London, United Kingdom – The protest group Extinction Rebellion launched a hunger strike on Monday aimed at building pressure on governments around the world to take action on the ecological climate emergency.
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In the UK, the protest comes ahead of a snap election, scheduled to take place on December 12. Following a two-week protest in London in October, activists plan to launch another series of disruptive actions ahead of the poll, in a bid to put the climate emergency on the agenda in a Brexit-dominated election.
“A hunger strike is one of the things we can use that can’t be taken away,” Angus Rose, a 50-year-old software developer originally from South Africa, told Al Jazeera.
Rose has taken time off work to take part in the hunger strike. “If someone is arrested, [that person] could still continue a hunger strike.”
The October protests led to more than 2,500 arrests globally, including at least 1,700 in the UK, where activists declared themselves willing to face arrest – mostly for breaching conditions imposed by police under public order laws.
Protesters blocked traffic in the capital by glueing themselves to roads near government departments, financial institutions and social media giants’ headquarters, and also caused delays at London City Airport.
It led to a police ban on protests by the group; a ban which was declared unlawful by the UK’s High Court a few weeks later.
Extinction Rebellion uses civil disobedience to raise awareness of the threat posed by human-induced global warming on people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable, and of the loss of biodiversity.
Last week, protesters in the UK hand-delivered letters to the headquarters of the seven parties contesting the election, asking for a meeting with party leaders to discuss – on camera – the movement’s demands, which they would like to see enshrined into law. These include setting a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and setting up a citizens’ assembly to lead decisions on climate change.
While the Green Party and Labour plan to bring forward the net-zero emissions target to 2030, the Liberal Democrats have set it to 2045 and the Conservatives to 2050.
Following Extinction Rebellion’s protests in October, a cross-party group of MPs sent out 30,000 letters inviting citizens to take part in a citizens’ assembly to advise on the climate crisis. Extinction Rebellion welcomed the move, but warned the government might just ignore the advice without any legal guarantees.
“I teach at university, and I teach young people between 17 and 19. I prepare them for the future, and I know they don’t have a future,” Petra Metzger, a 37-year-old fashion and textiles lecturer at Central Saint Martins, told Al Jazeera.
“With the elections coming up I think this is a very important moment where we need to bring this more to people’s attention,” said Metzger, who says she is willing to continue her hunger strike beyond a week, depending on the parties’ responses.
A recent Opinium poll found that the climate issue will influence a majority of British voters in the upcoming election, particularly the young ones. Ipsos Mori found 21 percent of voters mention the environment as one of the top issues facing the country – while only 2 percent did so unprompted in 2012.
Elsewhere, the issue of climate change is barely on the radar of public opinion.
“First of all, I’d ask the government not to ridicule the movement, to listen to what we are saying,” Anita Sobiechowska, a 30-year-old musician from Warsaw who is one of a handful of hunger strikers in coal-reliant Poland, told Al Jazeera.
“The Polish mainstream media are calling our demands absurd, they say we are exaggerating. We feel we are not being heard.”