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Extinction Rebellion’s latest act of protest should terrify us all

A powerful new public art installation by Extinction Rebellion emphasizes the urgency of climate action now.

Extinction Rebellion’s latest act of protest should terrify us all
[Photo: Guy Reece/courtesy Extinction Rebellion]

Passersby along the river Thames might have noticed a peculiar object adrift in its waters on a recent November day. Well, less an object than a full-size single-family home, half-submerged in the water that bisects Central London.

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[Image: Zoe Broughton/courtesy Extinction Rebellion]

The U.K.-based environmental group Extinction Rebellion, which uses “non-violent civil disobedience” to advocate for stronger climate policies, staged the event—which is part protest, part public art installation—as a stark visualization of the projected numbers on sea level rise. The group called the structure a “SOS to the government on climate inaction.”

“When I hear the facts about climate change my brain can scarcely comprehend them, they are vast and scary,” write Katey Burak and Rob Higgs, who created The Sinking House on Extinction Rebellion’s site. “We wanted to make something that people can visually connect to, whilst leaning on the government and the experts to make the changes that need to be made.”

XR draws a direct line from the installation to the numbers on ice melt. In a statement via email, Higgs calculated that the massive ice melt that occurred from the Greenland ice sheet in August—12.5 billion tons in one day—”was the equivalent of 2000 times the river Thames.” The group also cites statistics that indicate rising sea levels could affect those closer to home, saying that “under new sea level rise projections, Stratford, Barking and Dagenham and large swathes of South and West London, East Anglia, Essex and Kent will be underwater by 2050.”

[Photo: Guy Reece/courtesy Extinction Rebellion]
The organization has made designed installations a key part of their activism. In October, the group staged a “Red Handed Rebellion,” which, according to The Independent, used washable spray chalk to mark the path of the march. The Extinction Rebellion site encouraged supporters to spray their hand red to signify blood, leave handprints along the way, and post photos with the hashtag #redhandedrebellion. They employed a similar motif earlier in the year, spraying fake blood on the Treasury in Westminster in the U.K. and pouring fake blood onto the Charging Bull statue in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

While the artistic medium differs, Extinction Rebellion often seeks an end result that is visually arresting. The Sinking House is another example of a larger tactic by the group to break through the rapid news cycle, employing spectacle to disrupt the everyday and combat apathy when the science—statistics, graphs, and charts—somehow isn’t shocking enough.

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