For the last few days there have been mass protests in London by people following the Extinction Rebellion movement.  These people are protesting in order to get the UK government to recognise the need to do something about climate change and to declare it an emergency.  The protestors have taken the Easter holidays to make their complaints heard and have caused problems to traffic and businesses in central London.  But while the message of their campaign is a good one, have the protesters made a fundamental mistake in how they are trying to gain support for their cause?

As someone who lives in London, but luckily not been affected directly by the protests, I find the protestors actions a little difficult to swallow.  I’ve spent my whole life being an environmentalist, seeking to improve the world personally, through recycling and other measures, and I’ve also always tried to get the message across to other people too.  Whether you believe in the warnings about climate change or not, you can’t deny that our world would be better off if we relied less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy, if we recycled more and used plastics less, etc.  Apart from creating a cleaner and healthier air and general atmosphere to breathe and live in, it would also help our eco system in the long run.  But for anything to change in our society, you surely need to garner support from the public and then government, and not isolate the very people you are trying to get your message to.

The public image

The news has been filled with the kinds of actions that the protesters have been taking, from forcing the closure of a major bridge and roads to individuals glueing themselves on top of the Docklands Light Railway carriage.  The protesters clearly want to get their message across, but are they really thinking about what they are doing carefully, or are these spur of the moment actions?

Getting the public on your side is something that’s very important if you want to spread the wider message of climate change and get the government to act.  Without the public support the protestors will be seen as a nuisance and a government is more likely to ignore than listen to the message.  Unfortunately the protestors in London haven’t done a good job of persuading the public to listen and agree and for many they have just caused nothing but misery.

Many people need to work in central London, with many of those being people who don’t have a high income.  For many travelling around London, having their transport disrupted means missing work or being late.  This can lead to people losing out on their wages, and as someone who grew up in a family who were always on the poverty line, we needed every single penny, and if we missed out on any paid work, we didn’t eat (or were in trouble with the bills).

The protestors who glued themselves onto the DLR weren’t thinking clearly, while it was probably fun for them, they disrupted hundreds, maybe thousands of journeys on that route.  Many of the people could have been heading to work and not everyone has a car in London to be able to get around.  The same thing happened when blocking Waterloo Bridge, people couldn’t get to their destinations, which meant, for some at least, a loss of pay (and in extreme cases a lost job could have even happened!).

An environmental protest

Apart from isolating themselves from some of the public, the protestors could have done more environmental things to get the message across.  Rather than planning and carrying out a yoga session on Waterloo Bridge, how about bringing some plants and small trees in pots to the area (as I write this I have read that some of this has happened but flowers on the tarmac isn’t the same as growing in pots-unless more has happened since I’ve written this post?)?  The couple who decided to glue themselves to the DLR, did they think about how toxic a substance glue is?  Shouldn’t these protestors show the true spirit environmental campaigning and do some good at the same time – if not just to show the government what they could be doing better?

Halting all traffic from being able to use the Waterloo Bridge and other roads may have been seen as a good thing by the protestors, but what about the people who need to get places?  If they can’t get places by bus or can’t take the trains because someone has stopped the movement of them by attaching themselves to the roof, then those very people who need to get places will resort to taking taxis instead.  Is more cars/taxis on the roads really better for the environment?  What about the cars which are also halted from using roads?  Will the people just stop their cars and walk away or will the car engines be running while they wait in hope that the polie can move the protestors on?  I don’t believe the toxic fumes from car engines (which does affect me personally as I start coughing in close proximity to it) is really that good for the environment.

Other issues

And then there is a less environmental and more serious question about how emergency services will get through to where they are needed.  Will someone’s ambulance be late, or will there be no police available to help someone in need because the protesters needs are,more important?

The main message of the campaign is to get the government to listen to the protestors demands.  They want to achieve zero emissions in just a few years but has anyone thought about how this can be done.  The problem with a lot of protests is that sometimes the people protesting haven’t thought about the logistics of what they are asking.  If you want to create a completely green environment then for a start, every UK household should have heating and hot water from a renewable source.  But most houses rely on gas boilers which use natural gas.  And while I’m not a fan of a gas boiler (and the potential damage one exploding can do), how can we possible build the infrastructure and equip every home with a renewable source of heating in just a few years.  Maybe those protesting should do more than just protest but actually think about and help the government come up with ways to do what they want.

There are plenty of people protesting about this, so many people have descended on London to make sure that they are a part of this environmental movement.  But I don’t know if every single person campaigning is as environmental as they like to think.  Do they own and use cars – more than one?  How environmental are they in their day-to-day lives and will they clean up after themselves when the protests are finally over?  Sometimes people don’t realise that their own lives should be the first place to be environmental.

Positive or negative?

In the end it is hard to say whether what the protestors are doing is a good thing or bad.  It’s true that governments continually ignore the wider message of the threat to the environment, that our world is not so sustainable or clean using fossil fuels.  The world would be a better place if we could implement global changes but changing the world overnight will not be easy and is impossible to do.

While we need to get the government to listen to the message of saving the environment, the people running the protests also need to think more carefully about how they go about their campaign.  Rushing into protesting without thinking about the wider consequences of their actions is bad for both the environment and the public message.  We need to gain support and sympathy from the people of the world and this won’t happen if you stop many from being able to go about their day.

The right protest

If businesses on London’s shopping streets can’t trade then ultimately they may get rid of staff leading to unemployment.  Stopping public transport won’t make the world cleaner and yelling randomly in the street or stopping major road and bridges won’t get the government to change.  While it’s good to see so many people caring about the future of our world, we really need to work together to protest and campaign in a way which makes the governments listen up and act, and which will give them no choice but to make changes as they see how much support the campaign will have.

We can all make a positive change and the government seriously needs to change too!  But there is a right way and a wrong way to protest, and while the protests in London have been mostly non-violent (apart from some smashed glass of the Shell company – which I don’t agree with regardless of how bad you think Shell might be) there must be better ways to get the message across than to disrupt individual’s lives.

Do you agree with the protestors message?  Do you agree with the way they have protested and affected central London?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂