As anyone who watches the news knows, the good folks at the Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been increasing the intensity of their protests in the last few weeks. An organization that started in the UK has now exported its message, and tactics, to North America and our authorities have utterly kowtowed to them.
Having given lots of notice that these radicals were going to illegally block traffic on major commuter routes, our brave men and women of law enforcement, under the direction of our craven political class, abandoned their role as protectors of the law and instead served as protectors of the lawless. Look at the pictures from Edmonton where a handful of activists managed to close a major bridge while the police physically protected these lawless protesters from the public they were harming.
In what sane world can a handful of lawbreakers behave in such a manner? Honestly, if these people walked into a bank and demanded all the money in the vaults (to help fight climate change of course) I honestly believe our opportunistic politicians would be providing them a police escort and asking if they needed bags to help carry the money away.
Given the newfound prominence of XR it seemed rational to try to understand what the organization stands for. What I discovered is an utterly bizarre group of misfits that is proposing simply ridiculous solutions to our global climate crisis. The mass media, meanwhile, has completely ignored what the XR actually stands for and has given this organization all sorts of free publicity and far more positive press than it deserves. Frankly, the easiest way to discredit XR is simply to take them seriously and look at what they are actually demanding. In this blog post I will do just that and let XR speak for itself.
Let’s start with some things I believe/understand. I accept that climate change is a serious threat to the ongoing health of our shared planetary ecosystem. Combined with the effects of human land use and human exploitation of natural resources (very different topics from climate change) climate change represents a contributing factor in a possible sixth great extinction.
I agree we need to fight climate change and if you agree with me that we need to fight climate change there are a lot of organizations you can support from the political to the activist NGO’s. All these organizations provide a megaphone for various activist approaches to fight climate change.
If you choose to follow XR instead of one of these mainstream groups then it has to be because XR stands for; something different than the run-of-the-mill activist groups and XR does indeed stand for something different. What it stands for can be identified by its Three Demands:
1: Tell the truth Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2: Act Now Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
3: Beyond Politics Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Demand 1 – Tell the Truth
The first demand is utterly unexceptional. Lots of groups are looking to declare a climate emergency. There is nothing particularly special here that sets XR apart.
Demand 2 – Net Zero by 2025
Demand 2, however, should really raise a lot of warning flags. I would ask every reader look at the nearest calendar. In my house the calendar is directly above this computer and I can I see it is October, 2019. XR is demanding we achieve a fossil fuel-free status by 2025! These people are demanding we get off fossil fuels in a little over 5 years.
I want to say that again because it should be the the first thing anyone talks about when discussing XR. They are demanding that we GET OFF FOSSIL FUELS BY 2025.
I don’t understand why the first question every reporter asks a representative of XR is how they could conceivably demand we get off fossil fuels by 2025? When they say “extinction” do they mean of the human race?
Let’s look at this in the context of British Columbia. As I detailed in a previous post: fossil fuels represent approximately 59% of all the energy used in British Columbia. According to the Globe Foundation Endless Energy Project Report (Globe Foundation) domestic transportation accounted for 87% of motor gasoline and diesel fuel sales in BC in 2000 (the last year this data was fully compiled). I’m sure someone is going to say: “what about electric vehicles”? In 2015 plug-in electrical vehicles represented 0.33% of new vehicle sales in Canada. Electrical vehicles represent a rounding error in total cars and personal trucks on the road in B.C. As for hybrids, well they depend on fossil fuels to operate and would stop doing so absent fossil fuels.
As for transport trucks, the ones that carry the containers of foods and other necessities from the farmers, docks and rail yards to the warehouses? At this time Canada has exactly zero electric transport trucks carrying long-haul routes. Admittedly Mercedes Benz is testing a potential electric transport truck but that truck currently has a maximum range of 200 km which means it would just barely be able to go from Vancouver to the valley to pick up a load of food and return to town. As for carrying loads of food over the Rockies? Not a chance. Moreover, that is a single prototype. If you took the current generation of transport trucks off the road entirely, the store shelves would go bare in days.
Having addressed personal vehicles and commercial trucks, how about freight trains? Care to guess the number of electric freight trains that exist in Canada? I’ll give you a hint, it is a round number that is one less than 1 (ref). So absent fossil fuels there won’t be any trains to transport food or necessities from the dockyards and farms to the rail yards either.
Well we’ve addressed trucks and trains how about electric container ships or electric cargo planes? That is an easy one are there are exactly zero of either operating in this world. There are some suggestions that a new generation of container ships could be designed to operate using some form of hybrid electrical/sail/biodeisel but that is still on the drawing board and we don’t even have a prototype out there.
As for home heating, according to the National Energy Board, in British Columbia 58% of households rely on natural gas for heating.
Given this understand how can anyone take seriously a group that DEMANDS that over the span of 5 years we eliminate 59% of all energy used in BC and replace it with alternatives (most of which do not exist). I can’t repeat this enough XR DEMANDS that we replace virtually every car, hot water heater, furnace, truck, train, plane etc…in 5 years? How can anyone take this group seriously and why are reporters not holding these people to account for this ridiculous demand?
Moreover, this is not even their most ridiculous demand since we still have to look at Demand 3
Demand 3 – Citizen Assemblies
For those wondering, many of the founders of XR were classically educated academics in the UK. So needless to say they studied their Greek history and know about the history of Athenian Assemblies and the Athenian idea of being ruled by citizens chosen by lot. This is how XR proposes we solve our climate crisis.
XR proposes that a group of citizens will be chosen by lot and they will be trained in the field of governance and then they will be given the job of solving climate change. XR is sort of hazy about how this assembly will be chosen. They also are quite vague about how this assembly will deal with the whole “we have no alternatives for critical technologies” or even how an assembly will achieve this aim in 5 years.
What XR is not vague about is that they believe that a randomly chosen group of citizens, given a few hours of education, will do a better job of understanding energy transition than the hundreds and thousands of experts who have spent decades becoming knowledgeable in their fields of study.
Now admittedly the XR folks aren’t fans of expertise, because experts and specialists keep trying to explain to them that their demands are impossible. So it can be understood why they would want a group of average citizens (who may not be as well informed) to come up with the solutions instead.
The next time you go to the grocery store, look around. Imagine that every person in that room is taken aside and put in a room and given instruction by the XR zealots. Do you imagine that group of people will somehow be able to address (fix?) the global lack of technology and infrastructure necessary to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, and do it all in 5 years from today?
The funny thing is the XR folk don’t seem to be the types to leave it to citizen panels to built the airplanes they like to fly in; the university office buildings they have their offices in; or even to take over their positions as grad students in classical Greek philosophy. No those are jobs for experts. Instead XR just wants its Citizen Assembly to re-design our entire technological state and determine how our economy transitions from one utterly dependent on fossil fuels to one that doesn’t use fossil fuels at all…and do it all in five years. So not a really challenging task after all.
Conclusion – Stop taking these unserious people seriously
After their day of action I made a point of listening to the representatives from XR as they made all sorts of grandiose claims about their protests. But the one thing I didn’t hear was reporters making them present a cogent defense of the basis of their protest. For some strange reason reporters didn’t press these disruptors about what would happen if their demands were met. How were they going to feed our population in a world of 2025 where fossil fuels were no more? How were they going to choose their citizen assemblies and how did they expect a group of average people to address a global lack of infrastructure or technology
I deeply wish the media actually took these people seriously and asked them some serious questions. Because when you take a serious look at XR, and its list of demands, it becomes clear how completely unserious they are. While they are great at protesting and super at creating interesting visuals for the evening news, they are completely unserious when it comes to coming up with a solution to climate change. Rather, their biggest skill appears to be alienating unconvinced voters so as to make it harder to actually come up with workable solutions to this global problem.
As informed citizens we need to speak up when the media give groups like the XR a free pass. We need to hold our politicians accountable when they instruct our police to support the lawless as they break the law. There is exactly one reason why a handful of protesters managed to close a major thoroughfare in Edmonton. It is because some craven politicians in city hall were more afraid of the reaction of these protesters than they are of Edmonton voters. Perhaps Edmonton voters should keep that in mind come next municipal election day.