Extinction Rebellion (XR) Bristol held protests and blockades from 29-31 August, and XR nationally begun a fortnight of disruption from 1 September in London, Cardiff and Manchester.
They aim to get the “Climate and Ecological Emergency” (CEE) bill adopted as a “private members’ bill” and then passed as Parliament returns from 1 September. In Bristol, a protest at the airport reportedly saw almost 400 people, multiple bridges were blockaded, and XR organised many other actions, talks, and educational activities.
Organisers have been taking Covid-safety seriously, while working hard to remobilise after lockdown. I was impressed with the turnout given the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, on the back of what I’d worried was a loss of impetus.
The youth climate strikes movement (and UKSCN) have fallen dormant, and the Labour Party and trade unions are currently largely silent on climate change. XR’s rebellion is an opportunity to rejuvenate a climate movement.
XR’s political strategy remains severely limited. “The climate and ecological crisis is the greatest problem of our times — the CEE Bill is the solution”, announces XR Bristol. “our economic and political systems aren’t fit to save us from the climate and #EcologicalEmergency. Big problems need big solutions. Enter the #CEEbill.”
But, aside from the difficulties of getting onto the floor of Parliament via the “private members” channel, the CEE bill, a draft backed by Caroline Lucas MP, falls far far short of the solution we need. Primarily it reads as a series of legal corrections to the current framework; through which, for example, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) currently operates and brings out reports. Additionally, CEE bill mandates the creation of a “Citizens’ Assembly”.
The bill would enshrine legal commitment to international “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities”, reflecting the need for richer, more polluting and more industrialised nations to take greater steps to tackle climate crises. It mandates that overseas emissions and ecological impacts in the supply chains of imported goods be taken into account. Carbon sequestration, removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, should only be factored in insofar as it relies on currently possible methods. That is, planting forests and rewilding rather than speculated future technologies.
Changing the legal framework, and thus future CCC models, can impact wider discussions and potentially policy around climate change. Legal commitments were used as one useful weapon in the decades long battle against Heathrow expansion.
However, tightening up the existing regime by creating various new duties is inadequate. While a step forward in many ways from previous vagueness in XR’s demands, it still amounts to demanding of the government, with useful additional constraints, that “something must be done!”
We must organise to fight for and win, not changes to the rules, but a concrete plan, socialist environmental demands. We must win public ownership under workers’ control of the energy, transport, food, and other major industries, for the fastest possible transition to green energy, efficient electric affordable transport, and more, funded through expropriating the banks and the wealthy.
We do need greater democracy in designing, fighting for, and implementing the necessary major environmental changes. But not in the form of a citizens’ assembly, “citizens” randomly selected and so unaccountable, steered by experts and “professional facilitators”, so strongly influenced by the more longstanding elements of the state. Assemblies, that is, which “will empower MPs to take bold decisions and allow people to have a real say [sic]”, relying on the existing parliament, government, and state apparatus to implement the decisions.
The democracy we need for environmental transition is of workers fighting in their workplaces and industries for the needed changes, of democratic movements debating, deciding upon, fighting for and implementing the necessary economic, social, and political changes.