This time last year, Extinction Rebellion (XR) were making huge tides of people start to think about their impact on the environment, as well as realising the impact of climate change. But now, it appears they have hit a standstill and are unsure of the direction their movement must take in order to bring their ideas to life.
As someone who was previously part of the Green Party, I regularly came across members of XR and always looked upon their movement as a positive development against the environmental crisis. However, as time goes on we must learn more, ask more questions and analyse new developments. In following this process, I realised that XR are going down a dead-end path.
I will repeat, with slight enthusiasm, that XR were influential in making people become more conscious of their impact on the environment. But the fact remains that just 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of emissions since 1988, and that is where the focus should be. To continue the rhetoric that people have to just start boycotting companies and change behaviours is naive.
For a start, it is an incredibly middle class attitude. The world is riddled with poverty and many workers are barely getting by as it is, and to suddenly become an ethical vegan or only shop locally is not affordable nor easy to fit in with demanding schedules.
For example, there are many people who buy whatever food is cheapest and to suddenly have to move into a more ethically or organically produced diet would just surpass what their budget can afford. Never mind all the workers who can just about fit a trip to the supermarket in around a busy work schedule, how will they find time to go to each local shop for each essential they need?
It is a nice idea to say “stop this, this and this” then companies will have to react, but it is just simply not possible. Unless you want the poor to starve in the process?
Another big issue with XR is that some of their protests push working people away from them and ultimately the environmental movement. I am all for organising a struggle against big companies and the government because it is a very effective way of getting results. However, holding up trains and making people late for work is a disgrace. For one, surely it is good that they are using public transport rather than driving but, more importantly, making that individual late for work does not effect a company’s environmental stance.
What it does do, however, is needlessly take money out of that worker’s pocket, which is something no organisation should ever do. Recently, there was a protest at Cambridge where they dug up a load of grass. Few people care about that patch of grass and no one really knows what that was supposed to mean. Those XR protesters just made themselves and the movement look silly.
The final point that needs to be made about XR is how they are heavily influencing the youth. It’s quite extraordinary that so many students of all ages have made a move into activism, we should praise them highly for caring so deeply. What is not so great is that, for the most part, they are basically XR’s youth wing. The problem with that being, when XR hit the wall ahead of them, the youth will be right behind them to feel that defeat.
We have seen this in the past with the miners, they thought tooth and nail until eventually being defeated and after that, the fight and belief in winning was taken out of them. That same feeling will be met by the youth strikers unless they back away from XR and adopt a new program. It seems obvious to me that the best option for students is to create their own program of demands under the influence of workers.
As for XR, the only way they can survive is to also adopt a stronger program. That program needs to take into consideration the current workers’ struggles in order for workers to want to battle for them. Then, make a movement into the trade unions in order to discuss climate change with workers, where they can bring those workers on board and we can start to consider what workplace climate strikes would look like, a whole lot more of an effective way of punishing big companies.
The chances of that are very unlikely though and they will die out. The most important thing people can do is distance youth strikers away from XR in order to spread ideas that are actually possible and considerate of workers. The youth and workers are the ones that could lead the environmental struggle but not with XR dictating them.