The failure of COP26 has changed the climate of protest in this country. Extinction Rebellion’s Paralympian James Brown has been jailed for a year for his protest on top of a plane. Nine Insulate Britain protestors have been jailed for contempt of court for breaking injunctions preventing them from sitting in the road. Eight were sent to prison for three or four months, while the ninth, Ben Taylor, was given a six-month sentence after a judge said his submissions to court were “inflammatory”. Ecologist Emma Smart, one of the imprisoned, has since been on hunger strike for two weeks.
On the weekend following the imprisonments climate activists from many groups gathered outside the court, then marched and sat down on Lambeth Bridge. This resulted in 131 arrests of peaceful protestors, but you probably haven’t heard about it as it was largely ignored by the media, who were more interested in the violent Covid protests in Europe.
One protestor on the bridge said that if he is imprisoned ten more will take his place. And if they are imprisoned a hundred more will take their place. And if they are imprisoned a thousand more will take their place. Campaigners are following the tactics of Gandhi, who eventually made the British Government listen by filling the jails with non-violent protestors.
Alanna Byrne of Extinction Rebellion, who took part in the Lambeth Bridge action, said, “When I saw the “Highway 9” give their testimonies in court this week, I knew I had a duty to take a stand today in their place. These people willingly gave up their freedom to push the government to act on the greatest crisis we’ll ever face. The failure of COP26 should shock everyone into action. World leaders are protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry over the general public, they are not coming to save us. All we have left now is to come together on the street and rebel for all we hold dear. The government thinks that this injunction will scare people into submission and stop taking action. But the opposite is true. This has only ignited a fire in people that will spread faster than they know. “
I have never been happy with Insulate Britain’s tactics. I would much rather protests were focussed on the Government and the Corporations that cause the emissions. But the aims of Insulate Britain are spot on. Insulating houses will be a triple win. It will reduce emissions, reduce fuel poverty and provide thousands of worthwhile jobs. Any Government serious about tackling the climate crisis would do this first, not lock up the people demanding it.
Bing Jones a retired Sheffield doctor, has been taking part in Insulate Britain protests. He told me
“We’re failing on the climate. Emissions rise while BP makes a billion dollars a month profit. Science, media, COP and polite demonstrations are not changing things fast enough. Our kids are strapped in a car driven by a madman heading for a cliff. I’m at my wits end so I’ve joined Insulate Britain. I’ve been arrested 6 times. It’s different. It’s a step up. This is civil resistance. It’s ordinary people sitting silently and blocking roads and saying STOP to business as usual. Saying send us to prison. Making a demand that everyone can understand: that government insulates and retrofits our homes to save 15% of UK emissions, make hundreds of thousands of proper skilled jobs and lift 7 million and more people out of fuel poverty. We could abolish heating bills, it’s a win, win, win. This is a big disruption but it’s ordinary people telling the uncomfortable truth that our government is not really interested in saving us. I’m a doctor, I want to look after people but I can’t go on doing what I know doesn’t work. It seems to me that the only honourable place to be just now is in prison. 9 in prison now for contempt of court, 23 more on their way to prison and 131 arrested last Saturday from various groups. If enough people do this we might just make real, rapid change.”
Insulate Britain explain their demand on their website. “The UK has some 29 million homes and they are the oldest and least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe. Every year vast amounts of energy are wasted in heating and, increasingly, cooling our buildings.
In order to meet UK commitments under the Paris Agreement to stay below 1.5C, and legal obligations under the Climate Change Act, emissions from heating and powering homes must be reduced by 78% in less than 15 years and then to zero by 2050.
Nearly 15% of the UK’s emissions come from heating homes: an overhaul of the energy performance of the UK’s housing stock is needed to reduce the energy demand.
The UK needs a nationwide programme to upgrade almost every house. That is 1.5 homes per minute to the year 2050. Currently, the UK Government does not have a robust long-term national strategy with a funding mechanism in place to retrofit our homes. “
Surely the Government must act to put this right rather than face the prospect of jails overflowing with peaceful climate campaigners?