Explained: What is the Extinction Rebellion?

For a green cause, the Extinction Rebellion dug up a Trinity College lawn that has part of Newton's heritage. What is this group?

On Monday, members of an environmental activist group dug up a part of the lawn of Trinity College Cambridge while sparing an apple tree that descended from the one that inspired Sir Isaac Newton. According to news reports, the digging was to protest the college’s alleged role in the “destruction of nature”, but the protesters “symbolically protected the famous apple tree to highlight the college’s collusion in the destruction of farmland”.

The group calls itself Extinction Rebellion (XR) and claims to follow the principles of non-violent civil disobedience movements. It was launched in the UK on October 31, 2018, as a response to a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that implied “we only have 12 years to stop catastrophic climate change and our understanding that we have entered the 6th mass extinction event,” XR says on its website.

Critics have referred to the group’s supporters as “environmental fanatics”. In its FAQ section, the website raises the question whether the group comprises “law breaking anarchists or economic terrorists or eco-fascists”; the answer posted is that the members are “strictly non-violent” and “reluctant law breakers”.

Before the Trinity College vandalism, another widely reported instance of law-breaking happened in April 2019. The group held a large demonstration in London over a course of 11 days that led to more than 1,100 arrests. Activists caused damage of an estimated over £6,000 at the Shell headquarters and glued themselves and sat on top of trains on the city’s light railways.

For the UK, the group lists three demands — to “tell the truth”, which means that the government must declare a climate and ecological emergency; that it must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the year 2025; that the government must create and be led by a “Citizens’ Assembly” on Climate and Ecological Justice to meet “big, wide-ranging and complex” challenges. Such a Citizen Assembly would bring together ordinary people to discuss, investigate and make recommendations on ways to respond to climate change emergencies.

The group says it does not want to rely on “traditional systems” like petitions or writing to MPs and is more likely to “take risks”, which includes getting arrested. It claims its movement is to demand adequate action for the “unprecedented global emergency”, for which “polite lobbying, marching, voting” etc haven’t yielded the desired results from decision-makers.

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On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that a man and two women have been charged with criminal damage after the digging of the Trinity College lawn. Three others have been charged with criminal damage over another protest that took place the following day. All six people have been released on bail to appear at Cambridge magistrates court on March, The Guardian said quoting police.

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