By Jonas Balkus
Insulate Britain have been successful in two areas: harming the public and not really disrupting the government. Protests are meant to bring awareness to a cause, in the hope of bringing people behind that cause, and they are meant to put pressure on the responsible individuals and organisations to enact the change that the protestors want. Insulate Britain has seemingly failed in these aims. While their targets are well-founded, their tactics are doing a disservice to the climate movement and its image.
The fundamental flaw of the protests is that they are targeting the wrong people, namely the public, rather than the government and the companies responsible for inertia on climate change and emissions. In blockading key junctions and motorways around London, the headlines do not focus on who Insulate Britain are and what their aims are, but rather are filled with reports of protestors blocking ambulances, people driving their children to school, and people driving to their jobs which they no doubt depend on. For many, it does not matter who the protestors are, or why they are on the motorways, the simple fact is that they are at the least causing a nuisance and at the most endangering their lives.
It is very much crossing a line when these protests start seriously harming peoples’ lives. There are numerous examples in the news. Perhaps the most poignant is the story of a woman who suffered a stroke and needed to be rushed to hospital by her son— since ambulances were delayed due to protests— unfortunately, they too were delayed by protests and the woman was left paralysed. Had she arrived at the hospital on time, she would have made a full recovery. Likewise, a video has recently emerged of a woman pleading with protestors to let her pass to see her 81-year-old mother in hospital, to no avail. With all this, it begs the question: what exactly is Insulate Britain achieving?
The answer is that they are turning public opinion against them. In a recent poll by YouGov, 72% of those surveyed opposed the protestors’ actions, with 18% supporting the actions, and 10% that did not know. Perhaps most tellingly, a poll by Redfield and Wilton for The Spectator states that 62% of those polled think that the protests make the public less supportive of taking action on climate change compared to 8% who believe it makes them more supportive. A similar effect was seen in a YouGov poll in 2019 on Extinction Rebellion: 54% of those surveyed strongly disagreed with the group’s message and only 36% supported them. Governments aim to please the electorate. Through alienating voters, the protestors lose the ear of those who can enact the changes that they want.
The Government naturally escapes all blame for the chaos caused. Widespread individual and economic damage have been caused by the protests, and the people affected will know who to blame and it will not be the government. Indeed, Insulate Britain’s actions also beg the question of what sort of precedent would the government set by bowing to such extreme tactics? Invalidating peaceful protest in favour of disruptive and harmful protests would be a dangerous move for anyone in power.
Overall, the movement does the climate change movement a disservice by tarnishing its image. Rather than peaceful and impassioned protests against those responsible for inertia, protests that the majority of the public could get behind, Insulate Britain creates an alternate image of the climate change activist. The image shifts from young people concerned about their future, and academics who have devoted their entire lives to the study of climate and the environment, to so-called ‘eco-zealots’ in hi-vis vests supergluing themselves to the M25 and stopping ambulances from going to hospitals. It is these types of groups that allow climate deniers to paint the whole climate movement as unhinged and out of touch with reality.
Instead, if they want to achieve action, they should use the tried and true methods. Picket outside of Whitehall and Downing Street, write to MPs, sign petitions, lobby the Government. These are tactics used in previous years, and immense progress has been made. UK emissions have dropped by 40% since 1990, the electric car market has seen a boom, as have eco-friendly energy sources such as solar and wind. Even if the government has been slow in cutting emissions, the pace has quickened recently. To ensure the Government continues and speeds up its path to net zero, there needs to be sustained but rational pressure from climate change groups, which can only be made more impactful through bringing the electorate behind their ideas, rather than alienating it as groups such as Insulate Britain are doing.
Illustration: Rosie Bromiley