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What to do with Extinction Rebellion?

Some have warned that leftist environmental movements could turn to violent – is Extinction Rebellion next?

There is no question that concern over climate change is rising.

Every day we read of more and more incontrovertible scientific evidence that this is real and that we have to act now before it is too late. It also appears – thank God! – that climate change deniers are on the descendant: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who long dismissed global warming, is looking not so good in the midst of the worst wildfires his nation has seen.

Oz PM Morrison’s feet held to the fire (Photo: Getty Images)

Despite the growing sense of urgency, decisive action is NOT guaranteed. The World Economic Forum in Davos on January 22 promises to be devoted largely to this issue, but commitments to do something about it are not a sure thing. After all, the UN’s Climate Action Summit last year did not get the results many activists wanted.

It stands to reason that some people are getting frustrated. Frustration can lead to anger and anger can lead to violence. That violence would be, by definition terrorism (under Canadian law an act of terrorism is a serious act of violence carried out for ideological, political or religious reasons).

Which brings me to Extinction Rebellion (XR).

According to the group’s Mississauga chapter web page XR was founded in the UK in 2018 and is a “global environmental movement designed to push for swift government action against the climate crisis through civil disobedience.” It maintains that civil disobedience is the refusal of complying with certain laws or commands from law enforcement is always nonviolent and always through peaceful means.

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So far, so good. But in the UK the police listed XR as an ‘extremist ideology’ which meant that members could be referred to that country’s Prevent programme, a counselling effort that tries, among other things, to steer people away from terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda (AQ) and Islamic State (ISIS). The move proved to be highly embarrassing and was quickly reversed.

XR in Trafalgar Square (Photo: Getty Images)

Except that XR IS an extremist group. It sees climate change as an immediate, extreme threat to our planet and is willing to take extreme action (i.e. civil disobedience) to get us to act. It is not a typical social movement.

The problem lies in what we see as ‘extreme’. The term is not a synonym for violent. We refer to groups like ISIS as violent extremist organisations because they are both extreme AND violent. And I do not think anyone would argue with us on that score.

If, as it maintains, XR is non-violent then that is good.

Violence is not helpful in this regard and will take away from the movement’s messaging and moral authority. If, however, some members go the extra kilometre and become violent they will suffer the consequences.

I doubt that Public Safety Canada will include XR soon on its ‘listed terrorist entities’ – even if the list is iffy at best as I argued in an earlier Hill Times piece. And nor should it. At the same time it is unclear why they shy away from the ‘extremist’ label.

We need action on climate change now. Now is the time for extreme action. Calling all extremists!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism.

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