Debate: Extinction Rebellion – climate warriors or middle-class meddlers?


As the first industrialised nation, we must act

You need 3.5% of the population to be with you, if you want to cause enough fuss to effect change. You need at least 5,000 people to take action. And you need a few hundred people willing to be arrested. You cannot have violence and, most importantly, you cannot have an end date.

These were the findings of the reports which were used to design Extinction Rebellion. For the last thirty years of protest, there has been a specific finishing time, which meant the government could just wait it out smoothly. Climate change can no longer wait it out.

I beg you not to roll your eyes when I say we need action now. The World Bank estimates over 140 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050 due to climate change. To claim that these protesters are acting selfishly is nearly hilarious – they’ve been camping in the streets, threatened with arrest at all hours of the day, without certainty that what they do will have any impact. It took until day three for the mainstream media to take notice.

It won’t matter unless the government forces industrial, systematic change

Being arrested isn’t fun – even those released will face further investigation and may have many months of legal distress ahead of them. There are teachers, nurses, lawyers, Emma Thompson, students, and pensioners all joining in this International Rebellion, many of them using their limited holidays.

My friends in the Durham XR group have the same exams to prepare for as everyone else. But they are there until the government acts. It isn’t enough if 10% of the population drastically cut their emissions and turn vegan. It won’t matter unless the government forces industrial, systematic change.

Individual choices are currently overridden by structural failures in industry. Extinction Rebellion have a specific request: the government needs to commit to net zero emissions by 2025. If it sounds difficult for us, imagine how hard it must be for the rest of the world; as the first industrialised nation, we must act.

The government needs to commit to net zero emissions by 2025

We already have the technology to deal with this: it’s a question of taking obvious steps, such as introducing levies on carbon emissions, rather than leaving an emissions debt that later generations will pay. If there was any easier way, they’d take it. This disruption is necessary. We have no choice.

The changes that need to be implemented will not be popular, and to a weak government, could be ruinous. We are asking people to pay £50 to clean up their sick before the next passenger gets in – before the whole taxi company goes broke. Telling people the full cost of removing the carbon dioxide that was released in order to make their Primark jeans will not be easy. But as the sea levels rise, it will be the poorest who suffer the soonest.

XR’s International Rebellion is a carefully calculated strategy to force radical change now rather than face far worse consequences later. Businesses are reportedly losing millions of pounds due to the protests – but for years corporate business has been deriving easy profit from fossil fuels.

Emergency service vehicles are being allowed through any of their temporary road blocks. I’m not there, and if you’re not there either, I’d ask you to be grateful. Because despite our absence, our future is being fought for. I’ll end on a positive note from Kumi Naidoo of Amnesty International:

The planet does not need saving. If we warm it up to the point where we cannot exist, we’ll be gone, but the planet will still be here”. So there’s some good news.



So far, the protests have consisted of wasting valuable police resources and being a general nuisance

Extinction rebellion have certainly accomplished one of their goals in recent weeks, launching themselves into a constant media spotlight and making themselves known. Their objectives are clear: make the U.K. declare a ‘climate emergency’ and cut our CO2 emissions to zero by 2025. Of course, nobody can deny the fact the planet is currently facing a climate crisis which has grave implications, but is stopping London commuters getting to work really going to help?

The protestors said they would cause ‘public disturbance’ to force the government to listen to their demands, so far, this has consisted of wasting valuable police resources and being a general nuisance to people who will only become alienated by the group’s actions. London is facing its worst epidemic of violence in modern history; 285 people were killed in stabbing incidents from 2017-2018, the highest since records began in 1946. The protests have already cost the city over £12 million pounds, and hundreds of already over-stretched police officers are being drafted in to contain the protests.

The police simply should not have to spend precious time preventing these protests which are meant to do nothing but bring disorder to the streets. The protests have already been condemned by politicians, local business owners and commuters. David Frost, head of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Tube “is one of the world’s leading mass transportation systems, keeping cars off the roads and helping reduce carbon emissions. Disrupting it in order to send a message about climate change seems to very much miss the point”. The protests seem to have directly targeted public transport, and Mr Frost is quite right when he says this “misses the point”, as it is something which Extinction Rebellion should surely encourage.

The police simply should not have to spend precious time preventing these protests

Many observers have focussed on the apparent hypocrisy of some of the protestors and their leaders. Dame Emma Thompson, famed actress now turned climate activist, did not take issue with travelling over 5,000 miles by plane from her undoubtedly eco-friendly home in Los Angeles to further encourage the protestors. She then went on to criticise the police for “wasting taxpayers’ money” and has since defended her decision to fly by saying she “plants trees”… Clearly, it is just the rest of us who must stop flying.

Now for the young figurehead of XR, Robin Boardman Pattison, a 21-year-old yoga instructor and Buddhist teacher (yes, he was privately educated) now turned climate warrior. Mr Boardman-Pattison has been quick to preach how we should live in order to save the planet, once stating that “air travel should only be used in emergencies”, whilst going on at least three skiing holidays in the past five years alone. He made headlines last week when he abruptly exited an interview with Sky’s Adam Boulton after he branded him “incompetent, self-indulgent and middle-class”, did the walkout merely serve to confirm that he is out of his depth and somewhat lacklustre in his convictions?

Families who face enormous pressure providing essentials have far more pressing concerns than the environment

There seems to be no massive grassroots upsurge of support from the Great British public for the Extinction Rebellion protest. The largely middle and upper-class body of protestors who can afford to spend a week blocking tube trains do not appear to speak for the majority of families in our country – families who face enormous pressure providing essentials have far more pressing concerns than the environment and are largely unable and unwilling to invest scarce resources elsewhere The narrow focus of the protestors’ message has been reflected in the apathy of the public; the protests have been contained within the capital, with not so much as a peep of similar protests across the country, as people remain uninspired by XR’s message. Rather than focusing efforts on disrupting the U.K., maybe the protestors should turn instead to the biggest producers of CO2 and other harmful gases into the atmosphere.

China and the United States are by far the biggest producers of carbon dioxide in the world, and Britain has made bigger strides than them to improve energy efficiency. Coal production and consumption are at an all-time low, with more investment being made in renewable energy than ever before. The fact our country is a place of free speech, debate and the right to protest means XR are free to express their opinions. It could be assumed that if the same was attempted elsewhere, in China especially, the result would not be as pretty for the protestors.

It seems these protests will not be enough to force to declare a climate emergency and ground all air travel, especially since she appears to be preoccupied with other matters at the moment. People will continue to buy cheap plane tickets to Spain, more power stations will be opened in less environmentally sympathetic nations and Emma Thompson will fly back to LA and continue to plant her trees. If there is one thing that Extinction Rebellion will certainly accomplish from their actions, it is in uniting certain sections of the public against them.

Image by Julia Hawkins via Flickr

3 thoughts on “Debate: Extinction Rebellion – climate warriors or middle-class meddlers?

  • ‘Now for the young leader of ER, Robin Boardman Pattison, ‘
    XR (not ER ) doesn’t have a leader, it’s a decentralised autonomous movement. At least get your facts right….

  • The climate crisis was featured on mainstream news and TV for days and is now a national talking point, our numbers in the North East have doubled. XR national numbers have quadrupled and we got an average of 4000 volunteers per day signing up over the first 5 days of the protest, with 1000 likes an hour coming in on Facebook. A job well done! Disruption works.

    “Gotcha” politics is ridiculous when talking about a movement and issue this big. There’s no issue bigger than Earth itself, there were thousands taking part in these actions. Is it possible Emma Thompson was flying home anyway? Why are you trying to discredit a movement of tens of thousands based on the the lifestyle decision of one person who spoke at the event?

    Robin Boardman is using his privilege to do good, there are thousands of working-class people in XR and pointing toward him and saying “this is a middle class movement” overlooks their valuable work. Politics in general is dominated by middle and upper class people because unions have been destroyed and our education system often doesn’t equip working class students with skills like public speaking, knowledge of politics and confidence to participate in political meetings. Work casualisation and stagnating wages mean that time is short for many working class people, does that mean those who can should stop protesting? Studies suggest that middle-class youth are more likely to participate in activism because they feel they have more agency, more power to change things. XR address disengagement in their 3rd aim, to enfranchise ordinary people through citizens assemblies so its not like they’re fighting for more power for the middle-class, quite the opposite.

    If you want to talk about institutions being too middle class to represent the views of the people- point at the government and their fossil fuel backers!

    Its funny how the mainstream news and reactionary commentators such as this try to posture themselves as down to Earth, heroes of the working classes when they’re just protecting the same old money that stole the commons, oppressed working-class people in the fossil fuel extraction industries that now threaten life on this planet. Working class people will suffer most from environmental collapse, working class people have more to gain from XR aims and policies like the Green New Deal.

    Sincerely- proud working class XR Durham member, who sacrificed my holiday days to protest for the right of all to a safe future- including this ungrateful critic.

    ALSO there’s so much misinformation in this article, there have been actions all over the UK including Durham and Newcastle where you live! On the day this was published there were a few hundred XR activists gathered at monument…

    XR Earth Day protest in Newcastle this Monday:

    Die in at Monument Wednesday attended by hundreds, check out the Facebook:

    Go-Slow for the climate in Newcastle RIGHT NOW:

    Durham have a funeral march tomorrow!

    Its all kicking off, we’re town & gown and we’re turning things around! <3

    • Gated community next to the station.


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