Over the past few months, smaller-sized climate protests have been increasingly frequent throughout the Netherlands. While some associate themselves with Code Rood or Fossielvrij, most of these new groups consider themselves part of Extinction Rebellion, an activist organization that was set up in the UK about a year ago to pressure the government to pick up the pace with climate change measures. Noteworthy is the provocative, yet non-violent approach to their protest; while the groups block traffic junctions or occupy entire road bridges, their aim is not to instigate physical conflict with the police or civilians. Despite this, over 1300 British protesters found themselves arrested in the past two months for civil disobedience, and the movement has since taken a ‘reflective’ break from obstructing roads.
The spread to the European mainland is relatively recent: one of the earlier events reported in the Netherlands was in February, where a group of students did a die-in: they gather at a busy place and pretend to drop dead on the floor. The shock effect is supposed to give bystanders a wake-up call about climate change. These die-ins are commonly used by the activist group to raise awareness in many locations.
Wageningen University die-in, March 2019. (c) Amir Soliman
The demography of the Dutch groups is striking; most of the activists are young people, and many of the local groups have been set up in cities with large universities. Similar to how Amnesty International allows student groups to set up local branches of their organization in any place, Extinction Rebellion has 13 Dutch delegations in Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and other places. For the latter, there are some AUC students deeply involved with the activist group. This local group even protested in the Academic Building itself on February 28: using a megaphone in the hallway, they called for action by AUC students and staff.
Because what does Extinction Rebellion want? According to their Dutch website, the group demands for government action; from raising awareness to civilians through education and promotion to legal enforcement of climate change adaptations for companies and individuals. They also call for an independent committee, a citizen’s assembly, that oversees the government in these changes due to distrust in politicians. It remains quite unclear how this committee would be elected and what its legislative powers should be in the Dutch case, however. The demands on this website mostly mirror the ones of the UK-ran international website, which also covers their practical manifestation.
While their end goal of a better sustainable world is undisputedly a noble thing to pursue, their methods of reaching that goal are frequently brought up for discussion. Andre Spicer wrote a strongly opinionated article in The Guardian in which he points out that their protest and civil disobedience may instead turn away many principal climate supporters. While the organization does their best to portray its members as ‘rebels’, it makes it harder for people as parents, workers, or neighbors to identify with, Spicer claims. Yet, he does concede that Extinction Rebellion is still able to provide an effect on climate change policies by the government; as an extreme group raising awareness, authorities might be forced to work with more moderate solutions that will have shifted every so slightly towards a more sustainable planet.
Demonstration in Hyde Park (c) Getty Images
As it turns out, the group got to meet with British environment secretary Michael Gove on April 30th. Gove pledged to reduce nation-wide carbon emissions to zero though without providing any date for this goal. One of the activists present at this meeting was Clare Farrell, co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion group. She commented that “it was less shit than I thought it would be, but only mildly”. Other representatives, such as Savannah Lovelock, part of the youth division, appeared to perceive this meeting in a more positive way, but remained skeptical of the authorities really following through with their promises.
This just in: this morning (May 31st), Extinction Rebellion released their plan to effectively shut down Heathrow Airport for ten days by using drones to block any air traffic. The drones encircling the landing strips would make it too dangerous for planes to take off or land. a Heathrow spokesperson expressed understanding for peaceful protest, but also argued that “we don’t agree that passengers should have their well-earned holiday plans with family and friends disrupted”. The activist group claims to still be in the consultancy phase of this rather extreme plan, so we will have to wait what happens next.
Sources & Further reading
- Who are behind Extinction Rebellion? Elsevier (Dutch)
- Is public disturbance the only way for Extinction Rebellion? Trouw (Dutch)
- Andrew Spicer’s Opinionated article on Extinction Rebellion, The Guardian
- Extinction Rebellion Meets Enviroment Secretary Michael Gove, The Guardian
- Extinction Rebellion website (international) or Dutch version
- New: Extinction Rebellion plans to shut down Heathrow, The Standard