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Extinction Rebellion marches through central Cambridge

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Extinction Rebellion on Market Street
Extinction Rebellion on Market Street

The first – there will be more – Extinction Rebellion march took place in Cambridge this weekend (December 15).

The Extinction Rebellion movement marked Saturday as a day of national action to call for "change to our cataclysmic course" which is now heading for “the breakdown of humanity’s life support system”. With similar events taking place in cities in Norwich, Swindon, Bristol, and Cardiff, and more Rebellion Days lined up in cities including Bury St Edmunds and London over the coming days, organisers have developed new strategies including “die-ins” to raise awareness of those who have already lost their lives to climate change around the world.

The Cambridge march began at 10am in The Grafton, where a lie-down was staged in the main shopping area. Dr Claire Wordley, who works at the University’s Department of Zoology, was the first speaker. Dr Wordley spoke of the exasperation of millions of people watching their governments and leaders pay lip service to climate change rhetoric which is not being matched by climate change action. She was followed by Nathan Williams who works on climate change policy for organisations including the EU.

Mr Williams highlighted all the historical milestones where seemingly impossible changes occurred.

“The divine right of kings, that ended,” he said. “Children being sent out to work, that ended. Now, they say there’s poisoned air, and that’s just the way it is. One third of all the food we produce is thrown away in a world where millions are starving, and they say that’s just the way it is. The forests are burning, and they say that’s just the way it is, but we can dream for ourselves.

Extinction Rebellion: Sitdown in The Grafton
Extinction Rebellion: Sitdown in The Grafton

“The dreams of the fossil fuel world are fast becoming our nightmare. We’re not here defending nature, we are nature defending itself. Dreams do become reality.”

After Mr Williams the crowd of about 200 people heard a recording of David Attenborough at last week’s UN Climate Talks in Katowice, Poland. “If we won’t take action,” said the iconic conservationist, “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

The activists then walked to Grand Arcade, arriving at 11.20am. A legal observer noted that “so far, everything’s peaceful”. The group has made a name for itself by getting participants arrested, but there were no arrests here, even though the police seemed a little wrong-footed by events. One officer, asked where the route was heading to, said he had “no idea” as the organisers hadn’t presented a route. That might be because there are no organisers, Trumpington resident and banner/coffin holder Dave Fox told me.

The chanting was good-natured as the marchers passed shoppers notable for their dispassionate interest in the goings-on as they did their Christmas shopping. The song repertoire included:

“Keep the oil, in the soil/Keep to coal, in the hole”.

“What do we want?” “Climate justice!” ‘When do we want it?” “Now.”

“Hey ho, fossil fuels have got to go.”

“We declare… a climate emergency.”

“Tell me what democracy?” “Our democracy!”

Extinction Rebellion: Sitdown in the Grand Arcade
Extinction Rebellion: Sitdown in the Grand Arcade

At the Grand Arcade there were more speeches, with a big focus on shaming politicians who – as has become clear after the failure of the recent two-week UN Climate Change conference in Katowice – are disallowing that this is a planet emergency. The full impact of disasternomics becomes apparent through Rebellion Extinction's rhetoric. “Planet over Profit” is the theme, along with expressions of belligerence such as “We are all humans and we’re not going down without a fight”.

Moving out to Market Square, the event was momentarily disrupted when a bin lorry tried to get through. The “gilet jaunes” of the occasion – the organisers in common parlance – shouted: “Stand aside please, there’s a bin lorry coming through.” It was a slightly Monty Python moment in proceedings as the direct-action movement which is gathering support around the world stood aside to let the bin lorry through. It was a really good-natured event, with a slightly sombre tone as the coffin “to commemorate the lives lost to climate change” continued down Sidney Street to Shire Hall, where there was another incident as a car tried to make its way through – an old Volvo, as it happens. There was a brief stand-off as the speaker said it wasn’t safe for the car to proceed. “They’re asking ‘can they let the car through safely?’ she asked. The answer turned out to be “yes” and the crowd moved all the coffins to one side to allow the venerable estate to continue its journey.

The mood was positive for the first Extinction Rebellion Day (6021009)
The mood was positive for the first Extinction Rebellion Day (6021009)

Extinction Rebellion events have emerged just as it becomes apparent how massive the problem of climate change is and is going to be. This year has set all sorts of new records for CO2 emissions, fires, droughts, glacier melt and species extinction. The food industry is struggling to regroup as it becomes clear that the meat production industry is one of the biggest causes of planetary warming. And the politics of developing sustainable ways of living has seen a big shift as the world’s two biggest CO2 emitters, the US and China, have taken different routes. Now, China is doing everything it can to develop sustainable policies in order to overcome the pollution which is now killing 1.6million people annually in China alone, while America under Trump has largely abandonded its commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.

The Extinction Rebellion climate protest group has expanded to 35 countries and this event marked the start of a week of international civil disobedience.

Extinction Rebellion at Shire Hall with help from Jason
Extinction Rebellion at Shire Hall with help from Jason

The mood in Cambridge was summed up at Shire Hall as one speaker said the movement was "for children's futures and the grandchildren we hope they have".

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