by Ben Sixsmith
Tuesday, 21
September 2021
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14:50

How grannies became the new frontline activists

Octogenarians are getting themselves arrested — and it makes sense
by Ben Sixsmith
Extinction Rebellion is full of concerned Grandparents. Credit: Getty

What is your mental image of an environmental activist? Probably a young, idealistic millennial, eating lentils and wearing a multicoloured beanie. What is striking about Extinction Rebellion protestors, though, is just how old they are. The people blocking roads across England look closer to eighty than to eighteen.

The newspapers have been full of pensioners who have been getting themselves arrested: the Welsh 82-year-old, the Oxford 81-year-old and, perhaps most impressively, the 91-year-old from Kent. A study by Claire Saunders and others from the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity found that XR has “a much broader and more diverse age profile than has been the case for the previously small networks of mainly young activists,” with a mean age of over 40.

Maybe older activists feel more responsible for environmental decay, with one nonagenarian telling Sky that it was “his generation that had caused the damage that led to climate change.” Perhaps, too, having already enjoyed a long life and career, they find it easier to imagine living out the rest of their time on Earth in a more restrained fashion.

Putting old people on the frontlines of environmental activism also makes tactical sense. Polly Toynbee noticed this two years ago. Pensioners, she wrote in a column called “How older people became the heroes of Extinction Rebellion”, are the best “arrestables”:

…free of children, with pensions. They have no need to worry about damaged CVs and criminal-record checks, and so are model protest material, with the least to lose. Police, mainly easy on arrestees of all ages, are doubly wary of dragging older folks down the street.
- Polly Toynbee, Guardian

There is some history here: Bertrand Russell being arrested at the age of 89 at a protest against nuclear weapons gained recognition on both sides of the pond, as well as Walter Wolfgang’s forcible ejection from the 2005 Labour Party conference at the age of 82, after he had shouted “nonsense” at Jack Straw for defending the invasion of Iraq. The rough treatment of old people, rightly or wrongly, inclines us to feeling more sympathetic towards the geriatric rabble-rousers. This same sympathy is rarely extended upon the rough treatment of the young.

Nonetheless, few would want their protest movement to be entirely made up of old people. One needs some youthful vitality, and, besides, a movement without young people is doomed to its own extinction. Wherever you stand on “NIMBYs”, their cause cannot last forever simply because there will not be enough homeowners to sustain it.

Still, having a crack troop of pensioners makes a lot of activistic sense. You might argue that XR is rich in knee-jerk misanthropy and shrill pseudoscience, and that blocking roads is an absurd strategy that leads to tragic situations like a stroke victim not reaching a hospital in time to make a full recovery, but putting kindly old people in front of the cops is smart. If you happen to be organising your own protest you could take a worse lesson.

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George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago

I’ll believe Mr “his generation that had caused the damage that led to climate change.” is actually trying to make things better when he volunteers for the Carrousel from Logan’s Run.
What exactly is the sacrifice these elderly protestors are making? their protest costs them none of their wealth, they have ample free time for it. All of the sacrifice is being made is by those they inconvenience and those who lose out on their livelihoods for being stuck in the traffic jam these people caused. These protestors are not making a sacrifice for a cause, they are buying an indulgence but forcing others to pay for it.
they want the glory of being a martyr? then step into the carrousel

Last edited 1 year ago by George Glashan
Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
1 year ago

I would have hoped for a little common sense on UnHerd.
The only thing remotely suggesting any kind of crisis relating to “climate” is the absolutely nonsensical policies of “Zero Carbon” either in 2035, 2050 or ever.
The only impact anthropogenic CO2 has had in the last 50 years (or since the end of the Little Ice Age, nominally 1850, if you prefer) is a trivial and entirely beneficial increase in temperature – mainly at night, in winter and at high latitudes. And a very significant increase in greening amounting to a worldwide increase in plant growth roughly of the area of the USA. Again entirely beneficial.
But our Beloved Leaders press blindly on with Ruinable Energy which is the eye-wateringly expensive solution that doesn’t really work, to a problem that is ludicrously exaggerated or doesn’t even exist.
Note the present ‘energy crisis’ here, in Germany and across much of Europe, Caused almost entiely by a protracted ‘wind drought’ and by closing the Rough gas storage facility in the North East. Hugely exacerbated by the same GangGreen idiots protesting against the imaginary ‘dangers’ of Fracking leading to ‘Potato ED’ Davey effectively banning fracking.
How Vladimir Putin (who funded the protests to protect Gazprom’s interests) must be laughing, together with his chum Xi Jinping.

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

Unless, of course, the idea is to enrich yourself and your friends at the expense of the “little people”. In which case, you can say that the policy has been very successful.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago

They’re idiots. Everything they’ve demanded has already been agreed to by the government. So WTF are they ‘protesting’? It’s a hobby that allows them to mess up everybody else’s lives – being a busybody under the guise of righteousness.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sharon Overy
V Solar
V Solar
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

I know a couple in their eighties who have been committed environmentalists since the early 1970s and who have consistently done everything they could to recycle, garden organically, reduce plastic use and carbon emissions for the whole of their adult lives. They bought an electric car as soon as they came on the market. There are many older people for whom this has been an ongoing concern. It definitely is not a hobby or virtue signalling for some.

Last edited 1 year ago by V Solar
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago
Reply to  V Solar

Then what are they ‘protesting’ for? The government has already agreed to bankrupt every family in the country with their ridiculous ‘Net Zero’ plan. We’re all to be destined for bleeding misery because of it – why is that not enough for these misanthropists?

Richard Gasson
Richard Gasson
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

A phrase that my mother would often use springs to mind ” there is no fool like an old fool”

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

This is news to me . A good one though.
Now can we expect the same age group to protest against future lockdowns, vaccine passports & such! After all they have been poorly treated too with no family members allowed while dying, no contact with family members while living imprisoned, almost bullied into vaccines ( like the rest of us) & now the passports.
Can they see that the road to this common sense requires them to be on it too! For their own sake & for the young. I implore you – you have lived a free life without many road blocks . Surely you would want the same for your children/grand children too!

Mark Burbidge
Mark Burbidge
1 year ago

Agreed but it will be interesting to see how the Police will treat them .
Kid gloves or violence ?
Not sure that age will preclude the latter.

V Solar
V Solar
1 year ago

Good article but ‘Granarchy’? how tiresome it is that anything in the media that has to do with older women has to use the word ‘gran’ in that cartoonish way. It undermines dignity. Please don’t do it.

David Bell
David Bell
1 year ago
Reply to  V Solar

These old coots are undermining their own dignity very well, themselves.

V Solar
V Solar
1 year ago
Reply to  David Bell

I don’t like Extinction Rebellion’s tactics either and I particulary hate theatrical posturing as I think it alienates people who might otherwise listen. I’m just saying many people have been working towards reducing pollution levels for years and they are sincere.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
1 year ago

Having witnessed first hand at the chaos caused by the protesters yesterday, makes me hope that all the protesters are treated in the same way, irrespective of age. Four hours to travel twenty two miles.
Choose the behaviour, choose the consequences huh?.

Jon M
Jon M
1 year ago

Shows that the age marker is orthogonal to the ‘being a nutter’ marker