media is not giving the facts, and the general population is not aware. A lot of people are preoccupied with their families, jobs and day-to-day life and because the media has not been getting the message across, they are in a state of denial and think that the impacts of climate change will be a lot further down the track. Therefore it takes XR’s drastic, disruptive measures to bring the issue into public consciousness.
History shows that these kinds of actions produce results. A lot of what the suffragettes and black rights movement did was illegal. Climate change is the most crucial issue of our times – it is going to affect everyone and all of the species of the Earth.
Are those who criticise us for holding up traffic going to have the same reaction when they experience climate catastrophe – knee-deep in water in their own home, or facing down a fire or starving due to lack of food? That’s what real disruption looks like!
It is not just about the future – it is happening now. Extreme droughts. Towns out of water. Unprecedented fire seasons. Pacific islands under water. It is a deep injustice that those who contributed the least to the problem are those who are most affected. We have a responsibility to confront and address that.
There have been negative stereotypes painted in the media of the people who are taking part. How do you respond to these portrayals?
The fact is that people from many different walks of life are actively involved: businesspeople, grandparents, celebrities, religious people. It really is a shame that we’ve had to resort to such action but we’ve had to because the government isn’t listening. For many people the motivation to participate is: what is the world going to be like for our children and grandchildren? I’m hoping it is not too late to turn it around. Even if all carbon emissions were stopped today, we are still on a catastrophic path – but we can take action now so it isn’t as bad as it could be.
You’re a Christian. Can you tell me about what your faith has to do with your participation?
I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully loving, fully forgiving and very much attuned to the Earth and her creatures. He was born in a stable surrounded by animals, he used to go out into the wilderness and he lived simply. His whole life was about reaching out to other people. Jesus called the political and religious leaders to account. He stood up against the powers that caused oppression and destruction. I can imagine him doing similarly today, in our context of climate crisis. I can imagine him participating in XR.
We are all part of the web of life. Humanity should not be a dominant part of the web – we are a species that is interrelated with and dependent on other creatures, such as bees. Our technological power gives us all the more responsibility to reflect on and respect this interdependence. Not to do so is to sow the seeds of our own destruction. It is not just about Christianity though – interrelatedness and care for Earth come through many traditions, particularly indigenous traditions – I am influenced by these as well.
And finally, how does it feel to participate in the XR actions?
What I like about it is how we’re all working together for a common purpose. We are a community of passionate people who feel very strongly. People have different ways of expressing themselves. Some of it is very theatrical, to really make a statement, such as the Red Rebels or a bee die-in. And singing is a visceral thing. It involves the whole body and the spirit, it is a release, it is powerful.
People have said to me, “What is the point in participating in these protests? The government never does anything about it.” But we can’t just say it is hopeless and give up – if we do, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, there is nothing surer than that. The Welsh author Raymond Williams said: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”. I am going to continue to live out of hope and do what I can to make the world a better place. That’s what Christians – and all of us – are called to. When we work together, that’s when change can happen.