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Just where does this rage against climate activists come from?

As Extinction Rebellion launch the next phase of their rebellion on Monday (7th), it’s timely to ask just why the establishment is getting so worked up about people who just want to make the planet more liveable.

Claire Norman
4 October 2019
Greta Thunberg and protesters march during NYC Climate Strike rally, 20 September 2019
Greta Thunberg and protesters march during NYC Climate Strike rally, 20 September 2019
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SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

There’s a cartoon that says it best: you’ll likely know it - it’s a climate summit, the speaker has a presentation listing items like clean water, liveable cities, saving the rainforests. The speech bubble above the head of a guy in the audience says: “but what if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing”. It hurts because it’s true.

But it seems lately that it isn’t the message but the messenger that is in line for a very specific kind of attack, just for wanting to talk about climate breakdown. Particularly when it’s a certain type of messenger. Where does this anger and vitriol come from?

We aren’t psychoanalysts in Extinction Rebellion, though we no doubt have some among our number.

But we are prepared to wager that there is something deep-seated behind these attacks. It’s notable that these are often from people risking a double erasure: older, generally male, thinking about their mortality, not used to being particularly challenged. And here comes, in the case of Greta Thunberg, a young girl who basically asks them to question everything they represent and admit that they’ve been wrong.

This challenge seems to emphasise their worthlessness in a world where people are joining forces to get the government to tell the truth, to just damn well leave fossil fuels in the ground, stop these exploitative and extractive industries and start getting radical. Consider this, which Extinction Rebellion considers incontrovertible: human activities have caused the planet’s average surface temperature to rise about 1.1°C since the late 19th century. Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years. It seems to us that anyone would be concerned and want to do something to avert catastrophe.

Maybe it’s overly simplified: that the opposite of an old man is a young girl, and this diametric positioning only serves to intensify the agendas of both. Greta: “I want to live, I should have a life ahead of me, as should all children”. (Some) old men: “But I’m getting older and my world view appears to be irrelevant”.

An epic battle with mortality, our god, conscience and the life we’ve led, makes for heady conflict in one’s twilight years. Not going gentle into that good night, rage against the dying of the light, and all of that. But that was surely a personal resistance. Whereas now, alarming numbers seem to be taking the battle to an external frontier where peaceful, environmental teenagers are hanging around, just trying to make things better.

Women and girls account for 80 percent of displaced people and they are more vulnerable during climate disasters, according to the UN. This gets reported now and then, but we aren’t really talking about it enough. Nobody covers that climate change is sexist despite all the research, evidence, and the lived testimonies. And research supports that women and younger people are more concerned about climate change.

The same is true for the disproportionate impacts of climate change already happening right now, already being felt in poorer countries. It’s why we are in crisis – we’ve ignored facts.

It’s a theory worth holding up to the light, and really examining from multiple angles. The vitriol, yes, the death threats even, levelled at climate activists must come from somewhere. Anger, fear, impotence and outright irrelevance go a long way to understanding this mindset. But it’s not just the fault of one demographic.

It doesn’t seem that anyone in government for example is really prepared for the danger ahead. Floods and wildfires are already happening, that’s just here in the UK. Elsewhere, extreme weather and crop failure is removing the means of making a living, resulting in people moving further and further away from their home. Why the collective denial for so long?

It is absolutely time to do something. Conventional approaches haven’t worked. Voting, lobbying, petitions and protest haven’t achieved cut-through because powerful political and economic interests prevent change. It just isn’t in their interests, healthy life on this little planet of ours. It’s why our strategy is non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience – a rebellion. And angry, establishment types who deny the science and want to have a go at a 16 year old girl, women, minorities or anyone else who weirdly just wants to protect the planet, well – to coin a phrase – they can get in the sea: it’s strangely higher than usual right now.

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