Extinction Rebellion: a movement against the people
The great enemy of the green movement is not the government or the oil barons. It’s you.
The eco-activists of Extinction Rebellion (XR), the proverbial that just won’t flush, have been in London again this week. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of them, regrettably. Along with members of other environmentalist groups, they descended on Westminster over the weekend, saying the government had until 5pm on Monday to ‘enter negotiations’ with them about their ‘demands’ – or else! They want an end to all funding for fossil fuels – a particularly insane demand amid a backbreaking cost-of-living crisis – and for a new ‘emergency citizens’ assembly’ to decide on the best way to commit this colossal act of economic self-harm. The government has obviously ignored them and so XR is dropping its commitment, made earlier this year, to leave disruptive protests behind. ‘Within three months, Extinction Rebellion will have designed a plan for the greatest acts of civil disobedience in this country’s history’, said one XR spokesman. Meanwhile, Just Stop Oil (JSO) – XR’s aggier little brother, which never forswore the bike locks and superglue – is currently doing slow marches through London, bringing traffic to a standstill and infuriating ordinary people trying to go about their business.
This talk of demands and negotiations is not only pompous – it’s comical. XR et al often talk as if they are some fearsome mass movement, able to bring society to a grinding halt. XR co-founder Roger Hallam – the creepy guy with the ponytail – has stated openly that he intends to get as many people arrested as possible. ‘My view is that if you’re not in prison, you’re not in resistance’, he once said. His aim in all this, as a fellow activist summarised it recently, is that ‘the prisons would be full and the government would fall’. But as disruptive and irritating as these campaigners can be in the unlucky localities on which they descend, such delusions of revolutionary upheaval will always be kept in check by one simple, awkward fact: ordinary people, the teeming masses Hallam imagines toppling the social order, cannot stand him and his ilk. Indeed, according to a YouGov poll in October, following Just Stop Oil’s latest exploits, just 21 per cent of people supported their campaign of disruption, including just 14 per cent of working-class people.
This will come as a surprise to no one. The improbably named public-school boys and girls who swell the ranks of environmental activism are not only wildly unrepresentative of ordinary people (soup-throwing Just Stop Oil poster girl Phoebe Plummer reportedly went to a school that costs £45,000 a year), their antics also seem almost designed to make working people’s lives more difficult. The laptop classes might be inconvenienced by JSO roadblocks – if they’re not all still working from home. But it is those who drive for a living, those who don’t get paid if they don’t show up, those who get wages and not a salary, who are most affected. No wonder that so many pissed-off workers now feel forced to take matters into their own hands whenever these activists wander slowly down city-centre roads or clamber on top of packed Tube trains in east-London neighbourhoods.
Why alienate people? Aren’t you doing damage to your cause? We really need to stop asking these questions. They know they are alienating people – and they clearly don’t care. On a deeper level, this all makes perfect sense. Indeed, the cause of environmentalism is one of making ordinary people’s lives worse, of ushering in policies that – while miserable and constraining for everyone – would disproportionately affect the poor and working class. Those on lower incomes spend a much higher proportion of their money on fuel and energy. They often rely on cars and vans to earn a wage. Roger Hallam doesn’t just want to ban flying and end car-use, he also wants an end to all ‘non-essential consumption’. He has called for a society ‘similar to a Covid lockdown scenario, but with local people being able to meet, socialise and be politically active’. Few beyond his tiny clique of bourgeois perma-students would ever aspire to such a small and meagre existence – particularly if their lives are not that comfortable to begin with.
The rise of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil reminds us how thoroughly protest has been colonised by the middle classes. Protest was once the means through which the ignored masses made their presence felt and feelings clear. Now, from those big Remoaner demos against Brexit to the JSO slow marches today, it is the means through which the well-connected and comfortably off give vent to their curious preoccupations and rail against the supposed idiocy of the rest of us. (This is one of the things that has made arguing against the Tories’ genuinely draconian clampdown on protest, as spiked has continually, a particularly steep uphill struggle.)
It’s also worth remembering that, for all their limp fist-waving at the Tories, the eco-activists only really disagree with the government about timings. Both are committed to Net Zero. The only difference is that XR wants it done and dusted by 2025, while the government has gone for 2050. These protests – complete with their luvvie celebrity backers – are in essence just the cultural elite putting pressure on the political elite to hurry up and implement eco-austerity faster than is currently planned.
The great enemy of the green movement is not the government – or even the fossil-fuel barons. It’s you and me and anyone else who aspires to a better life and wider horizons. Never forget it.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Picture by: Getty.