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The Extinction Symbol – Origin and Meaning

The extinction symbol refers to the Holocene extinction – the sixth mass extinction of all species of animals and plants on Earth that’s currently happening due to human activity.

The symbol is widely used by environmental protesters around the world. The design is beautiful in its simplicity – it’s represented by a stylized hourglass inside a circle and is meant to illustrate that the time has almost run out for all forms of life on this planet. Here’s a closer look at the extinction symbol.

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Origins of the Symbol – The Extinction Rebellion

Global warming extinction symbol

The Extinction Rebellion, or XR, is a group of environmental activists formed in 2018 by a team of 100 academics in the United Kingdom. It’s named after the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction, which refers to the ongoing sixth mass extinction on Earth in the current Holocene Epoch.

As a result of climate change and human activity, the present annihilation spans across a number of plant families and animals, including birds, mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

Global warming also causes the large-scale degradation of biologically diverse habitats such as rainforests, coral reefs, and other areas with estimates suggesting that the current extinction rate is up to 1,000 times faster than natural. According to the scientists, around 30,000 – 140,000 species become extinct each year.

Ecology flag
A Version of the Ecology Flag

Originally, the environmental activists from the US had a different symbol that represented their commitment and fight for a cleaner environment. Their symbol was the Ecology Flag, resembling the American flag. It had green and white stripes with a yellow Theta-like shape in the upper left corner. The O of the Theta symbol represented the organism, and the E was for the environment.

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Over the past three years, a new generation of global climate protests adopted the stylized hourglass in a circle – the current extinction symbol – to represent their movement. Through non-violent civil disobedience, their goal is to force the governments to take action against climate collapse and biodiversity breakdown.

There were over 400 organized climate protests in countries worldwide, from New Zealand, across Europe to the US. With the omnipresent extinction symbol, they carry a strong message that if we don’t act fast, time will soon run out for many species on Earth.

The symbol is meant to raise awareness of the severity of the problem and the urgency for change. With this rate of the ecosystem collapse, it’s highly likely that our planet will rapidly become uninhabitable for both humans and other life forms.

The Extinction Symbol Design and Meaning

Extinction rebellion flag

According to the anonymous London street artist who designed the Extinction logo, Goldfrog ESP in around 2011, the environmental movement needed a symbol that would speak to the urgency of the crisis and the dire peril of extinction, as well as the selfless courage of the movement itself.

Inspired by cave art, runes, medieval symbols, as well as the peace and anarchy symbols, ESP designed the effective, easy-to-replicate extinction symbol, so that everybody could draw it and express their protest through different forms of art. People are urged to spread the message, raise awareness as much as possible, and recreate the symbol wherever they can.

The Extinction Symbol Meaning

The symbol that represents extinction consists of the two triangles in the shape of an hourglass inside a circle.

  • The hourglass represents the foreboding that time is mercilessly running out for all life forms on our planet
  • The circle represents the Earth
  • The letter X that forms the hourglass is seen to represent extinction.
  • It’s often drawn on a green background, the color of life, that represents nature and the environment.

The Relevance of the Design

The symbol’s welcoming and soft circular shape, representing the Earth, is contrasted with the sharp and aggressive edges of the triangles, forming the hourglass.

This ominous design represents the disease injected in a living organism. That’s a picturesque description of how climate change and pollution destroy our life-giving Earth.

Similarities with Other Symbols

The extinction symbol reminds us of other familiar political symbols, such as the anarchy and the peace sign. Besides their visual resemblance, the extinction symbol shares additional parallels with both of them.

Just as anarchism promotes anti-capitalist ideology, autonomy, and self-governance, the green movement also recognizes that the hunger for poweras the main driving force of humans degrades both nature and people. The extinction movement forbids the use of the symbol by political organizations and on merchandise, which is a statement against consumerism and ownership as well.

Both the extinction and the peace symbol share the same ideology and origin. They were both developed out ofconcern for the environment and the longevity of our planet. The popular symbol of the hippie generation, the peace sign was initially created to protest against nuclear weapons. It was a symbol of the anti-nuclear and anti-war movement as well as environmentalism.

Extinction symbol meaning

The Extinction Symbol in Jewelry and Fashion

The simplest symbols often have the most influential meanings. The extinction symbol is undoubtedly one of those. The dark yet powerful design of the extinction symbol has found its way to many people’s hearts and is worn as a sign of environmental awareness.

It’s a pattern often found in jewelry, such as pendants, earrings, and brooches, as well as in fashion and tattoos.

It carries a clear and powerful message that if we don’t take drastic action soon, we will be faced with the complete collapse of our society and irreparable harm to the natural world.

Many wear the extinction symbol as a sign of support towards the climate change movement. Some people might march in protests, others can organize rallies, but wearing the symbol as a piece of statement jewelry or clothing is just as powerful and important and plays its own part in saving the planet.

In a Nutshell

The extinction symbol has a growing impact around the world. It’s become a universal sign that calls people to rally up against climate change and biodiversity loss. Its power lies in its simplicity – it allows everybody to easily replicate it, adopt it, and be creative with it.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.