Environmental campaigners are hoping to mobilise thousands of people to block the streets of central London around the clock next week, in their latest attempt to raise public awareness and provoke action over the destruction of the biosphere.
About 2,300 volunteers have signed up with Extinction Rebellion to obstruct some of the capital’s busiest roads for at least three days.
The disruption is to be the UK element of what organisers hope will be an international movement to protest against environmental and ecological destruction.
XR, which cites the civil rights movement and suffragettes as inspirations and is backed by senior scientists and academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, claims to have 331 groups in 49 countries, with 222 activists arrested worldwide for acts of non-violent civil disobedience since last autumn.
Eighty-five people were arrested in London in November when thousands of protesters, including families and pensioners, occupied five bridges.
The group is demanding immediate action over environmental destruction, after dire predictions that humans face an existential threat if climate change and the loss of biodiversity continues.
It is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war.
“We don’t want to disrupt people, but our government’s failure over the last 30 years leaves us no choice,” an XR spokesperson said.
“Governments prioritise the short-term interests of the economic elites so, to get their attention, we have to disrupt the economy.”
On Monday at 11am, protesters in London plan to block traffic at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. Roadblocks will continue night and day at each site, reminiscent of the Occupy London protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in 2011-12.
Participants are being warned they will be invited to take part in non-violent civil disobedience, and might be arrested. Organisers have circulated legal advice to anyone planning to attend, requested they refrain from using drugs and alcohol during the protest, and asked that they treat passersby and the environment with respect.
A Metropolitan police spokesperson declined to comment other than to say an appropriate policing plan will be in place.
Tiana Jacout, an XR coordinator, said the protest’s success relied on recruiting enough people. “It’s literally a numbers game at the moment,” she said. “The more people we have, the easier it is to hold the space.”
Organisers have promised a “full-scale festival of collective action and creative resistance”, including talks, workshops, musical and theatrical performances, and a roaming people’s assembly, hosted at each of the locations.
“What I have been saying to people is that [the climate crisis] is not an unknown thing any more,” Jacout said. “Polls have shown 70-80% of people want it dealt with. If in the past 10 years you have been sitting at home, thinking this is not right, something needs to happen: come, this is it.”
Almost 100 academics declared their support for XR in a letter published in the Guardian in October, which said: “When a government wilfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm and to secure the future for generations to come, it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship.
“The ‘social contract’ has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.”