It’s never really been all that cool to care about things; to be sincere, earnest, dedicated.
I think maybe there’s something about being British which makes us uncomfortable with saying something with conviction, giving the sort of solemn call to action which appears to come so much more naturally to Americans.
It’s easier to make a dry remark, a deadpan joke; to parody and generally take the mick. I’m certainly not saying this as someone who is exempt from the rule.
Until fairly recently – more recently than I would care to admit – I assumed climate change was something which was being ‘dealt with’. I did not fully appreciate the need for ordinary people like myself to think critically about this issue and to hold those in power to account.
I confess, I was initially a bit confused when the plastic bag charge came in, and grumbled a bit at the prospect of being priced out of the now long-lost art of ‘double bagging’.
Nobody likes to be told off, or to feel guilt over everyday lifestyle decisions which we feel are too entrenched to change (turns out though, it’s really not that tricky just to keep a few bags for life under the kitchen sink).
I never for a minute doubted climate change was real. I simply assumed we had a few good decades – and a solid plan in place – to reverse the clock; to see ravaged forests and coral reefs flourish once more like a magic garden returning to life.
Alas, we don’t, and if we want to ensure any standard of life for future generations, we need to listen to what those who have a thorough understanding of climate science have to say.
1 #TellTheTruth – Declare a climate and ecological emergency.
2 #ActNow – Halt biodiversity loss and go net #ZeroCarbon2025.
3 #BeyondPolitics – A #CitizensAssembly for climate and ecological justice.https://t.co/LAcU4nmAIP pic.twitter.com/1aAsk3Ntyy
— Extinction Rebellion 🐝⌛️🦋 (@ExtinctionR) April 21, 2019
2019 appears to be somewhat of a wake-up call year for the UK. Sir David Attenborough’s brilliant Netflix series Our Planet – coupled with his BBC doc Climate Change – The Facts – have been filmed and narrated with an urgency unlike anything we have ever seen from the beloved national treasure.
This sense of now or never has spilled out onto the streets of London, with climate change protesters taking up space in public places and demanding to be heard, coming together through the nonviolent resistance movement Extinction Rebellion.
Extinction Rebellion want the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025, and to form a citizens’ assembly to oversee progress. They also want the government to ‘tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change’.
With only a precious few years left before it is too late, these demands are perfectly sensible and doable. And yet, they are all too often spoken about as if they are demanding all humans go on a diet of pure grass.
This #EarthDay, I'm thankful for the millions of young people around the world who have marched and gone on strike to demand action on climate change.
We know what we need to do: Cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030. Now we need to do it.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 22, 2019
UNILAD spoke with Libby Watt, a content producer who works for ethical creative agency, Studio Republic. Alongside other members of her team, Libby attended the Extinction Rebellion event in London.
Libby told UNILAD how the event was far more ‘calm and serene’ than has been suggested:
Some of our team were at the London event yesterday, and it is disappointing to see how we are all being represented – the whole event was calm and serene, we were all simply there to unite a voice for change.
The papers and media, however, keep using images of people being arrested and their flailing limbs as they do so, making the protest look aggressive and counter productive. It’s such a shame that headlines are coming before morals, quite ironic.
If you watch one thing this #EarthDay, make it this.
— WWF UK (@wwf_uk) April 22, 2019
UNILAD also spoke with ethical fashion and lifestyle blogger, Besma Whayeb, who also attended Extinction Rebellion demonstrations over the past week as a non-violent observer.
Since 2014, Besma has written about making ethical lifestyle choices for her blog, Curiously Conscious, covering everything from ethical jeans to food waste reducing recipes.
In June 2018, Besma founded the Ethical Influencers network, and this year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) appointed her as an ambassador for their ‘Year of Green Action’.
Besma spoke with UNILAD about how the aims of these recent protests are being missed entirely within some circles of the media:
I believe the media is actively missing the point of these protests: the actions being taken are to protest our Government’s inaction on climate change. Politically-agreed targets are being missed, and as a consequence, we are putting the future of the human race at risk, as well as our environment and its wildlife.
Efforts have been made to highlight personal imperfections – or hypocritical actions – of protesters, and the point that is truly being missed is the SCALE of these actions. One person drinking from a disposable plastic water bottle does not invalidate their protests against corporations and our government for putting profit ahead of people and the planet.
While we can all make individual efforts to prevent climate change – and we should – we also need our Government to listen and act to prevent the upcoming climate catastrophe. Until that is done, these protests must continue.
1000 arrests, school strikes, Attenborough highlights the emergency, Greta Thunberg in Parliament, the Bank of England governor says huge financial change needed. And what does the Govt do? Support a state visit for a climate change denier. We must ramp up the pressure.
— Jonathan Bartley (@jon_bartley) April 23, 2019
The way these activists have been written about and interviewed is disappointing, with supposed hypocrisies over plastic bottles taking precedence over policy discussions.
An enormous and diverse group of people from all walks of life – doctors, architects and vicars to name just a few – are being debated and tutted over as if they were a bunch of unruly students protesting for a niche and throwaway cause.
Their concern is being treated as naivety, with their passion for the environment dismissed as a middle class oddity which is somehow out of touch with ‘ordinary’ people.
There is, of course, the condescending indication here that those from poorer backgrounds do not care about preserving our planet for future generations.
This brave young woman has done more to #TakeClimateAction than almost anyone.
— Friends of the Earth 🌍 (@friends_earth) April 21, 2019
Despite sympathizing with the aims of the Extinction Rebellion movement, Boris Johnson decided Earth Day was the appropriate time to describe participants as ‘smug, irritating and disruptive’.
This sort of dismissive language has proven common as the Extinction Rebellion protests continue to receive press coverage, feeding into a patronizing boogeyman patched together with tired clichés.
Reggie Norton, 86, "I am involved in #ExtinctionRebellion because I have been campigning on #ClimateChange for years now and it has not created the change needed"
We need to tell the truth and act as though tht truth is real ✊🌎 pic.twitter.com/9iWLI2C4pF
— Christian Climate Action (@CClimateAction) April 23, 2019
Only last week, Sky News presenter Adam Boulton made the following sniffy remark to Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Robin Boardman:
So when parliament isn’t even here you come here and you cause disruption in Westminster. You’re not even getting your message across.
You’re just a, you know, you’re a load of incompetent, middle class, self-indulgent people who want to tell us how to live our lives. That’s what you are, isn’t it?
At just 21 years old, Boardman showed remarkable restraint before walking off set, ensuring that he got the following message across as calmly as possible:
Millions of people are going to starve, starting with those in Africa. If we face another hot summer this summer, we’ll see the effects right here in the UK. People are not going to be able to put food on their plates. And I won’t stand for that.
Watch the full exchange for yourself below:
It’s not just that broad brush stroke generalizations about climate change activists are unpleasant and unrepresentative.
It’s also frighteningly irresponsible for people with such large platforms to use their position to downplay the threat of climate change, while positioning themselves as the calm voice of reason.
Muna Suleiman, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told UNILAD:
These sorts of dismissals and stereotypes risk diverting attention from the urgency of the climate crisis and just how little time we have to turn things around.
If we don’t act now the dire consequences will impact everyone, but it will be the most vulnerable communities who suffer the most – even more than they already are.
By reinforcing stereotypes of class and background we’re only going to see people, who would have otherwise wanted to join the climate movement, alienated.
More diversity is needed but this year has seen progress, with school strikes demanding proper action from the government. It’s time for ministers to take notice.
Compelling new paper by @MarshallBBurke suggesting that without climate change cross-country #inequality would have been 25% lower than today – here https://t.co/Ug2VVsXMea. Our 2007/2008 #HDR also looked at climate change and human development: here https://t.co/7QcbCtTbpG. pic.twitter.com/fjLSLK31MO
— Pedro Conceicao (@pedrotconceicao) April 23, 2019
Sneering at campaigners takes attention away from the pressing issues at hand, wasting precious time which could be better spent supporting real solutions.
Worst of all, poorer individuals – those who certain people apparently perceive as absent from demonstrations – will undoubtedly suffer the most once the effects of climate change truly take hold in the UK.
Greenpeace UK campaigner Morten Thaysen told UNILAD:
When any sort of environmental protest makes headlines you can be sure these labels will follow. But what this does is ignore that globally those at the frontline of the environmental crisis are usually the least to blame like working class communities or indigenous groups in the global south.
What’s also too often ignored is that these same groups are often leading the fightback – whether that’s working class communities in the USA fighting industrial pollution or indigenous communities in South America fighting the destruction of their land.
We certainly have work to do here in the UK to make traditional environmental activism more accessible to those from less well off backgrounds. But when environmental issues like air pollution are impacting the less well off the worst, it’d be churlish to suggest the environment is simply the hobby horse of
the young and middle class.
Environmental lawyer Farhana Yamin, who was arrested after gluing herself to the street outside the Shell building as part of London climate protests, says people should "weigh up the disruption against the disruptions of lives and livelihoods and deaths" caused by climate change pic.twitter.com/CIuIlpHbC9
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) April 18, 2019
You can sign the Greenpeace petition to get the government to declare a climate emergency here.
You could also check out Lil Dicky’s latest track, Earth, which is directly raising money for environmental charities.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]