Monday, June 17, 2024
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Climate protesters – a colossal waste of energy


IF YOU think there is a climate emergency (and other views are available), you may consider that someone should do something about it. If that someone is not doing enough, and you think writing to your MP is a waste of time, then you have a choice of groups actively protesting.

Just Stop Oil are currently the most prominent. They demand that ‘the UK government will immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK’.

Their attempts to grab attention include blocking oil terminals and the M25, spraying paint on the windows of Harrods and recently causing chaos by walking slowly in front of traffic. This is apparently not against the law even though it stops ambulances, other emergency vehicles and everyone else.

These protests are largely backed by the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), a US network set up in 2019 ‘to fund dramatic forms of protest in an attempt to spur action on the climate crisis’. The founding member of the CEF is Aileen Getty, granddaughter of J Paul Getty, who built an oil empire and was once named the world’s richest citizen. This year the fund has made $4.5million in grants to protest groups.

(Last month TCW contributor Stephen McMurray elicited much interesting detail about this organisation here and here.)

JSO, says their website, support ‘the brave activists waking up the public to the climate emergency. We provide a safe and legal means for donors to support disruptive protest that . . . puts intense pressure on lawmakers’.

Dear blockers and walkers, we humans need to keep warm. Oil cannot realistically be stopped just yet. Anyway, the UK’s man-made emissions are less than one hundredth part of the global total. Wiping them out completely, giving up all use of coal, oil and gas, would make everybody cold, miserable and very angry, but would have no effect on the climate.

Nearly two-thirds of global emissions are coming from only five countries: China, USA, India, Russia and Japan. Blocking the M25, unfortunately, does not in any way upset those countries’ governments sufficiently for them to have a change of heart.

Extinction Rebellion give it to us straight. We are in a global emergency, they say, a period of abrupt climate breakdown and in the midst of a mass extinction. (Oh to be so certain in this controversial world!) The UK government have ‘to create and be led by a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice . . . Only the common sense of ordinary people will help us navigate the challenging decisions ahead’.

These ‘ordinary people’ will supposedly vote to turn off the gas and switch to an erratic supply of electricity which will give out altogether if it’s too cloudy for the solar panels and there’s no wind. I think an ordinary person would vote first to keep the family warm in winter no matter what the climate was supposed to be doing.

XR’s protests have so far included occupying a Welsh coal mine, blocking London’s roads and bridges, and glueing themselves to the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons. Plans include 100,000 people surrounding the Houses of Parliament next April.

The co-founder of this movement is Roger Hallam. ‘Only mass civil resistance,’ he says, ‘can stop the top global 1 per cent imposing mass death on billions of people. We are out of time for anything else . . . I realised beyond unequivocal doubt that the extinction crisis was upon us and that our impending annihilation was being perpetuated by psychopathological criminals who have no interest in the wellbeing of the average human being or the natural world.’

The major part of their funding has come from the CEF ($350,000), Sir Christopher Hohn, a UK billionaire (£50,000), and more than £150,000 from a charity he co-founded (The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation).

Insulate Britain is another protest group currently in the news. The first page on their website has a huge and curious headline: WE ALL WANT TO JUST STOP OIL.

‘Insulating the homes of Britain,’ they say, ‘will save lives and provide warm homes while pound for pound making the most effective contribution to reducing carbon.’

They demand that ‘the UK government immediately promises to fully fund and take responsibility for the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025 . . . and take responsibility for the full (national) low-energy and low-carbon whole-house retrofit.’

Protests have included blocking tactics in Dover and the M25, and glueing themselves to the road outside parliament. But thorough insulation, alas, is expensive, will not reduce energy bills by a really useful amount, and will not have the slightest effect on global emissions.

Then there are the Tyre Extinguishers. They have one very specific and limited aim: to drive ‘huge, polluting’ 4x4s off the road in urban areas by letting down their tyres. They think that they are therefore ‘defending ourselves against climate change’.

Do protests work? Do they sway public opinion? Will they eventually influence MPs? If they are trying to persuade all of us and therefore the government to do something, are they succeeding?

Breaking windows, throwing paint or soup in art galleries and letting down tyres are acts normally labelled as vandalism. Blocking roads is selfish because it causes fury in those struggling to get on with their own often difficult and worrying lives.

All this behaviour, both obstructive and destructive, is from a few people who think arguments are won by those who shout loudest and cause the biggest headlines. This is just Twitter made real.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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