ENVIRONMENT: Extinction Rebellion should be taken seriously.

Truls Lie
Truls Lie
Published date: May 8, 2019

Isn’t it about enough by now, Norway? As it turns out, this tiny nation is actually the seventh biggest exporter of CO2 emissions.

The new global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) is now rebelling against governments who don’t take the consequences of climate change seriously. All the while, as our own government cluelessly keeps pumping up oil, we hear the clamor of XR activists worldwide: «No way, Norway! Turn around – help save the world!» No way, we prefer expanding to new oil-fields (LoSeVe, The Barents sea or the Australia bay). Norway’s official plan is to keep up the production until 2070 and the person who will finally close the valves may not even be born yet.

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Extinction Rebellion Norway 26.06: Photo: Alexsandra Perpetua

XR underscores that it is our «duty to act now, to guarantee our children’s welfare and safety, and to protect life on earth as such». We saw numerous campaigns this April. In Oslo, XR Norway ritually carried a black coffin filled with silver coins to the Department of Finance, to highlight their responsibility for Norway’s CO2 emissions. They planted an apple tree in front of the Parliament (see photo). Next, they conducted «die-ins» where XR members played dead: first in front of the Opera (a statement against overfishing, plastic, and acidification) and in Oslo City Mall (a protest against pollution by the clothing industry).

In London, XR blocked bridges with green plants; they stopped the traffic and barricaded embassies (including Norway’s) as an environmental protest. In the Guardian (23.04.) we could read about XR members around the world: protests against gas extraction in India; West Africans (Ghana, Nigeria, The Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Togo) finally experiencing some global solidarity – and their demonstrations in churches, market squares, and schools. In Columbia – a country where environmental activists are frequently killed – XR aims to protect the jungle and the rivers. Other XR activists in South America protest against logging in the rainforests. And XR members in Japan try hard to be heard, speaking about climate change, biodiversity and human rights – even if they are frequently ridiculed for being ishiki takai (which means something along the lines of «highly conscious» but with a negative connotation.)

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Extinction Rebellion at Waterloo Bridge, London on April 15th. Photo: XR

XR is ambitious in its attempts at global mobilization – the goal is that 3,5% of the global population will be activated so that a new policy can be made possible. At least more and more people do participate in XR with civil disobedience, campaigns, artistic and theatrical performances, gatherings, workshops and establishing their own meeting points.

Ethics of responsibility

But will XR end up being criticized for being naïve, the way conservative majorities frequently are diminished by progressive minorities? And as many people will be arrested in these campaigns, what then motivates the individuals to rebel?

Let me briefly mention the ethics of responsibility expounded by Hans Jonas – since the long-term consequences of a globalized civilization. Jonas’ work The Imperative of Responsibility – In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age (1979) can help us to better understand XR and other contemporary environmental activists. My old professor at The New School (New York City) wrote an ethics that included future generations – which is precisely the explicit concern of XR. Jonas based his argument on the responsibility of parents and the direct experience of concern for their children’s future. With this also comes the duty to attain knowledge about the long term consequences of our industrial society. Such research would come together in the discipline of what Jonas called «comparative futurology». The duty to act is no less valid even if parts of our current knowledge is hypothetical – granted that the damage is irreversible if the worst-case predictions should prove correct. As XR points out, our unsustainable civilization has disrupted nature, which has sustained itself perfectly for 400 million years.


So which facts have caused the outrage? If the Paris-goals of max 2 degrees are to be met, we will have to leave 80% of the earth’s reserves of oil, gas, and coal in the ground. Climate emissions must be limited and the carbon uptake must be increased. The oceans will rise, our supplies of drinking-water will be diminished, crops will fail, and we will be exposed to extreme weather, bushfires, migrations, diseases – all which will increase the risk of war and conflict.

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Extinction Rebellion at Whitehall in Westminster, London. (Photo: Isabel Infantes/AFP)

In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists – among them several Nobel Prize Winners – issued The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity – a warning that the ecosystems would break down due to over-exploitation. 25 years later, in 2017, without this warning being heeded, 15 000 scientists signed a new warning «To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss» reminding us that «Earth with all its life is our only home».

20 of the last 22 years have been the hottest on record on Earth. Extreme heat and drought is about to become the norm – and the last 100 years, climate-related catastrophes have doubled to about 220 a year.

More facts: Of all considered species, a loss of 40% of all amphibians is expected, 25% of mammals, 14% of the birds, and 33% of all coral reefs. The latter of which have existed for 14 million years. And fewer insects lead to reduced harvests – the total biomass of flying insects has been reduced by three quarters in only thirty years. And if you are one of those that like to spot butterflies, you’ll already be familiar with the fact that only a fifth remain from what we had a hundred years ago.

If global warming increases by 4 degrees, we will have corn harvests dropping by 85%. Antarctica will start melting and the ocean level will rise. The oceans are acidifying – CO2 emissions have increased acidification by 30%, and a 150% increase is expected before 2100.

And polluted air and the greenhouse effect is the cause of 268 million premature deaths, annually – the list goes on and on…

Ecological grief

No wonder many people react. But what if some people feel so tormented and desperate that peaceful and non-violent protests are replaced by more forceful actions – to prevent more pollution and the disappearance of species?

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Extinction Rebellion demonstration on April 18 at Oxford Circus, London. Photo: XR / Vladimir Morozov / akxmedia

This was the message implied in director and writer Nina Ossavis play Death doesn’t arrive with a sickle performed in a cabin in the Nordmarka forest north of Oslo last month – where the main topic was the terrorist Ted Kaczynski and his rage towards all destruction of nature. The monologue presented Kaczynski as a man marked by childhood trauma – someone who went too far. In the ensuing discussion we – a small audience of twenty – discussed what we would be willing to do if we were angry enough, filled by an ecological grief. No, terror was not a solution, but what about sabotage? Would one, as activist – where the social contract was experienced as broken due to the inactivity of the state – physically try to stop ecologically damaging activities?

At the same time, I wonder how much could be expected to change through a drastic break with our current ways of living? Could a better approach be to create new and local societies, ecological collectives that could be an ideal to others – aiming for long term responsibility? Is it better to act negatively or affirmatively? Should one claim the power to turn powerlessness into a slowing down of current exploitation and break the law – referring as XR does to a «responsibility to rebel»?


The last years we have seen extensive rebellions against governments all around the world, as one of our writers, Mikkel Bolt points out in his new pamphlet Occupy after Hegel (2019). We have seen Athens, Tunisia, Kairo, Madrid, Oakland, and Paris. Is a new far-sighted international resistance about to bring forth an enduring resistance capable of changing the current trends of capitalism, militarism and paralyzing governance? Will a more anarchistic, reasonable mentality, based on local communities and ethical cooperation on a global scale start settling for real?

what if some people feel so tormented and desperate that peaceful and non-violent protests are replaced by more forceful actions – to prevent more pollution and the disappearance of species?

Many are disillusioned and angry about political inaction after the Paris agreement of a 2-degree limit. When even a rich state like Norway only has concern for its own interests, ignoring environmental concerns dirtying the backyards of others, any upright person with a sense of ethical responsibility and a long-term understanding of our contemporary age, should raise their voice against our well-oiled, complacent and egoistic welfare-state with a «No way!». This can mean more direct democracy, internationalism, communism, more self-governance and friendly alliances between cities all over the world – and with many supra-national organizations, like the environmental one XR calls for.

Protests against bad government have been widespread in the last years. And why can’t civil society have more power to decide about their own lives and interests? A sense of «rebellion» has manifested itself in Greece (2008-2012), in the Green revolution in Iran (2009), the Arab Spring (2011) – or the Spanish Indignados, Occupy, Maidan in Ukraine, Nuit debout in France, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter and new Black Panthers in the USA and the Yellow Vests in France. And Bolt supplies us with keywords like «Baghdad, Copenhagen, Hebron, Bahrain, East Jerusalem, Damascus, London and Charlottesville, all locations of powerful mobilisations of protest…»

Do we dare to be as optimistic as to hope for a new and united international movement powerful enough to take power from the world’s unethical and nihilist leadership, so that active parts of the global civil society can instead self-organize?

The desert

150 years ago, the German philosopher Nietzsche lucidly wrote: «The desert grows: woe to him who hides them!» The desert is the wasteland – die Wüste – and its significance is that of destroying, laying waste. Even if this was directed to the fact that nihilism was spreading in Europe, the result of such indifference and cynicism today is making nature desolate and creating new wastelands. The facts listed above can be read as charges against our society – with the ultimate crime.


ENVIRONMENT: Extinction Rebellion should be taken seriously.

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