Extinction Rebellion is a worldwide movement advocating for governments to take urgent action regarding climate change. Students from Newcastle and Northumbria Universities have teamed up to create a university branch of the group.
A culmination of Newcastle and Northumbria students, the “die-in” saw about a dozen people lie on the floor outside of the Arches on campus, some holding cardboard cut-outs of gravestones embroidered with messages such as “Death by drowning” and “Died of Famine”. Two people held a banner reading, “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. ACT NOW.”
The group began their protest at Newcastle University’s campus before marching across to Northumbria and staging a demonstration there.
Today’s demonstration was part of a wider set of protests by the group. About eighteen institutions across the country demonstrated at the same time as part of Freshers’ Week activities.
As the group lay on the floor, the leader of the Newcastle University section, fourth-year medical student, Jo Childs, spoke live on Newcastle Student Radio (NSR). She emphasised that the world is currently facing its “darkest hour” and that “alarm bells were ringing”.
After her speech, NSR played “The 1975” by the 1975, featuring young climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.
Rebecca Johnson: Is this [this afternoon’s protest] part of a wider protest?
Jo Childs: So, we’re part of Extinction Rebellion Universities, which is a nationwide group launching at Freshers Week. We’re supporting the wider UK Extinction Rebellion movement. We’re acting to protest against the climate and ecological emergency and the government’s inaction so far.
What’s the plan for today, what’s going to happen?
Today, what we’ve organised is a “die-in”, which is basically a solemn act where protesters lie on the ground as if they’re dead. It’s basically representing the consequences of inaction. We know that if emissions continue as they are we’re facing warming of greater than 1.5 degrees, which means massive climate catastrophe. Basically, flooding, famines, drought, this is all going to impact food supplies and it will impact the UK and millions of people will be affected, and people will die. That’s why we’re protesting today, to try and alert people to the crisis. I think a lot of students and staff will not be aware of how serious things are. Also, to ask our university to be more bold in communicating the emergency. I don’t know if you know, but Newcastle University declared a climate emergency in April. Did you know about it?
No, I didn’t.
Exactly, that’s what we’re saying. It’s great that they [the university] are on board with it but they haven’t communicated it well. The sustainability team here is really great, they’ve been working really hard, but I feel personally it’s not just their job. Everybody on campus needs to know about it. We all need to work together to find the solutions.
So, after this protest today, what are you hoping to take from this, what are you hoping to do in the future and what are you hoping the university does in the future as a result of this today?
For us, it’s about letting students know that we exist as a group. We are both Newcastle and Northumbria Universities and we’re working together to create a space for students who are interested in the Extinction Rebellion movement and who are worried about climate crisis to come and talk about it and to act. In terms of the university, it’s going to be working with them to push for faster change. Communication is a really key thing for me right now. One of Extinction Rebellion’s demands is to tell the truth. They [Newcastle University] need to communicate about what’s going to happen if we don’t manage to reduce emissions to the student body and to staff. We know that the university cares about students, they send us emails about things like initiation ceremonies and mental health. So they really care about our wellbeing and I think that this is much much bigger than any of that, to make students aware.
Practically, what changes would you like to see at the university as a result of this?
I think the sustainability team has been working really hard on this, they recently brought in a new target to be net zero by 2040. We know that that’s not quick enough. I’ve been in touch with the head of sustainability, and that’s what they think is feasible, and I understand that they’re trying to work to make something like this feasible but that’s not going to be good enough. So whatever it is that we need to do to tackle that, could it be looking at the flights that staff take to conferences? Could it be looking at the food that we serve on campus? What’s the carbon footprint of the food that we serve? Getting all of the students in the departments to look at the way they run and to think of solutions. It’s not going to be coming from one part, that’s why I said it’s not just the job of the sustainability team, every single department has to look at what they’re doing and think about what changes could be made.