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Slander, shame, jail, divide and kill: how to silence an environmentalist in five easy steps

Censorship is only the bluntest of many tools being employed to silence climate activists

Jemimah Steinfeld
Tuesday 17 December 2019 15:45 GMT
Aerial footage shows Amazon wildfires burning and devastation left behind

Venice is drowning, Brazil is burning, the ice caps are melting. With these stark realities, the age of climate change denial might finally be coming to a close. But don’t rejoice just yet. The climate conversation still has a way to go. At the recent COP25 meeting in Madrid, Brazil and Saudi Arabia tried to block the words “climate urgency” being used in the UN. But censorship is just the bluntest of many tools being employed to silence climate activists. Here are a few more.

1. Call them names

“Uncooperative crusties”, “tree-huggers” or, in Greta’s case, “brat”, name-calling is the first port of call for those wanting to dismiss environmentalists. Its beauty is simplicity: you don’t need to engage with the people you’re attacking, which is good news as, let’s face it, arguing takes effort and your opponents might very well out-gun you with facts. Name-calling is a way to put down and keep down. While we take solace in the way Extinction Rebellion has responded to such put-downs with good humour, we fear the less thick-skinned might think twice before putting themselves in the firing line.

2. Out their hypocrisy

Greta Thunberg’s yacht crew flew to New York; Prince Harry and Meghan took a private jet. Calling people hypocrites is an excellent tactic used to divert attention away from good people by showing how they fall short of perfection. Unless you dwell in a cave eating locally-sourced mud, you’re going to have some kind of carbon footprint – and when you do, they’ll be coming for you.

3. Take them to court

No one wants to end up in prison – as the Peruvian authorities have recently realised. There they have begun to reinterpret laws to punish opponents of mining projects. This August, for example, the governor of the Puno region, Walter Aduviri, was sentenced to six years and fined the equivalent of $600,000 for his role in protests against planned silver mining in the area. Many fear Aduviri’s sentence will have a chilling effect on environmental protest – and not just in Peru. You can pretty much guarantee that any major climate protest in the UK today will invite numerous arrests; Extinction Rebellion’s October protests in London resulted in over 1,100. That’s pretty steep for a bunch of people who just want to secure humanity’s future.

4. Encourage infighting

Do you support deep green resistance, or do you want to divert Doomsday within our current political system? Whether this division came from without or within is hard to tell, but the fact remains: environmentalists don’t always agree, and worse than that, often take a “my way or the highway” approach. Come on, guys, let’s remember who our real enemies are.

5. Kill them

Needless to say, the most sinister and increasingly popular technique for ridding your country of climate unrest is to eliminate those creating it. The Philippines currently ranks as the most dangerous country in this regard, with 30 land and environmental defenders killed in 2018, while mining is the deadliest industry, with 43 people killed just last year for standing up to mining bosses. South American indigenous communities are among the most at risk from attack while defending their land – and with Brazil recently opening the Amazon for even more business, there are concerns indigenous lives could be even more imperiled.

Jemimah Steinfeld is deputy editor of Index on Censorship magazine. Its latest issue, out next week, includes a report on the murders of anti-mining activists.

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