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800 climate activists arrested during London’s Extinction Rebellion protests

Ari Kelo

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Extinction Rebellion

London’s Metropolitan Police have made nearly 800 arrests this week, targeting climate activists demonstrating in Central London. The protesters, part of the Extinction Rebellion, have blocked roads and public sites such as Trafalgar Square and Westminster Bridge. The group aims to put pressure on the UK government to do more to combat the climate crisis.

But the government has so far criticized the movement, with Boris Johnson publicly insulting the protesters and the Met police arresting hundreds by the day.

The Extinction Rebellion heats up

As protesters continue to congregate, tensions with the police have increased. The police have demanded that protesters contain their demonstrations to Trafalgar Square, attempting to limit the movement’s widespread protests across the city.

Since the protests began on Monday, police have arrested around 800 activists, paralleling the 1,130 Extinction Rebellion arrests made in April.

Despite the crackdown, the demonstrations have been peaceful. From one of 60 participating cities, Londoners have gathered for a two-week long, non-violent occupation of public locations throughout the Westminster borough, where the Houses of Parliament meet.

The crowds represent all sorts, from students to Oxford professors to parents with young children. They’re singing, chanting, sleeping in tents, leading yoga classes, and, at one gathering, even enjoying a live samba band.

Last week, protesters also sprayed nearly 2,000 liters of fake blood on the Treasury building to highlight government hypocrisy. In a statement, the movement criticized the UK’s pride in leading the fight against climate change, despite “pouring vast sums of money into fossil exploration and carbon-intensive projects.”

These actions contribute to the Extinction Rebellion’s ultimate goals. They’re mobilizing to draw attention to the urgent threat of climate change and demand the UK government take action.

The movement has three major demands:

  1. Tell the Truth. According to Extinction Rebellion UK, the group is demanding their government declare a climate and ecological emergency. In essence, they want the government to acknowledge the dire consequences of climate inaction and take a stand.
  2. Act now. Secondly, the protesters want the UK government to create stronger initiatives against climate change. They specifically are asking Parliament to stop biodiversity loss and enforce net-zero carbon emissions by 2025, rather than 2050.
  3. Beyond politics. The Extinction Rebellion also demands an institutional shift that would give more power over climate-related decisions to the British people. They propose the UK government create a Citizens’ Assembly, which would handle decisions about climate and environmental justice.

These demands have encouraged large crowds of supporters and activists. Protesters have stood their ground, despite police attempts to shut down the demonstrations.

“This is our home, our planet, our future, and we are destroying it. The government needs to step up and tell the truth,” one activist remarked.

Another demonstrator, 83-year-old Phil Kingston, spray-painted the UK’s finance ministry building with the message: “Life, not death for my grandchildren.” Kingston was arrested shortly afterwards.

Also among the crowds were George Monbiot, a popular environmental writer and political activist, and former politician Stanley Johnson — Boris Johnson’s father.

The movement faces government backlash

Despite the peaceful nature of these protests, the UK government has not taken a liking for these displays of civil disobedience.

The UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called the protesters “uncooperative crusties,” highlighting his disdain for citizens who exercise their right to assemble and disapprove of their government’s actions — or rather, inaction.

Funnily enough, Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, embraced the title. “I regard it as a tremendous compliment to be called an uncooperative crusty,” he said to a protester crowd at Trafalgar Square.

Donning an Extinction Rebellion pin, he continued: “From tiny acorns, big movements spring. We have been moving far too slowly on the climate change issue.”

Despite its humor, the insult pinpoints the current resistance of Parliament to enact real change.

And with police arresting protesters by the dozens, the government’s distaste for these climate activists has real consequences.

Yet, in spite — or maybe because — of hundreds of their fellow activists facing arrests, the Extinction Rebellion is going strong. For them, the time is now.

 

Advocacy

The World’s Biggest Brands Commit To Tackling Plastic Pollution, But What Else Can Be Done?

Belinda Chiu

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Plastic Pollution

After World War II, the world experienced a plastics boom, with production growing at an exponential rate thanks to the material’s versatility and durability. Plastic touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from the materials used to construct buildings and homes, vehicles, and technology, to household products, clothing, and shoes. It is estimated that we have produced more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic since this time, of which less than 10% is recycled. That’s where the plastic pollution problem comes in.

Many countries in the Global North turned to China to recycle their plastics, but ever since China changed its policy, the United States and many other countries are forced to find other avenues for taking care of their plastic waste and address the plastic pollution crisis back home.

Who is responsible for the crisis and what is being done?

Plastic pollution activists and coalitions have emphasized the responsibility that the world’s largest brands play in addressing this global crisis. Civil society members from more than 80 countries hosted brand audits through clean-ups during the #BrandAudit2019 initiative, calling on these brands to change their practices of manufacturing and selling products in single-use plastic packaging.

Some big brands have taken responsibility for their role in plastic pollution and have taken action. Coca-Cola announced its World Without Waste initiative with the goals to achieve 100% recycled packaging using 50% recycled materials, and by 2030 collect and recycle one bottle or can for every item sold. Unilever made a similar announcement, promising to cut its use of virgin plastics by 50%, and collecting and processing its plastic packaging.

One social enterprise is making it a little bit easier for big brands to shift their single-use plastic packaging practices. TerraCycle recently launched the Loop Store, a global circular shopping platform that allows customers to purchase products in zero waste packaging. Following the “milkman model”, products sold through the Loop Store are stored in reusable containers that are collected, washed, and reused again.

Innovations in tackling plastic pollution

Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious project that aimed to collect the massive volume of plastic found in the oceans globally. At 2,000 feet in length, this plastic collection device has successfully collected plastic since its initial trials. Other entrepreneurs are developing products made from plant-based materials, such as utensils made from avocado seeds and creating faux leather using nopal, or producing products that do not require plastic packaging, in efforts to reduce our reliance on products made with plastic.

Consumers, recognizing the power they hold by their purchasing behaviors, are also raising their concerns with companies to change their practices. In a recent petition to Trader Joe’s, customers called on grocery chain to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging, garnering over 120,000 signatures. The company acknowledged this grassroots call for change, providing a status update since their announcement in late 2018.

Conclusions and the future for tackling plastic pollution

While there is hope hearing the world’s biggest brands acknowledge the role they play in and their plans for curbing plastic pollution, it is evident that is not enough. It takes more than a few companies to set green goals in order to move the needle forward. We need to continue holding big brands accountable, foster and support new ideas that open new horizons for plastic packaging and waste, and change our own behaviors to start addressing the global plastic pollution crisis.

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Meet Activist Autumn Peltier: The Young “Water Warrior” Making A Splash

Ari Kelo

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Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, one of many young voices against the climate crisis, is stirring up a storm. Indeed, we are witnessing a mass, youth-led movement against climate change. From the recent UN Youth Climate Summit to the Zero Hour movement, young people are uniting in a common cause. And they’re demanding our attention.

They’re fighting for environmental justice. For governments to take a stand against climate change. And most importantly, for their futures. At the front line of this battle is Autumn Peltier, an international advocate for clean water.

Who is Autumn Peltier?

Autumn Peltier is a 15-year-old, indigenous, clean water activist. She’s a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation in northern Ontario. She lives on Lake Huron, one of North America’s Great Lakes — the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth.

It follows that growing up, Peltier always had access to clean water. But Peltier knows that others are not so lucky.

“We keep seeing and hearing that there’s First Nation communities that can’t drink their water, that it’s contaminated from pollution and pipelines breaking,” she told a reporter at CBC. “One day it really affected me and I actually cried about it.”

After this revelation, Peltier began to advocate for the universal right of clean drinking water — at just eight years old. She learned from her aunt, Josephine Mandamin, who also worked to protect Canada’s water. Mandamin walked the shores of the Great Lakes to advocate and raise awareness for water conservation.

Following those footsteps, Peltier has broken major ground for indigenous water rights. An official “water protector,” she fights for universal clean drinking water. Specifically, she advocates for safe waterways and drinking water for indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond.

“Water is one of the most sacred elements in our culture,” she said.

Peltier’s important strides

Even at such a young age, Peltier has already done a lot to raise awareness of water rights and ensure communities have access to safe drinking water. Notably, she met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. She, in tears, insisted he do more to prevent Canadian communities from consuming unsafe water. The Prime Minister had endorsed several pipeline projects, endangering First Nation communities.

Because of these pipelines, over 100 indigenous communities received boil water advisories. These government issued advisories indicate that a community’s drinking water could be contaminated with pathogens and is not safe to drink without first boiling it.

Peltier has also brought her message to the international community.

In 2015, she attended the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden. And in 2017, she received a nomination for the Children’s International Peace Prize.

In 2018, Peltier traveled to the UN General Assembly in New York. There, she addressed the UN on water rights, as part of the commencement of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.

Peltier speaks at the United Nations

“Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth,” she told the UN. “Our water should not be for sale. We all have a right to this water as we need it.”

Just last week, Peltier returned to the UN. This time, she spoke at the Global Landscapes Forum, which focuses on sustainability of land.

In her speech, she stressed the alarming number of indigenous communities lacking clean water, and how little has been done.

“All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water,” she said.

“Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?”

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Billie Eilish becomes the latest celebrity to draw attention to climate change

Maddie Blaauw

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Billie Eilish

The list of celebrities who have become vocal advocates of climate change has increased exponentially over the recent past. A growing group of recent celebrities to contribute include Miley Cyrus and Shawn Mendez, adding to others who have been supporters of the movement for a while, such as leonardo dicaprio or Mark Ruffalo. Now joining them is singer Billie Eilish.

Who is Billie Eilish?

Ever since releasing her single “Ocean Eyes” in 2016, singer Billie Eilish has gained a rapidly expanding following. After the release of her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” in March 2019, that following has blown up. 

Billie Eilish’s first album hit the top Billboard 200 spot in United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Four if its songs reached the Billboard Top 40, one of which became a number-one single in the United States. She is the only artist born in the 2000s to have recorded a #1 single so far. Her videos have more than 3.7 billion views on Youtube. At 17 years old, she has an extremely strong influence on popular culture today.

“Our House Is On Fire”

On Saturday, Billie Eilish released a video titled “Our House Is On Fire”. In it, she and Woody Harrelson talk about ways that watchers can reduce their impact on the climate. They also urge listeners to collaborate to create change at the national level. Eilish and Harrelson make references to recent environmental disasters throughout the video, including the recently confronted Amazonian forest fires. The video clocks in at just over a minute in length. It reached number one on the Youtube trending page and 750 thousand views in 9 hours. 

“History shows us that when enough people rise up and demand change, those in power have no choice but to act,” Harrelson urges viewers. Eilish also presents various changes to “live in a greener lifestyle”. Her suggestions include “cutting out meat and dairy in your diet and reducing plastic use.” 

The duo urge their audience to get involved in movements like Greenpeace and Fridays for Future. Greenpeace is a non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering everyday people to help find nonviolent solutions to climate change. Fridays for Future, also known as School Strike for Climate, is a protest in which youth miss a day of school to spend the day protesting for climate action. The founder of this movement is teen activist Greta Thunberg

Past Advocacy

This is not the first time Billie Eilish has supported the movement to combat climate change. In the description of her song “all the good girls go to hell”, from her 2019 album, she wrote the following note: 

“Right now there are millions of people all over the world begging our leaders to pay attention. our earth is warming up at an unprecedented rate, icecaps are melting, our oceans are rising, our wildlife is being poisoned and our forests are burning. on september 23rd, the UN will host the 2019 Climate Action Summit to discuss how to tackle these issues. the clock is ticking. on friday september 20th and friday september 27th you can make your voice be heard. take it to the streets.” 

Various lyrics in the song itself also echo fears of the consequences of increasing temperatures. Lines like “Hills burn in California” and “once the water starts to rise” are accompanied by visuals of an oil-covered scene catching on fire. 

Ultimately, in all of her messages thus far on climate change, Eilish focuses on a very important point: change will not happen unless we make it happen. This can be through actual protests or less confrontational methods, like voting at least partially based on climate policy this November. Specific method of involvement does not matter as much as the act of being involved at all does.

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