INTERVIEW: Extinction Rebellion “Our City Can Become A Leader In Climate Crisis Fight”

7 Mins Read

As everyone from students to world leaders is finally catching on to the direness of our environmental crisis, Extinction Rebellion made global headlines this year with their high-profile climate protest campaigns which include scaling the New York Times headquarter building in New York City to protest the publisher’s involvement with the Oil & Money conference and mass ‘die-ins’ in over 10 countries. Originally started in London, the non-profit civil disobedience movement has taken root right here in Hong Kong, where the group is calling for the government to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2025. Unimpressed by our climate inaction, the group is planning to lead sustained peaceful campaigns across the city to sound the alarm on the planet’s biggest threat. We spoke to Extinction Rebellion Hong Kong about their mission, what needs to be done to tackle environmental issues in the city and their hopes for the future. 

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted with Extinction Rebellion’s Hong Kong group members as a whole and all answers are representative of the group in its entirety.

GQ: Just to introduce it to our readers, can you tell us more about Extinction Rebellion’s mission in HK? 

XRHK: Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an international apolitical movement using non-violent direct action to make governments act on the climate and ecological emergency. It was created in April 2018 in the UK and has since led multiple campaigns in the country and around the world. XR Hong Kong began in April 2019, and the main focus for now is on raising awareness in relation to local specific targets and issues.

We have three main demands:

  1. For the government to tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency,
  2. To act now to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and
  3. To support the forming of a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice to represent Hong Kongers’ needs in the face of our current climate crisis. 

GQ: Why set up XRHK instead of joining the city’s existing environmental groups? 

XRHR: We are always happy to work alongside existing environmental groups, as demonstrated by our recent strike on September 20th, which was organised in collaboration with Waste Free Hong Kong and 350HK. But given the severity of the environmental and ecological crisis facing us, new movements are essential, and can have an enormous impact, as we have seen in the FridaysForFuture student strikes

Social science shows that the most effective way of bringing change in societies at this stage of emergency is via mass public participation in civil disobedience. XR is a grassroots movement which has non-violent direct action in our DNA. We welcome everyone, regardless of their background, in a shared vision of change to ensure a world fit for generations to come.

GQ: Some vetaran environmentalists have warned against the “unrealistic” targets proposed by XRHK, which might alienate the public from the wider green movement. What would you say to them? 

XRHK: The question should not be whether or not 2025 is achievable. It should be: Are we on track to stay below 1.5°C global warming? And we are not. By failing to meet our targets, we risk reaching a tipping point and triggering feedback loops that will cause global warming to spiral out of control. We are now on track to see a 4.1 – 4.8°C global warming above pre-industrial levels. And even if governments were instituting their pledges, targets and nationally determined contributions – which are currently nowhere near being implemented – we are likely to get about 3.2°C of warming. Apart from flooding Hong Kong, this would have disastrous consequences worldwide that would threaten the possibility of human existence. 

Nonetheless, our aims are by no means impossible. Some countries around the world have achieved their aims, such as Finland and Norway, who have recently brought forward their timescales for achieving carbon neutrality. Hong Kong has the financial capacity to invest massively in renewable and decarbonised energy, and the talent and capability to design positive impact solutions. Our city can become a leader and model in the fight against the climate and ecological crisis. But to do so requires the Hong Kong government to recognise the need for change. We’re talking about a choice between changing our lifestyles and our current focus on economic growth and the increasing possibility of human extinction in the next few decades. 

Video: Extinction Rebellion Scales New York Times Building (Source: ABC News)

GQ: In your opinion, what is the most difficult environmental issue facing Hong Kong, and what is the best solution? 

XR: Hong Kong does not have a strategy in place to replace fossil fuels by decarbonised energy for its electricity generation. The city’s current strategy to replace one fossil fuel with another (natural gas), while less carbon-intensive, is highly counterproductive. We cannot be building new fossil fuel infrastructure. And many government policies aren’t consistent with its so-called decarbonisation commitments, like its proposal to build a third runway at the airport. 

GQ: What is a misconception about a green habit that you wish more Hong Kongers knew about? Let’s call it busting an eco-myth! 

XR: A common misconception generally is that there is no point engaging in eco-activism unless you are living your life in a perfectly environmentally-friendly way. This idea is one of the biggest de-motivators that there can be. Of course, our individual choices do make a difference, and we can all do more and think more carefully about those choices. But at the same time, we need to recognise that we are all caught up in a toxic system where it is hard to make every choice eco-friendly all the time. But that shouldn’t stop you from joining groups like XR and making a huge difference! We welcome everyone, and are totally opposed to the idea of blaming and shaming.

GQ: We recently covered Hong Kong’s extraordinary levels of meat, egg and dairy intake which contributes heavily to the city’s emissions.Will XRHK be raising awareness about the link between food consumption and climate change? 

XR: Reducing consumption of meat, eggs and dairy is an important way to reduce emissions, and the more of us who actively reduce our consumption of the products, the better. It’s a question of both personal choice and system change – we need to eat less meat and dairy individually, alongside systemic changes so vegan options become staples on menus in the city. This is especially relevant in Hong Kong because it imports so much of its food. We recently staged two protests (at the Brazilian Consulate and Blackrock) which sought to draw attention to one particular issue around food production and consumption: the role Hong Kong plays in Amazon deforestation. Hong Kong could have a huge impact upon the current devastating deforestation and fires in the Amazon if it refused to continue importing Brazilian beef. 

GQ: In recent months, Hong Kong has been experiencing social unrest, which prompted many students to cancel plans to join in the global strike for the climate as a part of the wider FridaysForFuture movement. XRHK alongside Waste Free Hong Kong and 350HK chose to press on. Why? 

XRHK: The students were not able to obtain a police permit for their event and so decided that it was safer to show solidarity with the global movement in a different way, by using the #morethan1percent to call on the government to increase Hong Kong’s use of renewable energy. We understood the students’ reasons for cancelling the strike, especially because of the young age of many of those who would have participated. Given that the global strike was an opportunity for adults to show their support of the student movement, we decided to stage our own smaller event to show solidarity with them. 

Despite the current situation in Hong Kong, it is crucial that the climate and ecological crisis is not forgotten. This is not a drill. People are suffering, people are dying and yet this fact is still rarely high up on the news agenda. 

GQ: Given this background, how does the group plan to continue to stage campaigns and protests in the current situation?

XRHK: We have to keep protesting and raising awareness, because the alternative is to give up and condemn ourselves to the certainty of mass extinction and social and environmental collapse. We will continue to engage in creative, non-violent and peaceful actions in places where we can receive maximum public awareness. 

GQ: If you could choose one eco-habit that the entire planet would adopt, what would it be? 

XRHK: Sobriety, meaning to live and consume within the limits of this planet which we are lucky enough to call home! To use a quote we particularly like, it is “to live simply so that others can simply live.” In our rich countries, a successful decarbonisation cannot be achieved if we continue to believe that our lifestyle and level of comfort can be maintained as is. 

GQ: What is something you would tell the younger generation of today? 

XRHK: Our main slogan, “Rebel For Life”! Your future is being stolen right in front of your very eyes, so reclaim it. Our governments have failed us and it is up to all of us to show them that we will not accept that failure. We can either sit down and let them continue ignoring the seriousness of climate breakdown, or we can all join and urge our governments to take drastic action. We might be able to turn the ship around, but we have to act now. 

GQ: We always ask this as a final question – team rice or team noodles

XRHK: Team noodles!


Lead image courtesy of Extinction Rebellion Hong Kong.

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