Environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion shut down several key London thoroughfares on Monday, including Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch and Oxford Circus, at the start of a multiday protest designed to bring the UK capital to a standstill.
The group, which is calling for urgent action to prevent climate change, has gained prominence in the UK with publicity stunts including one in which several nearly naked protesters demonstrated in the House of Commons observers’ gallery.
On Monday similar protests by Extinction Rebellion’s international groups are planned in more than 80 cities in 33 countries, from Melbourne in Australia to Accra in Ghana and Berlin, the German capital.
The group is calling on the UK government to declare a climate emergency, slash greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and create a “citizens’ assembly” that will debate climate issues.
The several thousand protesters set up a temporary garden of trees and plants across the centre of Waterloo Bridge, parked a boat in the middle of Oxford Circus, blocked roads around Marble Arch and gave speeches in Parliament Square.
Cofounder Roger Hallam told the Financial Times he launched the movement because of the “overwhelming evidence of the demise of the human race”.
“We’re actually speeding up towards the cliff, if we’ve not already gone over it,” he said. “Our objective is to create a political crisis, if that means people being arrested and going to jail then so be it.”
The days-long protest, which the group has said could last up to two weeks, is expected to see dozens of volunteers arrested and could strain the resources of the Metropolitan Police.
In London, hundreds of officers were dispatched to monitor the protests, and the Met advised people travelling into London to allow extra time, due to “disruption” expected to the travel network.
At Marble Arch protesters, some of whom had spent the previous night in Hyde Park, spread out to block the traffic.
Alex Armitage, a paediatrician who came with his family, said it was his first environmental protest.
“I don’t think the climate scientists are lying,” he said. “I work on the best evidence and we have a government that is completely paralysed by Brexit. We have to take action.”
With his son looking on, he added: “I’m not in favour of disrupting people’s lives but lessons from history show us that non-violence direct action is required.”
Commuters whose journeys had been delayed appeared both annoyed and amused by the protests.
“Obviously it is irritating to have it affect your daily commute, but I think it’s an important cause,” said Arabella, a commuter, as she walked across Waterloo Bridge after it had been shut down.
“I think it is good for bringing awareness. Obviously the impact on other people is a bit of a nuisance, but I think it’s probably for the better, in the long term.”