Opinion | XR have been doing what is necessary to tackle climate change despite the pandemic


By Isobel Turner, Second Year, Liberal Arts

Since its creation, Extinction Rebellion (XR) have used extreme methods of protest and have often been viewed as counterproductive leading to a loss of public support.

However, due to the current climate crisis and the lack of legislation addressing it, these measures are necessary until significant changes are achieved.

During lockdown and the eased measures that followed, XR have been met with even more controversy due to their commitment to solving the climate crisis whilst the Government is otherwise engaged with the pandemic.

As a movement that claims to be non-violent, it is often argued that blocking roads and disrupting the public negates their efforts to protest peacefully.

Over lockdown, XR released a scheme called ‘No Going Back'. This included a video suggesting that going back to ‘normal’ will condemn us to a point of no return in terms of ecological decline.

During the Covid-19 crisis, should XR be finding different ways to protest rather than returning to their pre-lockdown means of protest?

It is understandable that XR using similar protest methods would paint them in a hypocritical light. But what other options do they have? Lobbying the Government to change is arguably a near impossible task, especially when other legal alternatives - such as creating petitions and protesting in Parliament Square -  have failed.

Taking direct action seems to be the only way to gain attention from the media and the Government so, perhaps it is our political system that should be in question, rather than the methods XR are using to be heard.

XR protests often lead to conflict between the organisation and the police force. The relentless lobbying puts a strain on our emergency services who are simultaneously attempting to cope with a pandemic.

Direct action is crucial until our government agree to take the climate crisis seriously

Two students were arrested for blocking the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol at the end of August. The youthful sense of the movement is highlighted by the fact that young people don’t seem to realise the life-long consequences of a criminal record as they deliberately try to get arrested to receive public attention.

However, the attention they gain is critical to highlight the importance of the climate emergency, so perhaps it is a price worth paying...

The lack of coverage of the climate crisis in the mainstream media could suggest that XR would not be taking direct action if there were alternative, successful methods by which they could express their concerns.

The news is heavily centred on the pandemic and, whilst it is undeniable that this needs to be covered, the climate emergency is a continual problem that only seems to be on the mainstream news when an event has called attention to it.

Their protests in 2019 led to the UK Parliament declaring a climate change emergency

In response to this, XR last month physically stopped the press from printing to gain widespread media attention. This act was more of a statement against the media refusing to report on the climate crisis than an act of censorship.

Moreover, it is not a repeated tactic from XR, yet it showed that direct action is crucial until our government agree to take the climate crisis seriously.

This underlines how extreme direct action is necessary for change in our current society.

However, their protests in 2019 led to the UK Parliament declaring a climate change emergency which was a breakthrough for the movement. This shows the impact that XR’s actions can have.

Whilst acknowledging the success of that particular instance, it is also essential to recognise that it was only a small step in the process to cutting our emissions enough to reverse the ecological decline of the country. This, in turn, justifies XR in continuing to use direct action.

Extinction Rebellion - the movement behind the protests
Opinion | XR’s return is out of line and pointless

The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE), would force the UK to enact a serious plan but, as of yet it has received little support from MPs.

This blatant lack of political support illustrates why XR have no choice but to continue direct action, even in the face of a global pandemic. They are being considerate of the current situation but are still campaigning for what they believe is the biggest issue we have to face.

Taking direct action is the most successful way for their concerns to be noticed and has proved successful in the past: the relentless way that they protest makes it impossible to ignore them.

Featured Image: Epigram / Kofo Sodiq-Ajala

Do you think that XR are right to protest during the pandemic?