We need to Upgrade Democracy, not just change the government - Extinction Rebellion UK

We need to Upgrade Democracy, not just change the government

Why Extinction Rebellion’s response to the general election is to hold a mass occupation

Just five days after Rishi Sunak announced the general election in the pouring rain, former Chief Scientist Sir David King made a sobering statement on the climate that should  have sent shockwaves down the spines of every right-thinking person and set the tone and agenda for the election campaigns and attendant media coverage: “On our current path civilisation as we know it will disappear.

Our collective survival did not however make the political weather. The Green Party struggled to get air time for their central issue and filed a complaint against the BBC for not holding a dedicated climate debate, while immigration (in no way unrelated to climate change) appeared to be covered day in and day out by the BBC. A march by 100,000 people calling on the government to Restore Nature Now organised by Extinction Rebellion alongside the UK’s main climate and nature charities, was a perfect opportunity for the networks to devote coverage to these existential issues but the BBC chose to look the other way deciding it was not even newsworthy. Instead, they have been actively platforming the Reform Party which has received 92% of its donations from fossil fuel Interests, climate deniers, and polluters and stood on a platform of denying climate science, ending climate action and doubling down on oil and gas production.

In the six weeks since the election was announced, more than 1,300 people died in over 50C heat on their pilgrimage to the Haj. Heat domes held unbearable temperatures in Mexico, and across the Eastern US. Tens of thousands died in heatwaves in India. The 2.3 million people in Gaza already driven from their homes into places with almost no electricity and clean water, and no functioning health care had to endure temperatures over 30C. Flash flooding in Italy, Austria and  Switzerland caused chaos. Commodity traders warned of coming wars over food. Yet these signs of climate collapse failed to get a hearing in the election coverage.

As a result, the complacency and inadequacy of the main political parties on this issue went unchallenged. Analysis by Vote Climate showed all of the main political parties’ plans would take us over 1.5C between 2030 and 2035. Vote Climate showed the party which prioritised climate and nature the most would avoid six times the amount of carbon emissions as implied by the manifesto of the incoming government, illustrating that if there is political will real change can be achieved. It is clear though that in our new government this political will is lacking.

Whoever won the election would have faced significant challenges in doing the right thing within a political and media system deeply corrupted by oil and gas interests. For the past 40 years, these interests have been perpetuating denial and delay. Meaningful change is simply not possible within the current system.

Political donations corrupt our system. After shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves u-turn on Labour’s commitment to invest £28 billion a year on the green transition, it was revealed she had received a donation of £10,000 from climate denier and former Global Warming Policy Foundation Chair, Lord Donoughue. In the last five years alone, the the Conservatives have taken £8.4 million in donations from climate deniers while rolling back action on climate change and issuing new fossil fuel licences guaranteed to take us over 1.5C average global warming. In the first week of the election campaign 40% of their funding came from fossil fuel interests. 

As Labour steps into the corridors of power those corridors will be crawling with lobbyists. UK ministers ‘met fossil fuel firms nine times as often as clean energy ones’ between July 2019 and March 2021. The incoming government will also face a hostile right-wing media which fails to inform its readers and viewers on the scale and severity of the climate emergency, questions established science and runs sustained attacks on low-carbon solutions and nature restoration funded by narrow private interests. Last year saw a record number of UK editorials opposing climate action almost exclusively from the right-leaning titles which dominate the market. Anti-climate action campaigns are funded directly or indirectly by private interests. For example, the campaign against heat-pumps was funded by a gas lobby group.

That’s why Extinction Rebellion’s Third Demand is for an independently run, UK-wide Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice to tackle the emergency. This proven, democratic, deliberative process involving everyday people has been shown to arrive at fair solutions partly because they are shielded from the corrupting influence of lobbyists, donors and a hostile right-wing press. 

A citizens’ assembly is a group of people selected at random, like a jury, and then sorted into a sample of the population as a whole. This group is then tasked with finding solutions to complex problems together. They are presented with information by experts, stakeholders from different sides and people with lived experiences. They deliberate together on what they have learned, sharing their thoughts and bringing in their own unique perspectives. 

A citizens’ assembly ensures decisions are made by a group of people who are truly representative of the population, independent from vested interests and party whips, work together and think long term for the common good. As they will be tasked to look at climate and ecological justice, they will look not just at technological solutions, but also at the imbalance of impact of the crisis around the world, the disproportionate responsibility of some countries, and why some need to act faster than others. Assembly members will learn about the connections between colonialism—both historical and ongoing—racism, oppression, and inequality. Without this understanding, we cannot develop the fair, long-term, and robust solutions that we urgently need. 

We know that we won’t get the change we need unless we come together and force it onto the political agenda. That’s why everyday people will be coming together for a three day mass occupation of a high-profile symbol of our broken system from Friday 30 August to Sunday 1 September. 

We don’t have long to make the urgent, transformative changes we need. We know from history that nonviolent civil disobedience can make the difference. Join us on 31 August to 1 September for Upgrade Democracy.

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