Environmental campaigners like Extinction Rebellion (XR) have attracted a lot of criticism for their activities in drawing attention to the climate crisis. It’s a sign of the impact they’ve had that the Government has responded with a series of draconian anti-protest laws aimed at deterring or punishing them.
Local activists undeterred
Has this deterred its activists? It has not. I spoke to Geoff and Rosemary, two current XR members from Lincoln who have been closely involved in environmental activism for some time and well before XR seized the headlines. They protested against oil extraction at Biscathorpe where Geoff was arrested for slow walking in front of contractors’ vehicles (and later acquitted when he was found to have been using his right to protest reasonably.)
This development is now opposed by local communities who object to part of the Lincolnshire Wolds (designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) having further industrialised disruption imposed upon it for no good reason, given the limited benefits it would actually produce. As a result, the application for an extension to the licence was refused. The company proposing the development – Egdon Resources – has now appealed against this decision which has been referred to the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up.
Targeting the culprits
Geoff and Rosemary also supported a protest at Barclays Bank in Lincoln as part of the campaign to persuade Barclays to stop investing in fossil fuel exploitation, where other members of the group fell foul of legislation and were taken to court for aggravated trespass.
Rosemary was heavily involved in the recent Blue Plaque campaign which saw a number of local MPs including Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) and Robert Jenrick (Newark) targeted. They had supported legislation which failed to impose any meaningful sanctions on the water companies regarding the amount of raw sewage being discharged into water courses and the sea, and instead handed the responsibility to the companies to police themselves.
They are fiercely critical of the environmental policies adopted by local Conservatives in Lincolnshire. They say county councillors refuse to engage in any dialogue yet call for an increase in green energy production in the county while resisting the installation of onshore wind turbines and using scare tactics to oppose the building of solar farms, which they consider harmful to residents’ interests.
They are now turning their attention to a new proposal to drill for oil, something that is completely at odds with pledges to reach Net Zero, at the village of Glentworth, north of Lincoln. This too is in a rural part of Lincolnshire where land use is dominated by farming and where the only access to the village is via a B class road unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles. The group staged a piece of street theatre recently which drew attention to the proposal and the harm to the environment that will result and they plan to lobby county councillors when the application is presented for discussion.
Is more disruption on the cards?
Will there be a return to the disruptive protests that made XR so notorious? It’s too early to say.
Mindful that their protests were alienating many people and proving counterproductive to their efforts to mobilise public opinion in their favour, the group decided on a major change of approach nationally at the start of this year. In a press release, they announced they would “temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic” and concentrate instead “on the abuse of power and imbalance, to bring about a transition to a fair society that works together to end the fossil fuel era.”
The Blue Plaque campaign exemplified this change of approach. Activists fastened their versions of the plaques (which are a familiar way to mark the homes of famous writers, artists, musicians and public figures) around many constituencies across the country. It was a clever stunt, harmed no-one and none of the widespread publicity it attracted was good for the Government.
Former punk-singer-turned-environmental-campaigner Feargal Sharkey has claimed the damage to waterways will cost them the election. It certainly put Environment Secretary Therese Coffey on the defensive. Other non-disruptive ways they have found to highlight their cause has been through the Red Rebels, whose silent demonstrations have been a feature of XR’s activism.
The next big test
XR’s most significant test is now fast approaching. They will have been encouraged by the recent High Court decision to find the Net Zero strategy to be unlawful. They have given notice to the government of a legal challenge to the decision to offer new licences for fossil fuel extraction in the North Sea as well as the decision to open a new coal mine in Cumbria.
Now, along with partner organisations Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, they are hoping for a crowd of 100,000 over the weekend of 21-24 April in London for The Big One, the biggest demonstration they have ever attempted to organise. They will have heard the UN Secretary General’s recent warning to the developed world that it must hit Net Zero by 2040. They are determined to keep the climate crisis and the damage being caused to the environment in the headlines and fight it every step of the way; and Geoff and Rosemary plan to be there.
Central Bylines has highlighted the dangers of reckless fossil fuel use before and drawn attention to the rise of green politics. As the next General Election gets closer, it will continue to cover this most important issue.
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