Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Speech given at Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay protest on national day of action

Attention, people of St. Petersburg.  We are here, as local residents and members of Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay to demand emergency action over climate breakdown.  We are here to call on all levels of government to take such action, from the city, to the county, to the state, to the country.  This is part of a national day of action across the US, and as part of a new international movement against extinction.

In October, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a stark report, calling for a 45% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, to avoid a runaway global warming scenario that threatens all life on this planet.  For the United States this translates to an approximately 85% cut within a decade.  The report called for, quote, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society." Despite these urgent remarks, the IPCC is a historically restrained scientific body, with many commenting that these conclusions were still not honest about the urgency of our predicament. They must therefore be treated as a bare minimum baseline for action.

When it comes to our local government here in St. Petersburg, the most up-to-date publicly known targets for carbon cuts are as follows.  A 20% reduction by the end of 2020.  A 40% reduction by 2025.  And an 80% reduction by 2050.  Looking at these numbers, we can discern two things.  The first is that there are individuals within city government who genuinely care about climate change.  These targets would not exist if that were not the case.  So that is not in question.  The second is that city hall knows full well that the targets the city is currently committed to are not going to save this community or this planet from extreme weather.  They have read the IPCC report.  They have conducted a vulnerability assessment of our region.  If we do not do what the science actually demands we cannot expect places less vulnerable than here to do the same.

So these are the four demands of Extinction Rebellion, directed not just locally, but at all levels of government and all of those in Tampa Bay.  Governments must tell the full truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.  Governments must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels to no more than half a planet's worth per year.  We must have the creation of a citizen's assembly to oversee these changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.   And we demand a just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable peoples, remediation for environmental injustice and legal rights for ecosystems.

These goals will obviously be a huge undertaking.  There will be many challenges and fierce conversations about what it means to decarbonise our entire society.  But if governments will not commit to these goals when they are so obviously necessary, we need to ask why.  Perhaps the most fundamental obstacle will be a change in the primary objective of government.  That objective is the reason that businesses of increasingly obtuse value keep popping up in our community, why half empty condos seem to be more important to local planners than having affordable housing, and why resource use, centrally the use of fossil fuels, continues to grow worldwide, and that is the pursuit of economic growth on a finite planet.  Multiple major recent studies have shown that you cannot lower your overall consumption of resources while increasing the size of your economy.  GDP growth will wipe out efficiency gains every time.  And most of this growth does not even benefit average people.  Year after year we are told the economy is getting bigger and healthier, and yet millions of us continue to struggle because most of those gains go to the people of the business classes.  The rising tide is not lifting our boats, because we cannot afford boats.  While you may be able to make certain energy switches and move numbers around in such a way as to engineer a cut of 20% or 40%, you cannot make a 100% cut without challenging fundamental assumptions about what and who our economy is for.

Perhaps the St. Pete government already has plans to improve their current targets.  That would be wonderful to learn.  To such forward thinkers we say do not think of us as adversaries.  We are opening up political space for a more honest discussion.  Use that space to do what you know to be necessary.

Other governments in Tampa Bay are doing even less to combat the climate crisis.  In Hillsborough County, energy planners are looking to spend the next decade wasting a billion dollars, to partially convert Big Bend Power Station from coal to fracked gas, a change that will not lower emissions due to the methane releases associated with fracking.  Utilities across the country are switching straight from coal to renewables; this conversion serves nobody other than the executives of Tampa Electric Company.  Profiteers at Tampa International Airport are hoping to spend the next decade increasing the number of passengers in our skies by 73%, with no proposals for how those planes will be less polluting or noisy, exactly when we must cut global oil use by at least half.  These are perfect examples of efforts in the wrong direction.  In a society where we were being told the truth about climate change, their approval would not be considered for a second.  Those of us on this side of the bay must help our neighbours to resist these projects, for it is our collective future that hangs in the balance.

At this late stage in time, it is going to take a mass movement of non-violent disruption to prevent oblivion.  That is what we propose.  We did not willingly pick this reality.  These emergency demands are the result of decades of political dithering over climate breakdown.  Above all we are here calling for increased urgency around this crisis.  It demands that all governments, media outlets, and everyone else in a position of power goes in to work on Monday and begins to draw up a plan of public communication, that explains to everybody in our society why everything must change.  If your instinct is to ignore our message today, or to dismiss it as idealism, consider the following quote from the author Chris Hedges:  "The message of the rebel is disturbing because of the consequences of the truth that he or she speaks."  We are Extinction Rebellion.  We are rebelling against the extinction of this community, and we invite you to join us. 

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