Overthrow the Government, Immediately: Extinction Rebellion’s Survival Manual

‘Common Sense for the 21st Century’ by Roger Hallam (co-founder of Extinction Rebellion) is well written and well motivated. Well-motivated in that Hallam is evidently sincere in his conviction, and very high-minded in calling for non-violence, inclusivity across the political and cultural spectrum, and respectful toward the immediate contact points of the (presumed) opposition, i.e. the police.

He’s not a true wordsmith, but that only makes the presentation feel more immediate and authentic. He does not go into any scientific depth. He assumes, with referrals to presumably unimpeachable authoritative sources, that, as usual, ‘the science is settled’. The book is nearly 70% devoted to effective tactics for bringing down the government (though not always explicitly stated, the political framing naturally enough has a UK “look and feel” to it). Then the remaining 30% or so deals with ‘the day after’ — what is to be done. The premise is that human life on earth will either end altogether or be reduced to negligible numbers within a generation or two by global warming. There are nods to the other nodes in the cluster of ecological disasters such as extinction of other species, other kinds of pollution, etc. But make no mistake, the emotional engine here is CO2-driven anthropogenic global warming theory.

All national governments (that of the UK initially) must be brought down. This can only be accomplished by fairly large scale non-violent actions of disruptive civil disobedience. These amount to strategically situated and timed mass sit-ins, and lock-ons with chains or glue, intelligently designed and targeted with the explicit purpose of putting “the authorities” in a bind: to play nice and tolerate, or, alternatively, to crack down.

Hallam assumes that initial toleration will permit the drama and, yes, the celebratory and liberating ‘fun’ of the protest actions to feed on themselves, drawing greater and greater participation by timid onlookers once “the fear is gone”. Beyond a certain period, the window for effective violent repression will have closed — just too many normies will have joined in.

On the other hand, if harsh crackdown is applied in the early stages, that will just build sympathy for the courageous vanguard activists who’ve selflessly put their bodies on the line, thus attracting more interest, more condemnation of the authorities, and ultimately lead to the same outcome: downfall.

The book focuses mainly on fleshing out practical aspects of bringing the above program to fruition. As for ‘the day after’, though a residual shell of parliamentary government may be retained for optics, real power will devolve to Citizens Assemblies, composed by random selection (sortition) of regular people. They will be guided by experts to Do the Right Thing — immediate (or close to immediate) forced cessation all uses of carbon based fuels. Hallam cites a number of successful historical examples of this kind of social/political/cultural transition.

In his passion, his energy, his intelligence, his sincerity, one can only wish him (and all of us) well. He’s a respectful, attractive and, if not fun-loving, then at least ‘fun-appreciating’ version of our American original John Brown, the pre-hero of direct action Abolition.

For one reason or another, it will be good to wean humanity off fossil fuels. Regardless of whether they are cooking us or not, they won’t last forever anyway. The sooner we begin to cut our survival dependence on fragile and dirty transmission chains of these Faustian materials the better. That was the message of the Peak Oil movement which, from a totally different angle, also stridently advocated for the abandonment of all fossil fuels. Peak Oil alarmists have also predicted the imminent death of humanity, not from the over use of fossil fuels but from hitting the hard wall of depletion and coming out of the restroom with um, only inadequately developed renewable alternatives in our hands. Imminent death of billions — that phrase in this book was copied verbatim from the Peak Oil movement of the turn of the century.

That said, it appears to me that the ‘’settled science’ of CO2 AGW theory is largely mistaken. The planet seems to be cooling. That presents a different kind of existential threat — that billions will starve due to agricultural failure in a natural cooling cycle. It appears to me that the science is not in fact settled (leaving entirely to one side the question of whether ‘science’ has any legitimacy at all in a de-colonized, de-Europeanized, post-patriarchal, post-racist ontological reimagining of the world — will you assert it’s merely a coincidence that the phrase ‘settled science’ is merely Levenshtein Distance = 1 — or 2, depending on how you score substitutions — from the phrase ‘settler science’ ?).

Speaking of settled science, there’s already a clue that Hallam isn’t as 100% confident in the scientific bedrock of his thesis as he appears to be. The clue is about 20 minutes into a videotaped talk on his web page (https://www.rogerhallam.com ‘The Time is Now’). There he mentions that even when the government is overthrown and The People do The Right Thing, that will initially actually exacerbate the total meltdown of the biosphere, due to the loss of the cooling effect of ‘industrial aerosols’. This is revealing, because supposedly ‘the science was settled’ as of 1988. Yet it’s only in the past decade or so, as global cooling has become empirically undeniable, that this ‘industrial aerosols’ cooling dodge has come into play, to try to save the basic demon CO2-AGW premise. Even Hallam seems to be aware at some level of show shaky this settled science really is.

But it’s always more fun to engage, to assert a ‘bias for action’. The most interesting thing will be to see the degree to which the (presumed) success or ‘inspiring glorious failure’ (Hallam’s term) of this program in Britain will serve as a beacon for the countries that really matter when it comes to carbon emissions. The Chinese people will be required to overthrow their government. (“[They] will be forced to do it. The physics requires it.” China is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas in the world, with 9.8 billion metric tons in 2017.) Bringing down their government will be “the only way”. So it will be interesting to see how these tactics play out in China. Of course, there will be some tweaking and accommodation to this book’s program, out of respect for local conditions and culture. But the thrust and outcome of it MUST be the same: to bring down the government by the massed will of the people.

It will be fascinating to watch the Chinese people rise up to situate their government between the horns of the central dilemma (toleration, leading to collapse, or crackdown, leading to overthrow). The Chinese people are going to overthrow their government — it must happen, and if they study this material assiduously, it will happen.

How the thesis of this book plays out in China will, by hypothesis, determine the fate of the world. Mao Zedong famously wrote: 革命無罪 造反有理 (‘Revolution is not a crime, rebellion is justified’). That’s precisely what’s being advocated here — a transcendent morality that may appear to violate Party discipline, but which ultimately fulfills the spirt of Mao’s mandate. Hopefully, the transition will be welcomed by the Communist Party of China (CCP), and they will gracefully step down. In fact, there is no alternative for them.

‘Common Sense for the 21st Century’ is short, urgent, intelligent, humane, thought-provoking, and well worth reading by anybody coming to this from any angle.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store