XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency

Photograph Source: Ansgar Walk – CC BY-SA 3.0

Extinction Rebellion (“XR”) has hit the world stage like a flash of light with participants in more than 70 countries all within one year’s time. Its allure is simply “telling the truth” about the climate crisis… for a change. A breath of fresh air in a world filled with deceit and lies by people in positions of power.

Recently, Roger Hallam, an organic farmer and King’s College scholar and co-founder of XR spoke at a gathering of local people in Penzance, Cornwall.

What follows is an abbreviated interpretation of that speech:

One of the biggest lies/misunderstandings about climate change is: “It’s complicated.” Meaning, only scientists and trained officials can deal with it because ordinary people cannot grasp the complexities. Whereas, the fact of the matter is: It’s not that complicated. Hallam expounded upon some simple, what he refers to as killer facts:

It’s undeniable that the Arctic is melting. “It’s too warm; it’s ice; it melts. You don’t need a degree in science to figure that one out.”

Unquestionably, the severity of the diminishment is horrifying. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the mass volume of Arctic ice has melted in the past 30 years. Stop and think about that for a moment… after thousands of years of thick multi-layered ice, it’s nearly all gone in only 30 short years. That’s well beyond the scope of natural behavior; it is catastrophic in many ways. After all, it’s not 10% not 30%; it’s 75%, which will ultimately bring torrential shifts in climate for the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, it has already started.

Hallam mentioned a Harvard professor who recently claimed that there would be no permanent ice left in the Artic by the summer of 2022. The professor said it’s a certainty. “It’s clear the summer ice is headed for zero within the next 1-5 years… it’s going to be happening. And, it’s a simple scientific law that says once you’ve removed the ice from dark water, you get the latent heat effect, which means that temperatures increase dramatically and suddenly.”

All of which disrupts upper atmospheric jet streams as the temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics drops, so it slows down the jet streams, and creates weather blocks that terrorize farmers that depend upon predictable weather cycles, year-in, year-out. Nowadays, it’s the unpredictable, e.g., the 2019 Midwest massive flooding of farmland, unprecedented.

“Once the ice is gone, it’s going to be completely chaotic. Within the next ten years, this is what’s coming down the road.” (Hallam)

Hallam claims the Arctic is not a complicated issue. The ice goes and the entire Northern Hemisphere changes in ways that nobody knows because we’ve never been there before. It’s an unintended experiment that’s already gone off the rails.

He discussed the climate crisis in terms of temperature: Since pre-industrial times the temperature has increased 1.1°Centigrade. Some people think it’s a bit more, some people think it’s a bit less, but 1.1°C is in the ballpark. In that regard, the Paris climate agreement, “which I’ll suggest to you is the biggest example of a massive delusion in the history of humanity,” promotes the lie that we must stay below 2°Centigrade. But, the simple scientific fact is 2°C is already locked in.” It’s well known in academia that 2°C is already locked in. There are several reasons why:

1. Carbon Life – When carbon is put into the atmosphere, it doesn’t immediately heat up the earth. It takes 10 to 30 years to translate to higher temperatures. Therefore, even if carbon emissions stopped tomorrow, there’s still 10-30 years of carbon working its way through the climate system. A recent scientific peer-review paper projected that latent carbon cycle equal to 0.7°C no matter what mitigation steps are taken today. That means 1.8° is already locked in (adding 1.1°C to 0.7°C).

2. And, “global dimming” peer-reviewed papers say fossil fuel usage puts pollutants or particulate matter in the atmosphere that actually mitigates heating of the planet by reflecting solar rays back to outer space. So, once you get rid of the fossil fuels, and cease emissions, the sun’s rays will come thru unimpeded by fossil fuel particulates. It’s estimated to increase global temperatures by 0.7°C.

Inclusive of all above, 2.6C is locked-in even though part of the “lock-in” is removal of carbon emissions. Another recent peer-reviewed paper says carbon in soils will increase temperatures by another one degree centigrade by 2050 because once you heat up the earth, you heat up the soil, it releases more carbon, taking temperatures up over 3°C.

All of the above-mentioned climate disruption happens before human anthropogenic current activities are counted. Alas, carbon emissions are still going up at rates of 1.6 ppm as of a couple years ago, then, 2.7 ppm and then 3ppm. The growth rate is headed straight up, not down.

Thus, with global average temperatures already locked in at 2°C, it means portions of middle continents or mid latitudes will hit 4°C. According to NASA, global warming varies but is highest in Earth’s mid-latitude regions during the warm season. At 4°C in the middle continents you cannot grow grains at scale. That means one thing: Starvation.

Looking at the issue one more way: Pre-industrial CO2 in the atmosphere was 280ppm at its peak over the past 400,000 years, but it’s been growing much faster than ever before over that past 100 years and now at 415ppm. It wasn’t so long ago that people were saying 350ppm was the upper limit or danger zone when ecosystems would start to falter. But, atmospheric CO2 is already at 415. What about that upper limit and shouldn’t that be a call to action? Nevertheless, there is no call to action, nowhere to be seen or heard. There is only talk interspersed with token dabbling in electric cars and solar panels and wind. The hard fact is fossil fuels were 80% of energy sourcing 50 years ago. Fossil fuels are 80% of energy sourcing today. Where’s the change?

In all, Hallam claims the “real bad news is: We’re facing social collapse. We are facing the end of civilization.” If you want to know what social collapse looks like, check out Somalia. Check out Afghanistan. Social collapse looks like an economic crisis when there is no longer any support for the poor. The schools won’t be able to run. The university courses will close. No beds available at hospitals. Food supplies run out, people starve and fight.

Last year for the first time ever a food-growing crisis hit all across the Northern Hemisphere, down 20% down in North America, Europe and Russia, all in one year! If that were to happen three years running, there would be massive starvation in Europe. That analysis by a sustainability professor is based the most downloaded (450,000) academic paper in history.

Fifteen years ago, Hallam planted 20 acres of crops. Starting in early June, the rain continued for seven weeks, nonstop. He lost every single outdoor vegetable. He lost £100,000 and 20 people lost their jobs. But, nobody cared because if you can’t get your food locally, you can fly it in. And, the following year, it rained almost 7 weeks once again. That was followed by the warmest April ever in the UK; then the coolest August ever, then the coldest wet winter on record, and last year was the warmest summer on record in Wales. Climate change is real and unpredictable. Thus, farmers do not know what’s going to happen and many go out of business. Around the world, farmers are committing suicide in record numbers, and as for America: “Suicide Rates are Rising, Especially in Rural America,” NBC News, Sept. 6, 2019.

Still the worst consequence of the climate crisis, which is the real endpoint, will be war. What will happen when hundreds of millions of refugees are fleeing from the tropics because the heat is unbearable? There will be war. This will happen before flooding of major coastal cities, which is also “locked-in” to the climate system.

The climate crisis is absolutely real. It’s a climate emergency! Temperatures continue setting new records. It was over 44°C in Karachi last year and many people died of heat stroke, but nobody cared because it is Karachi. Heat hit 47°C in parts of India. (Body temps at 42.22°C can result in convulsions and death)

The risks can be explained by the theory of nonlinear dynamics in social and economic systems. First, a few hundred die from heat stroke, and then it goes up a little bit more and then a thousand die, up a little bit more and then three million people die in a few days. All of a sudden, it happens so suddenly!

Because of wet bulb effect, at a certain point the human body cannot survive heat and humidity and dies within 6 hours. It’s nonlinear. This is already happening in the animal kingdom. It happened in the Russian Steppes 2-3 years ago when 200,000 deer died in 3 days.

Hallam has talked to leading political economists around the world, and they all agree catastrophe is coming. “When it comes it’s going to be fast.” They all agree. Within weeks because everything is inter-connected, meaning, food supply and distribution throughout the world.

Hallam mentioned what he refers to as “a difficult discussion item” how to stop the misguided process. The social sciences provide answers. If you want to rapidly change the political direction of a society it only happens thru massive social disobedience. Period! It’s the only way, and it is what XR is all about.

Society has been trying to sort out the climate crisis for 30 years. Alas, it’s gotten nowhere. Meantime, since 1990 there’s been a 60% increase in carbon emissions. All efforts, meetings, and discussions have been a catastrophic disaster. One-half of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere by the human race have been since Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth was released. Still, it’s been followed by catastrophic failure, which is the starting point for thinking about what really works. And, what really works is what we haven’t been doing. We haven’t been “Causing a Fuss.”

On a personal basis, Roger Hallam admitted that he does not like causing a fuss. It’s not in his character, but it’s the only formula for success.

Civic disobedience works. The reason it works is because of two things: (1) Disruption… no one takes any notice unless you cause disruption. It increases the reputational and economic costs of the opponents. Whereas, “being nice doesn’t do anything.” Disruption creates attention, and attention is the first point at which people start to change their opinions. For an example of what doesn’t work, in 2003, one million people in London protested the Iraq war. The protestors waved banners and hollered and conjoined with like-minded, and then, they got on buses and headed home. What happened? Nothing happened because a march never causes disruption. It’s there and it’s gone. (2) Sacrifice- without suffering there is no change. It’s when you go to jail that people take you seriously. What changes a person is seeing other people suffer for their beliefs.

XR involves arrest and going to prison. XR’s slogan is: Tell the truth and act as if it is real. Rebels have to be willing to upset people. XR has added 100,000 people to their mailing list in one year because people want to hear the truth.

The fight for civil rights in U.S. is an example of civic disruption working to the benefit of a cause. The Freedom Rider campaign of 1961 started with 25 students. MLK advised them not to do it. They did it and were surrounded by KKK, who set fire to their bus and beat up the students. Then, another 25 students came; Followed by national press. Pres. Kennedy noticed. The racist beat up his emissary. Hundreds more went to Mississippi… 500 people were put into prison doing hard labor. Prior to the Freedom Riders, 70 years of conventional protests did not work, did not move the civil rights needle. But, several weeks of Freedom Riders did the job. They caused a fuss.

The Children’s March- Birmingham circa 1963 is another example as 50 children, marching in opposition to segregation, went to prison after harassment by police, fire hoses and beatings because the kids simply walked in the streets. Then, 1,000 children in prison; then 3,000 in prison the next day, until the authorities give in. The chief of police caved in and Birmingham, Alabama agreed to desegregate the local stores. The children caused a fuss.

Radical political change works when participants have no fear. The children of Birmingham were fearless in civic disobedience.

At King’s College Hallam was suspended twice for pushing fossil fuel divestment. Eventually, King’s College said they would divest tar sands investments in a few years. Thereafter, Hallam and one other student started spraying signs around the campus. Then, eight more students joined, and they sprayed the campus. Then, the vice principal came within five minutes of a massive spraying. At the time, Hallam was suspended from King’s college. Still, he re-entered the property again and again. After 5 weeks, the university agreed to divest. According to Hallam, the willingness to personally sacrifice is key to success.

In April 2018 the upstart Extinction Rebellion ignored warnings from authorities. Within 8 days in London they had 1,200 arrested. It was the biggest civil disturbance in London in 50 years. Before the April civic disruptions, the general public did not have an opinion about climate change. After XR’s public disruptions, 67% of the UK population acknowledged the “climate emergency” and 50,000 people signed up for XR.

Disruption and sacrifice are the necessary ingredients. People get involved for a range of reasons. Including, (1) they are terrified about what’s going to happen with the climate crisis, knowing their careers and status won’t be there anyway if it’s not stopped (2) it is an act of conscience. It’s a sense of civic duty. (3) A sense of adventure by people who are already messed up in life and looking for redemption in their lives.

Extinction Rebellion intends to continue civil disobedience until governments of the world declare a “climate emergency.” It almost seems as if it’s their fate in life.

But, is there truly a climate emergency at hand? Answer: It’s a given, study the science, and you’ll join in person or commit funds to XR. The science is 100% definitive, and it’s real scary!

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.