ONE new wave of climate activism, in which motorways have been blocked and politicians confronted by young people, are trying to put pressure on the British government ahead of the UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow later this year.
Insulate Britain organized its first protest on Monday and has since brought much of Britain’s busiest motorway to a standstill, demanding action to tackle the escalating climate crisis.
On Friday, activists again glued themselves to the road at key intersections around the M25, causing long backs, confrontations with angry drivers and condemnation from ministers before being arrested and removed by police.
Meanwhile, young people from the newly formed group Green New Deal Rising have confronted leading politicians including Rishi Sunak, Nicola Sturgeon, Keir Starmer and most recently US Democrat Nancy Pelosi during a visit to Cambridge on Thursday.
They demanded on camera that politicians back a Green New Deal to tackle the “cutting crisis” of climate change and rising inequality, with the films the group has seen hundreds of thousands of times.
Earlier this summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of unprecedented and irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate, which are destined to rise by at least 1.5C. The British government’s own climate advisers said ministers had failed to come up with the policy needed to achieve their net zero target.
In light of these strong warnings, both Insulate Britain and GND Rising are calling for urgent political change. Insulate Britain wants all homes in the UK to be isolated by 2030, not only to reduce CO2 emissions but also to tackle fuel poverty and create jobs.
GND Rising wants to make the climate crisis the “crucial political issue” in Westminster to tackle the ecological crisis.
Fatima Ibrahim, 28, co-founder of GND Rising, said that although the group only launched in the summer, it had already trained 1,000 volunteers, amid growing anxiety and anger among young adults.
“We are tapping worries about the climate crisis, but also inequality and the fact that we are the first generation likely to feel worse than our parents,” Ibrahim said.
She said these concerns included the “increasingly precarious job market and disintegrating public services. People who care about any of these things have a home [the] GND Increasing motion. ”
Volunteer activists from the group have already targeted several politicians, and Ibrahim said it had a twin strategy of putting MPs in place and building support for the program in communities around the country, with online training sessions and teams of volunteers investigating which MPs they should target and where best to catch them.
“The role we have to play – and what’s hopeful in what we do – is that we actually have a plan that we point to, something that feels like it meets the challenges we face, and we can finally talk about what needs to be done and not what needs to be stopped. ”
The group has strived to recruit a more diverse range of activists. Georgina Bell, 22, said she as a black woman had often had difficulty fitting into other environmental groups, but she said GND Rising had made “a huge effort to accommodate people of color and others, often marginalized. groups “.
“Not only does it actively recognize me, it actively encourages lots of smaller communities, which have usually been marginalized, to participate fully … we went on a weekend training program recently and I have never seen so many different people from different ethnicities, from different levels of abilities and across the LGBTQ + spectrum – I was just blown away. ”
The emergence of these groups follows a period of upheaval for climate activism. In 2019, there was an increase in protests with Extinction Rebellion activists blocking large parts of central London for almost two weeks, and hundreds of thousands of school and university students took to the streets inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown knocked the wind out of the climate movement as gatherings of large groups became difficult or often illegal.
But ahead of Cop26, where world leaders will hold crucial climate talks in November, there are signs of a resurgence. Tens of thousands of people from civil society groups and protest movements from across Europe are expected in Glasgow. Earlier this month, Extinction Rebellion activists took to the streets again, and a global climate attack will take place next week.
Insulate Britain, one of the newest groups, has already had a huge impact with dozens of people arrested and condemnation from ministers, police and angry motorists.
Their tactics have been criticized, especially after a woman was hospitalized after a collision near the site of one of their protests this week. The cause of the crash is unknown. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Friday: “This is dangerous and counterproductive. We all agree that climate change needs to be tackled, but this kind of behavior achieves nothing, puts drivers at risk and increases pollution. I expect the police to take swift steps to clear the roads. ”
Zoe Cohen, a spokeswoman for the group and a former NHS staffer and activist with XR, issued a “deep and genuine apology” to anyone affected by the hold-ups, but said the government’s failure meant protesters had not any choice.
“I can guarantee you that not a single person who has been on the road, or who acts as a spokesman, wants to do that, it is so disturbing and so stressful, but the fact is that people are more concerned about the passivity of the government and ruthlessness than their own well-being. ”
The group has been building support behind the scenes for several months. At online lectures and local meetings, training and discussion groups, recruits from masons to teachers, grandparents to teenagers have been enrolled and trained.
Several of its activists and organizers have previously been involved in the XR, while many others are new to protesting.
XR co-founder Roger Hallam, who left the group last year, is one of those involved in Insulate Britain and was arrested before the group’s protest on Wednesday.
But while some of its members and tactics are familiar from XR’s previous protests, its focus on a specific demand for “isolating British homes” is a deliberate attempt to make the crisis over “bread and butter” issues of housing, fuel, poverty and jobs and carbon emissions.
As Hallam told a June meeting: “Home insulation in the UK is the most appropriate step to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of investment.”
On Thursday, Home Secretary Priti Patel called on police to take “decisive action” against what she described as “selfish activists” taking part in the Insulate Britain protests.
But as further evidence of the climate crisis emerges daily, Cohen said the protests would continue.
“If the government did its job, we would not need to be here. They can sort this out in five minutes by issuing a statement saying you are serious about protecting British families and their homes. ”