Today around 70 people joined the Exeter branch of Extinction Rebellion on the city’s streets to demand urgent action to minimise the risk of catastrophic impacts from climate change.
They set up stall on the High Street then set off in a colourful procession around the city centre, waving flags, singing and ringing “the alarm bell of the century”. Group members made speeches, handed out flyers and explained their aims to onlookers. Posters promoting their cause decorated bus shelters, statues and street furniture along their route.
The event’s organisers called on the government to declare a “climate and ecological emergency”, saying: “We must act now to raise awareness. The health of our planet is in fast decline. We need top down action from our government to help us make the necessary changes. And we need it now.”
The procession passed through Cathedral Yard and Princesshay on its way to Guildhall shopping centre. Here the group staged a “die-in” in front of Saturday shoppers and al fresco diners, accompanied by recordings of song by birds at risk of extinction due to climate change.
Tony Whitehead of RSPB South West, who assembled the recordings, said the birdsong included curlew, whimbrel, kittiwake, capercaillie, nightingale, snowy owl, golden plover and puffin.
A spell seemed to fall as their trills, warbles, chirrups and chatter filled the courtyard, while the trees that once grew where the shopping centre now stands seemed to sway serenely once more as if invoked by their singing.
Long minutes slowly passed, public and passers-by looking on, before the group finally stirred and moved back to the High Street for closing speeches.
Today’s protest comes after the group provoked strong reactions in the city on 13 March, when around 40 people disrupted traffic on key Exeter routes using a technique they called “swarming”. Forming human chains across pedestrian crossings for periods of up to seven minutes at a time, they asked motorists to “tolerate limited delays” during which they handed out leaflets and talked to drivers about their aims.
They stopped traffic on Western Way, Topsham Road, Heavitree Road and around County Hall, seeking to highlight Devon County Council’s role in determining city transport policy as Exeter Highways Authority.
The Exeter Extinction Rebellion group is one of about 130 across the UK. The international campaign was launched in response to a 2018 IPCC special report that assessed the changes necessary to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, defined as the international aim by the 2015 Paris Agreement.