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The Extinction Rebellion protests are targeting the wrong country

19 April 2019

8:30 AM

19 April 2019

8:30 AM

In 2007, then-Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd labelled climate change ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’. Rudd is right: if no action is taken on rising CO2 emissions then the world is in trouble. That’s why it is so disappointing that my country, Australia, has failed to tackle the problem and remains one of the highest emitters per capita of greenhouse gasses.

However, the same is not true of the United Kingdom. Thanks to sensible and far-reaching climate change policies, Britain has significantly reduced its level of CO2 emissions and has almost entirely abandoned coal as an energy source. The UK has made some of the largest reductions in emissions in the OECD and has recorded a 38 per cent decrease in CO2 output since 1990. Emissions in the UK are now at their lowest point since the 19th century, and the government announced in October it was consulting with the Committee on Climate Change on how to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

And yet, some groups like to pretend this country’s politicians are the predominate cause of global warming, largely ignoring the UK’s huge strides in combatting the problem.

Extinction Rebellion have shut down parts of London this week by gluing themselves to trains, conducting sit-ins and generally making a nuisance. On Thursday, they pledged to try and shut down Heathrow Airport over the weekend.

The group’s activity so far has cost businesses millions and caused disruption to tens of thousands of commuters. Their petulant protests have sought to create more urgency around the issue, however, it is likely they have only turned Londoners against them. Extinction Rebellion are right to see climate change as a problem and yet their methods are counter-productive and quixotic.


The group has three demands – for the British government to announce a ‘climate and ecological emergency’, for the country to commit to zero net CO2 emissions by 2025 and for the creation of a citizens assembly to make decisions over ‘climate and ecological justice’.

The first aim is laudable. But the second and third are clearly ridiculous.

While citizens assemblies sound positive, the reality is rather different. In a representative democracy it is elected officials, who remain visible and accountable, who must have final say over the country’s laws and regulations.

Meanwhile, for the UK to have zero net emissions by 2025, entire industries would have to be wiped out and economic chaos would ensue. It would require wholesale restrictions on household items, eradication of air travel and a ban on meat production. Such radical change would severely crimp a number of key industries, such as manufacturing, and would also likely lead to rapid inflation.

Zero Carbon Britain, a think tank, believes Britain would need to build around 130,000 new wind turbines in an off-shore location to achieve net emissions by 2030 – which would take up a space twice the size of Wales.

Instead, if the protestors really wanted to halt the planet’s march to a warmer climate, why not protest and boycott the countries which are having the worst impact? China emits 23 times the amount of greenhouse gasses as the UK, more than any other country. Coming in behind them is the US, India and Russia.

So here’s an idea for London’s protestors – why not spend your time rallying the governments of China, the US and India to aim for net zero emissions by 2025? Surely it would be an easy task to move your tents over to the lawns of their embassies and make some noise in that direction.

While I’m sure this would change very little, much like the current protests, at least then they would be aiming their vitriol in the right direction.


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