Extinction Rebellion: Do they generate more harm than good?

Earth day and essential changes:

With the conclusion of Earth Day, and the extended three days of climate action, it feels like an important moment for reflection. Amidst the many problems we face, there have been a few solutions proffered, which is positive. More attention than ever is being afforded to vitally important environmental issues by high-level officials, perhaps the most notable being the complete reversal in stance from the US, under the shifting leadership.

Ambitious pledges to slash carbon emissions were delivered by several nations. Biden’s US pledged to have cut 2005 levels of carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, the UK to have cut 1990 carbon emission levels by 75% by 2035.

But does it mean anything?

Unless those promises are accompanied by an action plan, it’s unlikely to be anything more than empty rhetoric by figures assuming they won’t be accountable to the political consequences in a decade’s time. Greta Thunberg outlines similar worries in a powerful video attacking the signalling of many leaders.

There still isn’t enough support for the sweeping reforms required. All of the information we are receiving indicates that both consumers and companies will likely need to radically alter practises to have a significant impact. The primary challenge is acceptance, especially when the path to progress feels so long. Much as I admire the work of selfless activists, it can occasionally become problematic. The extremist group Extinction Rebellion perfectly encapsulate this concern.

Extinction Rebellion:

Extinction Rebellion (XR) have emerged as a climate activist group.

They are obviously dedicated towards raising awareness regarding specific climate issues. I believe this in itself is a good thing. I personally am vastly under-educated in many aspects, and appreciate being informed on crucial topics where I would otherwise lack necessary knowledge. My concern is their methods.

On Thursday, Extinction Rebellion members attacked the Canary Wharf branch of HSBC bank, smashing at least nineteen windows on the morning of Earth Day. Their noble intention was directing more prominent attention towards the bank’s history surrounding fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the violence and spectacle incorporated into their protest distorts the perspective from which it will be viewed.

HSBC promised to shrink its carbon footprint to net-zero by 2050. Extinction Rebellion claim despite this, “their current climate plan still allows the bank to finance coal power, and provides no basis to turn away clients or cancel contracts based on links to the fossil fuel industry”, even suggesting £80 billion has been poured into fossil fuels in the past five years. That is obviously short-sighted and dangerous thinking from HSBC. The anger of XR is relatable, and inclines me to investigate the sustainability of my banking provider.

But they fall from relatability by enacting violence. It isolates them, and instead culminates in an image of wanton vandalism. It disfigures the wider climate movement, allowing the association of violence to seep in, by enabling critics to freely condemn the excessive use of force.

Not for the first time, XR have hampered their specific cause and the broader ideals they hope to contribute to. In 2019, XR organised a major protest resulting in the occupation of famous landmarks across London, effectively grinding the capital to a halt. In 2020, XR managed to instigate a virtual media shut-down by interrupting the printing presses. Newspapers responded by criticising an “attack on free press” that likely increased notoriety more than it did establish their actual talking points in general discourse.  

Defending a right to peaceful protest:

Their actions are especially frustrating given the ongoing debate revolving around protests. Given the introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, (PCSC) which felt like a direct attack against freedom of expression, XR are now within the ranks of those seeming to prove the necessity of increased police powers. The violent behaviour of a very small minority of protestors jeopardises everyone’s freedom of expression.

By rejecting amendments to a domestic abuse bill, despite claiming they would support victims in the wake of the Sarah Everard case, Conservative MPs effectively telegraphed their intentions. The elements of the PCSC Bill proposing tougher sentencing for serious and sexual abuse crimes, from which Conservative MPs are hanging to claim a perceived moral high-ground, are evidently unimportant to them. There priority is restricting the right to peaceful expression.

All this is to say that XR protests, which factored into the initial justifications for outlawing protests, continue to assert themselves for the wrong reasons.

Ideologically, they might be on the right side of history regarding climate change but are doing themselves for favours in the present.

What are your thoughts on Extinction Rebellion, or the wider climate issues we face? If you’re interested in exploring other environmental topics, why not discover more about micro-plastics? Alternatively, I also write a variety of travel posts and short stories, so explore more!

Feature image by William Bossen, via Unsplash.

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One thought on “Extinction Rebellion: Do they generate more harm than good?

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  1. Your post is thought-provoking. Climate change and going green for that reason is vital for our survival more than ever before, but violence during a protest hijacks the real issue.

    Eat less, reproduce less, consume less, and educate more will solve the problems relating to climate change and make sure that every country, nation, and community should play their role by engaging them and making them responsible for that.


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