It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The issue was British Government backing for fossil fuel projects around the world – in support of UK exports, but grossly inconsistent with the fight against climate change. How to draw attention to this outrage?
A group of Extinction Rebellion protestors hatched a cunning plan: get hold of a fire engine, load it up with 1,800 litres of fake blood and spray it all over the front of the Treasury building. All went well until they lost control of the fire hose, which spat and thrashed about like a mad snake, leaving the protesters literally red faced. Oops.
Extinction Rebellion's plan to spray 1,800 litres of fake blood on the treasury did not get off to the best start pic.twitter.com/c2WYHM2Tuc
— Sam Francis (@DavidSamFrancis) October 3, 2019
A stunt meant to illustrate government hypocrisy symbolises a dangerous moment for the climate protest movement: the greater the impact it makes, the greater the chance of a backlash – especially if the fight against climate change degenerates into a class-based culture war.
There’s a timely warning in The Guardian from Lisa Nandy – leader of the sane wing of the Labour Party:
Climate protests who deliberately set out to disrupt public transport won’t exactly help. Nor will stunts that leave behind a mess to be cleaned up by others (who’ll be in overalls, of course, not suits).
Preachy messages from frequent private jet users add insult to injury. As for appropriating the language of working class protest, is that really wise when most of the people coming out on ‘climate strike’ seem to be teachers, truants and trustifarians?
Yes, I realise that I’m being unfair – and that the movement is broader than that. But it can expect no fairness whatsoever from the anti-green pollution lobby who’ll do anything to paint the fight against climate change as the preserve of an out-of-touch, metropolitan middle class. So stop supplying ammunition to the enemy.
The most prominent and privileged supporters of the climate movement must lead by example. They will never build a consensus for change unless they establish the moral authority that is the hallmark of true leadership. And moral authority is achieved through sacrifice and skin-in-the-game, not mere display.
It’s not that the masters of the system don’t notice when the middle classes march. In fact, you can bet that our ‘woke corporations’ will adjust their PR campaigns accordingly. But what will make the corporations quake is if the well-to-do stop flying, give up their cars and cut their consumption.
Money talks – so if you’ve got it, put it where your mouth is.