The First Demand
Updated: May 25
By Janet Weil, XRPDX Media Working Group
This is the first in a series about the 4 Demands of the Extinction Rebellion movement.
That the Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.
Movements start with demands. They are goals, but also shouts of “Hey, you! Pay attention – something’s happening!” Demands are the birth cries that signal the creation of political will—in this case, the will to respond in time to global climate breakdown and environmental devastation, including the 6th Mass Extinction event now underway.
The First Demand includes 3 parts:
Tell the truth about the emergency;
Reverse policies that go against the truth of our current situation;
Communicate, with the media, the urgency for change [emphasis mine] and also specifics of actions to be taken by individuals, communities and businesses.
Right now, during the presidency of this narcissist who brazenly lies every day about life-and-death matters pertaining to the pandemic, and with a Congress largely in the pocket of, or intimidated by, fossil fuel corporations, this demand may seem naïve or even laughable.
But, despite the best efforts of the White House, the United States government does still operate many scientific agencies whose mandates require them to study, record and communicate the truth about climate and the environment to the public. These include (among others) NASA, NOAA, and the 13 agencies and cabinet-level departments in U.S. Global Change Research Program, responsible for producing comprehensive National Climate Reports. (You can read the 2018 report here. They also keep a daily record of CO2 in the atmosphere, which you can find here.)
Additionally, the US House of Representatives has the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (we’re beyond “change”), which includes Portland-area congresswoman, Representative Suzanne Bonamici. The committee posts its hearings here, and you can send the committee a message or find its social media on its contact page.
So, as incomplete and disjointed as it may be, the grim truth about climate, with its many current impacts and future implications, is still being told by parts of the US federal government. That doesn’t mean the First Demand is already being satisfied, which suggests a problem in the wording of the Demand itself. Scientists who work for government agencies do discover and tell (report) the truth – but they have little to no power over policy, or over even the communication of their findings by the President, the Secretary of the Interior or other decision-makers.
It’s not really “the government” that needs to tell the truth. It’s the powerful, wherever in society we may find them.
The crucial issue is not “truth,” but acting on that truth. Ending “policies not in alignment,” would mean, for starters, ending the subsidies to oil and gas producers; massively cutting the military budget (the US military is the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world); and many other changes to every sector of the economy, including transportation and agriculture.
Communication is the key to taking action and persuading “individuals, communities and businesses” to follow suit. As a nation under (partial) lockdown, we Americans are living through an example of the power of government to compel vast, sudden changes. Witness the awful results of government NOT taking action, including communicating effectively with the public: over 100,000 deaths are predicted by June 1. “Doctors bury their failures” goes the bitter old saying, but so do those in positions of State power.
This first demand is foundational to the 3 others. We must first face the truth, then act in accordance with the unprecedented scale of the global emergency. The fact that the most powerful government in the world, funded by our tax dollars, has still not done so is the fuel of our rebellion.
And we rebels-for-life must realize that the First Demand can’t just apply to the government. We have a responsibility to understand what we must do, collectively, if our governments refuse to meet this first demand:
“… to be ruthlessly honest… to tell the truth! That’s the first demand of Extinction Rebellion. It seems to me that we’re not telling the truth if we continually give the impression that we are on the verge of achieving our demands.”
-- Rupert Read, Extinction Rebellion UK spokesperson, Green Party campaigner and academic, from “A Just Transition” discussion on May 10, 2020