Extinction Rebellion takes on the system: Interview with founder Roger Hallam - The Korea Times

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Extinction Rebellion takes on the system: Interview with founder Roger Hallam


Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam
Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam



By Emanuel Pastreich

The global movement for peaceful disobedience to force society in general, and government in specific, to undertake a revolutionary response to the catastrophe of climate change is sweeping swept the Earth like wildfire. Extinction Rebellion was an unfamiliar term even a few weeks ago, but now this movement to radically alter the debate on climate change and compel people to act has gained tremendous momentum. The current general strike in London could well permanently alter the popular and the official discourse on environmental policy.


A central figure in the founding of Extinction Rebellion was Roger Hallam. Of course there are many other intellectuals involved in campaigns to address climate change, but rarely does one find a person in the movement who is also an expert on how to shift public discourse radically and rapidly, as opposed to an expert on the details of climate change policy.

That is to say that Roger Hallam is a researcher at King's College London who has spent years studying the most pertinent point for us at this late date: how to design effective radical political campaigns.

Roger Hallam took a moment to speak with Asia Institute about the background of this general strike and its explicit, and implicit, message. His comments give profound insights into the nature of the fix in which humanity finds itself today and a taste of future in politics now that we know that Kyoto Protocols and Paris Accords offer no hope of saving us from ourselves.

The interview offers bittersweet insights into human nature. I was reminded of the comments made by Gus Speth, a Yale professor who tried to address this problem through the standard role of advisor to the government. Gus Seth remarked,

"I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that."

We will soon see how successful Hallam and his Extinction Rebellion are in their mass protests in London. They have, however, already have altered the debate on climate change policy. We will see transformed environmental movement beyond Al Gore and laughable carbon trading as we enter the next stage of this fight for time against human apathy and selfishness.



Emanuel Pastreich:

What's the mood right now at Extinction Rebellion as you prepare for the general strike in London and the following global movement to end the use of fossil fuels immediately, and not in thirty years?

Roger Hallam:

Well, let me first say that a bunch of people helped to found Extinction Rebellion, for the record. Having said that, I was responsible for doing a paper called "Pivoting to the Real Issue" last January for the "Rising Up Network," which is this network of activists, academics, and researchers who are involved in setting up Extinction Rebellion and who are engaged in the process, in the deep thinking, about how exactly we're going to sort this dire situation out.

So nine, ten months later, we're here in April, 2019, about to embark on what may well turn out to be the first major, significant, nonviolent uprising against a Western government. What can I say? There's a certain amount of excitement and nervousness.

This isn't just a verbal exercise, like most climate change activism. It's going to involve primarily occupying around five different roundabouts or bridges, with several thousand people. The intention is to stay there until the government meets with, I expect, young people from Britain and from around the world to seriously discuss the climate emergency and the imminent ecological breakdown.

If they don't, then we will be expanding our civil disobedience to start blockading the roads coming into Westminster. That is an essential government area of London.

And if that doesn't wake them up, then we will start blocking two trains in railway stations. So we're looking at a major escalation of civil disobedience, and we may well be all arrested and imprisoned by the end of the week. But we're all here to make a stand and to wake society up.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In that process of protesting, will there be a space for people who want to get out of the fossil fuel economy? For example, people who want to eat food produced without the use of fossil fuels? What about people who want to live a life that doesn't force us to use plastics, petroleum, or coal?

Roger Hallam:

This is my personal interpretation: it's not necessary to set a line about every little detail. Feel free to get the take of other people in future videos.

But my understanding of Extinction Rebellion is that our primary goal is to create a political space through which people of various countries can come together and decide whether they want to live or die in the next thirty years. To be blunt, that is the primary question for the human race at this point is: "Do we want to carry on as normal and die – or more particularly, do we want our children to die?" Hopefully the answer is, we want to live. If you want to live, there's a whole range of technical, political, and social questions on how we're going to maximize the probability that we're going to get through this massive crisis at this late stage of the game.

Extinction Rebellion is a broad church of people. We may disagree about the nitty-gritty details, but we're coming together through disruption and sacrifice, and through mass political action that breaks the law. It's the most effective way in our view – and, arguably, objectively – to actually create a crisis in society. I hope we all know, without a social crisis, it's not going to get sorted out. We're supposed to be reducing carbon emissions by 50% in the next ten years. There's no way that's going to be brought about by incremental, conventional political action.

I'm a political scientist at King's College, and in my scholarly opinion, it's a no-brainer that this is not going to happen through business-as-usual. No matter your political opinion or viewpoint, this is a matter of structural sociology. Societies don't change rapidly without disruption, unfortunately.

To come back to your main question, the idea is to create this space. We're not top-down. We're not: "You've got to follow us concerning the solution." We're here to create the space where we can democratically come together and decide what specific policies and transformations are necessary.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In the discussion about climate change, it's rather shocking how in many societies around the world, you have highly-educated, progressive intellectuals who have been entirely willing to downplay climate catastrophe and even take indirect kickbacks from fossil fuel interest-funded organizations. What went wrong with intellectuals?

Roger Hallam:

Well, the fact of the matter is, from a psychological reset point, individuals tend not to believe things they don't like. That's something of a downer. A lot of us, particularly in the West, have this rather naïve notion that through rationality and individual calculus, we can decide what to do, and we're not influenced by the world around us. Unfortunately, the evidence points to the opposite. If we're in a particular social context which is doing something highly dysfunctional objectively, it's actually very difficult for us to extract ourselves. It's particularly hard for us to extract ourselves if we're from a privileged social group that benefits from that dysfunction in the short term. It's a slight paradox in that the more intelligent you are, likely the richer you are, and the richer you are, the less likely it is you want to hear the message. So we in the UK are doing hundreds of talks around the country.

The supposedly not very intelligent normal people grasp the reality much quicker than the supposedly very intelligent, intellectual people who are more embedded in this death cult process of elites.

Emanuel Pastreich:

It's an extremely serious problem. I'll give you an example. There are piles of these progressive, leftist – I hate all these terms, but I'll use them – websites that talk about imperialism, foreign wars…but they tip-toe around, or even ignore, climate change. The most interesting to me has been in the US, where the far-left Socialist Equality Party's website talks about how capitalists are crushing the unions in automobile factories. But they don't say a word about making automobiles.

Roger Hallam:

I think we've got a big problem, and the big problem is that for several hundred years, we've taken nature as a given that can be exploited without any consequence. That's actually been correct insomuch as nature doesn't have a conscious sort of mind that decides it's being exploited of and fights back, like the working class, as you might say. Nature doesn't have a conscious decision-making process like human beings.

However, that's got a plus and a minus. The plus is that we've been able to exploit it without any consequences. The minus is that now it's going to destroy us and we can't reason with it. We can't go to nature and say: "Sorry, we've realized we've been screwing you for the last two, three hundred years. Can you please put the ice back in the Arctic?" The ice is going in the Arctic, whether we're remorseful or not. We're in this situation where people on the left and the right have just not come to terms with some of the fundamentals of human existence, because for hundreds of years – and particularly in the last forty years – we've been screwing nature and we haven't been realizing that nature is about to screw us.

So it's not surprising. It comes back to your culture. If you're embedded in a particular culture, it's extremely psychologically unpleasant to realize that you've been completely wrong. We all know that in our personal lives. I'm not trying to be moralistic here; I'm just being analytical.

We have habits. We drink. We take drugs, or are abusive to people. At a certain point, we have a moment of reckoning and it is extremely difficult to realize. This is what's happening on a social and political level. We thought the world was A, but it's actually B. This is as true for people on the left as it is for people on the right. This is not going to change without mass disruption. That's just the way it is at this stage of the game.

Emanuel Pastreich:

We live in an age of glitzy, exciting technologies like the video chat we're using right now. Technology seems to be expanding exponentially. However, scientific thinking and analysis seems to be in a free fall. How is it that humans have lost the ability to think scientifically?

Roger Hallam:

Well, I feel like I've sort of answered that, insomuch as human beings can be as intelligent as you like, but at the end of the day, we're social beings. We live in a social space. Basically, our psychology trumps our rationality. If people around us are doing bad things, we'll tend to do bad things as well, even if we're supposed to be quite intelligent.

Now, obviously there are outliers like yourself or me who have come to this realization. But now, as things become worse and worse, there's a tipping point in a system where a critical mass of people realize that things have gotten so bad. They start to realize that just because they don't like something doesn't mean it isn't true. So we're at this stage and that's why Extinction Rebellion has really come along. There's enough people now who want to confront the reality of the situation.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Recently, there's been a lot of coverage in the media about this representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal. Having read some of the material in depth, it seems it's so full of holes you could drive a supertanker through it. And yet, within the so-called progressive political groups, it's a sacred cow. No one's actually willing to poke it or see what this really means. Is that Green New Deal really addressing what is actually required?

Roger Hallam:

You can expect there's going to be an attempt to sort of deal with the ecological crisis while still maintaining the fiction that we can maintain an exploitative relationship with nature. I think part of the response of the left is to say that we can still have it really good, and we can question whether the good actually is good. We can still maintain consumer lifestyles and still deal with the crisis. There's strong evidence that that's no longer possible because of the extremity of the situation. I think we need to be clear that we're already heading to over two degrees centigrade.

Let's talk about the science for a minute. It's important that we realize that the Paris Agreement is based on a fundamental flaw of not taking account of locked-in temperature increases from the carbon lag, carbon already coming into the system, and global dimming, the effect of pollution leaving the atmosphere—and the temperatures warming up. That's before we add on the effect of the Arctic ice melting and the exponential increase in temperatures that that process will bring about.

We're already in a major crisis. The idea that we can simply maintain our lifestyles and maintain our vision--it's not going to work.

Having said that, I think it's a good sign that progressive people are starting to at least talk about the real issue, as I said last January in my paper "Pivoting to the Real Issue." The real issue is, every progressive change that we've had in the last two hundred years is now in danger of coming to nothing because soon society will collapse. There's a good chance our species will go extinct. There's no progressive culture without a human race.

Emanuel Pastreich:

I have another question about this debate in politics on conservatism. So many of the media reports that I've read say: "Well, we have these conservatives that have different values, that oppose our climate change policies, so we need to convince them over time and get them to see the light." But it seems to me, based upon what I've seen so far, that we have a small group of corporations who pushed a dangerous substance, which they knew was dangerous for the environment at least since the 1980s—so for forty or fifty years.

If you or I did that, even on a smaller scale, we'd be in jail tomorrow and all of our assets would be seized. So why do we call this criminal conspiracy "conservatism?"

Roger Hallam:

The rich and powerful can get away with a lot, as we all know. We can spend a lot of time congratulating ourselves on how bad the bad guys are. There's a lot of people on the radical and progressive left who enjoy analyzing how "bad" the bad guys are. And that's important. It's important to know why bad people are doing bad things.

With all due respect, that's not the critical issue here. The critical issue is: we have ten years to revolutionize our economy if we're going to survive. And I think what we need to focus on is the practicality of rapid political change. That means looking at a different literature from the literature that tells us how "bad" the bad people are.

The biggest problem with political people is they're not reading he right literature at this stage of the game. They're not talking about the right things. What I suggest we need to do is to talk about how we're going to make this change happen, which happens to be what I specialize in as an academic. And the proposition of Extinction Rebellion, broadly speaking, is: the most effective way to change society – actually to do something about these people and to do something about the power of the rich and powerful to destroy our children – is to engage in mass-participation civil disobedience. This is a fundamental point about Extinction Rebellion.

We're moving away from analysis. We're moving away from information, and we're moving away from conventional campaigning, sending e-mails, sending donations, paying lobbyists…all that stuff. We're not saying there's something intrinsically wrong with that, or even that it doesn't have some effect. There's many good people doing this work. But the point we're saying is that, objectively, we're going to transform the economy in ten years.

It's not going to work. And we have evidence for that, which is, over the last 30 years, carbon emissions have gone up by 60% globally. They're still going up 1.6% in 2017, 2.7% in 2018…in other words, we've got a catastrophically dire situation insomuch as we want to understand the science.

That requires us, therefore, to engage in the most effective mechanism to bring about change, which is to break the law on a mass scale in order to create a political crisis both in society, so society starts to understand that it has obligations as well as rights, and in the government and the political class. So the political class starts to understand it has an obligation to protect the people. And if it doesn't undertake that obligation, then it no longer will have any political legitimacy to maintain its power. That's the general framework.

Emanuel Pastreich:

To some degree that argument to break the law, to be convincing, requires us to say that the law itself is immoral. It is similar to the move to abolish slavery. Slavery was legal and many people accepted it as a good part of the economy; it produced cheap energy, just like fossil fuels. But the process of opposing slavery, and eventually making it illegal, required people to understand that the law itself was immoral.

Roger Hallam:

Absolutely. And the slavery analogy is very close to the climate catastrophe. In the case of slavery, the people whose rights were fundamentally violated were black people. In the climate change situation, the people whose rights are being violated are young people, because it is young people's world that is going to be destroyed and ultimately, they are going to die.

So we might say that there is a fundamental moral law in all human societies which is, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Now that is a Christian orientation, but I am sure you can find it in other traditions.

Emanuel Pastreich:

It is the code of Hammurabi.

Roger Hallam:

It is a no-brainer. And it is closely related to the most important trans-cultural moral obligation which is to provide for your children. So I think there is amble moral and political justification for going into rebellion and revolution against a regime that violates those fundamental laws in an obscene way. And that's where we're up against at this stage, is it not?

Emanuel Pastreich:

So what would it take for me to change things? I've now started to refuse to take anything in plastic, for example, but this makes me one in a million in Seoul. I think there's almost nobody around here who would rather go thirsty or hungry than take something wrapped in plastic. What would it take to make it so that thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people would put down their foot and say ‘I won't take anything shipped using fossil fuels, I won't take anything wrapped in plastic, I'll have nothing to do with coal or petroleum'?

Roger Hallam:

Ok. So, what you're asking here is basically a social scientific question. What we need to look at is how do you fundamentally change the behavior of a government and how do you fundamentally change the behavior of a society.

And those two questions of course are closely interrelated, and I would argue that they happen at the same time. So it's not like you have to change society first and then the government will change, or you have to change a government first and then society will change. We need to get beyond these sorts of binaries. What we're looking at here is the body of a society that is interconnected, so we have to challenge the government and at the same time to challenge society. And the research seems to indicate that there is a most effective way to do this is. It requires collective action, because we're dealing with a collective problem. Individual action is not insignificant but we're fundamentally dealing with a collective problem that has to be remedied by government policy, like the electrification of the economy, or the insulation of the housing stock. These are major infrastructural projects. That's a matter of basic economics. Ok, so we have established that we need to engage in collective actions to change collective behavior.

So the next question is how to engage in the most effective collective action. And how do you build that collective action? I would suggest that this requires three things.

First of all, it requires disruption. That's the first sort of Rubicon that we have to cross—to get our head round. We have to cross that sort of line, go from staying within the law to breaking the law. Breaking the law fundamentally means disrupting society. So that means closing down a city, painting on a wall, refusing to pay your taxes – these are all forms of collective law breaking.

If you want to study the literature, there's a guy called Gene Sharp and he researched about two hundred ways in which people break the law of governments in order to bring about fundamental change. So there's a whole range of things one can do, but the fundamental point is there has to be disruption. Closely related to disruption is the notion of sacrifice. So you must change people's hearts and minds as much as you affect their economic interests.

We're not just economic, material beings, we're also emotional beings. And when we see people disrupt our interests and they're willing to sacrifice their liberty for that disruption, then it basically pulls at our conscience, to be blunt.

Now this is not true for everyone, and not all at the same time. But there's substantial evidence to show that people change when they see people are willing to suffer for their beliefs, particularly people that were on your side but have decided to join the disruption, if you see what I mean.

So for instance, during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, there was a hundred thousand people in Tahrir Square. They were suffering because the police were pulling them away and hitting them on the head, and then hundreds of thousands of their friends, relatives and people from their cultural groups said, "I am not standing by and watching this, I am going to support them."

So you have then what's know as the backfiring effect, which is if the opponent decides to repress you because of your disruption, then instead of getting people off the streets, more people come on the streets. You're familiar with that of course in Korea, right? You know, you've had several examples of mass participation, civil disobedience.

The state tries to get people off the street and more people come on. So the third issue is respect. And this again comes back to a fundamental aspect of human psychology which is that if you insult someone you're opposed to, even if they sort of agree with you, they will not support you later because they're upset by how they've been treated.

We all like to be liked and respected. That is vital, from a practical point of view, as much as it is from a moral point of view. We need to treat opponents with respect. That does not mean agreeing with them. What it means is being civil in our language. So we say, "We're here in the streets." That's the disruption. "We are willing to go to prison." That's the sacrifice, and "We respect that you don't agree with us, but this is what we want." That is the respect.

So that's the optimal design. Now, obviously, you can still be successful without optimizing your design, and even if you optimize your design, you're not guaranteed to be successful. So what Extinction Rebellion is saying is that ‘this is the optimal way of doing it'. The other thing to consider is how you get from you in your room in Korea thinking ‘what should I do' through to a hundred thousand people on the streets of Seoul or whereever.

And that basically requires an interaction between community organizing and collective disruptive action. So you have to go out and talk to people, and this is what a lot of intellectuals forget. It's not about getting the ideas right. Sure you've got to get the ideas right, but getting the ideas right, in and of itself, is completely ineffectual in actually leading to political change. What you have to do is get out into the society, into town halls, into village greens, into the public parks, hold public meetings and tell people the truth about the climate emergency, tell people the most effective way to make it change and, critically, give people the space to talk to each other about how they feel about the situation. And lastly, create what's called a "pathway to action" so that at the end of the meeting, when they've cried because they've suddenly realized their children are going to die if nothing happens, then they know there's a way to do something about it.

The way to do something about it is to engage in disruption and in sacrifice and the action needs to be specific, to go out on the streets for two months' time. We're going to sit on the streets, and we're going to make a fuss, as you might say. And then once you've done that, you go back into your villages, towns and cities, and you mobilize again. And then you come back, and you do it again.

So there should be an interaction between the two methods of mobilization and action. That is the most effective way to mobilize. If you just do action, then you're not going to be able to mobilize people; if you're just mobilizing and do no action, people will get bored and discouraged, and then they will leave your movement. There's a lot more nitty gritty, but those are the fundamentals.

Emanuel Pastreich:

So what would it take? You mentioned young people. Obviously this is about young people. What would it take…I can't think in Seoul, or in New York for that matter, of any examples where young people say,

"I won't go to school unless my school is run without fossil fuels."

I haven't seen that sort of a demand made. So do you imagine this blocking the road or stopping commerce will then change people's awareness so that they'll think "I can't conscience going to school, I can't conscience getting a plastic-wrapped sandwich, I can't conscience driving or taking aeroplanes?"

Roger Hallam:

Well, you must not confuse your present level of skepticism and disempowerment with an inability to create political change.

Political change has been created many, many, times over the last two hundred years. So the sophisticated view is that it's difficult but not impossible.

To say that it's easy is naïve; to say that it's impossible is simply sociologically incorrect. So the question is how to maximize the probability of increasing mobilization in a political and social context.

So you're there sitting in Korea, and the question is, "what action are you going to take in order to get to the next step?"

So it's a step-by-step process. And there are some fundamental principles. The one fundamental principle is that you alternate between action and mobilization.

The other major principle is to start with what you've got and build from there. So there's no point just getting everyone to spend a Friday going on strike, because that's not going to get us anywhere

Kids going on strike will be the first step. You can't jump from nothing to revolution in one step. It's simply not a very intelligent way of going about your analysis. What we need to do is to think about what we can do with the resources we've got.

So what I'd suggest you and other people who are watching this video do is to get out a piece of paper and look at your resources. You've got 24 hours in a day, you've got a certain amount of money, and you've got a certain amount of commitments that you have to fulfill to live, and beyond that you have a certain amount of resources you can apply.

So, for instance, you could tomorrow decide to hold a public meeting on the climate crisis in a school, and then you could present what you might call a menu of options for action to the pupils, one of which is to join the global movement towards for Friday strikes. So then you could get a few hundred people on social media to agree to go on strike on Fridays in Korea.

It's an improvement, but we all know that's not going to change things in itself.

However, we are now in the process of mobilization. So we've been in this situation in the United Kingdom for 4 or 5 months. And I spoke to an activist in January, and she said what you've just said, we've got all these kids, there's a few dozen kids in Birmingham, 50 kids in Manchester, there's 2 or 3 hundred kids in London who are doing this Friday thing, and obviously that's not that good.

But I said, that's great. What we need to do now is move to the next step.

The next step is to create a single day when people mobilize in a single place and make a statement. So set a date of the 15th February for lots of mobilizations in particular cities, in 4 or 5 places around the UK. And to it spread on social media, and we thought we'd have about 300 kids, right, but in fact 5,000 kids turned up. So then you've moved up a step.

And the next step is to suggest to these kids that going on strike on Fridays is fantastic, but it's not actually going to make the elites change their behavior. We have to step up from that. So in the office that I'm in today, there are 30 guys who are going to engage in sustained civil disobedience. So it's perfectly possible that we can get to 2 or 3 thousand young people in London who will block the streets of London for several days running. At that point, we will be in the game part of what it means to change the regime's behavior.

We're about 50% there. Now where we need to have 20,000 young people blockading London for ten days. I would predict that will get us in the ballpark of the government deciding to insulate the housing stock. See what I mean? Do you see how it goes?

Emanuel Pastreich:

I understand, but for some naïve people like myself it would seem that it would be better for the students to just say something concrete like "we won't go to school at all until you insulate it."

Roger Hallam:

So we musn't get too hung up on different forms of disruption. What we're looking at is disruption that works. That's the criteria. There are several different things that work. What Gene Sharp wrote in "Social Power and Political Freedom" is that there are two hundred things that can work: people can go on hunger strike; people can refuse to go to school; people stop paying pay their taxes; people can boycott shops. There's a whole range of different approaches.

The point is the process through which you get to a critical mass. That process is what makes that mechanism effective. It is basically a numbers' game. If five students decide not to go to school anymore that's very virtuous but it isn't going to be effective. We might make a prediction that 20 or 30,000 pupils in Korea need to stop going to school for, let's say, a month, in order for us to get into a room with the government and force the government to insulate the housing stock in Korea. So that's probably something like a 6 – 9 month process, starting with you talking to me now.

So it's not like it's going to happen tomorrow, but it's not going to take 5 years either. So again, we must be nuanced in our analysis, we mustn't get over enthusiastic because then we'll get bitter but we shouldn't be cynical either.



What we need to do is to be responsible analysts and just make a plan. And that's why I'm suggesting that you and the people that watch this video make a plan. I'm not going to tell you what that plan should consist of, because someone in Taiwan or Japan, is going to know a lot better than me, what the potentials are.



And I would suggest that you, as activists, don't know either. A plan is basically the thing that starts you off. If you go into the schools in Korea and say, "Look guys you've got to take disruptive action" and they opt for blocking the streets of Seoul rather than going on strike, it doesn't matter, right? What's important is that they decide. And you are there to facilitate their mobilization.

We shouldn't get too hung up on tactics.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Just a word about the last point about going global. This has been an excellent conversation. But obviously, two middle-aged male academics speaking to each other is limited. It's maybe a place to get the ball rolling. But when we look at the climate catastrophe, we can be sure that China, has to be a very large part of it. It has to take place in China, in India, in Indonesia and in other countries around the world--in their languages, by their people. Strategically what do you think is the next step? How do we move forward? We obviously don't want it to be a tea party of Oxford professors. How do we move to that next stage?

Roger Hallam:

Okay, excellent question. That's the most important question of our conversation. Because, you know, the world starts to change from this movement, from this moment of me and you talking now.

The world starts to change from the moment people watch this video. This single moment in time and space, in the universe is critical. It should send a tingle down your spine, right? It's like: this is it!

We are in this amazing situation of being, you know, conscious beings, who are able to consciously design their existence.

So, what does this mean? It means that next week there will be a major, non-violent confrontation which is going to be in the global news. That, I will predict is going to inspire 100,000 people around the world who will want to engage in disruptive sacrificial action on a collective scale to bring about radical change and to maximize the probability of us not going extinct—to be technical about it. They are going to get something to happen, alright?

So what I would suggest that those people will fill out or should fill out a form on the global website/ and that those people will come to you in Korea, or will come to the guys in Japan or in Taiwan. People like Jonathan, who's coordinating with you can liaison on that practical question.

So the next step, I suggest is for people have big online meetings. Maybe there will be a hundred people in the meeting, and I'm going to talk in some detail here, because the details count. So I hope that's okay with you.



Emanuel Pastreich:

I wanted to show you, if you don't mind--just one second. So here's one of my stickers. I don't know if you can see that. It's in English and I have some that say, "no plastic," for example in Korean, or "No silence on Climate Change." I try to stick them all over the subways and bathrooms and things. And I have a few friends who have been helping me. These are some of the little things we've been doing here.

Roger Hallam:

Well they're all fantastic but, what we need to understand

Emanuel Pastreich:

Please

Roger Hallam:

Is that the process of mobilization is the interaction, the optimal interaction of different elements like organization and action. So what you've shown me there is action, but there's no organization. If there's no pathway to organization then it won't take off. I mean it could, but it won't take off substantially.

So to go back to our topic, what we're going to be engaging in over the next few days is a major collective action on the streets of London. That action is going to bring to you, for the sake of argument, five hundred to a thousand people in Korea who are inspired by that action and want to take action in Korea.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Exactly.

Roger Hallam:

They're not going to stick around unless there's a pathway to action in Korea. So the optimal way to actually get them involved in mass participation, civil disobedience as it were, would be to have an online meeting in Korea where myself, or other people from XR, go through the things we are discussing in this video so that they understand the social science of political success in terms of a social movement. And that will mean that they then meet face to face in different cities around Korea (this applies to Japan or to China) they will have a direction. So the next step after that is for them they decide on a program of mobilization and action so that they'll do the standard talk that we have devised in the UK. Obviously they may wish to adapt it to local circumstances and contexts and traditions and what-have-you, but fundamentally the talk consists of telling the people the truth about climate change, the truth about the social science, which is that mass participation in civil disobedience is the most effective way of changing society at this stage of emergency.

And thirdly to give people a pathway to action which might be something like a mass sit down in the cities of Korea, or it might be school students going on strike for one day a week. You know in lots of different schools and we can advise as to what would be most effective and then they can go and do the action. Then those acts are on social media and appear in the press in Korea, and there's a link to the website in Korea where people can fill out a form.

Then there will be another online meeting people where are told how Extinction Rebellion works, and then they enter face-to-face meetings and then they undertake collective action again, and again.

Do you see what I mean? So it's an upward spiral and obviously it's a matter of getting that to work. But the fundamental point of our conversation is to understand this process.

It's not sufficient for you to stick stickers around Seoul, in itself. What we're talking about here is an ecology--do you see what I mean? You can feel virtuous about sticking your stickers up, and there's no disrespect intended here, it's a fantastic idea. I go up sticking stickers around London. The point is that you have to create a system a social system which involves people coming together, people doing collective action and more people coming into that system and engaging in more transgressive action. What you need to understand is that this is a nonlinear process when you're faced with an existential crisis.

In other words, this is something that, when people realize that their children are going to die if this isn't sorted out, you will have a hundred thousand Koreans on the streets of Seoul. I can guarantee that, right? It's just a matter of time.

Emanuel Pastreich:

If you can get that message across.

Roger Hallam:

That's right. It's a process of maximizing that point. And of course there's a big moral imperative to do this quickly because if it takes too long we're not even going to be able to sort it out in time even if we want to do it right. So this is where we have a moral responsibility to follow the social science, you know. Instead of thinking that this hasn't been researched, we should know that it has.

So that's what I would suggest to people. I would suggest to people watching this that if they feel the call, maybe you should put your email on this call at the end so that people have a pathway to action. They need to be able to contact you or me, and I suggest we liaise with you on facilitating mass online meetings over the next two weeks. That would be my orientation.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Well Roger, I'd like to thank you for taking the time today to talk to us a little bit about Extinction Rebellion. WE are very excited about the opportunities for all the people watching us today to join up, to link up with people around the world, and in their neighborhoods, and also do it themselves, every moment of the day.

Roger Hallam:

Yeah! I would like say to the people watching this video, concretely, that XR has a website. It's an international website so hopefully you can access it one way or another. Or if you put your website, Emanuel, then they can contact you directly. One way or another, there's a pathway to action after you watch this video and then we can all get together online. And obviously there's no pressure; people can do whatever they'd like, but if people want to follow what we've argued is the best way to transform our societies quickly, then they should start taking action together. That would be a great thing to do, right? So let's all work together--and thank you so much!

Emanuel Pastreich:

It's a great thing to do, but also we have no choice. We can't worry about hurting anybody's feelings. We have to speak the truth.

Roger Hallam:

Speak the truth and act as if the truth is real.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Thanks so much!

Roger Hallam:

Thanks for listening to me. Thanks so much.


Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam
Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam



By Emanuel Pastreich

The global movement for peaceful disobedience to force society in general, and government in specific, to undertake a revolutionary response to the catastrophe of climate change is sweeping swept the Earth like wildfire. Extinction Rebellion was an unfamiliar term even a few weeks ago, but now this movement to radically alter the debate on climate change and compel people to act has gained tremendous momentum. The current general strike in London could well permanently alter the popular and the official discourse on environmental policy.


A central figure in the founding of Extinction Rebellion was Roger Hallam. Of course there are many other intellectuals involved in campaigns to address climate change, but rarely does one find a person in the movement who is also an expert on how to shift public discourse radically and rapidly, as opposed to an expert on the details of climate change policy.

That is to say that Roger Hallam is a researcher at King's College London who has spent years studying the most pertinent point for us at this late date: how to design effective radical political campaigns.

Roger Hallam took a moment to speak with Asia Institute about the background of this general strike and its explicit, and implicit, message. His comments give profound insights into the nature of the fix in which humanity finds itself today and a taste of future in politics now that we know that Kyoto Protocols and Paris Accords offer no hope of saving us from ourselves.

The interview offers bittersweet insights into human nature. I was reminded of the comments made by Gus Speth, a Yale professor who tried to address this problem through the standard role of advisor to the government. Gus Seth remarked,

"I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that."

We will soon see how successful Hallam and his Extinction Rebellion are in their mass protests in London. They have, however, already have altered the debate on climate change policy. We will see transformed environmental movement beyond Al Gore and laughable carbon trading as we enter the next stage of this fight for time against human apathy and selfishness.



Emanuel Pastreich:

What's the mood right now at Extinction Rebellion as you prepare for the general strike in London and the following global movement to end the use of fossil fuels immediately, and not in thirty years?

Roger Hallam:

Well, let me first say that a bunch of people helped to found Extinction Rebellion, for the record. Having said that, I was responsible for doing a paper called "Pivoting to the Real Issue" last January for the "Rising Up Network," which is this network of activists, academics, and researchers who are involved in setting up Extinction Rebellion and who are engaged in the process, in the deep thinking, about how exactly we're going to sort this dire situation out.

So nine, ten months later, we're here in April, 2019, about to embark on what may well turn out to be the first major, significant, nonviolent uprising against a Western government. What can I say? There's a certain amount of excitement and nervousness.

This isn't just a verbal exercise, like most climate change activism. It's going to involve primarily occupying around five different roundabouts or bridges, with several thousand people. The intention is to stay there until the government meets with, I expect, young people from Britain and from around the world to seriously discuss the climate emergency and the imminent ecological breakdown.

If they don't, then we will be expanding our civil disobedience to start blockading the roads coming into Westminster. That is an essential government area of London.

And if that doesn't wake them up, then we will start blocking two trains in railway stations. So we're looking at a major escalation of civil disobedience, and we may well be all arrested and imprisoned by the end of the week. But we're all here to make a stand and to wake society up.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In that process of protesting, will there be a space for people who want to get out of the fossil fuel economy? For example, people who want to eat food produced without the use of fossil fuels? What about people who want to live a life that doesn't force us to use plastics, petroleum, or coal?

Roger Hallam:

This is my personal interpretation: it's not necessary to set a line about every little detail. Feel free to get the take of other people in future videos.

But my understanding of Extinction Rebellion is that our primary goal is to create a political space through which people of various countries can come together and decide whether they want to live or die in the next thirty years. To be blunt, that is the primary question for the human race at this point is: "Do we want to carry on as normal and die – or more particularly, do we want our children to die?" Hopefully the answer is, we want to live. If you want to live, there's a whole range of technical, political, and social questions on how we're going to maximize the probability that we're going to get through this massive crisis at this late stage of the game.

Extinction Rebellion is a broad church of people. We may disagree about the nitty-gritty details, but we're coming together through disruption and sacrifice, and through mass political action that breaks the law. It's the most effective way in our view – and, arguably, objectively – to actually create a crisis in society. I hope we all know, without a social crisis, it's not going to get sorted out. We're supposed to be reducing carbon emissions by 50% in the next ten years. There's no way that's going to be brought about by incremental, conventional political action.

I'm a political scientist at King's College, and in my scholarly opinion, it's a no-brainer that this is not going to happen through business-as-usual. No matter your political opinion or viewpoint, this is a matter of structural sociology. Societies don't change rapidly without disruption, unfortunately.

To come back to your main question, the idea is to create this space. We're not top-down. We're not: "You've got to follow us concerning the solution." We're here to create the space where we can democratically come together and decide what specific policies and transformations are necessary.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In the discussion about climate change, it's rather shocking how in many societies around the world, you have highly-educated, progressive intellectuals who have been entirely willing to downplay climate catastrophe and even take indirect kickbacks from fossil fuel interest-funded organizations. What went wrong with intellectuals?

Roger Hallam:

Well, the fact of the matter is, from a psychological reset point, individuals tend not to believe things they don't like. That's something of a downer. A lot of us, particularly in the West, have this rather naïve notion that through rationality and individual calculus, we can decide what to do, and we're not influenced by the world around us. Unfortunately, the evidence points to the opposite. If we're in a particular social context which is doing something highly dysfunctional objectively, it's actually very difficult for us to extract ourselves. It's particularly hard for us to extract ourselves if we're from a privileged social group that benefits from that dysfunction in the short term. It's a slight paradox in that the more intelligent you are, likely the richer you are, and the richer you are, the less likely it is you want to hear the message. So we in the UK are doing hundreds of talks around the country.

The supposedly not very intelligent normal people grasp the reality much quicker than the supposedly very intelligent, intellectual people who are more embedded in this death cult process of elites.

Emanuel Pastreich:

It's an extremely serious problem. I'll give you an example. There are piles of these progressive, leftist – I hate all these terms, but I'll use them – websites that talk about imperialism, foreign wars…but they tip-toe around, or even ignore, climate change. The most interesting to me has been in the US, where the far-left Socialist Equality Party's website talks about how capitalists are crushing the unions in automobile factories. But they don't say a word about making automobiles.

Roger Hallam:

I think we've got a big problem, and the big problem is that for several hundred years, we've taken nature as a given that can be exploited without any consequence. That's actually been correct insomuch as nature doesn't have a conscious sort of mind that decides it's being exploited of and fights back, like the working class, as you might say. Nature doesn't have a conscious decision-making process like human beings.

However, that's got a plus and a minus. The plus is that we've been able to exploit it without any consequences. The minus is that now it's going to destroy us and we can't reason with it. We can't go to nature and say: "Sorry, we've realized we've been screwing you for the last two, three hundred years. Can you please put the ice back in the Arctic?" The ice is going in the Arctic, whether we're remorseful or not. We're in this situation where people on the left and the right have just not come to terms with some of the fundamentals of human existence, because for hundreds of years – and particularly in the last forty years – we've been screwing nature and we haven't been realizing that nature is about to screw us.

So it's not surprising. It comes back to your culture. If you're embedded in a particular culture, it's extremely psychologically unpleasant to realize that you've been completely wrong. We all know that in our personal lives. I'm not trying to be moralistic here; I'm just being analytical.

We have habits. We drink. We take drugs, or are abusive to people. At a certain point, we have a moment of reckoning and it is extremely difficult to realize. This is what's happening on a social and political level. We thought the world was A, but it's actually B. This is as true for people on the left as it is for people on the right. This is not going to change without mass disruption. That's just the way it is at this stage of the game.

Emanuel Pastreich:

We live in an age of glitzy, exciting technologies like the video chat we're using right now. Technology seems to be expanding exponentially. However, scientific thinking and analysis seems to be in a free fall. How is it that humans have lost the ability to think scientifically?

Roger Hallam:

Well, I feel like I've sort of answered that, insomuch as human beings can be as intelligent as you like, but at the end of the day, we're social beings. We live in a social space. Basically, our psychology trumps our rationality. If people around us are doing bad things, we'll tend to do bad things as well, even if we're supposed to be quite intelligent.

Now, obviously there are outliers like yourself or me who have come to this realization. But now, as things become worse and worse, there's a tipping point in a system where a critical mass of people realize that things have gotten so bad. They start to realize that just because they don't like something doesn't mean it isn't true. So we're at this stage and that's why Extinction Rebellion has really come along. There's enough people now who want to confront the reality of the situation.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Recently, there's been a lot of coverage in the media about this representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal. Having read some of the material in depth, it seems it's so full of holes you could drive a supertanker through it. And yet, within the so-called progressive political groups, it's a sacred cow. No one's actually willing to poke it or see what this really means. Is that Green New Deal really addressing what is actually required?

Roger Hallam:

You can expect there's going to be an attempt to sort of deal with the ecological crisis while still maintaining the fiction that we can maintain an exploitative relationship with nature. I think part of the response of the left is to say that we can still have it really good, and we can question whether the good actually is good. We can still maintain consumer lifestyles and still deal with the crisis. There's strong evidence that that's no longer possible because of the extremity of the situation. I think we need to be clear that we're already heading to over two degrees centigrade.

Let's talk about the science for a minute. It's important that we realize that the Paris Agreement is based on a fundamental flaw of not taking account of locked-in temperature increases from the carbon lag, carbon already coming into the system, and global dimming, the effect of pollution leaving the atmosphere—and the temperatures warming up. That's before we add on the effect of the Arctic ice melting and the exponential increase in temperatures that that process will bring about.

We're already in a major crisis. The idea that we can simply maintain our lifestyles and maintain our vision--it's not going to work.

Having said that, I think it's a good sign that progressive people are starting to at least talk about the real issue, as I said last January in my paper "Pivoting to the Real Issue." The real issue is, every progressive change that we've had in the last two hundred years is now in danger of coming to nothing because soon society will collapse. There's a good chance our species will go extinct. There's no progressive culture without a human race.

Emanuel Pastreich:

I have another question about this debate in politics on conservatism. So many of the media reports that I've read say: "Well, we have these conservatives that have different values, that oppose our climate change policies, so we need to convince them over time and get them to see the light." But it seems to me, based upon what I've seen so far, that we have a small group of corporations who pushed a dangerous substance, which they knew was dangerous for the environment at least since the 1980s—so for forty or fifty years.

If you or I did that, even on a smaller scale, we'd be in jail tomorrow and all of our assets would be seized. So why do we call this criminal conspiracy "conservatism?"

Roger Hallam:

The rich and powerful can get away with a lot, as we all know. We can spend a lot of time congratulating ourselves on how bad the bad guys are. There's a lot of people on the radical and progressive left who enjoy analyzing how "bad" the bad guys are. And that's important. It's important to know why bad people are doing bad things.

With all due respect, that's not the critical issue here. The critical issue is: we have ten years to revolutionize our economy if we're going to survive. And I think what we need to focus on is the practicality of rapid political change. That means looking at a different literature from the literature that tells us how "bad" the bad people are.

The biggest problem with political people is they're not reading he right literature at this stage of the game. They're not talking about the right things. What I suggest we need to do is to talk about how we're going to make this change happen, which happens to be what I specialize in as an academic. And the proposition of Extinction Rebellion, broadly speaking, is: the most effective way to change society – actually to do something about these people and to do something about the power of the rich and powerful to destroy our children – is to engage in mass-participation civil disobedience. This is a fundamental point about Extinction Rebellion.

We're moving away from analysis. We're moving away from information, and we're moving away from conventional campaigning, sending e-mails, sending donations, paying lobbyists…all that stuff. We're not saying there's something intrinsically wrong with that, or even that it doesn't have some effect. There's many good people doing this work. But the point we're saying is that, objectively, we're going to transform the economy in ten years.

It's not going to work. And we have evidence for that, which is, over the last 30 years, carbon emissions have gone up by 60% globally. They're still going up 1.6% in 2017, 2.7% in 2018…in other words, we've got a catastrophically dire situation insomuch as we want to understand the science.

That requires us, therefore, to engage in the most effective mechanism to bring about change, which is to break the law on a mass scale in order to create a political crisis both in society, so society starts to understand that it has obligations as well as rights, and in the government and the political class. So the political class starts to understand it has an obligation to protect the people. And if it doesn't undertake that obligation, then it no longer will have any political legitimacy to maintain its power. That's the general framework.

Emanuel Pastreich:

To some degree that argument to break the law, to be convincing, requires us to say that the law itself is immoral. It is similar to the move to abolish slavery. Slavery was legal and many people accepted it as a good part of the economy; it produced cheap energy, just like fossil fuels. But the process of opposing slavery, and eventually making it illegal, required people to understand that the law itself was immoral.

Roger Hallam:

Absolutely. And the slavery analogy is very close to the climate catastrophe. In the case of slavery, the people whose rights were fundamentally violated were black people. In the climate change situation, the people whose rights are being violated are young people, because it is young people's world that is going to be destroyed and ultimately, they are going to die.

So we might say that there is a fundamental moral law in all human societies which is, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Now that is a Christian orientation, but I am sure you can find it in other traditions.

Emanuel Pastreich:

It is the code of Hammurabi.

Roger Hallam:

It is a no-brainer. And it is closely related to the most important trans-cultural moral obligation which is to provide for your children. So I think there is amble moral and political justification for going into rebellion and revolution against a regime that violates those fundamental laws in an obscene way. And that's where we're up against at this stage, is it not?

Emanuel Pastreich:

So what would it take for me to change things? I've now started to refuse to take anything in plastic, for example, but this makes me one in a million in Seoul. I think there's almost nobody around here who would rather go thirsty or hungry than take something wrapped in plastic. What would it take to make it so that thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people would put down their foot and say ‘I won't take anything shipped using fossil fuels, I won't take anything wrapped in plastic, I'll have nothing to do with coal or petroleum'?

Roger Hallam:

Ok. So, what you're asking here is basically a social scientific question. What we need to look at is how do you fundamentally change the behavior of a government and how do you fundamentally change the behavior of a society.

And those two questions of course are closely interrelated, and I would argue that they happen at the same time. So it's not like you have to change society first and then the government will change, or you have to change a government first and then society will change. We need to get beyond these sorts of binaries. What we're looking at here is the body of a society that is interconnected, so we have to challenge the government and at the same time to challenge society. And the research seems to indicate that there is a most effective way to do this is. It requires collective action, because we're dealing with a collective problem. Individual action is not insignificant but we're fundamentally dealing with a collective problem that has to be remedied by government policy, like the electrification of the economy, or the insulation of the housing stock. These are major infrastructural projects. That's a matter of basic economics. Ok, so we have established that we need to engage in collective actions to change collective behavior.

So the next question is how to engage in the most effective collective action. And how do you build that collective action? I would suggest that this requires three things.

First of all, it requires disruption. That's the first sort of Rubicon that we have to cross—to get our head round. We have to cross that sort of line, go from staying within the law to breaking the law. Breaking the law fundamentally means disrupting society. So that means closing down a city, painting on a wall, refusing to pay your taxes – these are all forms of collective law breaking.

If you want to study the literature, there's a guy called Gene Sharp and he researched about two hundred ways in which people break the law of governments in order to bring about fundamental change. So there's a whole range of things one can do, but the fundamental point is there has to be disruption. Closely related to disruption is the notion of sacrifice. So you must change people's hearts and minds as much as you affect their economic interests.

We're not just economic, material beings, we're also emotional beings. And when we see people disrupt our interests and they're willing to sacrifice their liberty for that disruption, then it basically pulls at our conscience, to be blunt.

Now this is not true for everyone, and not all at the same time. But there's substantial evidence to show that people change when they see people are willing to suffer for their beliefs, particularly people that were on your side but have decided to join the disruption, if you see what I mean.

So for instance, during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, there was a hundred thousand people in Tahrir Square. They were suffering because the police were pulling them away and hitting them on the head, and then hundreds of thousands of their friends, relatives and people from their cultural groups said, "I am not standing by and watching this, I am going to support them."

So you have then what's know as the backfiring effect, which is if the opponent decides to repress you because of your disruption, then instead of getting people off the streets, more people come on the streets. You're familiar with that of course in Korea, right? You know, you've had several examples of mass participation, civil disobedience.

The state tries to get people off the street and more people come on. So the third issue is respect. And this again comes back to a fundamental aspect of human psychology which is that if you insult someone you're opposed to, even if they sort of agree with you, they will not support you later because they're upset by how they've been treated.

We all like to be liked and respected. That is vital, from a practical point of view, as much as it is from a moral point of view. We need to treat opponents with respect. That does not mean agreeing with them. What it means is being civil in our language. So we say, "We're here in the streets." That's the disruption. "We are willing to go to prison." That's the sacrifice, and "We respect that you don't agree with us, but this is what we want." That is the respect.

So that's the optimal design. Now, obviously, you can still be successful without optimizing your design, and even if you optimize your design, you're not guaranteed to be successful. So what Extinction Rebellion is saying is that ‘this is the optimal way of doing it'. The other thing to consider is how you get from you in your room in Korea thinking ‘what should I do' through to a hundred thousand people on the streets of Seoul or whereever.

And that basically requires an interaction between community organizing and collective disruptive action. So you have to go out and talk to people, and this is what a lot of intellectuals forget. It's not about getting the ideas right. Sure you've got to get the ideas right, but getting the ideas right, in and of itself, is completely ineffectual in actually leading to political change. What you have to do is get out into the society, into town halls, into village greens, into the public parks, hold public meetings and tell people the truth about the climate emergency, tell people the most effective way to make it change and, critically, give people the space to talk to each other about how they feel about the situation. And lastly, create what's called a "pathway to action" so that at the end of the meeting, when they've cried because they've suddenly realized their children are going to die if nothing happens, then they know there's a way to do something about it.

The way to do something about it is to engage in disruption and in sacrifice and the action needs to be specific, to go out on the streets for two months' time. We're going to sit on the streets, and we're going to make a fuss, as you might say. And then once you've done that, you go back into your villages, towns and cities, and you mobilize again. And then you come back, and you do it again.

So there should be an interaction between the two methods of mobilization and action. That is the most effective way to mobilize. If you just do action, then you're not going to be able to mobilize people; if you're just mobilizing and do no action, people will get bored and discouraged, and then they will leave your movement. There's a lot more nitty gritty, but those are the fundamentals.

Emanuel Pastreich:

So what would it take? You mentioned young people. Obviously this is about young people. What would it take…I can't think in Seoul, or in New York for that matter, of any examples where young people say,

"I won't go to school unless my school is run without fossil fuels."

I haven't seen that sort of a demand made. So do you imagine this blocking the road or stopping commerce will then change people's awareness so that they'll think "I can't conscience going to school, I can't conscience getting a plastic-wrapped sandwich, I can't conscience driving or taking aeroplanes?"

Roger Hallam:

Well, you must not confuse your present level of skepticism and disempowerment with an inability to create political change.

Political change has been created many, many, times over the last two hundred years. So the sophisticated view is that it's difficult but not impossible.

To say that it's easy is naïve; to say that it's impossible is simply sociologically incorrect. So the question is how to maximize the probability of increasing mobilization in a political and social context.

So you're there sitting in Korea, and the question is, "what action are you going to take in order to get to the next step?"

So it's a step-by-step process. And there are some fundamental principles. The one fundamental principle is that you alternate between action and mobilization.

The other major principle is to start with what you've got and build from there. So there's no point just getting everyone to spend a Friday going on strike, because that's not going to get us anywhere

Kids going on strike will be the first step. You can't jump from nothing to revolution in one step. It's simply not a very intelligent way of going about your analysis. What we need to do is to think about what we can do with the resources we've got.

So what I'd suggest you and other people who are watching this video do is to get out a piece of paper and look at your resources. You've got 24 hours in a day, you've got a certain amount of money, and you've got a certain amount of commitments that you have to fulfill to live, and beyond that you have a certain amount of resources you can apply.

So, for instance, you could tomorrow decide to hold a public meeting on the climate crisis in a school, and then you could present what you might call a menu of options for action to the pupils, one of which is to join the global movement towards for Friday strikes. So then you could get a few hundred people on social media to agree to go on strike on Fridays in Korea.

It's an improvement, but we all know that's not going to change things in itself.

However, we are now in the process of mobilization. So we've been in this situation in the United Kingdom for 4 or 5 months. And I spoke to an activist in January, and she said what you've just said, we've got all these kids, there's a few dozen kids in Birmingham, 50 kids in Manchester, there's 2 or 3 hundred kids in London who are doing this Friday thing, and obviously that's not that good.

But I said, that's great. What we need to do now is move to the next step.

The next step is to create a single day when people mobilize in a single place and make a statement. So set a date of the 15th February for lots of mobilizations in particular cities, in 4 or 5 places around the UK. And to it spread on social media, and we thought we'd have about 300 kids, right, but in fact 5,000 kids turned up. So then you've moved up a step.

And the next step is to suggest to these kids that going on strike on Fridays is fantastic, but it's not actually going to make the elites change their behavior. We have to step up from that. So in the office that I'm in today, there are 30 guys who are going to engage in sustained civil disobedience. So it's perfectly possible that we can get to 2 or 3 thousand young people in London who will block the streets of London for several days running. At that point, we will be in the game part of what it means to change the regime's behavior.

We're about 50% there. Now where we need to have 20,000 young people blockading London for ten days. I would predict that will get us in the ballpark of the government deciding to insulate the housing stock. See what I mean? Do you see how it goes?

Emanuel Pastreich:

I understand, but for some naïve people like myself it would seem that it would be better for the students to just say something concrete like "we won't go to school at all until you insulate it."

Roger Hallam:

So we musn't get too hung up on different forms of disruption. What we're looking at is disruption that works. That's the criteria. There are several different things that work. What Gene Sharp wrote in "Social Power and Political Freedom" is that there are two hundred things that can work: people can go on hunger strike; people can refuse to go to school; people stop paying pay their taxes; people can boycott shops. There's a whole range of different approaches.

The point is the process through which you get to a critical mass. That process is what makes that mechanism effective. It is basically a numbers' game. If five students decide not to go to school anymore that's very virtuous but it isn't going to be effective. We might make a prediction that 20 or 30,000 pupils in Korea need to stop going to school for, let's say, a month, in order for us to get into a room with the government and force the government to insulate the housing stock in Korea. So that's probably something like a 6 – 9 month process, starting with you talking to me now.

So it's not like it's going to happen tomorrow, but it's not going to take 5 years either. So again, we must be nuanced in our analysis, we mustn't get over enthusiastic because then we'll get bitter but we shouldn't be cynical either.



What we need to do is to be responsible analysts and just make a plan. And that's why I'm suggesting that you and the people that watch this video make a plan. I'm not going to tell you what that plan should consist of, because someone in Taiwan or Japan, is going to know a lot better than me, what the potentials are.



And I would suggest that you, as activists, don't know either. A plan is basically the thing that starts you off. If you go into the schools in Korea and say, "Look guys you've got to take disruptive action" and they opt for blocking the streets of Seoul rather than going on strike, it doesn't matter, right? What's important is that they decide. And you are there to facilitate their mobilization.

We shouldn't get too hung up on tactics.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Just a word about the last point about going global. This has been an excellent conversation. But obviously, two middle-aged male academics speaking to each other is limited. It's maybe a place to get the ball rolling. But when we look at the climate catastrophe, we can be sure that China, has to be a very large part of it. It has to take place in China, in India, in Indonesia and in other countries around the world--in their languages, by their people. Strategically what do you think is the next step? How do we move forward? We obviously don't want it to be a tea party of Oxford professors. How do we move to that next stage?

Roger Hallam:

Okay, excellent question. That's the most important question of our conversation. Because, you know, the world starts to change from this movement, from this moment of me and you talking now.

The world starts to change from the moment people watch this video. This single moment in time and space, in the universe is critical. It should send a tingle down your spine, right? It's like: this is it!

We are in this amazing situation of being, you know, conscious beings, who are able to consciously design their existence.

So, what does this mean? It means that next week there will be a major, non-violent confrontation which is going to be in the global news. That, I will predict is going to inspire 100,000 people around the world who will want to engage in disruptive sacrificial action on a collective scale to bring about radical change and to maximize the probability of us not going extinct—to be technical about it. They are going to get something to happen, alright?

So what I would suggest that those people will fill out or should fill out a form on the global website/ and that those people will come to you in Korea, or will come to the guys in Japan or in Taiwan. People like Jonathan, who's coordinating with you can liaison on that practical question.

So the next step, I suggest is for people have big online meetings. Maybe there will be a hundred people in the meeting, and I'm going to talk in some detail here, because the details count. So I hope that's okay with you.



Emanuel Pastreich:

I wanted to show you, if you don't mind--just one second. So here's one of my stickers. I don't know if you can see that. It's in English and I have some that say, "no plastic," for example in Korean, or "No silence on Climate Change." I try to stick them all over the subways and bathrooms and things. And I have a few friends who have been helping me. These are some of the little things we've been doing here.

Roger Hallam:

Well they're all fantastic but, what we need to understand

Emanuel Pastreich:

Please

Roger Hallam:

Is that the process of mobilization is the interaction, the optimal interaction of different elements like organization and action. So what you've shown me there is action, but there's no organization. If there's no pathway to organization then it won't take off. I mean it could, but it won't take off substantially.

So to go back to our topic, what we're going to be engaging in over the next few days is a major collective action on the streets of London. That action is going to bring to you, for the sake of argument, five hundred to a thousand people in Korea who are inspired by that action and want to take action in Korea.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Exactly.

Roger Hallam:

They're not going to stick around unless there's a pathway to action in Korea. So the optimal way to actually get them involved in mass participation, civil disobedience as it were, would be to have an online meeting in Korea where myself, or other people from XR, go through the things we are discussing in this video so that they understand the social science of political success in terms of a social movement. And that will mean that they then meet face to face in different cities around Korea (this applies to Japan or to China) they will have a direction. So the next step after that is for them they decide on a program of mobilization and action so that they'll do the standard talk that we have devised in the UK. Obviously they may wish to adapt it to local circumstances and contexts and traditions and what-have-you, but fundamentally the talk consists of telling the people the truth about climate change, the truth about the social science, which is that mass participation in civil disobedience is the most effective way of changing society at this stage of emergency.

And thirdly to give people a pathway to action which might be something like a mass sit down in the cities of Korea, or it might be school students going on strike for one day a week. You know in lots of different schools and we can advise as to what would be most effective and then they can go and do the action. Then those acts are on social media and appear in the press in Korea, and there's a link to the website in Korea where people can fill out a form.

Then there will be another online meeting people where are told how Extinction Rebellion works, and then they enter face-to-face meetings and then they undertake collective action again, and again.

Do you see what I mean? So it's an upward spiral and obviously it's a matter of getting that to work. But the fundamental point of our conversation is to understand this process.

It's not sufficient for you to stick stickers around Seoul, in itself. What we're talking about here is an ecology--do you see what I mean? You can feel virtuous about sticking your stickers up, and there's no disrespect intended here, it's a fantastic idea. I go up sticking stickers around London. The point is that you have to create a system a social system which involves people coming together, people doing collective action and more people coming into that system and engaging in more transgressive action. What you need to understand is that this is a nonlinear process when you're faced with an existential crisis.

In other words, this is something that, when people realize that their children are going to die if this isn't sorted out, you will have a hundred thousand Koreans on the streets of Seoul. I can guarantee that, right? It's just a matter of time.

Emanuel Pastreich:

If you can get that message across.

Roger Hallam:

That's right. It's a process of maximizing that point. And of course there's a big moral imperative to do this quickly because if it takes too long we're not even going to be able to sort it out in time even if we want to do it right. So this is where we have a moral responsibility to follow the social science, you know. Instead of thinking that this hasn't been researched, we should know that it has.

So that's what I would suggest to people. I would suggest to people watching this that if they feel the call, maybe you should put your email on this call at the end so that people have a pathway to action. They need to be able to contact you or me, and I suggest we liaise with you on facilitating mass online meetings over the next two weeks. That would be my orientation.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Well Roger, I'd like to thank you for taking the time today to talk to us a little bit about Extinction Rebellion. WE are very excited about the opportunities for all the people watching us today to join up, to link up with people around the world, and in their neighborhoods, and also do it themselves, every moment of the day.

Roger Hallam:

Yeah! I would like say to the people watching this video, concretely, that XR has a website. It's an international website so hopefully you can access it one way or another. Or if you put your website, Emanuel, then they can contact you directly. One way or another, there's a pathway to action after you watch this video and then we can all get together online. And obviously there's no pressure; people can do whatever they'd like, but if people want to follow what we've argued is the best way to transform our societies quickly, then they should start taking action together. That would be a great thing to do, right? So let's all work together--and thank you so much!

Emanuel Pastreich:

It's a great thing to do, but also we have no choice. We can't worry about hurting anybody's feelings. We have to speak the truth.

Roger Hallam:

Speak the truth and act as if the truth is real.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Thanks so much!

Roger Hallam:

Thanks for listening to me. Thanks so much.



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