On Saturday 26 October 2019 at the Blue Horizon Bay Conservancy, founding climate justice activists, who joined the online, global XR movement established an Extinction Rebellion (XR) Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) chapter in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (SA). This XR NMB group, which includes the areas surrounding Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Despatch and Colchester, joins hundreds of XR groups in over 45 countries.
At this stage, XR NMB members are all volunteers – mainly young, but ranging from under 13 to 71 years old – and from different geographical areas in Nelson Mandela Bay (urban, peri-urban and rural) and identities (in terms of languages and constructs of ‘gender’, ‘race’ and ‘class’, for example).
The non-governmental organisation, Greenpeace, cited Mandela in order to reflect on his day as follows: “I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. We must never forget that it is our duty to protect this environment”; “One cannot be prepared for something, while secretly believing it will not happen”; “The poverty of the people and the devastation of the natural environment painfully strike me,” and “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it”.
A Greek citizen turns Mandela’s last statement into the following challenging question: “History knocked on your door. Did you answer?” (Klein 2014. This changes everything).
XR NMB is our official grass-roots response to the establishment and actions of XR globally, which in turn was a response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC report (2018) warned that we only have a decade to drop carbon emissions by 45% in order to keep global temperature increases to below 1.5°C, given that the world has already warmed by about 1°C. The escalating CO2 emissions – from factories, power plants (ESKOM), cattle and vehicles – trap heat in the atmosphere and oceans turning the planet into a gigantic greenhouse. This heat changes how the global climate works – from melting ice, acidifying oceans; changing sea levels, river flows and wetlands; intensifying flash floods, drought, hurricanes and fires; destroying homes, forests, planted crops and killing vulnerable species, including coral reefs. When global temperatures increase by more than 1.5°C, the rate of change overwhelms intertwining ecosystems, which we all depend on for survival, such as clean water, uncontaminated soil and bees to pollinate plants for food, leading to elevated levels of species extinction, food insecurity, homelessness, hunger and prolonged famine (Kings, 2019, The horror: Tales of climate change, Mail & Guardian Oct 25-31).
The climate and biodiversity crisis requires urgent and drastic action to decarbonise our socio-political economy as quickly as possible.
The focus of XR NMB is on what we are all experiencing as a result of natural and human-driven intensification of global temperatures and the devastating effects on all species.
Yet, many people reject and/or deny the gravity of the climate and biodiversity crisis laid out by scientists. SA is one of the most emissions-intensive countries per capita: its greenhouse emissions score above the European Union and G20 country averages (SA flunks emissions tests (M&G 2019, Nov 15-21). Yet, the SA government’s recently released Integrated Resource Plan ignores the clear consensus of mainstream science and the warning that emissions need to drop 45% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 to avoid irreversible catastrophy (412.08ppm carbon dioxide in atmosphere by 16 Sept 2019; Safe levels: 350ppm; Catastrophy: 450ppm, Kings 2019).
We view the climate and ecological emergency as the defining issue of our time (Guardian online 2019) and understand that we have entered the 6th mass extinction. We are therefore willing to put our freedom on the line as rebels fighting to protect biodiversity and the health of all species and the earth for future generations.
We do not align with any political party and welcome all people. We also do not think it helpful to set up the climate catastrophe as a struggle between “the left” and “the right”. After all, we all face an existential crisis and need to move away from an ‘extractive’, consumerist mentality to bring about deep-seated, significant, large-scale social, ethical, political and economic changes.
Our challenge is to work within and across different positions in order to act on key issues and concerns challenging inaction by those in power.
We seek a genuine democracy that dethrones corrupt and power-hungry incumbent interests that have held back changes for far too long – and with such lethal consequences.
We understand that administrative structures could implement the necessary changes, in partnership with local communities. However, our democracy is neither sufficiently participatory, nor open, so we refuse to hand over more power to our municipal and governmental politicians to resolve the issues of climate change and to oversee significant changes. We therefore insist on the establishment of a Citizens Assembly to implement solutions that preserve all life on earth and do not only work for the few, but for everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable in a context of high levels of inequality and social, political, economic climate injustices.
XR NMB aim to report back on progress as a movement as they take important steps to address our impact on the environment. In this respect, XR NMB aim to ensure that our language accurately reflects the environmental catastrophe.
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