Are Extinction Rebellion’s extreme methods causing more harm then good? – Wednesday’s Debate

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According to their website, Extinction Rebellion, or XR, are a global organisation with the principal aim of halting “mass extinction and minimising the risk of social collapse”, through non-violent acts of civil disobedience.

The group have a number of demands for global governments, and will continue their demonstrations until these are met.

However, the extremities of their protesting have prompted anger among politicians and the public, challenging respect towards the group and their aims.

In October 2019 two XR protesters were dragged off the top of trains at a tube station in East London by angry commuters whose journeys were disrupted by the actions of the protesters. This is just one of the many hostile environments that XR have been received in.

XR are a “decentralised organisation”, thus anyone can claim their actions are in the name of the group if they match their principles. This means people can push to extremes whilst claiming to be acting on XR’s behalf.

In London in 2019, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick revealed that the group’s protests have cost the Metropolitan Police force £27 million. She described the “horrendous strain” the groups actions have placed on the Metropolitan Police and Londoners this year.

The cost and disruption the group has caused has shifted public sentiment. Many say the disruption and inconveniences they have created are far greater than any benefit they are having on society. One member of the public wrote to The Telegraph saying “public support will rapidly dissipate” if the group’s disruptive tactics continue.

So, is the group’s extreme behaviour counter-productive, or are these actions necessary to wake the public and parliament up to the seriousness of the situation.

This shall be the point of debate for the POI editors for this Wednesday’s debate.

Written By POI correspondent Emer Kelly

Nothing great but certainly better than nothing – Labour article 

I support the cause and actions of Extinction Rebellion (XR) and will explain why, but first we should look at some assumptions in this question. “Extreme Methods.” I do not see those at use here.

Extinction Rebellion uses rather basic protest methods: occupying, glueing themselves to things, and lots of speeches. In their handbook “This Is Not a Drill” they even tell protesters to clear the road at intervals to allow traffic to keep moving and to let ambulances through, thereby reducing their overall disturbance. These are hardly extreme tactics.

The strikes going on in France could be seen as extreme. The police response to them definitely so. XR’s methods are an annoyance at best, which is part of their problem.

This problem can be found in any protest to climate change; that we are facing such an ethereal foe. It is always seen as existing at some point in the future and somewhere else. But not right here, right now. You can storm the bastille to overthrow a government but cannot do the same for the climate crisis.

XR acknowledges this in its ten point declaration. “We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.” As such the methods you have to use cannot be as direct as the Occupy Wall Street movement was. It must be more spread out at the ‘areas of blame.’

The areas of blame are situated in Westminster where the government refuses to act. This is only complimented by corporations in the City and Canary wharf who do the same. Therefore XR’s methods are exactly what is required. A more direct protest would be ineffective and disproportionate. Their other, less disruptive options, are akin to just laying down and letting the climate crisis culminate and destroy us.

I do concede that not all of XR’s methods have been clever, possibly due to their holacratic structure. Glueing yourself to the tube in East London is only going to anger normal citizens already using the public transport that you advocate for. Commuters are the people who XR should be trying to persuade to join them. Unfortunately, the actions of these few protesters reflect badly on the group at large, despite their lack of connection.

Another method I find troubling, is their use of arrest as a tactic to disrupt. With their own admittance that marches do not have much effect, they instead have taken a leaf out of the Suffragettes and Civil Rights movements, being purposely arrested and detained. This has been correctly criticised for entrenching XR as a white middle-class movement, not realising the financial burden of the arrest/trial procedure and how it disproportionately affects BAME people.

Overall, I do think that XR’s methods do more harm than good for their cause as the alternative is to do nothing. Despite the declaration of a climate crisis by Parliament, rthe ill is likely to be hollow and not nearly enough.

They need to build their base, join with more movements and move beyond their public perception as being young, white, and middle-class. More inclusive disruption is needed to make a true impact.

Written by Labour Editor, Daniel Orchard

Point of Information

A well thought through article that pre-empts the other sides arguments – a Liberal response

This is a fantastic article from Mr Orchard and clearly forms rebuttal for some of the arguments that are often used against XR’s methods of activism.

This article, as well as the article from Miss Roberts, raises the important point of representation within XR and the somewhat questionable tactics that have been used which have disrupted the lives of ordinary people who are trying to get to work to put food on the table for their family.

Mr Orchard rightly points out that in any movement there will be outliers who do not truly represent their beliefs held by the wider organisation, and I think this can often be seen with people acting on behalf of XR.

However, do believe that XR should be more vocal if they truly do not agree with actions such as gluing yourself to a tube. Not only would this make it clearer to their supporters how they should be protesting, but it would also work to reconcile their relationship with ordinary working citizens, who at times are at odds with the actions of XR.

As it stands, I think Mr Orchard and I can agree that the movement should be admired, but XR should welcome the scepticism and negativity towards them. They should use this as fuel to ensure that they are representative of the wider population and engaging with the wider population. After all, mass involvement and change is the only way we can tackle climate change.

Written by Liberal Editor, Olivia Margaroli

Glue yourself to a tube or do nothing? – a Conservative response 

I would agree with some aspects of this article, as in order for the XR to become more successful, they certainly need to expand their appeal beyond white, middle class, young people.

However, I would argue that the current disruptive tactics being used by protesters are actually the cause behind them not being able to achieve a wider appeal.

Therefore, I would disagree with Mr Orchard, as in order to increase their ideological reach, the XR would need to adopt less disruptive tactics in order to gain the approval of the general public.

Mr Orchard has praised their tactics as well as criticised them. He has stated that their less extreme tactics are pointless, yet their more direct tactics, such as getting arrested or glueing themselves to tubes are financial burdens that don’t reflect well on the group.

Therefore, although Mr Orchard has concluded that the XR has done more good for their cause than harm, other than media attention I would like to know what good their tactics have done them?

Finally, it is implied in this article that the only alternative to joining the Extinction Rebellion is to sit back, do nothing and wait for the world to end. This is not the case, and there have been many movements and actions that have taken place before the XR existed.

I can recommend a number of different environmental groups and charities you can donate to or get involved in, which are making a real impact (without blocking hospital routes). This includes the UCS, EDF, the NRDC to name but a few.

These are the kinds of organisations that will make a real impact on our world through scientific research and the development of real environmental solutions. These organisations are the respected voice of environmental advocacy, not the Extinction Rebellion.

Written by Conservative Editor, Eleanor Roberts

Did you know who Extinction Rebellion were this time last year? – Liberal article

‘Extinction Rebellion dump horse manure outside UN climate climate summit’, ‘Extinction Rebellion activists stage protests outside Sydnes Opera House’, ‘Police clear Extinction Rebellion protesters from Waterloo Bridge’, ‘Sir David Attenborough makes surprise Glastonbury appearance to praise festival for going plastic-free’, ‘EXTINCTION REBELLION protestors have glued themselves to concrete blocks on a road outside Leicester Square tube station’. These are just a few of the headlines about Extinction Rebellion (XR) and their action that the UK, and the world, have seen since the start of the year.

Think back to this time last year and you may not have even heard of XR, and even if you had, you certainly could not have predicted the media stir they would cause in 2019! To deny that they have increased conversation around climate change would be foolish. After all, it is unlikely that we would be doing this debate if it were not for the increased discourse around climate change, which must at least in part have been caused by XR.

It is all very well saying they have increased media attention, but is this their aim? No, well, at least not entirely. Of course, this is a benefit of their action, but they have three ‘demands in the UK’. They want: the Government to ‘tell the truth’ by declaring a climate emergency; action to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 to start now; and they want the Government to create a Citizen’s Assemble on climate problems.

It doesn’t take much research (in fact you probably ‘just know’) to find out none of these goals have been achieved. It is unlikely that we will ever see the head honchos of XR sitting down with policy-makers to discuss how we best implement polices to reduce our impact on the climate (although after the last few years of politics it would be unwise to totally rule it out).

But I do not believe for one moment that these are their true aims. At least I do not believe that anyone in XR truly believes this will ever be achieved directly from their activism.

Of course, to be legitimate activists and have a legitimate movement they need to have clear aims, regardless of how improbable they are.

Part of the way to create change this is to make people care about the issue. We have to make normal citizens aware of the climate crisis that will arise if we do not act swiftly and severely.

This, although they wont state it as a core aim, must be what XR is trying to do. They are paving the way, if you like widening the Overton Window, for another, politically appropriate individual or group to arise that can force the change we need to see.

The work XR has done in increasing the conversation and mobilising otherwise politically inactive individuals (think back to the school strikes) is absolutely indisputable. This, for me, is enough to say that without a doubt they have done more good than harm.

Wait for your Christmas day, boxing date etc. celebrations, I will make two predictions, firstly, the topic of climate change is likely to come up. Secondly, most of your family and friends will be keen to do more to reduce their impact on the climate.

We cannot say XR directly caused this conversation, but I doubt many people spoke about climate change last holiday season.

Written by Liberal Editor, Olivia Margaroli

Point of Information

A foundation for something better – A Labour response 

I have to say I agree with almost everything that Olivia has written. However, she has written that the XR has not achieved their goal of getting the UK parliament to declare a climate crisis.

On May first this year, a month after XR’s largest series of demonstrations, parliament did approve a motion declaring an Environment and Climate Emergency. Unfortunately, it is non-binding, but it is likely not to have existed if not for the demonstrations.

What XR failed to do is to capitalise on this concession and increase the pressure they were putting on parliament.

The idea of XR merely being a lever on the Overton window of climate politics, allowing for another group to take it’s place and continue the fight, is an interesting one.

I do hope it is true. Whatever group comes next, must take note of the issues that all three editors have raised if it wants action to be taken.

Written by Labour Editor, Daniel Orchard

We need to stop giving this ‘rebellion’ credit that it hasn’t earned – a Conservative response

I agree with many points this article has made. Miss Margaroli has correctly identified the lack of success the XR has had within achieving their aims. In addition, the fact that due to the structure of their protest, it is unlikely that they will ever be taken seriously by the Government.

However, she is giving the protest too much praise. All they have done is cost tax payers millions in police services, prevented people from getting to work, and disrupted traffic for weeks…with almost nothing to show for it.

Undoubtedly, the XR has attracted a media storm, however the conversations stimulated are often not about the important topics. Often articles are discussing titles similar to ours. Instead of arguing about what we can do to decrease the effects of climate change, we are debating the validity of the XR.

This shows how they aren’t portraying their message well enough, distracting the public with their silly tactics, unrealistic goals and extremist claims. They are not portraying themselves as a well respected environmental group.

Although I agree with the majority of this article, I still believe that the Extinction Rebellion has done their cause little justice. They have associated the idea of environmental protection with being a rebel, and if anything this has pushed away public support.

This has been counterproductive in the fight against climate change. By suggesting that we have only just begun discuss climate change because of XR undermines all the work governments, international organisations and charities have been doing for years. Groups such as the United Nations Environment Programme have been tackling these issues since 1972.

There has always been discussions surrounding the issues of climate change, and we need to stop giving the XR credit that it doesn’t deserve.

Written by Conservative Editor, Eleanor Roberts

Even the Extinction rebellion have admitted they’ve got it wrong – Conservative article

Environmental problems like global warming, air pollution, waste disposal, water pollution and ozone layer depletion are predicted to worsen overtime, and this is dramatically affecting animals and human life on this planet. Undoubtedly, we need to reduce our damaging impact on the world, and this needs to happen from an individual level as well as on governmental and corporate levels. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a global environmental movement with the aim of using “nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system”. Although arguably an admirable protest, their behaviour has been distracting the public from the hard hitting issues of climate change, and consequentially they have been harming the cause they are fighting for.

One of the key tactics used by Extinction Rebellion activists is the use of alarmist language and extreme claims in order to frighten the public (and small children) into action. The founder of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam has publicly announced that science has predicted 6 billion people will be “slaughtered, killed and starved” in the next 80 years.  This claim has been debunked as it ironically isn’t supported by published scientific research. However, these radical claims made by Extinction Rebellion have led to rising numbers of children being treated for “eco-anxiety”, as impressionable children have developed symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia and depression due to their “chronic fear of environmental doom”.

This fear mongering isn’t’ helping the environmental cause, if anything it is persuading parents to avoid it. Hallam is the public face behind the extinction rebellion, and he is also the man who compared climate change to the systematic murder of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. I realise that the actions of one activist doesn’t reflect the whole purpose of the rebellion, however this is the founder whose false extremist claims created a foundation for the whole movement, and this is not a good public image to have for such an important cause.


Moving on to the faults in XR tactics, blocking bridges, disrupting public transport and gluing  themselves to public transport, could be appealing to seasoned activists, however, these are ineffective strategies for gaining mass public support. The XR’s official line is to encourage “3.5% of the population to undertake system change,” so perhaps they don’t even want to appeal to the masses? If they continue to focus on these small groups of activists, they will never be able to achieve the mass movement required to push political boundaries. As well as discouraging the majority of the public from participating, they are also minimising their political reach by classing themselves as ‘rebels’.

Furthermore, these protests in many cases have disrupted the lives of working class citizens, who have been unable to get to work, by which they are paid hourly, due to blockades and traffic due to the XR. XR protestors have gone even further, and during the two weeks of protests have blocked a major hospital route on Westminster Bridge, which has literally put peoples lives at risk. How is this behaviour helping the climate change cause, and how can they expect people to support this? 

All they are achieving is negative attention from the very people they are trying to persuade. They should be organising tree planting or beach clean-ups, a much more creditable way of portraying the message they are currently failing to show.

Undoubtedly, the XR has gained mass media coverage, but in many cases it is for all the wrong reasons. Realistically they aren’t causing any credible changes themselves, apart from creating even more of a divide among British citizens. We all know, and we all agree that there needs to be action when it comes to climate change, we don’t need Greta Thunberg to tell us that, and more appropriate action does need to be taken.

If the XR wants to make a change they should stop forcing their unrealistic agendas down our throats, and instead focus on political infiltration. Only the Government can make the changes required to reach zero carbon emissions, and they are unlikely to want to work with such an anti-capitalist group.

Written by Conservative Editor, Eleanor Roberts

Point of Information

Extinction Rebellion – Making people scared of things they should be scared of, the horror – a Labour response

I have to credit my Conservative colleague with a great article that brings up many of the same issues I discussed in mine. However, the alternate methods she proposes – those being beach cleanups, tree planting and the like – would be completely pointless.

Whilst in a vacuum I agree with them, when properly put in context they are useless in furthering the goals that XR has in mind. More akin to treating the symptoms than the underlying cause. Climate disaster is coming and we must face it head on. If we are meek in our actions we will perish.

To blame XR for the rise in eco-anxiety seems a tad unfair. Whilst Hallam has made bold claims, his underlying principle, that major social upheaval will occur due to a lack of food, is not a new one. In fact, it goes as far back as Thomas Malthus’ 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population. I obviously am not saying that I want more children to be anxious in their lives but these are not phantoms that they are scared of. They are real threats, far off yet approaching ever faster.

Overall, on the topic of whether XR has done more harm than good for their cause, if they had stuck to cleaning beaches no one would ever have heard of them and they would not have had the impact they have had.

Their goals may seem unrealistic but so were many goals of new organisations that have had momentous effects on our society.

Written by Labour Editor, Daniel Orchard.

 A misunderstanding of what Extinction Rebellion are trying to achieve – a Liberal response 

I commend my Conservative colleague on taking a viewpoint that within our generation may be unpopular, but one that is often underrepresented in the media.

Miss Roberts raises some valuable arguments with regards to the fear-mongering and extreme language used by Extinction Rebellion activists. Although I would agree that this use of language and their tactics can often seem unnecessarily severe, when we think about what they are actually referring to – the world becoming extremely unpleasant (if not impossible) to live on.

I hope most people can agree that it is necessary and imperative that harsh and alarming language is used to reflect the harsh and alarming fate we face if we don’t act soon!

The notion that XR is a movement for the a few liberal privileged white academics that can afford to not go to work, instead planning and taking part in protests, is often overlooked, but I am glad it was raised in the article.

I personally find this part of XR’s movement most troubling. I am left with the moral conundrum as to whether I should be grateful the privileged are giving up their time, or questioning of their true motives. Currently I side with the former, although I maintain a level of suspicion towards some of the activists.

I think this article mis-understands the real aims of XR, of course their explicit aims are to change government policy, but it seems improbable that such bright individuals genuinely believe XRs action will cause this.

These aims merely legitimise their activism. Their core – implicit – aim is to increase conversation and concern around climate change, allowing a future group (that hasn’t caused so much widespread anger) to actual commence talks with policy-makers, and in my opinion they are doing just that.

Written by Liberal Editor, Olivia Margaroli

 

 

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