The extinction symbol represents the threat of holocene extinction on Earth; a circle represents the planet and a stylised hourglass is a warning that time is running out for many species. The symbol dates to at least 2012 and has been attributed to anonymous East London artist Goldfrog ESP. The symbol has been called "this generation's peace sign". It is used by environmental protesters, and has been incorporated in works by artists and designers such as Banksy. In 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired a digital copy of the symbol, and other artifacts featuring the symbol, for its permanent collection.
In 2019, The Guardian reported that "Where the symbol has come from is something of a mystery". The Guardian noted that the most reliable attribution is to an anonymous East London artist known only as "ESP" or "Goldfrog ESP", who declines to be contacted directly except via his Extinction Symbol website,[a] which has been supported by design media, and the wider media.
In 2019, the New Statesman, reported that after ESP created the symbol in 2011, he contacted over 20 environmental groups to promote the symbol with little success. However, in 2018, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) contacted ESP regarding adoption and use of the symbol,[b] and ESP clarified on his Extinction Symbol website,[a] that the symbol is freely available to those who wish to use it for non-commercial purposes. In May 2019, Gail Bradbrook of XR issued a public statement to clarify that: "Not only does XR not support or endorse any corporations, it reminds them that the Extinction Symbol ⧖⃝ may never be used for commercial purposes, including fundraising. The Extinction Symbol is loaned in good faith to XR by UK street artist ESP".
In 2019, noted typeface blogger, Jason Kottke, remarked that the above licensing structure means that while individuals can create their own clothing and signs using the symbol, a non-profit organization could not raise funds, or even use economies of scale, to mass-produce items for sale with the symbol.
In 2019, in an email interview with Ecohustler, ESP said the following on its creation: "At the start of 2011, I was just randomly sketching designs and as soon as I drew the symbol, I knew what it was".
ESP said they chose the circle to represent earth, and a stylized hourglass to represent that time is running out. The similarity with Gerald Holtom's black and white circular peace sign (the CND nuclear disarmament symbol) is noted, as is its similarity with the round black and white Circle-A symbol used by Anarchists. Other commentators have highlighted the "X" to as a "go-no-further" or halt sign.
ESP said that while stylized, it was important it could be easily interpreted, saying: "I started off by chalking it really large on a wall down Brick Lane and some guys standing across the street were joking around, asking me if I thought I was Banksy or something. I just ignored them and carried on. Then they became curious about the meaning and one said "X marks the spot", then his friend said "No, time's running out". I turned around and was like "Yes!!".
The symbol came to prominence when it came to be used by environmental action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) in protests around the world from 2018 onwards. The extinction symbol has been sprayed in removable chalk paint on government buildings during environmental protests in the United Kingdom, and at other protest venues across Europe. In April 2019, The Guardian described the symbol as "this generation's peace sign".
At the Glastonbury Festival 2019, over 2,000 festival attendees re-created a human version of the extinction symbol. In July 2019, BBC News reported on a giant extinction symbol crop circle, while the XR noted other equivalent public displays of the extinction symbol around the world. In October, a temporary extinction symbol made from T-shirts was placed on the historic Alton Barnes White Horse.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) have used external and internal graphic design teams to replicate the extinction symbol in many forms using inspiration from the Situationist International movement of the 1960s.
British ceramic artist, Carrie Reichardt, featured the symbol in a 2016 piece titled Bees. Extinction Gong was an art installation by Crystelle Vu and Julian Oliver that features the symbol as a centerpiece; it was part of the 2018 Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest exhibition in Berlin.
In July 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired a number of artifacts displaying the symbol as part of its permanent collection saying: "From its adoption (with permission) of the highly recognisable extinction symbol first designed in 2011 by the London street artist ESP to its limited but “punchy” colour palette and carefully worded slogans, she said the group had used design to galvanise concern for the climate emergency".
- Anarchist symbolism
- Doomsday Clock
- Environmental art
- Environmental movement
- Peace symbols
- Extinction events
- List of extinction events
- The website is identified as being: www.extinctionsymbol.info; the Extinction Rebellion provide a link to the website on the Disclaimer section of their own website, saying: "The Extinction Symbol was designed prior to Extinction Rebellion. Using the symbol on commercial merchandise is strictly forbidden. For more information visit www.extinctionsymbol.info."
- The Guardian and Quartz note that London graphic designer Charlie Waterhouse, was a key point of contact with ESP regarding use and licensing by XR.
- Steve Rose (16 April 2019). "How the symbol for extinction became this generation's peace sign". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
Having offered the use of the symbol to major environmental groups and received little response, ESP began putting posters and tiles of the symbol on walls around east London himself. XR contacted ESP last year. On his website, ESP makes the extinction symbol freely available to those who wish to use it, but makes it clear that it has always been an anti-consumerist project.
- Webster, Charlotte (9 April 2019). "The origins and rise of the Extinction Symbol". EcoHustler. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
Extinction Symbol was created eight years ago, in 2011, by an East London artist known as "ESP".
- Gail Bradbrook (27 May 2019). "XR Business: Public Correction". Extinction Rebellion. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
Not only does XR not support or endorse any corporations, it reminds them that the Extinction Symbol ⧖⃝ may never be used for commercial purposes, including fundraising. The Extinction Symbol is loaned in good faith to XR by UK street artist ESP.
- "THE ART OF LONDON'S CLIMATE CHANGE PROTESTS IS AN HOMAGE TO THE 1968 PARIS RIOTS". Quartz (publication). 17 April 2019. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
- "Banksy Extinction Rebellion Street Art appears at Marble Arch". Inspiring City. 29 April 2019. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
The symbol itself having first being designed in 2011 by the artist ESP. Now used as a rallying banner. It was adopted in 2018 as the symbol for the mass movement which has grown exponentially over the past year. We saw it for the first time in 2016. Created by Carrie Reichardt as a giant mosaic as part of the ENDANGERED13 event on the arches next to the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. Banksy’s use in this latest work is another powerful affirmation that the symbol is here to stay.
- Esther Addley (26 July 2019). "V&A to display collection of Extinction Rebellion artefacts". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
From its adoption (with permission) of the highly recognisable extinction symbol first designed in 2011 by the London street artist ESP to its limited but “punchy” colour palette and carefully worded slogans, she said the group had used design to galvanise concern for the climate emergency.
- Lucy Mapstone (26 July 2019). "Extinction Rebellion designs to go on display at V&A". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
The items range from the open-source Extinction Rebellion Symbol created by street artist ESP in 2011 and adopted by the group in 2018, to the declaration used at their first act of rebellion.
- Emily Dixon. "Designing a movement -- Extinction Rebellion climate protest artifacts to go on display at London's V&A". CNN News. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
The V&A also acquired a digital file of the movement's logo, the Extinction Symbol, initially designed by the East London artist ESP and subsequently assumed by Extinction Rebellion.
- Andrew Osmond (31 May 2019). "Three symbols of peace and protest". SOAS University of London. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
Although the Extinction Rebellion logo is well-known, the identity of the artist behind it is shrouded in a Banksy-style cloak of mystery. [..] The symbol’s creator, known only as ESP––Extinction Symbol Person perhaps?
- "DISCLAIMER". Extinction Rebellion. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
- Emily Gosling (16 April 2019). "EXTINCTION REBELLION ON ITS STRIKING PROTEST GRAPHICS". Creative Review. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
The designer of the hourglass symbol, which existed prior to the formation of Extinction Rebellion, also wishes to remain anonymous (he signs off his email simply with "Goldfrog ESP"). "The symbol represents extinction," says the unnamed designer on the dedicated symbol site. "The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species."
- India Block (19 April 2019). "Extinction Rebellion uses bold graphics in protest against climate change". Dezeen. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
The Extinction Rebellion logo is created by a designer who wishes to remain anonymous, communicating only through the Extinction Symbol website.
- Le Figaro Premium. "[TRANSLATED] IN IMAGE - Climate: Where does the logo of the collective Extinction Rebellion come from?". Le Figaro. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
Created in 2011 by a London-based artist, a certain Goldfrog ESP, the "symbol of extinction" consists of an hourglass inserted in a circle, the latter representing the Earth. The message is clear: time is running out to prevent species from disappearing because of climate change.
- Laurent Antonoff (19 May 2019). "[TRANSLATED] Lausanne: A strange tag welcomes voters to the Louve". 24heures. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
Le sigle au sablier a été créé en 2011 par un artiste basé à Londres, Goldfrog ESP
- Grace Morgan (18 September 2019). "How Extinction Rebellion's graphics became the symbol of environmental uprising". New Statesman.
After creating the symbol in 2011, ESP contacted around 20 environmental groups offering its use for free, with little success. Just one organisation replied, to say they would only be interested in using the design if it became popular. But late last summer, the founders of Extinction Rebellion (XR) approached ESP, and the symbol was adopted as the face of the new movement.
- Jason Kottke (23 April 2019). "The Extinction Symbol". Kotte.org. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
- "The Extinction Symbol". Logo Design Love. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
The circle represents earth, while the stylised hourglass signifies that time’s running out.
- PK Read (March 2018). "EMBRACING THE LONG GOODBYE: THE ART OF GRIEF ENVIRONMENTALISM". Litro. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
- Jane C. Hu (26 September 2019). "The Story Behind the Extinction Symbol Showing Up at Climate Change Protests". Slate. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
The extinction symbol brings to mind other well-known political symbols, like the peace sign and the anarchy symbol, both of which also showcase a design inside a circle. The extinction symbol shares parallels with each: Like anarchism, which promotes self-governance and often intersects with anti-capitalist beliefs, climate movement often resists ownership and consumerism.
- Clifton, Katy (24 November 2018). "Police make 14 arrests after thousands of activists descend on London". Evening Standard. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
Extinction Rebellion said one activist was arrested for spray-painting the extinction symbol on the grounds in front of the palace.
- Osborne, Mark (27 January 2019). "9 arrested for 'die-in' protest at Rockefeller Center ice skating rink". ABC7 Chicago. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
The protesters formed an hourglass logo with a circle around it -- the group's logo.
- Gayle, Damien (12 November 2018). "Climate activists glue hands to UK government building in new protest". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
One protester climbed above the revolving doors of the main entrance of the building in Westminster and wrote "frack off" in black spray paint, and another sprayed the extinction symbol in red on windows facing traffic on Victoria Street.
- Gayle, Damien (14 November 2018). "Social media influencer urges young people to protest over environment". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
- Frances Perraudin; Lanre Bakare (27 June 2019). "Extinction Rebellion highlight climate emergency at Glastonbury". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- Poppy Holloway (28 June 2019). "EXTINCTION REBELLION AND GREENPEACE STAGED A CLIMATE CHANGE PROTEST AT GLASTONBURY". Mixmag. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- "Giant crop circle near WOMAD highlights climate change". BBC News. 26 July 2019. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
- "Monday 29 July: Giant Extinction Symbols appear around the world". Extinction Rebellion. 29 July 2019. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
Extinction Symbol creator ESP explains: "The symbol represents an hourglass and the planet. It exists to draw attention to the Ecological Crisis, specifically the current mass species extinction event and climate breakdown. Please use it freely on a non-commercial basis."
- "Extinction Rebellion logo appears on historic Wiltshire white horse". ITV. 7 October 2019. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
- Lanre Bakare (26 April 2019). "London Extinction Rebellion mural is a Banksy, says expert". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- "Carrie Reichardt – Bees". Human Nature. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
- Valentine, Ben (19 July 2018). "Memorializing the Accelerating Loss of Planetary Life". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
Taking the form of a Chao Gong with the earth-and-hourglass extinction symbol on the front, "Extinction Gong," (2017) by Crystelle Vu and Julian Oliver, crashes to the tragic tune of the current, highly accelerated global species extinction rate.