Extinction Rebellion must save itself before the critical task of saving the planet, says Roger Ratcliffe

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And the award for best campaign name goes to… Extinction Rebellion, or XR in its abbreviated form.

XR has certainly commanded a lot of attention over the last fortnight with non-violent protests against climate change. But just in case you were wondering, by “extinction” the campaign doesn’t mean a rare species of bird that’s down to a final pair seen only by David Attenborough. Terrifyingly, it means human beings, of which 7.7 billion currently live on earth. So, XR argues, despite us being the commonest species on the planet – with the possible exception of the Scottish midge – eventually we’ll be as dead as the proverbial dodo thanks to ecological collapse driven by global warming.

It wouldn’t happen overnight, of course. There’d be a long and horrendously painful decline as earth becomes less and less habitable. Imagine infinite infernos far worse than those raging on Pennine and Yorkshire moors. Imagine biblical floods swamping coastal cities. Actually, you’ve already seen the disaster movies. And imagine the relentless desertification of farmland leading to worldwide famine. Picture all of the above and perhaps in another millennium, when the smoking ruins of the planet are colonised by aliens from outer space, there will be just one survivor – a forlorn creature kept in the Homo sapiens enclosure of Chester Zoo.

Coincidentally, on the day XR dragged a pink boat into Oxford Circus and activists glued themselves to it, I was shopping in a Leeds supermarket when out of the corner of an ear I recognised that old Zager and Evans chart-topping single In The Year 2525, which visualised the planet’s future. Most of it was pure sci-fi, but the song did contain one prophetic line – that parents would eventually choose their children “from the bottom of a long glass tube”. Within a decade the world’s first test-tube baby was born at Oldham General Hospital.

“In the year 9595,” concluded Zager and Evans, “I’m kinda wondering if man is gonna be alive, he’s taken everything this old earth can give, and he ain’t put back nothing.” I doubt XR would pitch the extinction of humans so far into the future.

So how can XR make a difference? Well, having grabbed our attention I think the campaign needs a new plan. For a start, ditch celebrity endorsements. The arrival of Emma Thompson exposed XR to ridicule when it needed goodwill after she jetted 5,000 miles from LA, a journey with a carbon footprint calculated to weigh in at three tons.

Secondly, the campaign should make realistic demands. I mean, does anyone seriously believe the UK can attain a carbon-zero target by 2025? That gives us just six years to stop driving cars and flying in planes. Thirdly, it should vastly broaden its support. Right now XR seems to be top-heavy with idealistic middle-class young people. It recalls the Occupy London protests in 2011-2012, which caused a similar degree of mayhem with demands for social justice and real democracy but faded within a year.

The whole point of XR is too vital for the campaign to be another flash in the plan movement. It needs powerful allies in the big polluting countries of the US, China and India. Having got our attention by conjuring up the chilling reality – even inevitability – of climate change, please don’t fizzle out.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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