The Quebec chapter of the international climate action group is rebelling against human extinction, which they say is caused by human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss.
“We are at the beginning of the sixth mass extinction,” said geologist and climate change scientist Heather Short, of Extinction Rebellion Quebec. “Or as some people call it, the first extermination of other life on the planet. We have extinction regularly – it’s a normal thing. However, what we are causing right now is in no way, shape, or form, normal. It’s way outside the scale and the rate of any sort of extinction we’ve seen in the last 550 million years.”
Short explained that there have been five other mass extinctions in Earth’s past, which she said were all caused by a rapid, excess amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“The kind of ‘rapid’ CO2 emissions that we’re talking about is the same magnitude of emissions that we put into the atmosphere in 200 years but spread out over six, 10 thousand years,” said Short. “What we’re doing right now is absolutely unprecedented in all of Earth’s history.”
As stated on their website, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. According to Short, IPCC came out with a statement in 2018 saying we must stick to a rise of only 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is about pre-industrial levels. In order to have about a 50 or 60 per cent chance of meeting that goal, the IPCC said we must reduce CO2 emissions by 45 per cent within 10 years. Short said in all of the scenarios published by the IPCC, we need to start reducing our emissions by the end of 2020.
“Our present emissions trajectory is going to get us to a 4 to 4.5 degrees Celsius rise by the end of the century if we continue living life as we do, business as usual,” said Short. “Though the Paris Climate accord had been signed by almost 200 countries in 2015, we’ve been increasing emissions since then – we haven’t been decreasing any of them at all, anywhere. It’s really quite remarkable.”
Short said within the IPCC statements, which are very conservative, we could still have a worst-case scenario 8-degree Celsius warming in about a century.
“At a 7-degree Celsius warming, it’ll be impossible for people living in equatorial regions to cool off ever, and if you combine that heat with typical high humidity in those areas, it’s basically lethal to move around outside after a few hours,” said Short. “The conservative reports say limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would inquire transformative systemic change in all aspects of society.”
Short explained the oceans are affected by increased CO2 emissions as well. Ocean acidification, where the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and create carbonic acid, makes it impossible for phytoplankton to make their shells. Phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food web, so if we lose phytoplankton, Short said we will essentially lose the oceans.
“It’s not really a stretch to say that humans are at a threat of extinction,” she said. “It’s not gonna happen in our lifetime, it’s probably not going to happen by the end of the century- but the decisions that we make as a global society within the next year, and certainly within the next 10 years, are going to determine whether this happens or not.”
The demands of Extinction Rebellion are in direct relation to this science. The organization demands governments and the media tell the truth about the climate crisis; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the year 2025 and to create a citizens assembly to help oversee the government in the transition toward a carbon-free world.
“Basically, what we’re doing is equivalent to a one in 20 chance that the plane you’re about to board will crash,” said Short. “We would never get on that plane, with a one in 20 chance of it coming down, but we’re willing to send our children and grandchildren on that plane- for the sake of luxury and convenience and growth capitalism.”
Extinction Rebellion protests in two ways; the first is direct action, like climbing the Jacques Cartier bridge during morning rush hour. The second is peaceful forms of protests like the upcoming slow swarm on the 24 where people will cross the intersection of Parc and Sherbrooke holding up signs to drivers idle at a red light to encourage them to rethink their ways, or die-ins, like the KlimAde event which took place on Oct. 13.
This event was a play on words for the general population having to drink the “Kool-Aid” of false information and propaganda, fed to them by the government and the media, about the environmental crisis. During the demonstration, protestors drank the Kool-Aid and “died” of the poison, lying on a sidewalk in the heart of downtown. Demonstrations like these serve as mobilization and outreach actions to educate the general population about the climate crisis and cause some minor unrest.
According to Concordia university sociologist Guillaume Tremblay-Boily, social movements that balance radical direct action with softer forms of protest could be effective to encourage policy change. But he explained there is never a guarantee.
“It’s too early to tell if their action is effective,” Tremblay-Boily said. “But from previous movements, we can know that sometimes it is. For example, in 2012, the student strike very efficiently combined two types of action, and the movement eventually managed to obtain quite a substantial victory.”
Tremblay-Boily said their timing for their protests is right, and that doing a more radical action right after a milder protest in which almost 500,000 people participated seems to be a good idea. He said there’s a rise in awareness of the climate crisis, and protesters who participated in the Sept. 27 global climate strike can clearly see there has been no federal governmental change since the demonstration.
“A lot of these people who were part of that softer, more quiet protest might be ready to hear the kind of message that Extinction Rebellion is putting forward – this idea that you need to go further, to take more radical action,” he said.
Tremblay-Boily said a challenge for Extinction Rebellion Quebec could be to ensure their ideas stay rooted and to continue creating connections with the rest of the population. The sociologist said there is a risk their organization could become isolated from the larger environmental movement when they participate in direct action. A balance of protest is often key to staying on track.
Graphic by @justine.draws.sometimes