London — I have seen what may be the future of climate-change protest. It isn’t pretty, and be prepared because it may be coming to American cities near you faster than you think.
I just spent several days in London reporting on the Brexit debate. While thousands of protesters who want to remain in the European Union did surround Parliament this past Saturday, they remained peaceful and law-abiding.
One could not say the same for those who participated in protests in the days before. Much of London was shut down by agitators from Extinction Rebellion (XR), a radical anti-climate-change group that has spent the last two weeks disrupting cities from London to Berlin to Amsterdam. In London, some 1,800 protestors have been arrested.
XR’s London action began when some of its members sprayed beetroot juice on delegates to a fossil-fuels conference. “Eco-warriors” then used a fire hose to douse the Treasury building with 400 gallons of red paint. Breastfeeding mothers then blocked the entrance to key buildings. A protester dressed as Prime Minister Boris Johnson used scaffolding to climb to the top of Big Ben.
As the protesters moved from stunt to stunt, public support for their actions withered. They hit bottom last Thursday when two activists climbed on top of commuter trains during rush hour and blocked their departure. They unfurled a banner that read “Business as Usual = Death.”
Angry commuters, many of whom would’ve had their pay docked if they’d shown up late for work, dragged the protesters down from the trains, and London Underground staff led the protesters away. Separately, an 83-year-old protester named Phil Kingston glued himself to a train to stop it. He justified his action by saying, “I’m a Christian, and it really upsets me to see God’s creation being wrecked across the world.”
Snap polls showed that well over 60 percent of responding Londoners were fed up with the madness.
XR leaders realized they were losing public opinion and issued an opaque statement promising that future protests would “evolve,” whatever that means. But XR’s co-founder, Clare Farrell, insisted on defending the train action: “The public, I don’t think, realize quite how serious the situation is.”
Farrell then went on BBC News to explain why her group has had to resort to desperate tactics:
This is what you do when you think that absolutely everything is at stake. What would you do if you knew your children were in a burning building? Well, you would break down the door, wouldn’t you? It wouldn’t be pretty. You wouldn’t be able to do it in a way that everyone said, “Oh, that was nice and calm.” But it’s not. It’s an emergency.
She justified her childish doom-mongering by saying that the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have issued emergency proclamations.
Indeed, she quoted an IMF statement that “global warming causes major damage to the global economy and the natural world and engenders risks of catastrophic and irreversible outcomes.” That conclusion is worthy of debate and hotly disputed. In the meantime, such establishment institutions are giving XR an excuse to try to shut down major cities.
But the real enablers of XR’s extremism are the donors and celebrities who give it the money and publicity that allow it to attract fanatical followers.
There are more than several jumbo jets full of hypocrisy in the actions of XR backers. The Daily Telegraph reports:
Sir Christopher Hohn, the hedge fund billionaire who this month revealed that his was the biggest individual donation to Extinction Rebellion, has quietly built a £730 million [$940 million] stake in the owner of Heathrow Airport. . . . Sir Christopher has donated £200,000 [$260,000)] to the activists’ cause on account of the “urgent need” for people to wake up to climate change.
Apparently, he shows no similar urgency in stopping the expansion of an airport that already has nearly 80 million carbon-producing passengers flow through it every year
Then there are the celebrity enablers of Extinction Rebellion. Stung by criticism of their high-flying lifestyle and the enormous carbon footprint it leaves, more than 100 of them — including Benedict Cumberbatch, Jude Law, Bob Geldof, and Sienna Miller — backed Extinction Rebellion last week by writing an open letter addressing their hypocrisy.
The letter reads:
Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites. You’re right. We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints. . . . There is, however, a more urgent story that our profiles and platforms can draw attention to. Life on earth is dying. We are living in the midst of the 6th mass extinction.
This humbug needs to be challenged. But instead, Sadiq Khan, London’s Labour-party mayor, challenged the decision of his own police department to shut down the XR protests last week.
Nor can we depend on business being much of a help. Economist Andy Critchlow wrote a scathing account of how energy executives have abdicated their responsibility to defend themselves when faced with XR protesters. He noted that, at a recent industry event, Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden, BP’s Bob Dudley, and their French counterpart Patrick Pouyanné from Total gave the impression that their industry was “under siege, scared to discuss anything that may enrage the Extinction Rebellion protesters outside, such as new projects to meet future demand for oil.”
In contrast, average London commuters, thank goodness, finally started pushing back late last week, pointing out that poor, working-class people are most hurt if they can’t get to their jobs. Charles Moore, the author of a three-volume biography of Margaret Thatcher, warns that more pushback is needed to prevent XR from escalating its tactics elsewhere. The area around Parliament has become “an open-air theater for their causes,” he noted. “This gives them — which is what they seek — media attention far beyond their numbers, and gives the impression that Parliament and Government are besieged.”
If officials in Washington, D.C., and other cities want to avoid a similar fate, they should contact their British counterparts now and figure out how an American version of Extinction Rebellion can be neutralized.