It’s not enough to criticise only XR’s ‘methods’

by | Sep 3, 2021

The fortnight of Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests on London’s streets are drawing to a close. As with earlier protests, significant news coverage and comment has been driven by XR’s trademark tactics: although seemingly making demands of government, directing its ‘protests’ against the public by blocking roads. But while discussion is about its tactics, the opportunity for deeper reflection on what XR is, and what the absurd spectacle of so many self-regarding narcissists in fancy dress making unreasonable demands on the rest of us says about society is lost. The continued failure to meaningfully confront green ideology not only explains XR’s existence, it ensures that the backwards, anti-democratic and deeply weird green movement, XR and beyond, will linger.

‘What is Extinction Rebellion and what does it want?’, asked an almost entirely uncritical BBC. It’s a good question, but one that the BBC is incapable of answering. This lack of depth to coverage was set in advance of the protest by a Newsnight ‘debate’, which asked, ‘is this form of mass action the best way to change policy?’. XR organiser, Clare Farrell claimed that ‘People will come together in mass protest’, and that they “are serious about the fact that disruptive protest does work”. Director of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), Sam Hall disagreed, ‘XR’s actions in the past and potential this action as well are going to be counter-productive’.

What this concern for a more effective protest movement demonstrates is the aversion to debate. Whereas Farrell may have vastly overestimated XR’s abilities to mobilise the public, CEN is little more than a Westminster cheese-and-wine club. Neither street-level greens nor establishment environmentalists can claim to have won the public over, yet PR tactics is the only point of difference between them. Moreover, XR and CEN are all but the same organisation. They share the same funders, who backed the project established by multimillionaire failed MP, failed London Mayoral candidate, now Lord Zac Goldsmith, to address the perception that the climate ‘movement’ is dominated by left-wing crusties, to bring the centre right into the climate camp.

Thus mainstream discussion about XR gets no deeper than discussions about ‘perception’, with the righteousness of the anti-democratic cause presupposed. At the new and usually provocative GB News, in an interview with XR co-founder Roger Hallam, Nigel Farage declared himself a lifelong and committed ‘environmentalist’.

Similarly, a forthright Mark Dolan diminished his monologue against ‘avocado-chomping numpties’ by explaining that he was ‘no climate denier’. ‘There’s plenty more to do in the UK to tackle our carbon footprint’, he said, suggesting that XR should focus their criticism on BRICS countries who have yet to fully commit to the Net Zero agenda. ‘I’m hugely excited about the possibility of millions of jobs generated and the massive potential long-term income created for the country by embracing eco technologies’, he claimed elsewhere. Really? What ‘eco technologies’? There are none.

The problem with this reluctance to commit to criticism of XR without caveats or apology is that it leaves nobody any the wiser as to when and how a categorically crazy argument becomes… what… Sensible? Commentators obsess over agreeing with XR’s aims, but not their methods. But is there really such a distinction to be made? Are establishment greens any more grounded in reality than their scruffy counterparts? At what point between a protester and a climate technocrat does reason enter the climate camp? Both will obstruct traffic, but only one will get moved on by Police.

That something as absurd as XR exists to champion the cause should be a fatal embarrassment to all green politics. What passes for their political argument, philosophical grounding or connection with a broader constituency is no deeper than their absurd, hackneyed situationism – petty vandalism thinly disguised as naff street theatre. XR cannot pass as a movement of people that are capable of understanding what they demand, because it’s not plausible. They are too obviously seen as hypocrites, bearing only manifestly impossible and unreasonable demands, such as the imposition of Net Zero by 2025, and the subordination of representative democracy to Citizen’s Assemblies – ideas that would more likely create civil war than ecological Utopia. Accordingly, it should be embarrassing to sympathise with XR’s aims to any degree.

It is to widespread confusion that XR continue to make demands to a government that is not only in total agreement with its aims, it has already conceded to them. The group formed in Autumn 2018, and within months, they had met with then Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, and had given “evidence” to Select Committees. By the end of 2019, Parliament had declared a climate emergency, raised the targets of the 2008 Climate Change Act from 80% to Net Zero, and convened the Climate Assembly, which met the following year – all apparently in response to XR’s demands and pressed ahead without any semblance of broader public support for them.

There are no sensible ‘aims’ that are divorced from XR’s ‘methods’ to speak of. XR’s aims are to put an intolerable burden on people, to restrict their mobility and material freedoms and impose huge costs on them… Exactly the same as their methods. And with the near-total agreement of the establishment. Thus, any TV commentator agreeing with the ‘aims’ of any part of the green agenda commits to something they simply do not understand.

That perhaps sounds unfair, but the quality of climate-warriors’ arguments do not improve as one moves away from lunatic activists up through the ranks of the political establishment and scientific institutions. Arguably, the absurdity increases.

Take, for example, the appointment by the UN and UK government of David Attenborough as ‘People’s Advocate’ at the upcoming COP26 climate meeting. Attenborough, patron of the neomalthusian campaigning organisation, Population Matters (pka The Optimum Population Trust) is categorically anti-people, as he revealed in a 2013 rant in which he claimed humans have become a ‘plague on the Earth’. ‘We keep putting on {television} programmes about famine in Ethiopia. Too many people there’. Not only was this callous claim wholly ignorant of Ethiopia (which has half the population density of the UK) and its conflicts, it was ignorant of the BBC’s schedule too. In the week that Attenborough made his comments, the BBC showed 14 nature and wildlife programmes and none about Ethiopia. Attenborough has starred in more BBC films than the BBC has made films about famine in Ethiopia. Appointing Attenborough as ‘People’s Advocate’ is as absurd as calling Harold Shipman a ‘pensioners’ advocate’.

Parliament’s virtue-signalling declaration of a ‘Climate Emergency’ was absurd.

Parliament’s passing the Net Zero target, establishing the limits of three decades of policy after just 90 minutes of non-debate, with no idea how to achieve the objective, let alone how to pay for it, let alone without asking the public for consent for the agenda heaped absurdity upon absurdity upon absurdity.

The sight of politicians and world leaders prostrating before a teenage truant is absurd.

UN Secretary General António Guterres declaring ‘a code red for humanity’ following the release of the IPCC’s most recent report was an absurdly alarmist interpretation that owes nothing to any science the report contained.

This emphasis on establishment environmentalism’s absurdities is not merely an argument from incredulity. At the heart of the green perspective is the notion that society’s past can be explained and its future defined by weather, and that civilisation was and is only possible because a favourable and ‘stable’ climate exists.

It has never been true – civilisation exists across a vast range of climatic circumstances, many of them ‘extreme’ relative to others. And as all metrics of human welfare demonstrate by a wide margin, society has never been less vulnerable to extreme weather or any other challenge from “nature”. The central proposition of environmentalism and climate policy is manifestly absurd.

Whereas we might expect institutional science to correct green ideological hyperbole, if they aren’t indulging in it, scientists’ voices fall silent. ‘Transformation is required at every level of society’, wrote UK Chief Scientific Advisor, Patrick Vallance. ‘This is a whole systems challenge. Tackling it will require a systemic approach.’

But transforming society is manifestly the domain of politics, not science. And even within that domain, the extent to which the government and its appointed officials are free to use their power to transform society must be limited and contested, rather than taken for granted, or the consequence is tyranny. The failure of institutional science and its chief scientists to see that they have been recruited into a political project that demands the surrender of democracy to fearmongers is absurd. It is an absurdity far more grotesque than anything XR have staged.

You only need to wander to any climate protest to find exactly the same vapid slogan that Vallance utters so glibly. ‘System change, not climate change’ – on every banner and T-shirt. But what does it mean? Does Vallance really know? Does XR know? I doubt that they do.

XR’s ridiculousness then, by comparison to establishment environmentalism, is understandable. They are responding to, and are the victims of, an unopposed absurdity of epic proportions. And, though annoying, XR are not capable of inflicting on society as much harm as Chief Scientific Advisors, UN Secretary Generals, degenerate Parliaments and wholly incompetent governments. The fact that none of its advocates are able or willing to explain what is the ‘system’ that we must submit to without question or debate and without democratic process, is absurd.

Put simply: if you think XR obstructions are an irritant, wait until you see Net Zero. The seemingly sensible ‘aims’ of XR as espoused by the entire political establishment, and their favoured ‘eco technologies’ are going to leave you immobilised, in a cold home, jobless, and deep in the red forever. Many people are going to be killed or injured, and have their lives diminished and reduced, not by XR protests, but by their ‘aims’.

XR is merely what obedience to absurdity looks like. Its activists have suspended reason, judgement and apparently their own interests. That should signify a warning, because something darker lies beneath XR’s persistence than agreement between them and the establishment.

In the aftermath of the shockwaves caused by the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, the green project needed to be reformulated. A growing resistance to global ambitions, which threatened the green agenda was developing, and needed to be overcome.

Central to this reformulation was the work of founder and director of US-based The Climate Mobilization project, clinical psychologist, Margaret Klein Salamon.  She is credited with inspiring XR, Greta Thunberg and her schools strike movement, and the Sunrise movement. A 2016 paper by Klein Salamon called ‘Leading the Public into Emergency Mode’ used her insights from clinical psychology, not to help people overcome irrational and false fears, but to instead engender fear and anxiety, especially in children. By first fostering a sense of panic in a core constituency, a political movement could ‘effectively trigger emergency mode in others’. Panic begets panic, as everyone who claims to be against shouting ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theatre claims to understand. Says Klein Salamon,

In this paper, I will introduce the concept of “emergency mode” which is how individuals and groups function optimally during an existential or moral crisis — often achieving great feats through intensely focused motivation. I will argue that the goal of the climate movement must be to lead the public out of “normal” mode and into emergency mode.

This has huge implications for the climate movement’s communication style, advocacy, and strategy. Because emergency mode is contagious, the best strategy is for climate activists and organizations to go into emergency mode themselves, and communicate about the climate emergency, the need for emergency mobilization, and the fact that they are in emergency mode, as clearly and emphatically as possible.

And so central to this ambition of aligning British society with environmentalism’s goals is the notion that a ‘war footing’ can be established – a reference to the apocryphal ‘wartime spirit’, that seemingly united the country against a deadly foe. Not coincidentally, XR founder Gail Bradbrook, when giving evidence to Parliament, repeatedly cited a sloppy WWII mythology to MPs…

Imagine there’s twenty Hitlers… you know, ‘cos this is far worse than one Hitler… twenty Hitlers lined up… and the British people would say, “no no no, we won’t do anything ‘til twenty-fifty… I just can’t actually imagine that would happen.

Bradbrook believed, per Klein Salamon’s hypothesis, that she could shout “TWENTY HITLERS!” at the British public, and the entire nation would jump up in response  to shout, “WHERE?”, and LO! The wartime spirit would have been synthesised, the world would come together to tackle the greatest ever threat facing mankind! Twenty Hitlers would have been defeated and the world would be a better place.

Such are the delusions of people who take LSD and call it ‘therapy’. Literally.

The top of Klein Salamon’s paper, again not coincidentally foreshadowing Thunberg, asks ‘Imagine there is a fire in your house’, before stating, falsely, ‘Humanity is careening towards the deaths of billions of people, millions of species, and the collapse of organized civilization.’ The overtly panic-mongering treatise drew the attention of the usual suspect eco-billionaires, who funded projects based on the idea, including XR, and of course the Climate Mobilization project, which states

A whole-society transformation.

To protect communities across the world from the Climate Emergency, we need a radical solution: a whole-society mobilization of people and resources to restore a safe climate.

Mobilization is an emergency restructuring of a modern industrial economy, accomplished at rapid speed. It involves the vast majority of citizens, the utilization of a very high proportion of available resources, and impacts all areas of society – nothing less than a government-coordinated social and industrial revolution.

Which is exactly what Vallance ordered, isn’t it.

But we should not constrain our focus on this absurdity to understand what’s going on.

Such attempts to mobilise campaigns through fearmongering are of course, not new. Since the end of the Cold War, western governments have embarked on three major political projects, each of which at face value claim to make the world a better place and protect domestic populations from risk. Terrorism, climate change, and latterly the Covid 19 pandemic have each been presented as causes that demand urgent action.

But as recent weeks have shown, twenty years of War on Terror have not made the world, or us, any safer – a fact which was predictable as it was predicted.

Though there can be little doubt that terrorists exist, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and coronaviruses pose risks to the elderly and infirm, questions about foreign policy, the effectiveness of lockdowns, and the reasoning behind climate policy are always met with the same response: the development of consensus on these issues by amplification of fearmongering, an escalation of smear-mongering, and exclusion and censorship of inconvenient analyses.

To question the proportionality of responses to extant problems is to be a Saddam apologist, to wish death on old people, to be a denier. Yet history has proven early critics of aimless, incautious, and deeply corrupt and corrupting western foreign policy to have been correct. $trillions have been wasted. Thousands of young men have lost limbs or lives. Countless thousands of non-combatants have been caught in the crossfire, and made victims of increasingly savage Islamofascism – a movement that arguably did not exist before the War on Terror created the power vacuum that it stepped into.

Ditto, governments have created far-reaching new powers for themselves, which they are never going to withdraw. Yet critics have pointed out that lockdowns and other interventions are hugely expensive, destroying countless livelihoods and jobs, and are neither necessary nor effective. The UK government’s response to these perspectives was not open, transparent, democratic debate between experts in the full light of public, but was a secretive smear campaign against the scientists who had spoken out of turn.

The fear-mongering and smear-mongering against critics of the climate agenda needs no rehearsal here. Suffice it to say that what unites these three urgent, global causes is that a response to them, in each case requires the transformation of society – the suspension of democracy, the reformulation of the relationship between individuals and the state, and the rollback of ancient rights and hard-won freedoms – just as Vallance, using ‘science’ as a fig leaf, demands.

This is how politics is done in the twenty-first century. Fear and smear. The War on Terror, Lockdowns, and Net Zero are the new normal. And they are already firmly established. The direction has been set. Democracy, criticism and debate are not required. Society is being transformed on the basis that its transformers know better than the transformees, and therefore do not require consent for their projects – even if they require a little bit of nudging, here and there… And the brighter ones need a little bit of smearing every now and then, just to keep things in order.

Society has been unable to confront green ideology because the political establishment is wholly invested in it as much as it is with other ‘urgent’ issues that require them to grant themselves ever more power, and to protect it from democracy. XR are just one, and perhaps a trivial consequence of this failure – a sideshow, which lingers, because even their critics have not understood that XR’s aims and its methods are identical, and that there exists no sensible departure from XR’s methods in the establishment’s aims. Greta said it herself: ‘I want you to panic’. She was reading from a script that had been written several years earlier by Klein Salaman, which was itself written in response to a global political project’s – one of many – standoff against democracy.

So when you hear journalists and TV presenters claim that they agree with XR’s aims but not its methods, that is what they are committed to. They may not know it, but that is the reality beyond XR. XR’s tactics are a distraction from its aims. There is nothing sensible beyond XR’s protests to agree with. They want you to panic, rather than think, because there is nothing sensible beyond XR’s protests to agree with. They do not want society’s consent for its transformation, only its obedience. Do not let anyone tell you that XR’s aims and its methods can be understood as distinct things, nor even that XR exist as a distinct part of the climate movement. They are not well-intentioned but slightly odd people; they have suspended all judgement, to make themselves the agents of fear and panic in the service of an anti-democratic ideological movement.


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