The 360: Is Extinction Rebellion making people angry for the wrong reasons?

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening

Parts of London have effectively been shut down in the past 10 days as Extinction Rebellion protesters take to the streets to highlight the threat of climate change.

As well as taking over areas including Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Lambeth Bridge and Victoria Embankment, the group also “peacefully occupied” London City Airport for three days.

On Tuesday, police issued a London-wide ban on the protests.

Extinction Rebellion’s three main demands are that the government declare a climate emergency, that the UK legally commits to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025, and that a citizens’ assembly is set up to “oversee the changes”.

Why there’s debate

A poll in July revealed that climate is a top priority for Britons, with 71% of the public saying it is a more pressing long-term issue than Brexit.

But while many people may be sympathetic to Extinction Rebellion’s cause, there is evidence that the protesters are antagonising the very people they are trying to get onside.

Businesses, commuters and workers have endured delays and costs to their livelihoods, while ambulances face blocked roads and long lines of traffic.

This anger peaked on Thursday morning, when videos showed angry commuters wrenching protesters off the top of the Tube.

Some of the coverage has been hijacked by accusations of hypocrisy, with high-profile supporters of the group criticised for taking first-class flights to join the protests.

The protesters have failed to cut through to the government, with Boris Johnson describing them as “uncooperative crusties” who should stop blocking the streets of London with their “heaving hemp-smelling bivouacs”.

Most damningly, a YouGov poll released this week shows that a majority of Brits oppose the actions of the climate change activists – with 53% of those questioned siding against them, compared with 37% who say they “strongly” or “somewhat” support them.

However, there are those that feel that two weeks of disruption in the capital is nothing compared to the effects of climate change on the planet – and that political and social activism is part and parcel of making major changes.

What’s next?

Extinction Rebellion says it will continue to protest until all its demands are met.

One of its key demands – hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2025 – would require a radical overhaul of our society that would see transport, food production and levels of consumption fundamentally changed in a short space of time.

The group plans to launch the finale to its fortnight of action on Saturday 19 October at Parliament Square.

Perspectives

The arguments Extinction Rebellion make are all negative.

“You see, we already know the planet is dying and we know you’re distraught. Same even goes for Greta Thunberg – we do ‘get it’ actually. But ER is all about what we should not be doing. Not driving. Not flying. Not eating meat. Not buying clothes. Not consuming tech and gadgets. It is all unrelentingly depressingly unrealistically negative.” – Sean O’Grady, The Independent

Important social advances are only made through protest.

“Law-abiding citizens are right to be concerned about others deliberately breaking the law to advance their social, political or environmental goals. But many of the most significant social and political advances over the past century owe much to social movements that relied on this tactic. Think of Gandhi’s independence movement against British rule in India, the suffragette fight for the right of women to vote and the US civil rights movement.” – Samuel Alexander, The Conversation

Real people need to help with stopping climate change.

“To sort climate change quickly – Extinction Rebellion’s target is net zero carbon by 2025 – a radical restructuring of society is required. And to make it fair, you need to pull the decision-making process away from government and big business, back to real people, including the steelworkers and shelf-stackers, through citizens’ assemblies. They make better choices knowing their own realities.” – Joy Lo Dico, UnHerd

Their choice of language alienates the right.

“Climate activists talk about saving the natural environment from ‘harm’, ‘caring’ for the planet and working towards climate ‘justice’. Such language appeals to the left but antagonises the right. Researchers have found that conservatives heed messages about climate change when they are couched in values they hold dear – that means talking about saving the climate as obeying authority, preserving the purity of nature or defending your country.” – Andre Spicer, The Guardian

They are prone to accusations of hypocrisy.

“One problem is that actions speak louder than words: we treat actions as a reliable guide to sincere belief, and sincere belief as a response to the evidence. If someone publicly professes environmentalism, but makes environmentally unfriendly private choices, we will doubt the sincerity of the environmentalism, and on that basis we will suspect that the evidence for it is less than compelling.” – Thomas Sinclair, University of Oxford

Protests may cost businesses but the cost of climate change is higher.

“The multimillion-pound costs that the Extinction Rebellion protests have imposed on business are regrettable, as is the inconvenience to Londoners. But future costs imposed on our economies by the climate emergency will be many orders of magnitude greater.” – business leaders, letter to The Times (£)

Cool heads are needed to persuade people.

“It isn’t the role of the environment movement to say yes or no to things, but by the same token I would urge a degree of caution. We are all worried about another 10 years of business as usual, but when groups like ours and others plan campaigns, we have to build a really big tent with a lot of the community onside.” – activist Lyndon Schneiders, The Guardian

Preventing people going about their everyday life will just cause opposition.

"What we'd be saying to people thinking of engaging in the protests is – yes you're right to be concerned about the environment, but there are constructive ways to bring everybody with you. If people are prevented from getting to their place of work or going about their daily business, it will just create division that's unnecessary." – Richard Guiney, Dublin Town CEO

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Main picture: Getty Images

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