In a YouGov survey, more than half the people said they disagreed to some extent with Extinction Rebellion’s protests. As someone who is part of this movement, I do not find this surprising. When discussing Extinction Rebellion, most people respond with something like: “I support the cause, but why disrupt people’s lives?” Because it works.
For decades, environmental activists have taken part in peaceful protests, but despite having scientific evidence, the issue has always been too far down politicians’ list of priorities for real progress to be made. Decades of greenwashing and science denial by the fossil fuel industry has shifted public opinion to the point where imagining a climate catastrophe like that predicted is near impossible. This has eradicated long-term thinking. However, in the past year there has been a significant increase in media coverage and public interest around the issue. Is it just a coincidence that the UK Google searches for “climate change” reached their highest since 2009 following Extinction Rebellion’s April protest in London? Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency? I’m sure they were planning to do that anyway.
Unfortunately, it seems the government are still choosing to protect some of the world’s wealthiest companies instead of the people they represent. They continue to subsidise fossil fuels with £10bn a year, then the police banned all Extinction Rebellion protests from London. This, however, can only last as long as those enforcing the law believe in the system they are defending, and in London, when I was there, it was clear that belief in “business as usual” is quickly eroding. I heard that at least one police officer had resigned over the ethical conflict of policing the protest. While I can’t verify this, it is almost certain that as police are forced to use their power not to protect people but the very companies destroying our society, more will face this conflict. Only non-violent civil disobedience can make this happen and only by making those with power question their use of it can we create change.
We don’t want to stop you getting home to your family, or to that important meeting, or even to the airport for your holiday. This is not about punishing individuals for their actions, although I can see why many interpret it that way, it’s about systemic change that leaves no one behind. It’s about an equal society in which people don’t have to choose a low carbon lifestyle, because that’s the only one available. This system is possible, but as long as the government refuses to act, the actions of Extinction Rebellion are necessary.