Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

News

  • Written by Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

If you live in a major Australian city, expect your daily routine to be disrupted this week. Protest group Extinction Rebellion is carrying out a week of flash mobs, sit-ins and marches to block traffic and bring more attention to the pressing problems of climate change and biodiversity loss. Many arrests are expected.

Extinction Rebellion protesters say peaceful civil disobedience is an important social and political strategy for achieving a just and sustainable world.

Their protest actions may make us feel uncomfortable, annoyed or worse. But it is important that the general public understands the reasoning that underpins civil disobedience and why this radical strategy is being deployed this week.

Resistance movements are no stranger to law-breaking

The Extinction Rebellion movement has three bold demands of governments. First, government should declare a climate and ecological “emergency”. Second, by 2025 governments should decarbonise the economy and halt biodiversity loss. Third, citizens’ assemblies should be established to work with scientists to inform environmental policy-making.

Many aspects of Extinction Rebellion deserve, and have received, critical analysis, including whether its decarbonisation timeframe is unrealistic and whether their disruption tactics will alienate rather than inspire the general public.

The movement’s civil disobedience strategy is one of its most controversial. Civil disobedience is defined as public, non-violent and conscientious breaches of law which aim to change government policies.

Read more: As conservation scientists, we are compelled to rebel against extinction – and researchers across the world should join us

Law-abiding citizens are right to be concerned about others deliberately breaking the law to advance their social, political or environmental goals. But many of the most significant social and political advances over the past century owe much to social movements that relied on this tactic. Think of Gandhi’s independence movement against British rule in India, the suffragette fight for the right of women to vote and the US civil rights movement.

These precedents raise the question: might future societal advances also demand peaceful acts of civil disobedience?

Extinction Rebellion protesters might be annoying. But they have a point Images from the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, a series of protests in the US state of Alabama against entrenched racist policies. The US civil rights movement deployed civil disobedience strategies. Wikimedia

Civil disobedience: the case for and against

Imperfect though it is, the basic theory of democracy is that we vote on who represents us in government. In this way, democratic societies are said to have created the institutions and processes needed for their own peaceful improvement.

So critics of civil disobedience argue that people shouldn’t just break the law because they disagree with it. They say if you do not like a policy or law, you are free to campaign for change, including for the election of a new government.

But proponents of civil disobedience argue that democracy is flawed and in some cases, non-violent breaches of law can be justified.

First, they say laws and policies can be shaped undemocratically by powerful mass media, corporate lobby groups, or billionaires. Proponents say citizens do not always owe political allegiance to laws and policies that are not produced through fair, robust, and representative democratic processes.

Read more: Extinction Rebellion: how to craft a protest brand

Second, many political and legal theorists say just because something is enshrined in law, that does not mean it is necessarily just. This was the view advanced by American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience, which inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Throughout history, many laws and policies produced in democracies were grossly unjust. These include laws which institutionalised slavery, legally entrenched racial segregation, criminalised homosexuality or particular religious practices, or prohibited women and people of colour from voting.

When a law or policy is clearly unfair, a case can be made that there is a place for civil disobedience. We must accept that even laws produced in a democracy get it wrong sometimes.

Extinction Rebellion protesters might be annoying. But they have a point An Extinction Rebellion protest in Melbourne on Monday, October 7, 2019. James Ross/AAP

Will Extinction Rebellion fall on the right side of history?

The Extinction Rebellion is promoting civil disobedience because it says across the world, governments have failed to respond adequately to the climate crisis and the steep decline in wildlife populations. It argues that the political system underpinning this failure must be resisted, even if this causes inconvenience to the general public.

The movement’s supporters include 250 Australian academics who signed an open letter saying they feel a “moral duty” to rebel and “defend life itself”.

It could be argued that the activists should wait until governments take action. But judging by recent history - including a lack of substantial progress at last month’s UN climate summit - an adequate, timely global response to the climate crisis seems highly unlikely. In this case, waiting for government action means being complicit in an unjust system.

Read more: A landmark report confirms Australia is girt by hotter, higher seas. But there's still time to act

Some people will inevitably dismiss Extinction Rebellion protesters as troublemakers and criminals. But their actions must be assessed against the big picture. The world’s best climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that if global warming is not kept below the 1.5℃ limit, Earth’s natural and human systems will suffer dire consequences. The legitimacy of Extinction Rebellion’s disobedience must be weighed against the wrongs that triggered it.

As Extinction Rebellion causes chaos in our cities, we must avoid superficial, kneejerk reactions. Whatever your views on civil disobedience, the climate emergency would be far less serious if governments had taken action decades ago. Further inaction will only lead to more numerous and active social movements, driven by the same mixture of love and rage that provoked Extinction Rebellion.

Authors: Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/extinction-rebellion-protesters-might-be-annoying-but-they-have-a-point-124490

INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

The Conversation

Politics

Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament

Mr Speaker, when we meet in this place, we are on Ngunnawal country. I give my thanks and pay my respects to our Ngunnawal elders, past, present and importantly emerging for our future. I honour...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Alan Jones

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.    JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Prime Minister Bridget McKenzie press conference

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everybody. The good news is that the Qantas flight is on its way to Wuhan and I want to thank everybody for their cooperation, particularly the Chinese Government as...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Top 5 Green Marketing Ideas for Your Eco-Friendly Small Business

According to studies, about 33 percent of consumers prefer buying from brands that care about their impact on the environment. This is good news for anyone running an eco-friendly business. It’s a...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Choosing the Right Coworking Space For Your Business

As the capital of Victoria in Australia, Melbourne is inhabited by millions of people and is known as one of the most liveable cities in the world. The latter is due to the city’s diverse community...

Sarah Williams - avatar Sarah Williams

What Should You Expect from A Carpentry Apprenticeship?

Those wanting to pursue a career in woodwork, whether it be to make furniture, construct buildings or repair existing wooden structures, will have to first commence a carpentry apprenticeship. This ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Travel

Travelling With Pets? Here Is What You Should Know

Only a pet parent can understand the dilemma one experiences while planning a vacation. Do you leave your pets at home?  Will you get a pet sitter or someone to take care of them while you are away?...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Be a Smart Frugal Traveller

You are looking through Instagram, watching story after story of your followers overseas at a beach in Santorini, walking through the piazza in Italy, and eating a baguette in front of the Eiffel ...

News Company - avatar News Company

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR GRADUATION TRIP

Graduation is the stage of life when a student receives the rewards of hard work of years. It must have taken sleepless nights and tiring days to achieve the task. Now, as you have received your cov...

News Company - avatar News Company

ShowPo