Are the criticisms of Extinction Rebellion justified?

Since my last article 30,000 people went to London to rebel and 1500 were arrested for peacefully protesting about the climate and ecological crisis. About 20 arrestees were from Sheffield. Co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley and author George Monbiot were also arrested. People rebelled in many different and dramatic ways. Grandparents marched and mothers sat in the street and fed their babies to protest about Google. A Rabbi was arrested while praying at the Bank of England, a couple got married on Westminster Bridge, a pink octopus was kettled by the police and the children sang a moving SOS song. Farmers brought a pink tractor and a man climbed on top of a plane. Mr. Broccoli, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daisy Lowe and 100 other celebrities declared themselves as hypocrites. A thousand scientists educated the public and Massive Attack turned up with their mobile sound system. More than 400 MPs picked up a tree to plant, a man climbed up Big Ben, and more than 20,000 people came together for a grief march to mourn lives already lost to climate change.

There were similar actions in cities all over the world. Although most of the protests received little media coverage the activists have received much criticism. Is that criticism justified?

You’re uncooperative crusties” said the Prime Minister! When someone resorts to name calling you know they have lost the argument. He has nothing sensible to contribute to the debate and has made no attempt to act on the crisis. He tried to slur the rebels by saying they live in “hemp-smelling bivouacs”, even though there is a strict no drugs or alcohol policy at XR protests.

“Go and protest in China!” said the anonymous comment on Facebook. “They are causing all the emissions”. It is true that carbon emissions have grown faster in China, they now produce roughly 30% of the world’s emissions. But much of this pollution is created to manufacture goods that we import: £45.4 billion worth last year. All the emissions associated with these goods are blamed on China, but it is us who enjoy consuming them! Meanwhile President Xi has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into renewable energy. As someone who hasn’t flown for 30 years, I’m not going to ruin my carbon footprint to go and protest there! Many XR protestors did risk their liberty in countries without good human rights records, including Russia where there were 3 arrests.

If XR did protest in China, they would face severe penalties. People don’t realise that in many countries where people are standing up to big business or Government to protect their environment this results in murder. Earth protectors are being killed at a rate of 4 every week.  1,558 people in 50 countries were killed between 2002 and 2017 trying to protect their land, water or local wildlife. At XR’s moving event in Tudor Square the names of eco-martyrs were read as volunteers representing them fell in the fake blood that had been poured on the ground.

Tell the Truth
Tell the Truth

We are fortunate to live in a democracy where protest is allowed but even this is now threatened.  Last week XR protests were banned all over London in a worrying attack on human rights.

“You’re all hypocrites!” says the tweet. “You are always using your phones and I bet you drove to the demo!” Well I’ve never seen an XR supporter drive to a demo, but yes of course we are all hypocrites. It is impossible to live a perfectly green lifestyle. It is too late for the blame game. We must acknowledge that to save us from the totally catastrophic outcomes of the “hot house earth” scenario, we need complete system change, led by Governments. They have the power to change the laws and make the investments necessary so that everyone chooses to do the right thing for the environment. Unfortunately, our Government are more interested in expanding airports, widening roads, building HS2 and blindly encouraging economic growth no matter what damage this is doing to our life support systems.

“You’re right, but your methods are wrong!” says Mr Angry Passer-by. In one case I agree.  XR should not be disrupting the tube system. The events at Canning Town were foolhardy and not supported by most XR supporters. I hope lessons have been learnt so similar actions won’t be repeated.

“Your claims are exaggerated; 6 billion people won’t die!”  says the BBC’s More or Less programme. This refers to a quote from Roger Hallam who was talking about the existential threat we could face by 2100. But John Schellnhuber, leading climate scientist and advisor to the Pope, Angela Merkel and the EU, thinks we have a less than 50% chance of avoiding an existential crisis and that could come quite quickly. In other words, a planet where crops have failed, cities are underwater, law and order has broken down and civilisation has collapsed is a real possibility if we don’t act globally now to stop it.

No one in XR wants to be disruptive, but for everyone’s sake Governments must be persuaded to act now.  For 30 years I have tried petitions, lobbies, marches, boycotts and even standing in elections but they have not worked. XR must be peaceful, as this is the moral thing to do, and research shows it is more successful than using violence. XR’s disruptive methods have pushed the climate crisis to the top of the agenda. They are winning debates on tv and getting coverage in the press. People now must choose, either extinction, or rebellion!

Graham Wroe October 20th 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: