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Fight To Slow Climate Change Produces New Wave Of British Activists


The fight to slow climate change has produced a whole new wave of activists. And one of those groups, Extinction Rebellion, begins a fresh round of protests today in London. The founders are moms and dads from the English town of Stroud. NPR's Joanna Kakissis went to meet them.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Katerina Hasapopoulos is not your usual rule-breaker. She's 41, the soft-spoken daughter of immigrants, and she used to be a marketing director power-lunching in suits.

KATERINA HASAPOPOULOS: Now I have three little children. They deserve to come into a world that is full of nature, and it is apparent that that may not be unless we actually make huge changes now.

KAKISSIS: So last year, Hasapopoulos joined her local environmental group in Stroud - a bohemian town tucked into the rolling hills and daffodils of the Cotswolds in the south of England. The group, Extinction Rebellion, changed her.

HASAPOPOULOS: I'm a rebel. I am a tree sister. I am an Earth protector.

KAKISSIS: And in Extinction Rebellion, that means getting arrested...


HASAPOPOULOS: I'm here as an Earth protector.

KAKISSIS: ...Which is what happened to Hasapopoulos in April when she super-glued her hand to an office window at the Shell Oil Company in London...


KAKISSIS: ...And then joined Extinction Rebellion protesters to block major streets in the British capital.

HASAPOPOULOS: My mum is really disappointed, and that's OK. This is a matter of life and death. Our Earth is dying. Our Earth dies, we die. It's just the - really, it's that simple.

KAKISSIS: Extinction Rebellion was founded last year in an activist's living room in Stroud. It now claims to have affiliates in more than 50 countries, including the United States. Its original members meet at Star Anise, a vegetarian cafe in Stroud.

SKEENA RATHOR: So my name is Skeena Rathor.

SIMON BRAMWELL: I'm Simon Bramwell.

DAVID LAMBERT: My name's David Lambert.

KAKISSIS: Bramwell, one of the group's co-founders, is a bearded outdoorsman.

BRAMWELL: I've just been noticing this steady drip as life is draining from this country. Birdlife - we used to have this incredibly vibrant dawn chorus, and that's becoming a trickle these days. And that breaks my heart, getting up to that each morning. We are seeing insect life vanish from the valleys. So it's all going. And because we're leading such busy lives, we are just not noticing how fast it's going.

KAKISSIS: Lambert is a landscaper who's in charge of the group's media.

LAMBERT: I'm as guilty as anyone of denial. So 40 years of thinking - you know, it sounds pretty bad, but it'll be sorted. The moment I tuned in, I could see it. This has hit me like a steamroller.

RATHOR: And it hit me straight in my heart.

KAKISSIS: Skeena Rathor is a local town councilor. She convinced the others here to chain themselves to the home of Jeremy Corbyn, Britain's main opposition politician.

RATHOR: We chained ourselves and glued ourselves to each other.

KAKISSIS: How did you glue yourselves to each other?

RATHOR: Just our hands with super glue, yeah.

KAKISSIS: Didn't that hurt?

RATHOR: When we peeled off - we didn't have quite enough nail varnish remover.


KAKISSIS: These tactics have put Extinction Rebellion on the map - and the town of Stroud, as well. Artist Clay Sinclair, who's originally from New Zealand and runs a gallery here, says even the buskers feel the spotlight.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing unintelligibly).

KAKISSIS: Sinclair has marched with Extinction Rebellion in London.

CLAY SINCLAIR: My first observation was I've never seen so many white middle-class people in one place at one time - but then also realize that it's the white middle-class people who've caused climate change.

KAKISSIS: Truck driver Spencer Ellis pushes his daughter's stroller past Sinclair's shop. He agrees that he hasn't seen many people of color like himself in Extinction Rebellion's U.K. chapters. He's also been stuck in the traffic caused by their blockades.

SPENCER ELLIS: But I get why they're doing it, hundred percent. I'm 50; I'm not getting another 50. But it's people like my daughter who's 2, kids under 10. The planet is changing, and there is a lot of heating up. And we're scared.

KAKISSIS: Even scared enough, he says, to get out of his truck and onto the streets to protest.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, in the English town of Stroud.


Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.