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Extinction Rebellion Has Come To Asheville. Can It Answer Its Critics?

by Greg Yost
(op-ed published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on February 2, 2020)

Most people in the United States by now have heard of Greta Thunberg, the straight-talking Swedish teenager whose unflinching demand for climate action has made her a thorn in the flesh for do-nothing politicians from Davos to the White House.

Less known here, but more notorious in Great Britain than even Thunberg is Extinction Rebellion, a nonviolent direct action movement which aims to turn Thunberg’s pique into Gandhian power.

Extinction Rebellion (often abbreviated as XR) launched itself in London in November 2018 when thousands of people blocked five bridges over the Thames. It continued in similar fashion across all of 2019 with spirited, colorful protests and hundreds, if not thousands, of arrests each time for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

XR uses the disruptive spectacle of mass action to press its three demands. First, that government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency. Second, that government must act now to stop biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in this decade. Third, that government at all levels must create and be led by citizens’ assemblies on matters of climate and ecological justice.

XR spread from the UK, landing first in major world cities such as New York, Paris, and Berlin. But in keeping with its decentralized, do-it-together ethos, it also appeared spontaneously in much more out of the way places.

Last summer, Carla Norwood, a young mother of three from a rural eastern North Carolina county, heard the news reports about Extinction Rebellion and began asking herself what she personally was willing to do to make a safer, more livable world for her children. She decided to start with something simple, a series of trips across the state to spread word about XR to anyone willing to listen.

One of Norwood’s journeys last fall found her gathered with a handful of people at the Black Mountain Public Library. The group followed her homemade slideshow with a discussion of its own, and in short order Extinction Rebellion WNC was born. Norwood departed, leaving local organizers to get to work. Similar stories were repeated in other North Carolina cities.

Extinction Rebellion is in fifty-six countries now, spreading like fire even in some areas, such as Australia, which literally are on fire. But the explosive growth has also been marked by occasional fierce criticism, some of which has come from would-be allies. The movement’s reliance upon mass arrests to force government to the table has caused some to wonder if the tactic is sustainable. Others question its suitability in neighborhoods already plagued by abuse at the hands of the police.

But it was the characteristically blithe tone of newly minted, white middle class XR activists in the UK which most concerned longtime organizers from other struggles. The exuberance of early XR actions betrayed an assumption of status and privilege that was off-putting to those not so accustomed. Many worried that XR would not be a reliable ally if it did not understand that exploitative power relations in the pursuit of domination and profit constitute the root cause of the climate and extinction crises.

To its credit, Extinction Rebellion has proven willing to publicly apologize for mistakes and learn from them. To the original three UK core demands, for example, XR organizers in the United States have since appended a fourth which prioritizes protection and repair of marginalized communities. This and other efforts to deal honestly with issues of equity and justice may help the rebellion one day fulfill its promise as a durable multiclass and multiracial movement.

Extinction Rebellion WNC will likewise need to work to earn trust here in the Asheville area if it’s to succeed. Ironically, the climate emergency itself all but guarantees that it will have that chance. Rising waters, after all, can serve a purpose of bringing people together to higher ground.

There are thousands in western North Carolina already who experience climate-induced fear, anger, and grief. Those thousands will grow into tens of thousands more in days to come as flooding, melting, and burning continue to wreak havoc on human communities and natural ecosystems around the world.

Extinction Rebellion exists to channel this naturally occurring human energy into a collective global act of self-preservation. The fact that it’s beautiful doesn’t guarantee its ultimate success, but it is encouraging evidence nonetheless for it being on the right track.

EARTH & US: Environmental Injustice – Race, Class, & Climate Change

by Cathy Holt

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

william-barber-iiiWilliam Barber III, the lawyer son of the powerful Reverend William Barber II, was a fitting speaker for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Asheville. He is co-chair of the NC Poor People’s Campaign Ecological Devastation Committee, as well as the strategic partnerships associate at The Climate Reality Project started by Al Gore (www.climaterealityproject.org).  

Intersectionality
Barber focused on King’s later years in which he pointed to the three intersecting evils of racism, militarism and poverty, right during the height of the Vietnam War. It was a time when many people criticized King for broadening the focus from racial issues to take on these other pillars of U.S. corporate power. King even said that the world is “doomed” if we neglect these evils. Now, Barber maintains, we must look at the intersectionality of climate, racism, and poverty, which he did with many telling map-images. The areas of the U.S. with the worst heat events overlap greatly with the areas of highest poverty and those with most people of color, especially in the historic “Black belt” in the southeast. “Three of the top five biggest greenhouse gas polluters generating electricity are in the South,” he added: Duke, Southern, and Dynergy.
 
An intersectional analysis, Barber pointed out, is people-centered, acknowledges the disproportional impact on oppressed people, and identifies intersecting oppressions. “Climate Justice” connects the environmental crisis with other social and economic crises. The root causes are fossil fuel exploitation for profit, structural racism, and social inequality. “Environmental Justice” means not just equal levels of exposure to environmental toxins, regardless of race or income, he stressed–but also equal access to power in decision-making about these issues. 
 
Environmental and Climate Injustice
In 1982 in Warren County, NC, a mostly African-American, low income group protested the PCB Landfill Project, which went ahead anyway. Barber showed a film clip of police forcibly arresting protesters who were blocking the road, and letting huge trucks dump their payload of toxins on the ground. This was one of the earlier incidences of environmental racism and injustice. Since then, as we know, many protective environmental regulations have been rolled back (especially since 2017). 
 
Now, 97 of the 100 counties projected to suffer the worst impacts of climate are located in the South! The others are in the Midwest. Impacts include crops lost, heat waves, droughts, floods, and landslides. Lightning-ignited wildfires are projected to increase by 30%, by 2060 in the Southeast. “People talk about the expense of solving the climate issue,” said Barber. “But look at the cost of NOT solving it!” The economic cost of the crisis in the last 2 years alone, he pointed out, was $653 billion, not including the human cost of suffering and lives lost. 
 
Climate Refugees
Soils in the U.S. South, Mexico, and Central America are projected to become extremely dry. El Salvador and Honduras already are too drought-stricken to grow food, forcing people to flee by the thousands due to hunger. Drought caused by temperature rise has a huge impact on staple crops such as corn, rice, and wheat. The Global South–including Africa, South Asia, many island nations, Mexico, Central-South America, and the Middle East (minus Israel)–is hit worst of all, while having contributed the least to causing the crisis since their fossil fuel use has been so much lower. The immigration crisis to come will be huge. “What will the Global North’s moral response be?” Barber wondered. Taking responsibility and showing compassion for climate victims, or building walls?
 
Health effects
According to the Declaration on Climate Change and Health (2017), the elderly and babies are those most likely to die during extreme heat events.
 
A shocking 78% of African Americans in the US live within 30 miles of a coal plant today. Black kids have twice the rate of asthma as white kids, while their death rate from asthma is ten times higher. This is an example of how environmental injustice is compounded by issues of poverty and lack of access to medical care, Barber pointed out. African Americans live with 21% more air pollution than the average American.
 
The Zika virus is expected to spread through the south and southeast (all the way up to New Jersey!) and there are other tropical diseases being found in the south already.
 
Pipeline “incidents”—frequent leaks and spills of oil and methane—have caused deaths and disease as well. Where are pipelines routed? You guessed it—through low-income communities of color, disproportionately. For example, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would pass through the property of poor farmers, primarily African American and Native owned.
 
Energy costs
In Georgia, while the average resident pays 5.3% of their income for utilities, the poorest residents pay up to 25% of their income, and that’s not just because their income is lower. It’s also because their homes may be drafty, poorly constructed, not weatherized, and thus cost more to both heat and cool. Wealthy energy companies make their money by building infrastructure, like big new plants and pipelines, and then passing those costs on to consumers as rate hikes. 
 
The “urgency of now”
This phrase of Dr. King was echoed by Barber. He believes that in 2020, we actually have less voting rights than we did in 1965! He reminded us that in 2016, the Supreme Court gutted section 5, so we no longer have full protection of voter rights, and he pointed to the rampant voter suppression (in Democratic and low-income areas, of course) in 2016. In order to elect representatives responsive to our needs, he says, we must build coalitions that can win. Avoid the ”paralysis of analysis” (trying to convince people who resist) and instead, build the movement.
 
For 2/3 of the world’s people, said Barber, renewable energy is already now cheaper than fossil fuels. So we must show up, speak out and demand it! NC’s Governor Cooper, in Executive Order 80, put forward a Climate Resilience Plan which can make a positive difference. But people must show up and insist it be funded and implemented. We need an environmental policy like the Green New Deal, which recognizes the massive shift necessary to solve the crisis. We must invest in both equity and environmental justice. The Green New Deal does a great job of addressing not only climate change, but also racial and economic inequality.
 
The Poor People’s Campaign is organizing a national March on Washington on June 20, 2020, and all are urged to attend or help another person attend. It is a national call for moral revival which includes building unity, promoting equal protection, transforming the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy,” dismantling systemic racism, linking racism and poverty and lifting the leadership of those most affected, and taking direct nonviolent action. www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.

Cathy Holt is a longtime Asheville activist. Subscribe to her blog Earth and Us by sending her an email at Cathyfholt@gmail.com.

Into the Lions’ Den: Three Asheville Extinction Rebellion Activists Place 300 Person Republican Party Fundraiser On Notice Of Climate Emergency

Ex-U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor at his annual holiday dinner in 2017. Taylor’s Russian bank lost its license, with regulators saying it violated rules against money laundering and inflated the value of its assets. (Photo: Carol Spagnuola/Special to the Citizen Times)

by Steve Norris

Early last week, a few days before the solstice, we received word of an upcoming Republican Party dinner in western North Carolina hosted by a former member of Congress, Charles Taylor, who has been linked to a failed bank and the Russian mafia. Last year in 2018 about twenty of us picketed outside of this annual event of Taylor’s at Asheville’s upscale Crowne Plaza Resort. On that occasion we were threatened with arrest and forced to withdraw. This year, to avoid another early exit, a few of us simply bought banquet tickets.

Arriving to the dinner on the evening of December 21, 2019, Kendall Hale, Debby Genz, and I entered a lions’ den of about three hundred cultish Republican leaders and public officials. Being inside offered us opportunities which did not exist outside.  Not knowing the layout of the room or seating arrangements, not knowing how many people would be attending, not knowing what security would be like, and not knowing whether we would have assigned seats, we could not create detailed plans beforehand. We knew, though, that we could be creative, bold, and steadfast–and that if possible we wanted to sit near the front where we could have the most impact.

When we arrived, however, we learned that not only were there assigned seats, but also that our table was near a back corner of the room. On the table was glossy pro-Trump propaganda – “In 2020 help Trump defeat Socialism”. Worse still, at our table of eight guests across from us was a cop in uniform, with a gun on his hip, and his wife next to him. Not only did we have to make small talk with them and the other guests while we ate, but the three of us had to recalculate our action plan in whispers to one another. We also had to listen to a parade of speakers applauding the “incredible historical accomplishments” of the Trump administration: keeping out immigrants, loosening regulations, appointing conservative judges, passing tax cuts for the wealthy, and so on.  The food was good, but being there was frightening and stressful. At the same time, however, it was exciting knowing that maybe we could pull off our action right under their noses, and if so, that we’d turn this banal holiday party into something they might remember as the most colorful and challenging event of their holiday season.

(December 21, 2019) XRWNC activists hijack a political fund raiser to tell the truth about climate peril.

After the dinner ended (we had to forego the cheesecake) and as the formal program was beginning, Kendall and I abruptly and without fanfare stood up and unfurled a banner that said “Climate Emergency, Extinction Rebellion.” Since it was too noisy to give our prepared speech, we chanted “Climate Emergency, Rebel for Life” as we walked to the front of room and across to the podium. At some point I said in my loudest voice “I’m sorry to interrupt your holiday festivities, but my and your children and grandchildren are gravely endangered by climate change.”  As Debby video-ed, the stunned audience weakly began to chant, “Make American Great Again” and “USA! USA!…” in a belated attempt to drown us out. Soon after, two frantic hotel security guards grabbed us and pushed us out a side door, warning “You must leave the grounds immediately or be arrested”. Here’s a video of the action: https://www.facebook.com/XRWNC/posts/158178205590762.

A friend wrote me the next day: “I would have been scared shitless. I would have expected to have been beaten.”  Kendall is sure that this was her most scary action ever. But she did it anyway. Many activists now believe that we must take personal risks, as well as risk arrest, if we are going to confront the challenges posed by climate change, mass extinction, and the myriad violent, oppressive policies of the Trump administration. It seems fitting that during this Christmas season, celebrating the rebel Jesus who as a young man disrupted the activities of the money changers in the Temple in Jerusalem, that a few of us should make the lives of these greedy and corrupt Republican zealots uncomfortable as well.

How To Save The Planet And Ourselves

by Chris Hedges
November 18, 2019
reposted from Truthdig.com

If you read only one book this year, it should be Roger Hallam’s “Common Sense for the 21st Century: Only Nonviolent Rebellion Can Now Stop Climate Breakdown and Social Collapse.”

Hallam’s lucid and concise book, which echoes Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” says what many of us now know to be true but do not say: If we do not replace the ruling elites soon we are finished as a species. It is a cogent, well-argued case for global rebellion—the only form of resistance that can save us from ecosystem collapse and human-induced genocide. It correctly analyzes the failure of environmentalist activists in groups such as 350.org to understand and confront global corporate power and thus make a meaningful impact as we barrel toward ecocide. “Common Sense for the 21st Century” is a survival manual for the human species.

“The corrupt system is going to kill us all unless we rise up,” Hallam, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, bluntly warns.

The activism, protests, lobbying, petitions, appeals to the United Nations and misguided trust in “liberal” politicians such as Barack Obama and Al Gore, along with the work of countless NGOs, have been accompanied by a 60% rise in global carbon dioxide emissions since 1990. The United Nations estimates this will be augmented by a 40% rise in CO2 emissions in the next 10 years. Hallam, who has long been a part of the environmental movement, says of his past activism: “I was wasting my time.”

We must reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next 12 years to have a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophe, according to a report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the ruling elites, as expected, ignored the warning or mouthed empty platitudes. CO2 emissions increased by 1.6% in 2017 and by 2.7% in 2018. Carbon dioxide levels went up by 3.5 parts per million (ppm) last year, reaching 415 ppm. We are only a decade away, Hallam warns, from 450 ppm, the level equivalent to a 2-degree Celsius average temperature rise.

“Let’s be frank about what ‘catastrophe’ actually means in this context,” Hallam writes. “We are looking here at the slow and agonizing suffering and death of billions of people. A moral analysis might go like this: one recent scientific opinion stated that at 5°C above the pre-industrial mean temperature, we are looking at an ecological system capable of sustaining just one billion people. That means 6-7 billion people will have died within the next generation or two. Even if this figure is wrong by 90%, that means 600 million people face starvation and death in the next 40 years. This is 12 times worse than the death toll (civilians and soldiers) of World War Two and many times the death toll of every genocide known to history. It is 12 times worse than the horror of Nazism and Fascism in the 20th century. This is what our genocidal governments around the world are willingly allowing to happen. The word ‘genocide’ might seem out of context here. The word is often associated with ethnic cleansing or major atrocities like the Holocaust. However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition reads ‘the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.’ ”

“It is time to grow up and see the world as it is,” Hallam writes. “There are some things which are undeniably real, there are some things we cannot change, and one of those is the laws of physics. Ice melts when the temperature rises. Crops die in a drought. Trees burn in forest fires. Because these things are real, we can also be certain about what the future holds. We are now heading into a period of extreme ecological collapse. Whether or not this leads to the extinction of the human species largely depends upon whether revolutionary changes happen within our societies in the next decade. This is not a matter of ideology, but of simple math and physics.” Hallam points out that most predictions by climate scientists have turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. “… Recent science shows permafrost melting 90 years earlier than forecast and Himalayan glaciers melting twice as fast as expected,” he writes. “Feedbacks and locked-in heating will take us over 2°C even before we factor in additional temperature rises from human-caused emissions over the next ten years.”

“In short, we are fucked—the only question is by how much and how soon?” Hallam continues, “Do we accept this fate? I suggest we do not. Many self-respecting people who can overcome the human failing to disbelieve what they don’t like, now accept what is obvious looking at the natural science. But they have yet to work through the political and social implications.”

Hallam understands that even with reformists in power—and the political mutations caused by neoliberalism have not favored the rise of reformers but instead right-wing demagogues including Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who accelerate the ecocide—any change will be too incremental and too slow to save us from catastrophe.

Extinction Rebellion has the stated aim of bringing down the ruling elites. It organized last month’s coordinated series of demonstrations in 60 cities around the globe. Some 1,832 people were arrested in London alone. Additionally, more than 1,000 people were arrested during 11 days of civil disobedience in the streets of London in April. You can see interviews I did with Hallam here, here and here.

“This is not a matter of one’s political party preferences,” Hallam writes. “It is a matter of basic structural sociology. Institutions, like animal species, have limits to how fast they can change. To get rapid change they have to be replaced with new social systems of policy, practice and culture. It is a terrible and painful realization, but it is time to accept our reality.”

It is only by bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets to disrupt and paralyze the functioning of the state and finance capitalism—in short, a rebellion—that we can save ourselves, he writes. He grasps the fact that the protests must be nonviolent and must focus on governments.

“After one or two weeks following this plan, historical records show that a regime is highly likely to collapse or is forced to enact major structural change,” he writes. “This is due to well-established dynamics of nonviolent political struggle. The authorities are presented with an impossible dilemma. On the one hand they can allow the daily occupation of city streets to continue. This will only encourage greater participation and undermine their authority. On the other hand, if they opt to repress the protestors, they risk a backfiring effect. This is where more people come onto the street in response to the sacrifices of those the authorities have taken off the street. In situations of intense political drama people forget their fear and decide to stand by those who are sacrificing themselves for the common good.”

“The only way out is for negotiations to happen,” he writes. “Only then will a structural opportunity open up for the emergency transformation of the economy that we need. Of course, this proposal is not certain to work but is substantially possible. What is certain, however, is that reformist campaigning and lobbying will totally fail as it has for decades. The structural change we now objectively need has to happen too fast for any conventional strategy.”

No rebellion succeeds, Hallam understands, unless it appeals to a segment within the ruling elite. Once there are divisions in the ruling class, paralysis ensues and ultimately larger and larger fragments of the elite defect to those who are rebelling or refuse to defend a discredited ruling class.

“Mass action cannot just be nonviolent in a physical sense but must also involve active respect towards the public and the opposition, regardless of their repressive responses,” Hallam notes.

He writes specifically of the police:

A proactive approach to the police is an effective way of enabling mass civil disobedience in the present context. This means meeting police as soon as they arrive on the scene and saying two things clearly: “This is a nonviolent peaceful action” and “We respect that you have to do your job here”. We have repeated evidence that this calms down police officers thus opening the way to subsequent civil interactions.

The Extinction Rebellion actions have consistently treated the police in a polite way when we are arrested and at the police stations, engaging in small talk and quite often in political discussions and other topics where activists might have affinity (inequality, unfair pay). If police initially stonewall activists, they can become more open by a willingness to engage with and listen to them.

This engagement can start before an action. Often a face-to-face meeting with police is effective as they are able to understand that the people they are dealing with are reasonable and communicative.

Rebellion will also require repeatedly breaking the law. This will mean time spent in jails and prisons.

“It would be beneficial to the Rebellion for people to be in prison before the major civil resistance event to create national publicity,” writes Hallam, who was jailed for six weeks this fall in London. “The best way of potentially doing this is for people to do repeated acts of peaceful civil disobedience and then read out statements as soon as they enter court, ignoring the judge and court staff. In a loud voice they might say ‘I am duty bound to inform this court that in bringing me here it is complicit in the “greatest crime of all” namely, the destruction of our planet and children due to the corrupt inaction of the governing regime whose will you have chosen to administer. I will not abide by this court’s rules and will now proceed to explain the existential threat facing all life, our families, communities and nation …’ and then start a long speech on the ecological crisis.

“This will likely result in the arrestee being in contempt of court and placed in remand or given a prison sentence. It will be a dilemma for the authorities (depending on the regime) as to how long the remand or sentence would be. If the period of imprisonment is short, then people will be out soon and can continue peaceful civil disobedience. If the sentence is long, it will create a national media drama which will feed into overall rebellion.”

Popular assemblies have to be formed to take power and oversee a dramatic and swift reduction in CO2 emissions.

The science is unequivocal. The temperature increase must be stabilized at between 1 degree C and 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and CO2 levels must be stabilized at about 350 ppm. We have to find ways to largely eliminate human-created greenhouse gas emissions of all types within a decade, two at the most, and put in place programs to cool the earth, including planting trillions of trees to absorb CO2. One of the easiest and most significant ways an individual can directly reduce his or her environmental impact on the planet is to eat a diet free of animal products. The animal agriculture industry rivals the fossil fuel industry as one of the largest, multi-factorial causes of climate catastrophe.

The danger, Hallam points out, is that if we do not act soon we will trigger runaway climate feedbacks or tipping points at which no effort to curb emissions will succeed. Fossil fuels must be swiftly eliminated from the economy, including through a ban on all new investments in fossil fuel exploration and development. Coal-fired and gas-fired power stations must be shut down within a decade. This process will require a massive reduction in energy use that may have to include rationing.

Hallam is acutely aware that we may fail. It may be too late already, he admits. But not to resist is to be complicit in this act of genocide. Hallam understands global corporate power. He knows how to fight it. The rest is up to us.

Extinction Rebellion Is Creating a New Narrative of the Climate Crisis

by Charlotte Du Cann
October 28, 2019
reposted from NYTimes.com

In London, activists are taking to the streets to eschew hopelessness in favor of repair.

“Everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied,” Leonard Cohen once sang. In spite of decades of scientific data proving human-caused climate change, we are still spellbound by a story of enlightened progress. Our high-carbon culture is underpinned by a belief system that tells us we are in control of nature and can fix any problem with our superior technology.

There are signs that this story is losing its hold. In 2017 David Wallace-Wells shocked readers of New York Magazine with an article called “The Uninhabitable Earth.” In 2018 Jem Bendell, a professor of sustainability leadership at the University of Cumbria, published an academic paper discussing the need for “deep adaptation” in the face of impending ecological collapse. More recently, Jonathan Franzen caused another stir in The New Yorker, declaring that in the face of the world’s failure to decrease carbon emissions, “a false hope of salvation can be actively harmful.”

Sometimes, though, the story is larger than words.

In April, colored flags bearing the shapes of an hourglass, a skull, bees and butterflies began to flutter over the River Thames. In the space of an hour five bridges were closed down. Thousands of people poured into the streets and disrupted traffic in central London for 11 days, demanding immediate action from the government on the climate crisis.

Six months later, mass civil disobedience returned to the streets of London and 60 cities across the world. In the course of ten days, over 1,700 protesters from Extinction Rebellion, a protest movement that through nonviolent direct action seeks to raise the alarm on extinction and other ecological crises, were arrested in London. The police escorted a giant pink octopus puppet to Trafalgar Square. Activists participated in sit-ins at London City Airport, the BBC offices and the Billingsgate fish market. In the second week the police banned protests, but they continued anyway.

The movement’s first demand — to declare a climate emergency — was met by the British Parliament on May 1, and by 261 local councils to date. Extinction Rebellion has stimulated a debate about climate chaos and wildlife destruction that for decades was pushed back on the political agenda. But it is one thing to formally declare an emergency, and quite another to do something about it.

In 2008, watching a series of “peak oil” documentary films, I had what writer Rob Hopkins calls “The End of Suburbia” moment. I woke up to see that everything, including the toothbrush I used and the clothes I wore, was made of oil. I realized I knew nothing about energy extraction, financial markets or industrial agriculture. I had only learned a narrow history of civilization, not the consequences it brought in its wake, nor the mechanics beneath its glamorous surface. I began to document the community grass-roots projects around Britain that were taking steps to transition to a low-carbon economy, from repair cafes to urban farms.

But it wasn’t until I encountered the Uncivilisation festival, a gathering that explored creative responses to systemic collapse, hosted by Dark Mountain Project, that I knew what was missing from any positive narrative about climate change I might write. The talk around the fire was not about climate data and behavior change, but about an existential crisis — a crisis that made space for people to turn away from the myths of progress, human centrality and our separation from “nature” and, instead, become humbler, more imaginative creatures.

To speak with each other about the complexity of the crisis meant we could not remain in a conventional culture. This is what you could see this month on the streets. Where politicians encourage people to be hostile and individualistic, the “rebels” work together and make rigorous efforts to listen beneath and beyond inflammatory rhetoric. Where the manufactured world wears a slick corporate style, Extinction Rebellion brings color, texture and diversity.

The shape of their rebellion is not the orderly stream of protesters flowing down the streets with placards. It’s a wild, impromptu mix — of circus performers and a funeral procession, of 400 trees left outside Parliament for legislators to plant and 40 “rebel writers” reading in Trafalgar Square, of a mothers and babies “nurse-in” outside Google’s headquarters. It’s a marriage, a game of cricket and a ceilidh (a gathering with dancing and music) on Westminster Bridge, and a singer in a baroque band singing Henry Purcell’s “Remember Me” at the end of Downing Street.

But in spite of all the friendliness and culture making, this is a difficult story to tell: Extinction Rebellion is not just about the political liberation of citizens. Biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, deforestation, pollution — every area of planetary life has been affected by decades of rapacious fossil fuel and mineral extraction. And none of us are on the side of the angels. You cannot walk into a supermarket, fill up your tank or put on a winter coat without getting blood on your hands. We are all embedded in a civilization that wreaks havoc on the planet.

How we extricate ourselves is the challenge at hand. Extinction Rebellion’s demands take a step beyond the Paris Agreement; they insist that Britain reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. And their creative actions have captured the attention of the public, bringing many more voices into play.

“We need to go through the path of ashes,” Simon Bramwell, one of the group’s co-founders, told me. “This is not a hero’s journey.”

If you ask people why they have sat down in the road, why vicars, teachers, nurses, ex-policemen, electricians, a former stock trader, elderly men and young mothers allowed themselves to be arrested, they will tell you that they have done everything they can on their own: signed petitions, made lifestyle changes. None of it worked.

But when you find yourself among others who know that our boat is leaking, you can play a role in an ensemble act. Nonviolent direct action is effective because you are showing that you are willing to put your body and your liberty on the line. You are standing by your words. Who you are matters, what you say matters. And you are not alone in saying it.

We live and die by the stories we tell each other — and that story on the streets of London is changing.