Eco-activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) are back doing what they do best – alerting us to the urgent need for meaningful action on climate change with their attention-grabbing mix of righteousness and shamelessness.
This time, an estimated 2,300 demonstrators plan on blocking traffic at five of London’s busiest locations for at least 24 hours. Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus will play host to what Extinction Rebellion boasts will be “a full-scale festival of creative resistance”.
The average Londoner would probably have some less cheerful words to say about the protest – adding to disruption on the first day of the working week is unlikely to win them many fans.
Reports of ambulances forced to detour by road blockages and police time wasted by civil disobedience have blighted the group’s previous demonstrations.
Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the campaign, said in a recent promotional video that the change Extinction Rebellion wants will be “irreducibly painful”.
The group's plan is to nag the British public into action. “It’s justified to disturb the general public when the general public is not enacting their social obligation,” Hallam insisted.
The campaign’s antagonistic approach is misguided, but Extinction Rebellion's modus operandi does have an incidental benefit – it gives the British public, especially the most privileged among us, a taste of the discomfort to come once we begin to address climate change in earnest.
62 per cent of Britons believe the government is doing too little to prepare for or adapt to climate change, according to the environmental charity ClientEarth. However, far fewer surely fathom the actions required of them if government policy were to flip to match the IPCC’s recommendations. Climate change mitigation will be a bitter pill to swallow – a truth which is easily ignored while we continue to dawdle on the matter.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” read the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published last year. The upheaval of tangible policy change will far outweigh that of a few traffic jams.
Switching to a “flexitarian” diet, in which meat is eaten less than once a week, swapping gas-guzzling cars for bikes and buses, and recycling to the fullest extent must be taken seriously and done quickly if we want to stop climate change.
Despite the need for “rapid” progress in these areas, change continues to be sluggish. The UK recycling rate for household waste crawled up to 45.7 per cent in 2017 from 45.2 per cent the year before. Government data suggests we will fail to meet the EU target of 50 per cent by 2020.
Likewise, although the Waitrose food and drink report for 2018 found that 33.5 per cent of the population are cutting down on, or cutting out, meat, the average UK resident still eats almost double the global average of meat each year, devouring a remarkable 84.2kg.
All the while, animal agriculture is to blame for between 13 and 18 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Extinction Rebellion's mission statement is to make the “government…act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025” – a much more ambitious aim than the IPCC’s target of 2050.
While their strategy is optimistic bordering on naïve, its aggravating use of direct action, intent on disrupting the humdrum of daily life, has injected a refreshing realism into the discourse around climate change.
It’s made people wake up to the fact that halting climate change won’t be all fresh air and flowers. It will instead be a grand collective struggle that necessitates inconvenience and disruption – particularly for those with the broadest shoulders.
Research by the Centre for Sustainable Energy found that on average the richest 10 per cent of UK households contribute three times more (16 per cent) to total carbon emissions than the poorest tenth of society (5 per cent).
Extinction Rebellion's roadblocks will hopefully inure us all to the need to shake up our habits to stop climate change. Whether you’re crossing town on a bus, in a taxi or in a chauffeur-driven limousine, the traffic will give us all pause for thought that the inconvenience of climate change mitigation to our comfy existences will be minor in comparison to having no human existence at all.
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