The U.K.’s Version of the Green New Deal Has No Idea What It’s Doing

A performer sings to climate-change activists demonstrating at Oxford Circus during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London, England, April 15, 2019. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)
The ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protesters aren’t helping their cause.

‘THIS IS AN EMERGENCY,” warns the website of the Extinction Rebellion, a group of climate-change activists whose civil disobedience has included gluing themselves to a train and to Jeremy Corbyn’s fence, nailing a pink boat to the ground in Oxford Circus, pouring fake blood outside Downing Street, holding a “die in” at London’s Natural History Museum, and camping beneath the city’s Marble Arch.

What do they want? (1) For Britain to declare a “climate and ecological emergency,” (2) for Britain to commit to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, and (3) for a special climate-change “citizens’ assembly” to decide future environmental policies.

When do they want it? Now.

“We are now facing an existential crisis, the climate crisis and ecological crisis which have never been treated as crises before, they have been ignored for decades,” said Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist, addressing London demonstrators. “And for way too long the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything.”

Now, if Ms. Thunberg — who is 16 years old — had been addressing Chinese, American, or Indian protesters, I might have had some sympathy. But to suggest that Britain has “ignored [climate change] for decades” is simply untrue.

Since 1990, the country has achieved a 38 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions and has reduced its annual emissions by more than 43 percent (this, despite considerable economic growth). While the Paris Agreement sets the aim for net zero carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050 and net zero greenhouse gases by 2070, Parliament in 2008 introduced the Climate Change Act, which commits the United Kingdom to reducing its annual emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. The U.K. has also removed coal as a major electricity source.

I am sympathetic to the first of their aims: making the environment a political priority and declaring climate change to be a global emergency. (Scientists may not be infallible, but I’ve seen no credible argument for why they are all wrong in the same way.)

However, much like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, the demands of the Extinction Rebellion are risibly overreaching and counterproductive. In fact, their demands could be realized only through an immediate economic overhaul by people who have yet to prove their competence.

Recall the five goals set out in the Green New Deal as part of a ten-year plan. First, to achieve net zero greenhouse-gas emissions while providing quality jobs for all. Second, to guarantee millions of good, high-wage jobs and economic security. Third, to invest and update industry and infrastructure. Fourth, to secure healthy food and a livable climate for everyone. Fifth, to end oppression and bring about the redistribution of power.

Recall, also, the much-criticized supporting FAQ materials produced by Ocasio-Cortez’s office. Embarrassing clauses about “farting cows,” airplanes, and those “unwilling to work” aside, this document was illuminating because it showed that those who devised the Green New Deal have, in practical terms, no clue what they are doing.

The same is true of the Extinction Rebellion. The entire spectacle has been highly disruptive for businesses and law enforcement alone.

“I’m extremely concerned about the impact that the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer,” said Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, who has estimated that around 9,000 police officers have been dispatched to deal with the protesters. The police have made over 1,000 arrests.

Perhaps this frustration explains why Adam Boulton, a presenter on Sky News, told an Extinction Rebellion organizer, Robin Boardman, on live TV that the protesters come across as “incompetent middle-class, self-indulgent people” trying to “tell us how to live our lives.” Instead of explaining why this perception is wrong, Boardman insisted, with his hand on his heart, that he cared “deeply,” before storming off the set. Yes, Boulton was aggressive and accusatory, but so are the tactics of the Extinction Rebellion.

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