We review the Extinction Rebellion handbook so you don’t have to suffer through it.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in an artsy independent bookstore in Shoreditch and a little pink book caught my eye. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL. An extinction rebellion handbook” said the cover, underlined in an ugly shade of neon pink that so does not matches the rest of it. I turned it around to check the price and decided that for £7.99 I could afford to find out if this book could convince me to become an extinction rebellion activist.
I have to admit I did not follow the news back in April when Extinction Rebellion blocked half of London for days. But I think I get the gist of what they are about. And I was hoping to learn more about the movement and how it was founded in this book.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The first half of the book is titled ‘Tell the truth’ so one would expect the writer of each chapter to talk about stats and mention research that they have commissioned that wasn’t picked up by national government and international agencies, to justify why Extinction Rebellion activists are so devoted to the cause, because they know something we don’t know.
But no. What the section is about instead is a series of vague proposals on how to act and how to save the world, with no concrete plan on how to enact them. One example of many is given by Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives from 2008 to 2012 who suggests his own test to run when taking any decision concerned with shifting the economy away from fossil fuels: “the working people who stand to lose most from the end of the fossil-fuel age should be the first to gain from the new, clean economy.” How exactly he envisions that working he does not say.
Another writer (Matthew Todd) in this collection of essays proposes the argument that if we don’t stop climate change the world will for some reason revert gay rights. And in this book Extinction Rebellion is pretty clear about the picture the climate catastrophe: “War, mass mental breakdown, mass torture, mass rape” even going as far as putting words into Sir David Attenborough’s mouth claiming that what he truly means in his speeches is that he sees environmental collapse as “violence that most of us in the privileged West cannot even comprehend,” but I’m not sure he does.
The most worrying bit of their rhetoric though is the underlying populist thread that can be found throughout the book. They slash off the media for journalist clichés when speaking of the environment, the wealthy for not spending their money on fixing the problem but saving themselves, and government institutions for not telling the full truth. They praise the populists Gillet Jaunes as a movement XR has a lot to learn from.
They have academic sources write chapters in the book, people like Professor Jem Bendell who very clearly says “I am a social scientist, not a climatologist” before spreading mistrust about the IPCC reports and instead referencing the finding of “top climate scientists” as gospel truth – who these scientists are is not for us to know. But we are meant to trust her as she has worked 25 years in environmental sustainability, whatever that is supposed to mean.
Though in establishing their own authority, in this book, XR goes as far as criticising other organisations for their efforts in saving the planet instead of celebrating them, while also admitting to having done absolutely no research on them before publishing a chapter where they talk about them. They portray themselves as “first respondents to the crisis of the natural world” while shutting down others attempts to plant trees.
The most interesting chapters on the book though are when they explain their approach towards arrest: “Extinction Rebellion has chosen a very particular stance vis-à-vis the police: to actively get arrested,” they boast at the beginning of the book. The second half, titled ‘Act Now’ focuses on their April protest and gives us more insight into these activists.
They are courting arrest, and proclaim themselves disappointed when they don’t get arrested, flaunting their privilege, and showing us that their point is not the climate but being rebels for the sake of it.
“When you seek arrest, calmly and willingly, the idea of it is no longer a deterrent “, says Jay Griffith. But it’s not bungee jumping Jay, isn’t it? It can be a life altering experience for some, that puts their careers and the chance to provide for their family at stake.
But we can’t be too mean with Jay; when he got arrested, he says it was horrible, till he discovered his cell had sick acoustics.
These kids show that they have no personal stake in this matter, and it is infuriating to read. It takes them 110 pages of glamorising arrest and inviting people to do the same before mentioning that some people might not be in the social position to get arrested.
When Cathy Eastburn tells the story of how she got arrested twice for XR, it is refreshing to hear her say that she was doing it because she realises she was in the social and financial situation to do so. But her chapter becomes suddenly cringy again when she describes the physical shock of getting put into prison instead of being bailed out a second time for her actions, which let’s not forget, are crimes. Honey, what did you think was going to happen?
As I was painstakingly approaching the end of the book and thought I couldn’t see anything worse Kate Raworth started giving her view about economics. There she presents us with two graphs: one is the ‘Economist growth curve’ where a curve is always heading up, drawn between two axes represented by pencils, one is GDP and one is time. She doesn’t mention any sources or research but at least her criteria are measurable. Drawn between bones is instead ‘Nature’s growth curve’, which depicts how nature’s growth plateaus over time. How she measures nature’s growth is again, not for us to know, as are her sources when later she literally says “research shows”.
Overall, this book feels like it was put together in a few weeks after the Extinction Rebellion protests in April. The glaring grammar mistakes and American spelling show that it was barely even proofread or edited before being put on the shelves for Penguin to capitalise out of the buzz around XR.