IN principle, most of us would support the aims of the Extinction Rebellion protest group. But what if we were trying to get to work in London? Or trying to run a business without any customers? The climate change protest group is – quite rightly – angry and agitated about the greatest political, social, economic and moral problem the world has ever faced, but there are serious questions over whether they have adopted the right tactics.
The group’s strategy from the start has been to block some of the busiest streets in London with the aim of forcing the authorities to act. Extinction Rebellion hopes the government will, under the pressure, commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025; they also want a citizens’ assembly to work out a plan of action and they say they will keep going until they get their way.
The response of the police – so far – has been persistent but relatively low key. Getting on for 600 protesters have been arrested, but the atmosphere on the streets has been happy – some might say too happy. The co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Gail Bradbrook said people were having a fantastic time, although the people who cannot get to work, or the businesses whose trade has been hit, are certainly not feeling fantastic. This is the strategic mistake Extinction Rebellion has made: occupying bridges and roads is a turn-off for many of the people that the cause needs to win over.
There can be no doubt over the cause itself however. The Antarctic ice sheet is melting; biodiversity decline continues apace; and extreme weather events are rarely out of the news. In a world that needs hope, it might be tempting to agree with Private Frazer from Dad’s Army.
There is much to be positive about, though, particularly in Scotland. The Scottish Government has prioritised a reduction in greenhouse gases and aims to slash emissions by 90 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels and phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, eight years before the UK Government’s 2040 target. In fact, in most respects, Scotland is consistently outperforming the rest of the UK.
As we report today, there are also now plans to set up a new public body to oversee Scotland’s plans to make buildings more energy efficient. Considerable progress has also been made on encouraging electric cars, with many parts of Scotland boasting more charging points than most of England.
However, more needs to be done to encourage and require people to change their behaviour. On electric cars, for example, we know that if there are charging points available, the electric cars will come – there simply need to be many more charging points and quickly. We also need radical ideas such as planting many more trees – across Scotland, there are 12,000 hectares of derelict or vacant land in towns and cities. Why aren’t we planting urban forests in those places?
The key to the success of the efforts to tackle climate change – as the Scottish Government’s hasty plan for a workplace parking levy has shown – is to pursue ambitious targets but to do so in a way that is workable. The parking levy suffered from the fact there did not appear to be any kind of economic assessment; it also succeeded, in the way that the London protests have also done, in alienating many ordinary people.
Most of us in the West recognise that we have to change our behaviour and some of the policies needed to address the climate crisis will not be popular. But if the policies are to succeed, everyone will need to be on board: governments, the protesters and citizens just trying to go about their business.