OPINION
17/10/2019 13:43 BST | Updated 17/10/2019 13:45 BST

Extinction Rebellion Need To Stop Disrupting Commuters And Start Targeting The Real Enemy

The media have to bear some responsibility for directing such hate towards environmentalists that people think it’s acceptable to assault them, writer Adam McGibbon writes.

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Protests

Seeing Extinction Rebellion protesters pulled from the roof of trains in Canning Town Station this morning is a horrific sight.

It’s horrific because, despite their faults, I support Extinction Rebellion. For all the things they’ve got wrong, they have contributed, along with the school strikers, to an explosion in public climate concern, now running at the highest level since records began. I hope that we are at the very start of a massive change that they have helped catalyse.

I don’t want to see their activists getting hurt. I also know that hundreds, if not thousands of XR activists tried to stop the tube actions from happening. But in an organisation made up of hundreds of autonomous units, it’s hard to stop actions like this.

The media have to bear some responsibility for directing such ire and hate towards environmentalists that people think it’s OK to share memes about running them over, or think it’s acceptable to assault them.

Some very brave TFL staff and members of the public stepped in to stop the mob violence against the XR members. It’s important we defend our right to protest, and the media have to bear some responsibility for directing such ire and hate towards environmentalists that people think it’s OK to share memes about running them over, or think it’s acceptable to assault them.

It is also deeply saddening because the seething commuters committing these assaults – as disgraceful and horrifying their behaviour is – could be on XR’s side.

Because as XR members and commuters fight on crowded rush-hour platforms, and as we all focus on this, the real culprits of our climate crisis are out there, probably very relieved they aren’t getting the attention they deserve. 

Eleven years after the financial crash that they caused, banks still aren’t popular. Attacking them for financing global destruction would be an effective and popular move for XR.

The fossil fuel companies are the enemy. They have known for at least 30 years about the climate crisis, and instead of acting, they funded climate change denial and continue to lobby against climate action today – just so they can make more money. There is a good case to try fossil fuel executives for crimes against humanity, as climate-related deaths from extreme weather skyrocket. The full force of Extinction Rebellion and all right-thinking people should be turned against the companies who corrupt and pollute our politics. 

The banks are the enemy. Since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, 33 global banks have financed the fossil fuel industry with at least $1.9 trillion. Research by Global Witness has shown that more than 300 banks ploughed $44 billion into deforestation in the last 6 years, among them Barclays, HSBC and Santander. These banks deserve to be inundated with outraged citizens. They should be hounded at every public event and blocked from doing anything until they clean up their mess. Eleven years after the financial crash that they caused, banks still aren’t popular. Attacking them for financing global destruction would be an effective and popular move for XR. 

The insurance industry are the enemy. Without insurance, the global fossil fuel industry would not be able to function. They would not be able to insure their climate-killing operations without insurance companies. They wouldn’t even be able to protect their rich executives from personally losing their shirts without director’s liability insurance. The insurance industry are some of the biggest climate hypocrites in the world. They have warned that climate change is making the world ‘uninsurable’ and yet they play a crucial role in enabling the fossil fuel industry to exist. XR should flood the halls of Lloyds of London, the global hub of energy insurance, until they stop underwriting the climate crisis.

We must challenge these big polluters directly, instead of disadvantaging commuters. Imagine if more of XR’s time and energy was put towards fighting the enablers, and the public institutions that partner with them. Occupy their offices. Make their business impossible. Target the respected public institutions that give them respectability by partnering with them – like The Guardian taking adverts from fossil fuel companies despite their climate pledges. Force them to distance themselves from the polluters, in the same way a vibrant campaign has forced museums and theatres to end sponsorship with fossil fuel companies.

And of course, XR should continue their admirable efforts to pin the blame on the politicians who are at the axis of all of this – the politicians who are too cowardly to lead, who would rather side with the polluters than the people.

Combine that work targeting politicians with a relentless focus on the financial enablers of the crisis, and we stand a chance of saving millions of lives from climate disaster – as well as enlisting many of the people on the Canning Town tube as supporters.

Adam McGibbon is an Irish campaigner and writer.