In Brief

Extinction Rebellion Sends a Sinking Home Along the River Thames, Warning of Climate Disaster

The work was intended as a public appeal to politicians to make a more stringent and immediate response to regulate the effects of human industry and waste on the environment.

The Sinking House in the River Thames. (All images by Zoe Broughton, courtesy of Extinction Rebellion.)

Climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion staged a public protest over the weekend, in the form of a floating structure that created the illusion of a suburban house sinking into the River Thames in London. Titled “The Sinking House,” the intervention took place in the early hours on Sunday, November 10, and is intended as a public appeal to politicians to make a more stringent and immediate response to regulate the effects of human industry and waste on the environment.

“A classic suburban house was seen floating down the river, sinking into the water in yet another attempt to send an SOS to the government on climate inaction and draw attention to the threat humans face from climate change and rising sea levels,” read a statement released by the group in connection with the event. The statement directly referred to an ongoing flood crisis affecting properties and populations across England, with nearly 50 flood warnings from the Environment Agency in place this week. According to BBC reporting, the weather has resulted in hundreds of flooded properties in Derbyshire and Yorkshire, causing thousands of citizens to be evacuated from their homes, and at least one death — that of former Derbyshire High Sheriff Annie Hall, who was swept away by flood waters.

The Sinking House, installation view.

“Representing the disastrous realities of projected sea level rises, perhaps the stunt was unnecessary. As the ongoing flood disaster in Derbyshire and Yorkshire has so starkly illustrated, our homes, businesses and families are at very real risk,” reads the statement from Extinction Rebellion. “We are watching, in real-time, as people’s lives are destroyed around the world and in the UK. Unless action is taken to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero these tragedies are set to worsen.”

The statement goes on to cite hair-raising scientific predictions of rising sea levels by 2100, which range from less than 1 meters (~3.2 feet) to as high as 5 meters (~16.4 feet). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest a rise of fewer than 2 meters (~6.5 feet), but even that could have devastating consequences on personal property and public infrastructure — and the statement points out that past assessments have “almost always underestimated the pace of climate change.”

“The rate of melting Greenland ice sheets recorded this summer was not predicted until 2070,” it reads. “At its peak, this ice was melting at a rate of 140,000 tonnes per second — a total figure equivalent to 200 river Thames.”

Built by Katey Burak and Rob Higgs, “The Sinking House” is meant to viscerally evoke the sense of crisis that gets lost in the death-by-attrition that is the true pace of climate disaster.

The floating vehicle was built by activists Katey Burak and Rob Higgs.

“Sadly, climate-change is something that affects every one of us,” the activists said, quoted in the statement. “We want to respectfully raise awareness of the severity of the impending human-made disaster. We need urgent action to address the Climate Emergency and devastation of our beautiful and precious natural world, which is being decimated at an unprecedented and tragic rate. We implore the government to act responsibly and we will continue to make our voices heard until they act.”

While some forms of awareness-raising are ultimately toothless, Extinction Revolution has staged this intervention with a clearly delineated agenda and set of key demands:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Whether one was mudlarking along the Thames at the precise moment to catch “The Sinking House” as it floated by, it is impossible to look at the images — or to read anything about the now-daily impact of climate change on vulnerable populations — without experiencing, well, a sinking feeling. Among other measures, the group has created a handbook, “This is Not a Drill” outlining their ideology and action plans to address the greatest existential threat to human existence: the consequences of our own actions.

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