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Why Extinction Rebellion was flawed from the start

After a week of virtue signalling, Extinction Rebellion has offered to “pause” its protests, having already inflicted widespread disruption across the capital. The group claims that this change in tact represents “a new phase of rebellion”, which is intended to further Extinction Rebellion’s “political aims.”

One can be critical of the protesters and believe that we must combat climate change. The two aren’t mutually exclusive

I concede the point, labelling last week’s protesters as virtue signalers is perhaps unfair – but it got your attention. I believe that we must decarbonise the economy; that sustainability must play a greater role in future developments; and that we must, collectively, stop trashing our planet. You see? One can be critical of the protesters and believe that we must combat climate change. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, I’m not burning coal and cutting down trees between my lectures for pleasure’s sake.

Areas around Oxford Circus and Parliament Square have reopened to traffic after officers cleared protesters, but Extinction Rebellion continues to occupy both Marble Arch and Waterloo Bridge. And this nonsense just has to stop. Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick has said that, until now, she has never experienced anything like the ongoing protests in her 36-year long career. Extinction Rebellion, albeit controversially, has taken to trying to get as many protesters arrested as possible.

In essence, the ongoing protests are just an elaborate display of direct action, a method in which a pressure group attempts to influence decision-makers in Westminster and gain publicity for their cause. Again, I appreciate what Extinction Rebellion is trying to achieve. The organisation demands that the government “tells the truth”, cuts greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and establishes a Citizens’ Assembly on climate change. I agree: the government must be open about the threats that climate change poses.

 The protesters know [decarbonisation] won’t happen. The government knows it won’t happen. It’s a soundbite, nothing more; nothing less

Perhaps setting up a Citizens’ Assembly wouldn’t be a bad idea? Although the cynic within me questions if such a body would be worth the paper its minutes are printed on. Demanding the decarbonisation of the global economy by 2025 – as noble a pursuit it is – is utterly ridiculous. The protesters know it won’t happen. The government knows it won’t happen. It’s a soundbite, nothing more; nothing less.

So, what is my issue with Extinction Rebellion? After all, I’m concerned about climate change, a purveyor of progressive politics, and– broadly – supportive of pressure group activity.

Frankly, I take offence to Extinction Rebellion’s flagrant disregard for ordinary Londoners. Commuters, couriers, taxi drivers and, visitors, the very people that keep our capital city going, should not be adversely affected because you want to glue yourself to a lorry for publicity.  Direct action is about publicity. Choosing to glue yourself to a lorry, of course, promotes your cause.

But the publicity that you gain cannot be offset against the credibility that you lose. Larch Maxey, a senior figure within the Rebellion, told the BBC that Extinction Rebellion has “a series of strategic points around the city which [they] will be targeting to cause maximum economic disruption, while simultaneously focusing on Parliament and inviting MPs to pause.”

I doubt that Extinction Rebellion would be content even if the government was able to reduce Britain’s carbon footprint to zero by 2025 – which it won’t, and can’t.  In an article for the New Internationalist, one environmentalist mused at the “Millennialist tendencies of the group”, likening the apocalyptic protestors to the Fishes from the film ‘Children of Men’. The protesters might not be “increasingly radicalised religious zealots, bent on reminding the population of their imminent mortality”, but they seem detached from the acute struggles of many Londoners.

The people hurt most by these protests are the taxi drivers and couriers who simply go to work to put bread on their tables

The people hurt most by these protests are the taxi drivers and couriers who simply go to work to put bread on their tables. I feel so, so sorry for those people. I feel so sorry for the commuters who haven’t been able to get to work on time. I feel so sorry for the mums, dads, and carers who haven’t been able to make it home in time for bath time.

Allow me to be equally apocalyptic for a moment.  Climate change is an enormous threat to our planet. Islands are being reclaimed by the oceans. We are poisoning our seas. We are destroying habitats the world over. I implore you to read the latest IPCC report on climate change. What is happening to our planet is a catastrophe.

I believe wholeheartedly in the right to peaceful protest. But Extinction Rebellion isn’t peaceful. It is an assault on the normal people of this country, and that attack must stop.

Let’s save our planet, let’s fight climate change. But let’s do it together.

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