Photo by Korie Cull
For millennia, the Earth has endured abrupt fluctuations in greenhouse gases and global temperatures which arguably, it was designed to endure. However, human activity has increased carbon levels over the last century, pushing the Earth past its threshold. With growing concern over the human impact on the Earth, and the Earth’s inability to mitigate its injuries, budding social movements calling for climate awareness have exploded onto the public consciousness. Recently, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in London, Paris and Berlin have brought the issue into KCL’s international dialogues. Alarmism has intensified throughout the West, with teenage girls even claiming they will not have children because of the uncertainty of the planet’s future. The main question we should be asking here is: are these climate strikes resolving the issue, or are they just exacerbating the Blame Game?
Climate change has been an urgent issue for the last 60 years, with apparently trustworthy scientific studies concluding that the world would end by 2000. Yet – spoiler alert – we are still here. We need to view climate change in a more critical light. While climate change is a global concern that demands urgency, the current movements are ineffective in both providing solutions, and gaining public sympathy.
Current measures taken to address the issue through XR’s acts of civil disobedience are not only worsening the public perception of the climate change movement but also alienating those concerned with climate change, who aren’t extremists and alarmists. A recent poll undertaken by The Times demonstrates that 76% of its readers who took part in the poll thought that the Extinction Rebellion protests weren’t justified. The Evening Standard reports through a recent YouGov poll that “out of 3,561 British adults, 52% either ‘somewhat oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’” these protests. The method of protesting undertaken by the movement, involving blocking roads, disrupting public transport systems, and accidentally spraying a UK Treasury building with fake blood, have discredited the movement to the public. Climate change is a pressing issue, but at 7 am on a Thursday morning? It’s an annoying frustration.
Instead, protests should be undertaken in ways that minimise the disruption to public life. Last year, for example, Japanese bus drivers of Ryobi Bus Company protested against the privatisation of bus services. Rather than disrupting public transport by marching, they instead refused to charge fares. Not only did this directly target their intended audience, the Ryobi Bus Company, by causing profit losses, but this protest also earned genuine public support. What we need aren’t irrational protests, like people gluing themselves to the road, but rather a rational conversation towards effective measures. For example, XR has made vital demands, such as pressurising the UK government to declare a climate emergency. As we are all aware of the climate emergency, it brings up the question of how exactly this helps in resolving the issue. Declaring a climate emergency does little more than act as a rhetorical device, or a weak statement of a problem most of the public, and the world, are already aware of.
Photo by Markus Spiske
Instead of disrupting Heathrow Airport, protestors should focus on suggesting effective measures towards mitigating the effects of climate change, as undertaken by other countries. For example, South Korea’s recycling system is one of the most efficient operations in the world. XR protestors should focus on forcing governments to regulate companies, who are the most significant contributors to climate change, or looking into other effective measures in other states rather than punishing the public. By bringing awareness to possible solutions, in ways that do not ridicule the movement, XR can inspire individuals to take simple actions at home to take care of the environment as well as force more active government involvement. As compelling as the protest sounds, right now, the XR movement has done little but mask its essential message as a public tantrum.
The supposed 12-year deadline which humans have in order to save the planet, as XR proposes, is simply not credible. We cannot halt climate change because we are close to a time limit and wish to reverse its negative consequences. On the contrary, we need to take long term actions which aim at moderating the effects of climate change. A proposal like this would require the involvement of non-Western countries, including those refusing to acknowledge their contribution to the issue. This would require lobbying other countries like China, India and Brazil, which remain distant from the climate debate. It would also involve Western governments restricting MNCs from offshoring their polluting businesses to LEDCs, or putting up stricter measures against corporations operating in the West. Hence, climate change remains an issue only some choose to address. Rather than point fingers and hold others responsible, XR should encourage the internationalisation of climate change. This ‘Blame Game’ being played by most interest groups involved in climate change protests has only served in pitting us against one another. Rather than drag climate change dialogue into an East-West issue, we should acknowledge this as a social problem rather than merely a political one. A problem where we are all equally as culpable.
To conclude, the XR movement has a fundamental desire— to impress on us all that climate change is a very pressing problem. But its protests and the simple inability of the XR movement in proposing valid solutions has obscured the true meaning of the protest. A simple look through recent articles written about the XR protests shows too much focus being placed on fury surrounding the protests, and too little on the actual message of the movement. Are we getting lost within the madness of the Extinction Rebellion protests and missing the main message?
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor