In a protest Monday to call for more ambitious action from the U.K. government to tackle the climate crisis, activists with the group Extinction Rebellion lined up over 2,000 pairs of children’s shoes in London’s Trafalgar Square and unfurled a banner that read “Covid Today > Climate Tomorrow > Act Now.”
“We had months to prepare for coronavirus, we’ve had decades to prepare for the climate crisis, and still not enough is being done.”
—Poppy Silk, XR Youth
The once bustling central London square was nearly deserted during the demonstration due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. While climate activists often took to the streets worldwide with their demands before the public health crisis, they have had to move online and get creative to stay safe and comply with coronavirus-related lockdowns and social distancing guidelines.
With the Monday protest, Extinction Rebellion (XR) encouraged the government to address the climate emergency during recovery from the pandemic and to not bail out extractive industries that contribute to global heating. The shoes—donated by London residents, parents, and teachers scared for their kids’ future—will be given to the U.K. charity Shoe Aid after the demonstration.
“As a young person during the pandemic, I’m urging the government to be led by the science,” Poppy Silk, a 19-year-old member of XR Youth, said in a statement. “We had months to prepare for coronavirus, we’ve had decades to prepare for the climate crisis, and still not enough is being done.”
Silk said that “this has to be the moment at which we learn from our mistakes and take the necessary action to protect not only future generations, but the people living in high polluted cities and those in the global south dying now due to climate change.”
“Many young people feel suffocated by fear of what is to come, and now with this pandemic maybe others will start to understand our fear for the future,” she added. “This action highlights that, even whilst healing from the pandemic, we must move towards a green transition to prevent future crises.”
During the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, climate campaigners across the globe have encouraged governments at all levels and world leaders to #BuildBackBetter with a just, green recovery. In London and other major cities, that has resulted in plans to create miles of “car-free zones” to promote cycling and walking.
The XR statement on Monday highlighted a recent warning from 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben that “one crisis doesn’t stop because another starts.” In a piece for The New Yorker Friday, he wrote about increasing bicycle traffic in parts of the U.K., and efforts in London and others places around the world to limit vehicle traffic and promote greener modes of transportation.
“Those changes of individual habit are important, if we can maintain them. (And they’ll make for far nicer cities.),” McKibben wrote. “But the stubbornly high carbon numbers from the lockdown make it clear that we’re also going to need institutional and infrastructural change. The economic-recovery plans that nations are now making may offer the best chance we’ll ever get at those deep changes. Because the heat isn’t pausing—that’s what the jaggedly rising curves of the planetary fever make clear.”
XR’s shoe demonstration was part of its “No Going Back” campaign and followed the group creating pop-up bike lanes around the U.K. over the weekend, pressuring local governments “to help accommodate the boom in cycling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, keep cyclists safe, and as a first step in re-imagining our streets as we emerge from the crisis.”
With such actions, XR activists have worn masks and followed social distancing guidelines, according to the group, which launched in 2018. XR has three key demands for governments: declare a climate and ecological emergency; act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
“We’re living through one of those rare moments in history when everything can change,” Dr. Deepa Shah, a general practitioner from Hackney, said in XR’s statement Monday. “British people have shown throughout this crisis how deeply we value our health and well-being.”
“There are now multiple paths before us; we could choose to go back to our destructive past, or we could choose a future that gives our children a chance,” added Shah. “Coronavirus will end but climate change is here to stay. Governments must act now to secure our future.”