Extinction Rebellion Logo
The open-sourced logo has been stenciled, embroidered, printed, and painted, among other forms
Goldfrog ESP, a London street artist, aka “Symbol Man,” takes credit for the original symbol
Working against Human Extinction
The climate crisis is killing off species. One after one, types of insects, birds, and mammals disappear. The IUCN Red List lists 35,765 species across all taxonomic groups as threatened with extinction in 2020. And this is an underestimate, as most species haven’t been evaluated. A 2019 UN Report states, “Nature’s dangerous decline ‘unprecedented’; species extinction rates ‘accelerating’.” Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated as XR) works against human extinction coming next.
The international group uses direct action and civil disobedience to persuade political parties to take appropriate actions against the climate crisis. It describes itself as non-violent, non-partisan, and decentralized. After one hundred academics signed a call to action in the United Kingdom in 2018, the group began planning direct actions in London. Its first action was the occupation of the London Greenpeace offices, followed quickly by the launch of the “Declaration of Rebellion” outside of the UK Parliament. This year, 2021, the group blockaded Amazon distribution centers across the UK to protest its treatment of its employees and the environment. These and other actions of the XR take inspiration from Occupy, the suffragettes, and the civil rights movement.
Climate protests in Wellington, NZ, via @ExtinctionNZ
XR Logo Personifies the Urgency of the Climate Crisis
XR’s logo represents extinction. The circle represents the Earth, and the hourglass inside warns that time is running out for many species. The simplicity makes the logo easy to identify and reuse. Much like the 1958 nuclear disarmament sign made by Gerald Holtom—commonly known as the “peace sign”—XR’s logo comprises a series of straight lines defined with a consistent weight enclosed in a circle. The group asks people to use it to spread the message as widely as possible. It makes several digital versions available, along with a stencil template for free use. One website has documented a wide range of logo variations seen across the internet. The group also makes sure people know that it is anti-consumerist, and states that any sort of merchandise that has the organization’s logo on it is not affiliated or supported.
According to Grist, a London street artist called Goldfrog ESP created the symbol in 2011. The artist told Ecohustler that he developed it after growing weary of making protest art about the decline of specific species. He wanted to give the environmental movement a sign of its own. In other reports, he goes by the title “Symbol Man.”
Public reception of XR and its logo have been mixed. Some consider its tactics to be based in the desire to arouse fear for the Earth’s impending doom. Critics suggest that the negativity of the symbol and its simplicity give it power. Patrick Fagan writes in The Critic an extended description of the symbol within his critique of the group, which he concludes by offering readers the suggestion of laughing at XR and its logo rather than taking it seriously. He writes, “The hourglass is primarily a symbol of the passage of time: that is, death. The hourglass – along with the scythe, another favorite symbol of the Left – were brandished by Cronus, god of time.” This continues for quite a few paragraphs. While baroque, the diatribe recognizes the communicative and emotional power of the symbol, which sticks with those who encounter it.
Such an evaluation echos the language XR uses to discuss the climate crisis. The website states, “Life on Earth is in crisis. Our climate is changing faster than scientists predicted and the stakes are high. Biodiversity loss. Crop failure. Social and ecological collapse. Mass extinction. We are running out of time, and our governments have failed to act. Extinction Rebellion was formed to fix this. We have a moral duty to take action — whatever our politics.”
XR’s direct strategy of engagement has also caused controversy. Newspapers report the group has damaged public and private property and cost police departments millions of pounds while attracting the attention of millions of people. Some have agreed with XR that its tactics are necessary and appropriate to the current situation. Others disagree with its direct strategy and language of fear and express concern that the group alienates potential supporters.
Extinction symbol in George Square, Glasgow, via @extinctsymbol
The XR Logo and M21D
We’ve brought the XR logo into our study collection to investigate how effectively the symbol works against the climate crisis. Its pervasiveness in some cities and communicativeness have caught our interest.