Inside Extinction Rebellion

An insight into the motivations, actions and goals of a Trinity student and Extinction Rebellion member

Now more than ever, the climate crisis has taken center stage in political discourse and has become a global cause of concern. Although there have been climate activists working for decades, recent scientific revelations have injected new life into calls for drastic changes to the way we live in order to reduce damage to our planet. Extinction Rebellion is a climate activist organisation which, despite being not even a year old, has gained large scale publicity for what some deem radical forms of protest in order to spread awareness and illicit a serious response from governments across the world. The people working in Extinction Rebellion come from all over the country, with no obvious link between them besides a recognition that our current way of life puts our future in danger and a willingness to try to alter our society’s trajectory away from environmental disaster. 

Trinity News spoke with Extinction Rebellion member and Trinity student, Emma Horan, who is studying English and Philosophy. Extinction Rebellion is a group of activists trying to use the power of civilian protest to achieve meaningful and drastic steps towards protecting Earth and all its inhabitants from climate change. Horan became a member of Extinction Rebellion after learning about the group via social media and seeing an Extinction Rebellion protest on O’Connell Bridge earlier this year. She is a part of the legal team, media team, and outreach team as well as a part of a 10 person affinity group within Extinction Rebellion. These affinity groups are smaller teams that develop trust with each other and participate in actions together, coordinated during regular meetings.

Although she has only been a member for less than six months, she speaks with the same passion and understanding of the mission as a founder. When Horan was discussing her role within Extinction Rebellion, it was instantly clear that this organisation is not operating within the typical structure or confines of an NGO. Horan explained Extinction Rebellion’s dedication to a non-hierarchical structure. Anyone that joins has as much authority to act and speak on behalf of Extinction Rebellion as the founders.

“Horan represents the changing identity of climate politics as can also be seen with the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, urging the United Nations to act.”

Even though it does not follow the traditional structures of organisation there are still principles participants must abide by, including nonviolent action and maintaining a culture where specific people or companies are not blamed. Horan explained: “It’s very organic and if you have an idea you can run with it. You check in with people with more experience, but really you can do what you want.” Horan was motivated to join Extinction Rebellion over another group due to “the sense of urgency that they carry… their three main goals are getting governments to acknowledge the truth [about climate change], making governments act with the required urgency and ensuring a just transition for all”.

Speaking on other climate organisations with more established reputations, Horan did not feel compelled to join them because of their ineffectiveness in creating substantial change in the years, or even decades, that they have been active. Organisations, like GreenPeace, “have been engaging in peaceful protests for years and nothing has happened,” according to Horan. In contrast, Extinction Rebellion is “…radical because we need to be.”

Extinction Rebellion was founded in 2018 and has already garnered itself the subject of international attention following highly publicised protests in London over summer 2019. The organisation, while remaining non-violent, engages in civil disobedience as part of their protest strategy. Breaking the law in non-violent ways, like blocking traffic or illegal sit-ins, they force people to pay attention to the climate crisis and the lack of response from governments. This is the ethos created by the founders of Extinction Rebellion, one of whom completed a PhD studying effective activist movements.

Citing the American Civil Rights movements, civil disobedience, in the eyes of Horan, needs to be part of the agenda in order to accomplish the goals of Extinction Rebellion. Horan learned in an Extinction Rebellion training session, for an activist movement to be successful, only 3.5% of the population needs to be involved. In order to achieve this percentage, the organisation does not want to, nor does it believe in, working alone. Despite the differences in action-plans with other climate change activist groups, Extinction Rebellion, from Horan’s perspective, acknowledges that they are fighting for the future of everyone. Therefore working with other organisations is essential in bringing about change.

This is epitomized in one of Horan’s jobs liaising with Dublin-based lawyers doing pro-bono work to support Extinction Rebellion’s efforts from a legal perspective. Extinction Rebellion is also working with other local and international groups to share knowledge and resources. 

“For every one person engaging in an act of civil disobedience there are 10 other people involved in a different way.”

Horan’s skills have been helpful with her work in Extinction Rebellion, demonstrating a perfect example of the diversity of talent the organisation is harnessing to execute their agenda. Until recently, it seems the sense of urgency that Horan spoke about was concentrated in career climate-scientists and a handful of others. Horan represents the changing identity of climate politics as can also be seen with the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, urging the United Nations to act. The monopoly on being able to cause meaningful dialogue and progress is shifting to new demographics with people of all ages, classes and nationalities becoming involved. Horan works most closely with other students, but spoke on the overwhelming diversity within Extinction Rebellion. Many of whom do not have any experience in climate science or organised political activism. She praised the organisation for its welcoming atmosphere and support in educating its members on everything from the latest global crisis statistics to how to participate in acts of civil disobedience. 

In light of Ireland’s recent declaration of a climate emergency, where only six TDs were present in the Dail, Horan and Extinction Rebellion hope to see meaningful steps being taken. Without any major changes, like moving towards a zero carbon society, Horan called the declaration just an empty promise. Extinction Rebellion is planning a major protest on September 20, followed by a prolonged series of Rebellion in coordination with activists all over the world from October 7 to October 18. The sophisticated and extensive use of social media by Extinction Rebellion could help boost the number of participants.

Horan also made it clear that no one expects everyone who joins Extinction Rebellion to engage in civil disobedience with the risk of getting arrested: “For every one person engaging in an act of civil disobedience there are 10 other people involved in a different way.” One of the main goals for all Extinction Rebellion protests is for it to be fun for its participants. Horan described the upcoming September 20 protest as having a “festival atmosphere.” So it seems that if it is making art for posters, organising refreshments for those participating in civil disobedience, DJing at the protests or just about anything else, there is a place for everyone to be useful within Extinction Rebellion. 

Henry Petrillo

Henry Petrillo is the Deputy Sex & Relationships Editor for Trinity News.