Opinion

Why we should cheer the Extinction Rebellion protests

Why we should cheer the Extinction Rebellion protests

London is entering another day with Extinction Rebellion protesting on the streets. The campaign group has occupied major locations in the capital, including Oxford Circus and most prominently Waterloo Bridge. They’ve blocked these locations off, forcing diversions to be put in place for private vehicles and public transport alike. The Metropolitan Police has diverted significant numbers from normal duties to monitor and disrupt the protests.

Had these protests lasted for one or two days it would have been easier to support them. A grand gesture, one that brought the capital to a halt and made the point the group was trying to make. However, the longer they’ve dragged on, the less newsworthy they’ve become and the faster the shine has rubbed off. Typically British support for the underdog is slowly edging towards annoyance.

And yet.

The point they make is a valid: the UK Government is not acting to address climate change as aggressively as it could. Onshore wind-farm projects have been stopped. Home power generation has lost subsidies and feed-in tariffs that made it attractive to reduce carbon footprints. EV proposals have been watered down, leaving fossil fuel cars in our showrooms to 2040 and beyond. Even the official department for Climate Change has been closed.

These points rose up time again when Prime Minister May attempted to take the high ground. As has become all too common, her tweet was shot down. Only the hardest supporter from the Conservative core vote could defend her.

Chasing the core vote was perhaps why Home Secretary Sajiv Javid called for the “full force” of the law to be used against the protesters. Again a misfire as these aren’t hardened radicals throwing firebombs at the police. They’re largely peaceful groups of individuals made up of a cross-section of society. They’re families, children, middle-aged couples and retirees. They’re eccentrics who take a pink boat into the heart of Oxford Circus, or who glue themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s fence and then apologise for not thinking things through.

These aren’t chanting radicals the media can easily demonise. For every archetypical “far left” activist there’s a man in a Thunderbirds Uniform smiling. They’ve created a carnival atmosphere, a welcoming one that occasionally catches the police off-guard. 

While I struggle to support the methods being used by Extinction Rebellion, I can’t but admire their efforts. When given a choice between the inevitable nuisance and contradictions their campaign causes, and the weakness of a government distracted by Brexit and at war with itself, I can’t help but smile and hope they keep going.

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