Extinction Rebellion: a necessary nuisance?

Extinction Rebellion are a nonviolent organisation who aim to persuade the government to take action on the climate and ecological emergency. They recently made headlines for blocking access to Rupert Murdoch’s printing presses and delaying the distribution of many nationwide newspapers. Extinction Rebellion’s actions were motivated by the failure of papers like the Sun, the Times, and the Daily Telegraph to report on climate change. Some have criticised their actions as an attack on the free press. This is the latest criticism in a series of reactions to their disruptive protests. Though their actions are easy to criticise, Extinction Rebellion are fighting for a cause that is worth fighting for and they have massively increased publicity around the subject.

The movement describe their methods of protest as civil disobedience which they believe to be a ‘necessary’ course of action. However, their recent attack on the printing press provoked a huge wave of backlash which may have swayed public opinion against them. Their actions were condemned as “unacceptable” by the Prime Minister who has stated that Extinction Rebellion should be classified as an organised crime group. Their actions were also described as an “attack on democracy” by Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Is it fair that government figures condemn Extinction Rebellion as an attack on democracy when protests are a fundamental part of democratic society?

While lots of people would get behind an organisation that pressurises the government to take action about climate change, many are unwilling to get behind Extinction Rebellion. The rebels take risky actions to provoke a heavy handed response from the authorities, but some believe their protests are merely disruptive, inconvenient and a nuisance. On 3rd September, an XR protest blocked an ambulance with flashing lights from reaching a hospital because eco warriors had stormed Cardiff’s new BBC building and glued their hands to the pavement outside the Welsh Parliament. On another occasion last summer, furious rush hour commuters pulled protesters from the top of a train at Canning Town tube station. Eight activists were arrested, joining a total of 1,768 held during their fortnight of demonstrations. Despite the fact that these particular incidents were a nuisance for a lot of people and wasted emergency services time, their radical actions help to communicate the severity of the crisis and increase publicity for the cause.

Working behind the tills at Sainsbury’s, many confused customers came to complain to me that the newspaper stall was empty and to ask where their subscription was. Little did I know at the time that Extinction Rebellion had prevented their distribution. Though XR aim their protests at the authorities, it is usually normal people that feel the full extent of the disruption their protests cause. While the eco warriors hope their protests will round up support, little but angry customers and negative publicity were the result of their latest stunt. The message that XR stands for deserves maximum support but their leadership and methods unfortunately make it hard for a large amount of the population to get behind. With the general public being the biggest victim of the radical protests, where do XR hope support will come from?

It is a shame that Extinction Rebellion attract so much criticism; their determination is admirable and their cause is important. A survey last year showed that almost 50% of 18-24 year olds support disruptive climate protests. Although they don’t receive as much support from older generations, perhaps 18-24 year olds are the group who most need to understand XR’s message. Their actions have massively increased publicity for the climate cause and for that we can only thank them. I am certain that the XR’s intentions are in the right place and I wish the climate struggle every success.

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