6 September 2020

Weekly briefing: The three Ds of Extinction Rebellion


Another week, another braindead stunt organised by the pseudo-environmentalists at Extinction Rebellion.  As attempts to muzzle the free press go, it was a pretty lame – and rather literal – one, with XR activists blocking off the roads leading into various printing presses, delaying the publication of some titles by literally hours.

It perfectly summarised the three Ds that characterise XR’s strategy: dim, duplicitious and doom-mongering.

Dim, because blocking roads, delaying public transport and so on turns off swaths of a potentially sympathetic public, while achieving nothing. You don’t need an advanced course in human psychology to realise that most people don’t take kindly to being berated, or to having their commute interrupted because someone’s superglued themselves to the train door.

Duplicitous, because the claims underpinning their protests, that the British government and media are ignoring climate change, are simply not true. The issue is regularly and broadly covered in the media, not just in papers but on TV, radio and the internet – all of which the public get more news from than the ‘dead tree press’, incidentally.

Remember too that the Government has legislated for a net zero economy by 2050 – a commitment that presages an extraordinarily radical change in the structure of the British economy. XR, though, claims we ought to reach that target by 2025. If you were being charitable, you could call that misguided.  But, really, telling people that decarbonising our entire economy in five years is an achievable objective is straightforwardly deceitful. Or rather, we could do it, but it would involve an economic meltdown that would make 2020 look a veritable annus mirabilis by comparison.

At least XR is honest about one thing though. The group’s website says that adopting a position matters more than actually getting things done. To whit: “We try to stay motivated by action being the right thing to do (virtue ethics) rather than taking action because we think it will work”.

This is where the third D, doom-mongering, comes in. For while XR would have us believe that what separates them from the rest of us is that they take climate change seriously and others don’t. Really, though, the difference is one of emphasis. Far too much of the modern green movement is obsessed with peddling an apocalyptic, distressing vision – one that is more likely to make the public despair than take meaningful action.

Happily, there are plenty of other voices making a more enlivening case. Take Sir David Attenborough, whose interview in The Sun was published in the very issue that XR tried to cancel. Though he is certainly extremely worried about the planet, Sir David is also clear that there is plenty we can do to make things better, and that beating ourselves up over every fossil-fuelled journey is pointless (“If you behave sensibly, you shouldn’t feel guilty that it has cost you some ergs to get from A to B”).

Equally persuasive is the work of US activist Mike Shellenberger, an environmentalist for decades, whose recent book Apocalypse Never sets out the perils of green alarmism and the practical solutions – not least embracing nuclear power – that we should be focusing on.

In a similar vein is 2040, the documentary by Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau looking at all the exciting green tech we already have – from micro-energy grids to ocean permaculture. it’s not a faultless film – Gameau rather glosses over the practicalities of scaling up renewables, for instance, but it’s a good demonstration of something we’ve long advocated on CapX – that green activism doesn’t have to be hair-shirt eschatology. Prosperity and the planet can be happy bedfellows.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.