openDemocracyUK: Opinion

Insulate Britain: ‘Stand with us against UK government or face end of civilisation’

My talkRADIO interview exposed the absurdity of those who doubt the urgency of the climate crisis. Now it’s time for action. Will you join us?

Cameron Ford
16 November 2021, 12.48pm
A police officer attempts to remove Insulate Britain protesters as they block the road in Parliament Square, London
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Last month, I was invited on talkRADIO, supposedly to talk about my activism as part of Insulate Britain. But rather than being asked seriously about our campaign, I was forced to defend my job – I’m a carpenter – fielding increasingly nonsensical questions such as “how is it sustainable if you’re killing trees?”

The answer, of course, is that you can grow trees. But I’m not sure if the host was actually interested in my answers; I was simply being put through the ‘you’re a hypocrite’ routine that anyone who dares to criticise the system is subject to. The 60-second interrogation ended with the host insisting that “you can grow all sorts of things”, including, he said, seemingly in all seriousness, concrete. The internet erupted in laughter and produced some really cool memes – pictures of concrete car parks captioned “I only planted this back in March”, or towering brutalist structures accompanied by the words “all this from a single brick”.

What’s not funny is the government's response to Insulate Britain’s demands, in light of its own pitiful home insulation plan.

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I am a young man and my future is on an unknown planet. The world we knew, in which all our culture, technology and agriculture was developed, no longer exists. I am furious. To have emitted more carbon in my short lifetime than in the whole of previous history – to have failed to change course when we still could – is a betrayal of my future and of all those born after me.

So as we at Insulate Britain know, we must take action. We have spent seven weeks blocking motorways and putting our demands to the British government. We are demanding that it takes the most basic first steps to avert the horror of climate breakdown, in a manner that creates millions of decent jobs and protects the most vulnerable in our communities from having to choose between heating and eating this winter.

How did the government respond? Well, right now, England’s entire strategic road network (its motorways and certain A-roads) is subject to a High Court injunction, put in place to limit our activities. This latest injunction follows three others that the government also instructed the National Highways agency and Transport for London to seek.

So far, 32 Insulate Britain supporters have defied the injunction, with nine people summoned to appear in the High Court in London today and tomorrow, facing a charge of contempt of court. Our campaigners are effectively telling the government: “put us in prison if you must, we welcome it.” This isn’t because we want to go there – who would? But we are presenting the government with a choice: insulate Britain’s homes, create millions of meaningful jobs, stop winter fuel deaths and stop millions of vulnerable families from being cold and hungry every year – or send us to prison.

Nothing is achieved without a demand, and a demand is never extracted from the powerful without a struggle

The government has chosen the former, introducing a ban on protest that covers the whole country’s motorways and applies to everyone. In just two months, wilful obstruction of the highway, an offence that normally carries a small fine, has become punishable by up to two years in prison and the threat of losing your house and savings.

This shows what is coming for anyone who steps out of line to demand action on the climate crisis. It shows that when you push, when you really challenge those with privilege and power, as civil resistance has always done, they will lash out. And if you keep on doing it, they will come for you, as oppressed peoples have always known.

So, where do you stand? At what point do you say, “if we tolerate this, then our children will be next”? Because this month, at COP26 in Glasgow, world leaders effectively agreed to continue heating our world for at least the next 30 years, through flood, famine and the collapse of organised society. That will mean the end of workers’ rights, women’s rights, gay rights; the destruction of a 250-year-old progressive, social project. The whole thing will come crashing down in the next decade. This is what is happening. It is decision time. Time to live up to the long-established British social traditions of getting organised and fighting back.

This is not about protecting polar bears and whales. As important as those things are, it's about creating socially useful, government-funded jobs that protect us – or accepting the destruction of the economy, of pensions, the NHS, our education. It is about our country, our traditions and our cherished places. It is about basic decency and morality towards our kids and those already suffering in the Global South. It is about averting the end of civilisation.

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Solidarity means putting yourself in harm's way. It means not being a bystander, not making bland hedging statements on social media such as “we agree with their aims but not their tactics”. Where would we be without the suffragettes, without the civil rights Freedom Riders, without ACT UP fighting the AIDS pandemic? Nothing is achieved without a demand, and a demand is never extracted from the powerful without a struggle – one that’s at best messy and at worst fatal.

After COP26, we are entering the biggest shitshow in human history. That’s not rhetoric – what do you think 1.2 billion people forced to leave their homes in the next 30 years looks like? In the face of unfolding climate genocide, we need solidarity, or every right and freedom that has been struggled for risks being betrayed.

As ACT UP founder Larry Kramer put it when urging people to take action to fight AIDS in the early 1980s: “How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? [...] Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get [...] Unless we fight for our lives we shall die.”

Whatever happens in the courts over the next few days, prison or no prison, we are calling on people to demonstrate and join together on 20 November when we will assemble outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. This could be the start of something big, when we unite and stand up in honour of those who have struggled and died for our rights and freedoms.

This tide will not come back again. So, what will it be?

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