A caller to Radio 4 suggested that if Evan Davies, the presenter, were to interview a Suffragette he would have asked her exclusively about their protest methods and failed to mention the issue of votes for women.
He was, of course, making a point about the woeful media coverage of the Insulate Britain campaign which has recently made a huge splash with its tactic of blocking motorways.
Insulate Britain is not the spiciest of names for a campaign, but it is simple and direct and you would not expect its aims could be hidden or misconstrued. Yet that is precisely what the Tories and 90% of the British press have tried to do!
Grant Schapps, Transport Secretary, called it “dangerous and counterproductive” as if people angered at the inconvenience caused by Insulate Britain were now going to deliberately increase their own carbon emissions in response and rip out whatever home insulation they currently have.
He went on “We all agree that climate change must be tackled, but this sort of behaviour achieves nothing, puts drivers at risk and increases pollution.”
This latter point has gained some traction on social media but it really does not stand up to scrutiny.
Firstly, stationary vehicles with their engines switched off do not emit CO2.
And a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation shows us that to properly insulate just 25 average semi-detached houses would save as much carbon each year as 10,000 light goods vehicles revving their engines for three hours (that is approximately 50 metric tonnes of CO2)
What we can say is that this is a very good argument both for insulating the whole of our housing stock- over 25 MILLION homes in Britain and at the same time stepping up our efforts to electrify the transport sector and get rid of the internal combustion engine once and for all.
Predictable Patel blamed a “small minority of selfish protesters” (who) “cause significant disruption to … lives and livelihoods”
Well, far from being selfish, Insulate Britain activists are putting their own lives and livelihoods on the line by seeking to act in the real interests of the overwhelming majority. Not simply by forcing the government to take practical measures to reduce CO2 emissions in line with climate obligations but by promoting something which would drastically cut all our energy bills.
The fact that the news is dominated by Insulate Britain one day and soaring gas prices and fuel poverty the next, but never the two in the same breath, is very telling…
But, regardless of this, and taking a queue from Extinction Rebellion, IB is not hamstrung by the perceived necessity to win majority support for its actions. The science is clear, what needs to happen is clear and they proceed on that basis.
Of course, any protest does have to weigh up the impact it will have on others but all such actions- demonstrations, strikes, pickets, etc. are disruptive by their very nature. They are an attempt to force change, when everything else has failed, by whatever means are at our disposal.
And it is a measure of how disruptive and effective some of these protests seem to have been that they have attracted a swift response from the state.
First with police using heavy-handed tactics to move protestors, including ripping glued hands from the tarmac.
And now with the government’s High Court injunction which allows much stiffer sentences for future protests targeting motorways.
That said, it is hard to see insulate Britain throwing in the towel any time soon and it must be highly embarrassing for Johnson, in the run-up to COP 26, to be seen to be jailing climate change martyrs…
Of course, as ecosocialists, our concern is to minimise the overall impact of the costs – financial and social – of tackling climate change on poor and minority communities and the working class.
We can do this by demanding inroads into industry’s right to pollute and by taxing carbon emissions at source whilst advocating the redistribution of this tax in the form of a dividend to communities. This could take the form of a direct payment similar to universal basic income or be invested into services such as free, high-quality public transport and the broadband infrastructure to allow widespread working from home- measures to radically reduce reliance on the private car.
Insulate Britain has combined a clear, straightforward goal with a simple yet highly effective tactic and shown how a minority can act in the interests of the great majority.
These tactics and level of commitment and not for everyone but it does challenge us all to consider what we can do to build the biggest and broadest possible movement in the run-up to COP26.
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