A group of Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists dropped out of the sky and blocked the major Sydney CBD intersection where Bathurst crosses George Street right on 8 am Monday morning, causing 47 minutes’ worth of traffic disruption during peak hour.
On the western side of the intersection, two giant banners proclaiming, “Climate Emergency: Get Off the Fence”, blocked vehicles from crossing, while, on the eastern side, four rebels were either glued to the street or locked on to fortified objects, reinforcing the obstruction.
Monday morning peak hour is hectic. Disrupting business-as-usual was the point. Activists were providing a wake-up call to the unfolding climate crisis that many simply pay no heed to.
Indeed, one commuter became so frustrated that he ran his grey four-wheel drive straight through a banner and dangerously mock charged those blocking the road. The driver made the threat twice.
The Monday morning mayhem was also strategically positioned out the front of APA offices, as the XR rebels called on the gas infrastructure company to withdraw its participation in the proposed Santos Narrabri Gas Project, which is set to wreck devastation on Gomeroi Country in northern NSW.
However, while Narrabri gas was the particular focus, the action was part of the XR Autumn Rebellion 2021, which involved a week of climate protests right across the globe, warning of the limited time left to halt reliance on fossil fuels prior to society as we know it ceasing to exist.
Nonviolent and direct
“We’re causing a disruption in the CBD of Sydney to highlight the ecocide that we are hurtling towards with the Narrabri Gas Project and the carbon economy,” explained Extinction Rebellion activist Alex McDonald.
“If we do not change our ways rapidly, we are never going to do enough work to safeguard the futures of our children and our children’s children,” the seasoned climate rebel told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
McDonald and a fellow activist were both locked on to a bright pink oil barrel filled with cement. The pair looked quite chuffed to be putting their liberty on the line for the sake of the planet. And from his bitumen seat, Alex advised it was his third time facing NSW police handcuffs.
Rescue officers took over an hour to extract the pair from the barrel. They were then taken to Day Street police station, where three other activists were also under arrest due to their participation in the action: two were from the middle of the road, while a third had scaled the awning outside APA.
Alex went on to spend the night in the Surry Hills lockup, as he refused to agree to the draconian bail conditions NSW police were insisting he sign up to. There has been a pattern of police requiring climate activists adhere to extreme bail conditions in an effort to silence further action.
Colonial landgrab continues
The Morrison-Berejiklian greenlighted Narrabri Gas Project aims to drill 850 coal seam gas wells across 1,000 hectares covering mainly Pilliga Forest.
These wells are to be drilled straight through the Great Artesian Basin: one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world.
The PM intensified his support of the project last year, as part of his so-called gas-led economic recovery. The Coalition has been spruiking gas as some sort of clean alternative to coal, despite the methane involved being 80 times more potent than carbon emissions in terms of greenhouse effect.
The project also marks a further step in the ongoing colonial landgrab, as the government has approved energy company Santos to drill gas wells upon the land of the Gomeroi people without their consent.
The Gomeroi Nation stands firmly opposed to the destruction of Country.
XR is calling on APA to withdraw from plans to construct a 460 kilometre stretch of pipeline that will connect the Narrabri Gas Project to the wider Australian grid. Activists note that it will cause destruction of forest and farmland, as well as lead to fugitive gas emission pollution.
The Extinction Rebellion stands in solidarity with the Gomeroi Nation.
The existential threat
The 2018 IPCC report warned that Earth’s temperature will rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052.
However, the Australian-produced Climate Reality Check 2020 posits 1.5°C will arrive prior to 2030, while the “very dangerous” 2°C increase could eventuate before 2050.
Nature is now convulsing its way through the sixth mass extinction, while a window of opportunity to heed off the existential threat posed to organised human society is closing fast.
The current trajectory humanity is on will likely see 3 to 5°C warming by 2100, meaning our children’s children won’t have much of a future to look forward to.
Extinction Rebellion established itself as a force of change in April 2019, when it took over large areas of London for more than a week and successfully raised local and global awareness around accelerating climate change.
However, despite the ever-widening acceptance that humanity and the entire planet is being threatened by our use of fossil fuels, the Morrison government has set itself up as a global climate pariah, as it prioritises the profits of mining companies over the future of its constituency.
Unviable systems, uncertain futures
“I’m glued to Bathurst Street,” explained XR activist Lesley, as her left palm was stuck firmly to the road. “I’m here because I have a grandson, and I can’t look him in the eye without saying I did everything I could to try and fix the mess that the planet is in right now.”
The grandmother from out of town said scientists have been warning of the climate disaster for the last three decades, yet we’re still on a course towards doom. She added that she’s taking nonviolent direct action, as her prior letter writing to MPs, and marching hasn’t effected viable change.
“XR has a plan. It’s trying to get governments to set up People’s Climate Assemblies, where a random group of people are chosen and educated on the issues,” she said, not long before being placed in a paddy wagon. “They make the decisions, and the politicians have to go along with them.”
Founded in May 2018, Extinction Rebellion has three main demands: that governments tell the truth regarding the climate and ecological crises, to reduce greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2025, and that People’s Climate Assemblies are established.
“I’m hoping to get arrested today because this is something that I can do. I am retired. I don’t have anything to lose. This is the easiest thing for me to do,” Lesley continued. “It sends a very strong message to people everywhere that this is so serious people are willing to do this.”
“Even middleclass grandmothers, like me, are prepared to be out on the road, glued to it and to get arrested to bring attention to the fact that we have to do something now,” she concluded.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.