Thursday, December 9

Only a loud protest gets politicians to act to prevent a climate catastrophe | Fatima Ibrahim

THome Secretary Priti Patel announced a series of new measures this week to restrict protests that are considered to cause “noise and disturbance.” But these things have long been necessary characteristics in struggles for social change. They can stop destructive plans in their tracks or help change public opinion. Noise and nuisance are among the few ways to force politicians to listen.

With the clock ticking on the climate crisis, the defining problem of our lives, many would argue that causing a nuisance is not only necessary, but a rational response to the inaction faced by our leaders.

Disruptive action on climate issues has worked to force change in the past. In 2008, activists came to the site of a proposed new coal-fired power station in Kent, the first in the UK in 30 years. A crowd of 100 people quickly grew to over 1,000. It also unleashed repressive police practices, and while it upset some local people in the process, the camp successfully delayed the project and ultimately ensured that it was not carried out at all. It was a pivotal moment that gave the finishing touch to new UK coal projects and helped drive the national conversation towards renewables.

Around the same time, activists had set up a camp next to Heathrow Airport to protest plans to build a third runway. Thousands joined the protest, resulting in 24 hour media coverage. The fight against the third runway inspired creative actions and continues today. From stopping planes to creating a sustainable eco-friendly mini village on the site of the proposed runway, protesters made the third runway a defining climate issue in the UK. It has overwhelmed successive governments, defined mayoral elections, and led to a long legal battle.

In 2011, oil and gas company Cuadrilla suspended trial fracking operations near Blackpool after they were thought to have caused earthquakes in the area. Yet for many, the first time they heard of fracking was in 2013, when grandmothers joined schoolchildren and environmental activists in condemning local fracking sites. Things peaked when a fracking test site at Balcombe in West Sussex was blocked which summer. A week of actions culminated in mass arrests, including that of Green party deputy Caroline Lucas. For years, similar blockades led the fracking industry to battle, until in 2019 the government took a 180-degree turn, withdrawing its support and announcing a moratorium.

In recent years, disruption has played a huge role in animating public anger and consternation at the government’s lack of ambitious climate action. The sobering report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in late 2018 prompted schoolchildren to strike by the thousands. At the same time, Extinction Rebellion paralyzed large parts of London. This wave of disruption galvanized public concern, leaving the government fighting for an adequate response. Soon after, it passed a bill committing the UK to net zero emissions by 2050, the first G7 country to do so. The parliament too declared climate emergency and the first UK Climate Assembly was established. Direct action is not the only thing that makes change happen, but very few of these changes would have happened without it.

While governments may eventually reduce their use of fossil fuels, how quickly they do so and who can win or lose from this transition is something to fight for. We could tackle the climate crisis in a way that puts power in the hands of communities, creates millions of new green jobs, affordable and accessible public transportation, and warm homes to address energy poverty. The alternative is a slow transition that, at worst, loses the window to avoid a catastrophic climate collapse and, at best, leads to the loss of millions of jobs, increases inequality by increasing the cost to workers and reserve benefits for corporations and wealthy individuals.

That’s where a new wave of solution-based disruptive campaigns comes in. Youth activist groups such as the Sunrise movement in the US are holding sit-ins in the offices of Democratic Party leaders, while New green deal on the rise Here in the UK there are politicians who are heading to the door to question how we should tackle this crisis. Over time, we can see these actions as watershed moments that changed the trajectory of the fight against climate change.

For those who criticize direct action, not only have many interventions been successful, but surveys show that 71% of people say they haven’t had their lives interrupted not at all out of protest in the last three years. Given the changes protesters seek to instigate, which can generate positive outcomes for people throughout society, it is no wonder that many climate protests eventually receive majority public support.

This is true not only for climate protesters, but also in the history of social change. From the suffragettes to the anti-apartheid movement, people who took disruptive action are now considered to have been on the right side of history, despite often widespread opposition in their day.

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