MAKING CHANGE OR ENEMIES?
Why our generation IS divided on Extinction Rebellion
By Ella Bennett
How come we feel so inspired yet so frustrated by the environmental protest group?
Growing up on a diet of David Attenborough programmes - cringing as we watched the heart-wrenching viral video showing a turtle having a plastic straw pulled from its nose - it is impossible for our generation to ignore the threat of environmental collapse and our role in this worldwide devastation. But consensus on the methods taken by environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion seem to have less unanimous support.
A recent Instagram poll by Quarterlife Magazine found that 79 per cent of quarterlifers said they’d been inspired by the protests, but many also admitted they weren’t sure if the protest had been helpful for the cause.
One respondent said “I think their tactics have put off the people they need support from”.
Like many of these voters my age, I wholeheartedly support Extinction Rebellion’s cause but, if I’m honest, I also feel highly frustrated by their methods. While The Guardian confidently stated that "Extinction Rebellion is leading a new, youthful politics that will change Britain", it's important not to overlook the conflicting opinions among these "youthful" people.
When I heard of their plans to shut down major roads in London, I knew that it would fuel the argument of environmentalists being extremists, despite their informed and totally valid message. When Extinction Rebellion began their London takeover, I was not surprised to see countless negative headlines like, ’HOW DARE THEY’: Commuter fury as Extinction Rebellion jump on DLR train’, and, ’Out-of-control’ eco warriors waging war on London’.
Tabloids had license to focus on criticising the disruption, rather than discussion of the message at hand.
Even Sadiq Khan in his official statement voiced support for the right to protest, yet was “concerned by the difficulties people are facing getting to work” and “frustrated by the damage this [was] causing to the public transport system”.
I also feared that the group risked alienating the people they were trying to engage. It has to be said that the group’s actions hit average people the hardest - people just trying to get to work - rather than CEOs of major corporations, the leaders of the world’s most polluting nations or, more broadly, senior people in positions to make real change.
Hesitancy to support Extinction Rebellion can also be put down to the obvious middle class-ness of the whole affair.
Images of people doing yoga on Waterloo Bridge stoked the “liberal metropolitan elite” narrative and did little to convince frazzled, over-worked people on zero-hours, especially outside the M25, to rally in support of the group. It also didn’t go unnoticed that the protest fell conveniently during the Easter holidays and was, therefore, presented to the public as a nice jolly for a group of society who had clearly missed Glastonbury so much during the fallow year that they felt the need to recreate it in Oxford Circus. Sky News coverage of “Miriam staging a three day sit-in” in Westminster did little to help the situation.
Despite this lukewarm response to Extinction Rebellion’s methods, it must be acknowledged that the group did manage to achieve something incredible.
Shortly after the protests the UK Parliament declared climate change emergency, committing to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050. The protests also made many people stop and think about reducing the environmental impact resulting from their daily lives, which is easier said than done.
I suppose I have tried to reconcile my frustrations with the knowledge that negativity does not suggest a failure to encourage change, but is instead a crucial part of it.
It takes time for “truths” to be accepted; especially if they are uncomfortable and require us to change aspects of our comfortable lives. Also, it is even trickier when they are propagated by people who look like their are made of 100 per cent hemp. There is a famous quote I’ve heard used often throughout the years by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, that I think explains our current situation perfectly. His quote summarises the three stages that any truth must go through before it is accepted as such. He suggests that, “all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”.
No matter what your opinions on the eco-protests are, it must be said that these protests, much like school strikes led by Greta Thunberg, have given the movement a momentum that our generation has not seen before.
While, in the short-term, these protests may have made a few enemies, their impact goes far beyond a few snarky tabloid headlines.
The true extent of the success of these recent actions may not be understood for many years to come, but for the first time I feel truly optimistic and hopeful that change is coming.
If we have learnt anything from these protests it’s that real action on climate change is possible; we are only seeing the start of what we can collectively achieve but that, for the movement to grow even further, we need to include everyone in the conversation.
Image by Joël de Vriend