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How could businesses support Extinction Rebellion?

As climate change inevitably rises up the political agenda, the shame of being seen not to act on it increases. Climate concerns everyone, even the rich, even the unborn, and everyone is invited to participate. Unlike with race, gender and class struggles, no one group can claim to own it. But what about those non-human persons, corporations? A few days ago, an initiative for businesses to join the rebellion started, but after objections from within the movement, it has been dropped - for now.

Natural skepticism

Many people who struggle for climate and other forms of justice have developed a healthy skepticism around notions of multinational business, money, profit, or even commerce in general. Some are working towards a society which doesn't depend on conditionality, scarcity, or even reciprocation. They may believe that we live in such abundance that no-one need be obliged to do anything, or that people can be motivated in less co-ercive ways. The simple version of this is that business is the manifestation of the same values that caused the climate crisis and they should eschew its support. Indeed I agree that commercial corporations cannot act for the global good any more than a vacuum cleaner can cook a lasagne. Business can never really back many the kind of radical policies need to build the better world because without the hope of greater profit in the next quarter.

The trouble is that neither have time to wait, nor to compromise. XR can't refuse to work with somebody because of what they are, or more precisely what XR thinks they are. The transformation must happen inside before it happens outside. The businesses now looking to associate themselves with Extinction Rebellion are absolutely needed, and XR doesn't get to say, 'sorry you're not rebellious enough to be in our rebellion'.

There is a real concern though, that these entities have a different agenda, and their financial and political resources, will be deployed to suffucate the original impulse. The corporate Corporate Social Responsibiliy movement has a consistent track record of hollowing out amazing initiatives and using them to package their shit.

So XR needs to find a way to welcome, and to work with organisations who want the same things they want, without allowing themselves to be coopted by the internal logic - towards control, growth, extraction - of those organisations.

Extinction & Rebellion

First all they'll need to define what Extinction Rebellion is about because it is too easy to label it as climate protest, in a long tradition of protest against government and industry policies which allow or promote carbon emissions and other forms of pollution. Extinction rebellion is about more than climate, but about an existential crisis. Humans whether in search of profit, better lives, and necessities are destroying ecosystems on an industrial scale, and emitting gases which affect the whole climate system. A catastrophic wave of death which paleontologists call the Sixth Mass Extinction is already underway but climate change is taking over as a much bigger driver of it. Its not just that hot/wet weather will affect crops, but wobbly weather disrupts natural cycles, timings, relationships, and our crops depend not only on Monsanto and nitrogen fertilisers and diesel machinery but on a web of pollinators, fungi, bacteria etc which seems increasingly fragile. We want to give the best for our children, but the inheritance we are preparing is a toxic wasteland. This is not speculation, and this is not far in the future, this is happening everywhere and is accelerating.

50 years since the publication of Silent Spring and 30 years of environmental activism and political pledges have not even slowed the rate of destruction. In other words, all the reasonable people, scientists, millenarians, protesters and activists together have not made a dent in the juggernaut of economic growth. On the contrary, even the governments elected to manage these big problems, and which have access to more information than their people, and earlier, recite economic growth as a mantra, while choking on the subject of climate change. Their accomplices in the media sneer at the dirty hippies, diverting attention from existential issues with shameful reporting. I'm amazing that activist frustration hasn't more often turned into violence, but perhaps ecologists understand more than other other angry groups the high cost of it; understand that only a few people will risk physical harm; understand that the state can always meet violence with greater violence; and most of all, understand that their violence will be turned by the all important-media against their cause.

So rebellion is a different strategy. It is about declaring the government and by extension, its laws illegitimate and breaking the law to try to force the state to do something. The laws to break are carefully chosen for maximum publicity and minimum (real) harm. That's why the extinction rebellion is easy to characterise as a protest, but it is not a protest. The message is not 'you should hear us because we are many' but 'how many ordinary people do you think you can jail before the citizens in your justice system stop cooperating?'. That's why each of 1000 arrestees were cheered as they were carried off over the last ten days of rebellion.

Finally, the role of business

So how should a business support Extinction Rebellion? The easiest way is to give them that most versatile of resources, money.

What should a business get from supporting extinction rebellion? It should get what all the other supporters get - a better chance of a livable world for their children.

So why do businesses feel the need to subscribe to something, to make a web site? There could be a desire to make a club whose membership is subscribed by some ethical standards and whose members can announce their ethics to the world using the well known Extinction Rebellion brand. This would both call businesses to a higher ethical standard, and offer them the carrot of increased trade.

Such an action sounds to me much like 'Fair Trade' which is a hollowed out shell of what its creators intended. Nor does it help Extinction Rebellion. Nor is it rebellious. It reminds me of what Greta said the other day:

We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.

I sense an ontological problem with corporations rebelling against the law, because corporations are not people, under the law, but creatures OF the law. Their rebelling renders themselves illegitimate. But perhaps that's a technicality. What laws would a rebellious businesses break? Tax disobedience sounds cool - instead of paying tax to an illegitimate government, businesses could finance the people's rebellion or any ecologial cause. But on second thoughts the government determines the tax owed ultimately could confiscate it, so what could be achieved?

And if business rebellion might negatively affect profitability then shareholders need to be consulted first.

So overall I don't see how, apart from providing support (financial or in kind support) to the rebels, businesses can themselves meaningfully rebel, or why businesses would need to publically express support, or why that would help. There's plenty of space below for you to disagree though!

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