Extinction Rebellion: demanding action on climate change

The environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion began a new series of well-publicised protests on 7 October, when thousands of demonstrators gathered in major cities around the world, demanding government action to combat climate change.

The speed with which the Extinction Rebellion movement has grown is startling. It was launched in October 2018 by Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook, two activists who had previously been members of the relatively unknown Rising Up, another climate action group.

In the last year, Extinction Rebellion has attracted an extraordinarily high level of financial support from both individuals and organisations. One report has the total amount of funding received currently running at £40,000 per day.

Interestingly, one large donation was made by Radiohead, after an unnamed hacker stole a cache of the band’s unreleased recordings in June, and demanded a ransom payment of $150,000 to return them. Rather than handing over the cash, the band posted the tracks online themselves, and stated that all proceeds would go to Extinction Rebellion.

In the UK, the main Extreme Rebellion events have been taking place in central London. The campaigners announced that their first actions on 7 October would entail occupying major roads in the city. They said: “We will peacefully shut down all roads into Westminster in Central London and non-violently disrupt the government until our leaders agree to TAKE EMERGENCY ACTION NOW. Other non-violent actions will target corporations, ministries and infrastructure that maintain our toxic system.”

Having successfully blocked the streets in Westminster, the protesters moved on to demonstrating outside various government offices and ministries. In addition, around 400 animal rights activists from the allied Animal Rebellion group took the opportunity to conduct their own event at Smithfield Market, where they set up camps and fruit and vegetable stalls to protest against the consumption of meat, and to call for a switch to veganism.

On Thursday, 10 October environmental campaigners staged a blockade at London’s City Airport, obstructing entrance to the terminal. Around 50 people had been arrested before 11am. One person even boarded a plane and was filmed standing in the aisle as he spoke about climate change. The plane was forced to return to the terminal and the protester was arrested and taken off the flight by police.

A video of his action was quickly shared on Twitter and immediately picked up by a raft of major national and international news outlets, including the BBC, Sky News, The Times, Huffington Post, the Press Association and a Japanese news agency, thus ensuring worldwide publicity in what was therefore demonstrably a very effective action.

This incident was followed by a Paralympic medallist managing to climb on top of a British Airways plane while pretending to board, and another protester was able to scramble over razor wire and get on the airport roof.

The protests this week have caused disruption to people going about their business, but they have largely been good-natured and non-violent. Despite a huge police presence on the streets – with reinforcements brought in from other forces around the country – and a large number of arrests each day, it appears the campaigners are determined to maintain the peaceful nature of their activities.

This relatively benign character of the protests is likely to continue in the demonstrations due to take place next week.

We have not so far seen any cyber operations associated with the Extinction Rebellion campaign. However, it is worth remembering that environmental issues and animal rights have both been favourite topics for hacktivists in the past, with widespread participation in a variety of campaigns such as #OpGreenRights or #OpFunkill. Indeed, during the last round of the movement’s protests in April, hackers associated with Anonymous Italia accessed and leaked a number of documents from various Italian government and educational organisations, citing their motive as support for Extinction Rebellion.

Digital blockades – as promoted by the same Extinction Rebellion activists when they were part of the earlier Rising Up group – are another possibility. These involve well-organised and sustained campaigns using social media, websites or even phone calls to flood company systems.

However, it does seem that Extinction Rebellion campaigners are now more interested in using the power of social media to disseminate information about their latest events and garner highly visible on-the-ground support for their actions.

As seen above, the more dramatic stunts are attracting worldwide media attention.

Nevertheless, businesses operating in London or indeed in any of the other cities where demonstrations are taking place are advised to ensure both their physical and cyber security policies and protective measures are up-to-date. It is worth looking carefully at social media to find out where the activists intend to gather and which organisations or roads they will target. The main tags to follow on Twitter are #EverybodyNow, #ExtinctionRebellion and #ExtinctionRebellionLondon. In addition, a variety of Facebook pages are devoted to publicising and reporting on events.

Extinction Rebellion has also announced that it has moved off WhatsApp and on to Telegram. If you want to keep an eye on what is happening, download the app and join this group.