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If you don't know of Extinction Rebellion, it’s about time that you get yourself clued the hell up. Since announcing their Declaration of Rebellion against the UK Government on the 31st of October 2018, XR’s plea is that big fish take global warming seriously; to recognise it as the crisis that it is and to act accordingly.

We have already witnessed evidence of this planetary emergency in real time, all over the globe, and it is Extinction Rebellion who have fought to bring it to the forefront of the hearts and minds of the community. Using non-violent methods of civil disobedience, Extinction Rebellion shut down London for ten days this April, causing the UK government to ‘tell the truth’ and declare a climate emergency. But there is still much to be done.

They champion a collectivist, inclusive philosophy through their decentralised structure wherein anyone and everyone can bring their skills to the table – be it artists, economists, students, blue collar, white collar; all are welcomed to join the rebellion and demand that their voice, and the voice of future generations, be heard. With plans of celebrating a massive funeral after London Fashion Week finishes, we speak to Isobelle Hadley, a Textile Design student, who is heavily involved in the movement to delve further into this most imperative of activist organisations.

For those who don’t already know, could you go through Extinction Rebellion’s demands?
So the first demand is for the government to tell the truth – the declaration of climate emergency was the first step towards this. The second demand is that the government must Act Now, putting a stop to the irreversible loss of biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero in the next five years. The third demand is that the government creates, and is led by, a citizen’s assembly on climate justice.
So the second demand is that the Government must act to stop biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, do you think this is attainable?
I want to be hopeful, but given the turmoil going on within UK politics at the moment, I think that our chances of reaching this target are incredibly slim. What we really need is a radically new form of politics which is willing to put the climate emergency at the forefront, and realistically, I don’t see that happening in the time frame that we have.
What is your role within the group?
My involvement with XR has been very off and on since I first joined the movement last autumn. I’ve found it quite difficult to balance activism with other aspects of my life, and for a while, I was feeling pretty down because I felt that I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I wanted to. As a Textile Design student, I was also feeling increasingly frustrated with the amount of waste being generated around me. When XR called for a boycott of fast fashion, it set the ball rolling and I began to see how I could combine my creative work and my interest in sustainability. I set up a communal wardrobe and swap shop for my local XR group, and I’m hoping to run some repair workshops and clothes swapping events over the coming months.

In the UK, XR’s first demand was fulfilled by the government’s declaration of a climate emergency after the movement was brought to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness when protests completely shut London in April. But does this really mean that they’re taking climate change seriously?
I think that the international week of rebellion was successful in putting pressure on the government and raising awareness among the public, and I think that they seem to be taking the issue far more seriously than they ever have before. The problem is that it’s still not being taken seriously enough – as evidenced by the fact that the Heathrow expansion project is still going ahead, or the fact that the Scottish National Party have halved the budget of the Climate Challenge Fund, which resulted in many community-based environmental projects being abandoned due to lack of financial resources.
The date for net-zero emissions set by the government is twenty-five years too late, and four months on from the declaration, we’ve still to see any real policy changes being implemented. If the government is truly serious about tackling the climate crisis, they need to act sooner rather than later because we are running out of time.
The way Extinction Rebellion is run is decentralised, how exactly does this work without creating chaos?
So far, it’s working very well. Everyone is encouraged to join XR and to take action in whatever way feels meaningful for them – whether that’s through direct action, civil disobedience, or through planting trees or writing poetry. Allowing for a self-organising system means that the movement can be more inclusive as it allows anyone who feels empowered to act as XR to do so. This also means that the way our structure works is constantly evolving and adapting in real time to suit the needs of the individual communities within the movement. This system and the communication channels we use create an environment where individuals are encouraged to take on as much or as little responsibility as they are able to, preventing any one person from taking on too much of a workload.
XR has already disrupted fashion week earlier this year, but now there are plans to shut it down altogether. Do you think this will be achieved? What impact do you think protesting at London Fashion week will have?
If we managed to bring the centre of London to a standstill, we should have no problem at all in shutting down LFW. If we do successfully shut it down, it will be a hugely symbolic action. In terms of impact, I think the ball is already rolling. Just recently, the Stockholm Fashion Council announced the cancellation of Stockholm Fashion Week in order to focus on a more sustainable alternative. With sustainability at the forefront of people's consciousness, the fashion industry is coming under much closer scrutiny from consumers who want a certain ethical standard from the brands they buy from.
Once brands begin to compete with each other to be the most ethical and the most sustainable, the more the industry will be driven towards radical change. At the moment, the fashion industry as a whole is responsible for ten per cent of global carbon emissions, and the industry is predicted to grow by sixty-three per cent in the next decade (according to the Pulse of Fashion report), so the consequences of inaction would be catastrophic.

“One of the most important reasons to engage in climate activism is to stand up for all living beings, especially those who don’t have a voice on the global stage.”
Stella McCartney has been commended for her increasingly eco-friendly designs, and yet was slated when she cast climate activists as models for her Fall/Winter 2019 campaign. This seems somewhat paradoxical considering that XR proposed a year-long boycott on buying new clothing. Where do you stand on this? Have you joined the boycott?
As a designer, I can certainly sympathise with her. I think it’s hard to reconcile a desire to protect the planet with the desire to be creative. On the other hand, with sustainability becoming more and more trendy, it’s harder to distinguish what is genuine commitment to the cause and what is just virtue signalling from brands and corporations. I agree that it is somewhat paradoxical, but it’s a symptom of the capitalist system in which we live. If you can avoid buying any new clothing for a whole year, that’s fantastic, but it’s just not a realistic goal for everyone. If you really have to buy something new, then brands such as Stella McCartney offer a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. Personally, I have joined the boycott – I see it as a creative challenge and also an opportunity to change the relationship I have with my clothes and my appearance in general.
Another reason why people think that XR is somewhat classist is due to this boycott, as few people can afford to invest in Stella McCartney when they can hardly put food on the table. Do you think that the knowledge of the detrimental effects of investing in fast fashion will spur people to shop second hand or high end? Both being the only other options as there are very few affordable and sustainable brands on the market.
I think that shopping second hand is a fantastic alternative to shopping on the high street. It does take some patience and isn’t always the most convenient option when you need something in a hurry, but it does offer a financially viable way of consuming. The more demand there is for sustainable brands, the more affordable they’ll become. And there are certainly sustainable options which don’t come with a designer price tag – Birdsong London is a good example, as well as Glasgow-based Love & Squalor.
Teen activist and household name Greta Thunberg was featured on the cover of GQ, whose fresh face and accusatory pose is a far cry from their scantily clad cover girls of the 1990s. This is especially interesting, seeing as a lot of Greta’s hate on social media comes from men. Why do you think this is?
I don’t want to delve too deep into psychoanalysis here, but I do think that this is illustrative of a bigger problem. Greta certainly challenges the idea of the stereotypical female role model that the media have tried to force on us for so long, and I think that that is a hugely positive change. Our patriarchal system is not used to seeing a young woman being taken so seriously, and I guess that shocks some people.

Many have argued that XR is quite exclusively run by the white middle class, and is therefore exclusionist. How do you feel about this?
I definitely acknowledge that there is some truth to that. However, I feel that might be a reflection of our society as a whole. The majority of climate activists, at least in the United Kingdom, come from that demographic because they are the ones with the privilege of having spare time and an income to dedicate towards activism. I do however feel that this privilege comes with a responsibility towards our fellow beings who do not have the same resources as us – and, more importantly, will be affected most by the climate crisis. One of the most important reasons to engage in climate activism is to stand up for all living beings, especially those who don’t have a voice on the global stage.
Some Extinction Rebellion artefacts are going to be on display at the V&A in London as part of its rapid response programme. Do you think that Extinction Rebellion will go on to make history? Or will they be beaten by the climate killing fat cats that rule the world?
Regardless of whether we manage to keep global temperatures below 1.5 ºC of warming, we’ve already passed the tipping point in some respects, so I feel like we’re heading towards a very unstable future. There is no telling what the world will look like in the next few years – let alone the next few decades –, so it’s quite difficult to say whether history will look kindly upon us. As a movement, we’ve been around for less than twelve months and we’ve already had quite a big impact. Ultimately, though, it’s not about making history; it’s about making sure we have a future.
Even after the facts of the global warming crisis have been verified time and time again, there are many (Trump, for example) who stick their head in the sand and deny the severity of this inevitably catastrophic situation. What do you think is the best way to convince non-believers?
Whether they believe it or not is irrelevant, it doesn’t change the fact that climate change is happening and we are already experiencing the effects.

Lara Delmage

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