XR blocking arteries of capitalism labelled “catastrophic inconvenience”

Apr 16, 2024
Deanna 'Violet' Coco speaks outside the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Deanna 'Violet' Coco, 33, and Bradley Homewood have pleaded guilty to two counts of public nuisance by obstructing motorists and obstructing police and emergency service workers. Image: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

One month ago, three Extinction Rebellion protesters led by Deana ‘Violet’ Coco blocked the Westgate Bridge to deliver a desperate plea to all Australians. ‘Climate Breakdown has Begun.’

‘Declare a Climate Emergency!’ they urged. Despite 1.15 degrees of warming confirmed in 2022 and the drastic effects of climate change currently affecting global communities, the Federal Government still refuses to declare a climate emergency and take the one small step that would be the giant leap for our generation. Why are we experiencing such resistance to this necessary move?

The protesters, led by Deana ‘Violet’ Coco, were charged as public nuisances and subject to shaming comments from the Chief Commissioner who called the stunt ‘selfish’, ‘entitled’ and ‘arrogant to completely hold up the entire community’. I’m not sure if the Chief Commissioner has a handle on what ‘arrogant’ means, but I can give him some examples. Arrogance is Australia’s blatant ignorance of the 2023 IPCC report calling for drastic action to avoid 1.5 degrees of warming. Arrogance is wilful blindness to the suffering of the Pacific Islands as they experience rising sea levels, floods, droughts, tropical storms, and a lack of fresh water. Arrogance is overbearing pride, which the Commissioner exhibits as he calls Coco and Co ‘selfish’ when their protest was one of the most selfless acts seen on national television this year. What does he think he’s going to do, charge THE SUN with a public nuisance order when we reach 1.5 degrees of warming? I know you’d like to have control of the situation, Chief, but no amount of public nuisance orders will reign this one in. Shooting the messengers isn’t going to make the message untrue.

Prosecutor Geoff Adams said the group caused ‘catastrophic inconvenience and delay to thousands of people’. I can think of something else that is going to cause ‘catastrophic inconvenience and delay’ to approximately 8.1 billion people if he doesn’t untwist his knickers over a handful of individuals getting to work on time. Why are we still listening to these old white men anyway? Hasn’t colonialism taught us anything? Does anyone feel like they have any capacity to affect change? The scientists, perhaps?

I’m sorry to disappoint you. In an article from January this year, the Conversation reported on a survey of university researchers and their feelings of agency around climate change. Of the 2000 surveyed, 95% are worried about climate change and experience ‘uncertainty over what they can do and a lack of agency or power to act’. Noam Chomsky lays it out in Understanding Power; ‘under capitalist conditions, meaning maximisation of short-term gain, you’re ultimately going to destroy the environment. The only question is ‘when?’’ He goes on to clarify that ‘the interest of the general population is to preserve human life, the interest of corporations is to make profits, those are fundamentally different interests.’ Coco and Co have done a beautiful job highlighting this tension by artificially blocking the artery of capitalism and inviting us to reflect on how we’re living.

How are we living? Does this depend on the ‘we’ in question? Let’s take the Police Chief Commissioner, who – if his salary is anything like the NSW Chief Commissioner’s – will be earning in the region of $649,500 per year. I could issue some public nuisance orders if someone paid me $649,500. I could do a lot of things for $649,500. How about the Magistrate that decided to award jail time to our national heroes? Given that the starting salary for a magistrate is $346,547, it’s probably not hard to put one or two people away without thinking too deeply about it. These figures are hush figures, and they render our ruling classes incapable of ethical action.

Thankfully, someone is acting ethically. Extinction Rebellion, estimated at around 750,000 people across 75 nations, is demanding that governments tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency. Their declaration states that ‘government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025’ and that ‘government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizen’s assembly on climate and ecological justice’. Chomsky stresses the need for large scale social planning to be participatory, we all need to be involved, and this is reflected in Extinction Rebellion’s citizen’s assembly. He goes on to say that we need to stop getting worked up about disruptions and accept that ‘sooner or later our lives will be disrupted, because we must change the way we are living’. In Hope and Courage in the Climate Crisis, climate change researcher John Wiseman states that climate change denial is still a potent force in Australia. However, we can have hope, because if Covid has taught us anything, it’s that ‘sudden, rapid, global disruptive social, political and economic transformation [is], it turn[s] out entirely possible’. We know it’s possible. Coco and co know it’s possible. Together, we have to make change happen.

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