CLIMATE. Large scale protests are taking place around the world, from Hong Kong and Chile to Sudan, Lebanon and Barcelona. We might be experiencing a different global new age of echoing common cause. People, especially young generations, have felt anger and a strong inner urge to revolt against the current status quo, even before knowing what shape a revolution might crystallise in.
Protesters are fuming in accord, against various common denominators. Bearing this in mind, we cannot compare Sudan’s and Hong Kong’s enduring uprisings against oppressive regimes and the actions undertaken by protesters there to achieve desired change to the ones recently expressed by Extinction Rebellion (XR).
XR’s protests have gained remarkable speed and size over the past year, spreading information across digital channels as fast as people could click on the share button, with climate change messaging being adopted as a mainstream language. Week-long occupations of entire streets, bridges and junctions in a city dependent on public transport is well enough when it is coordinated with public authorities, as peaceful protests are an expression of an inherent democratic right.
However, standing on the roof of trains and planes becomes a problem because it is forcefully stopping hard-working commuters from getting home or to work when an alternative route is not the best option. This type of boycott can only lead to loss of support for the cause and bring upon severe opprobrium. XR’s senior leaders have admitted that targeting London’s public transport ”was the wrong thing to do”. This action was followed by many people abandoning the cause.
After being heavily condemned by the public, XR is now having to rethink their strategy while dealing with rogue activists much like the split moments in Life of Brian. The danger of the latest stunts might work against the cause and bring upon its demise, as well as much worse – criminalising these type of protests. XR should be focusing on working closely with public institutions and high-level stakeholders and take a page out of Greta Thunberg’s action book, regarded by many as the de facto leader of the global climate change movement.
XR have been harshly denounced for its fetishisation of mass arrest, and it has been said that many are relying on the precedent of white privilege when it comes to police treatment, with the overwhelming majority of activists being white. This approach is certainly not an option for everyone, as people being disheartened at the threat of jail.
A silver lining is that XR has successfully contributed to adding the climate crisis on the political agenda and turn XR policies into mainstream topics. Nonetheless, having Parliament declaring a ”climate emergency” does not compel the Government to act. Therefore it will have no immediate effect.
In general, people do not contest that according to the latest climate figures, global greenhouse gas emissions are higher than ever before. And as humankind, we will be at the brink of irreparable damage to our planet if we do not take charge, almost 30 years after the UN Climate Change Convention focusing on reducing CO2 emissions. We get it! It is not that we do not care. However, we need to change the way we speak about climate change.
Climate change is a significant problem, and we are not going to solve it if the governments, industry and people don’ take action. However, doomsday trips are not going to motivate most people to act. What we should ask ourselves is: what types of messages could inspire people to modify their behaviour?
Behavioural science should provide some answers. People’s motivation comes from understanding the bigger picture, how it all fits, what are the consequences on the specific environment they live in, starting from their building, street, neighbourhood, area, city etc. It can be influenced via positive take action messages.
Humans need to see the social impact, feel social pressure, and how they can act meaningfully, making simple changes. Clear and straightforward discourse can bring upon more change than shouting apocalyptic scenarios and no specific actions to follow.