After taking part in the International Extinction Rebellion in London last week (and I stress here that as a widowed parent I never put myself in line to be arrested) and avidly consuming every bit of news and video footage in the press and on social media since, I am acutely aware that many people I know will be very critical of this movement. I have read probably every reason that the critics have against it and although I believe these actually come deep down from guilt, denial or just plain ignorance, I wanted to address some of them head on. So here goes…
It’s such an inconvenience
XR (Extinction Rebellion) realise that many people will have had journeys disrupted or otherwise be inconvenienced. They know this is frustrating and do apologise. But, the full impact of the climate crisis will be far more disruptive to everyone, everywhere as sea levels rise, crops fail and water shortages bite. The disruption is necessary today, in order to make the government act now to save our tomorrow. “Blaming Extinction Rebellion for disruption is like blaming your fire alarm for waking you up”. It’s inconvenient, but so is being extinct! It’s also worth noting that people lose many hours every day sitting intraffic jams on our clogged motorways and due to disruptions on the rail and tube networks anyway, and this could be remedied with a comprehensivegreen transport network if the government took climate action seriously.
It’s wasting policing time & resources
Granted, hundreds of police officers have been policing the rebellion. However, large scale policing operations take place all the time which would never be questioned in this way, such as big football derbies, carnivals, festivals and music events. To put it into perspective there were 13,000 police officers on duty at the 2015 Notting Hill Carnival, compared to the 1500 dealing with XR. The right to peacefully protest is permissible under UK law and is a fundamental human right backed by the United Nations. It also worth pointing out that a rising climate will lead to more violent crime ,so if we don’t even attempt to stay within the recommended 1.5 degrees we will be looking at much worse than peaceful protests.
They drive, fly, use plastic bottles and wear clothes
The vast majority of rebels will have used public transport to get to London (as I did) and some even walked from Cornwall! They were all indeed wearing clothes, as we all do most of the time and some will have even used plastic and flown on actual planes at some point. They are not claiming to be perfect, pure beings but flawed humans trying to do their best, just like you and me. In the words of Jesus Christ ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’. It also has to be said that pointing the finger at individual consumer behaviour is a diversion tactic that has been used to shift the focus from the big polluters, denialists and delayers. Such small incremental actions pale in comparison to the actions of top 100 fossil fuel businesses who are responsible for 71% of emissions. So what we do ourselves is simply not enough. Only a completely radical system change will keep the planet in a liveable state.
They’re creating more pollution
The action in central London has significantly reduced pollution in those particular areas and has in fact not lead to any extra emissions in the surrounding areas according to local pollution data. In fact, hourly pollution concentrations went down as much as 45%. Many cyclists and visitors loved the car free areas and birdsong could be heard for the first time in many years.
They’ll leave behind all their mess
Everyone involved was asked to either bring their own crockery, cutlery and reusable drink bottles and clear away their own rubbish. All the protest sites had waste and recycling points and volunteers going round collecting rubbish and even sweeping the streets. All the (chalk) spray paint and art materials used would wash away in a rain shower and are non-toxic. All the protest areas were cleaned up thoroughly afterwards, before the rebels left the sites and they even helped out cleaning up Hyde Park after a separate event unrelated to them that was left covered in rubbish.
They’re a bunch of drop-out hippies
XR activists are of all ages, many walks of life and varied ethnicities. The majority are tax-paying, middle class people who are normally law-abiding citizens that are also accused of using their privilege. However, the western middle classes (especially those from the US and the UK) are the ones with the highest cumulative carbon footprints. So maybe it is right and just that it should be people from that segment of society who are using their ‘privilege’ to try and change things for everyone. The ravages of climate change are hitting the poorest first and the hardest, especially those in the global south who have the least power to do anything about it and contribute to CO2 levels the least. I do believe though that to build on the successful movement XR need to become more diverse by reaching out to a more diverse range of people, as this ‘hippy’ stereotype does put people off engaging with a matter that affects every single one of us.
They can afford to waste their time
Activists that spent many days down in London on the front line of the protests were not doing it for fun. If they weren’t retired, most people took annual leave giving up precious time with their families to do what they felt they had to. They were risking their liberty, comfort and safety for the greater good. All of them would rather that the issues they are fighting for are being dealt with by our governments, so they could get on with their lives too just like everyone else. The IPCC told us that we have 12 years left to limit climate catastrophe, so to put it bluntly, there is no time to waste, no matter who’s time it is.
They should do it in the proper way
Farhana Yamin is an internationally renowned lawyer who has worked for many years on climate change policy, through the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Climate Accord. As she states; 30 years of petitions, marches, letters to MPs, campaigning and donating to environmental groups has not changed the fact we are still on course for an unsustainable rise in global warming. She is now a passionate XR activist. Or to put it another way, if you knew someone was killing your child, you wouldn’t simply write them a letter to ask them to stop. You would do everything in power, lawful or otherwise to save them. A proportional response to a dying planet is not handing just out leaflets and asking nicely; otherwise the message will not be taken seriously.
Breaking the law is never acceptable
Non-violent civil disobedience has changed the world in the past, as particular groups have had to turn to drastic measures to get their point across. Women in Britain weren’t allowed to vote until the suffragettes took their stand, some of whom went to prison. Black Americans were segregated from whites until the civil rights movement began and laws were broken. These hard fought for rights are what our modern societies are based on. Aren’t the fossil fuel and ‘dieselgate’ car companies who have lied to us, broken laws themselves, lobbied and funded politicians the real criminals here and why are they not held accountable? Aren’t world governments also being unlawfully neglectful to allow their citizens to be dying from polluted air, heatwaves and hurricanes? And that’s not to mention the ever increasing demise of our natural world.
But other countries are worse
As everyone mentions China as being the problem, it should be noted that the UK carbon footprint per capita (per person) is higher than China. As China are the workshop of the world they are making nearly all of our goods, which causes most of their carbon emissions. So in effect we in the west are offloading our emissions on to them. As the industrial revolution began in the UK, we effectively started the whole CO2 problem off, so its only right that we should be the ones to inspire and drive change. The world has been watching the rebellion happening in the UK and many other countries around the world. They have also seen the school strikes starting to spread too and it’s slowly waking people up. This is evident in The Green New Deal in the US which is now backed by 81% of registered voters; a massive shift for such a fossil fuel dependent country.
They’re losing public sympathy
An independent survey was taken recently to assess the response of the general public to the rebellion protests in London. It found that 46% supported it, 41% think the UK government aren’t doing a lot to tackle climate change, 61% agree that a citizen’s assembly would do a better job and 83% agree that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity. XR have also had support from scientists, UN diplomats, politicians, academics, religious groups, and celebrities. Around 4000 people a day are signing up to join the rebellion and their website is receiving over 50,000 new visitors a day and have raised almost £200,000 for the cause. 21 business leaders have also signed an open letter in the Times to state that they support XR.
What’s the point?
For me, it all comes down to the fact that I want my son and his future children to grow up and have a long and healthy life in a beautiful world full of amazing animals, clear, blue seas and to be able to breathe clean, fresh air. I can’t imagine that anyone, no matter what their opinion of XR, would not want that for their loved ones. Our government, along with others around the world, have not just done too little, but have actually subsidised fossil fuel companies and damaging practices through their policies which are killing our world and our children’s future. I cannot stand by and literally watch the world burn and have my son ask me later ‘why didn’t you do something?’
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