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Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Extinction Rebellion’s Ugly Tactics Will Not Save the Environment, but Innovation Can

To the Extinction Rebellion protesters: grow up and do something with your life.

Image Credit: Flickr-DAVID HOLT | CC BY 2.0 (

Radical climate change activists in the UK have disrupted the nation’s capital for almost a week now. Their preferred tactics: property destruction and the obnoxious blocking of major thoroughfares and transport options.

The Last Generation

The Extinction Rebellion is an environmentalist group that promotes civil disobedience to raise awareness about the imminent dangers of climate change. They assert that this will be the last generation of humans to live on the planet before mass extinction kicks in.

Following is a list of the demands of the Extinction Rebellion:

The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.

The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 (and to reduce consumption levels). [The section in parentheses was removed from the list of demands recently]

A national Citizens’ assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

The protests themselves follow the typical pattern of environmentalist demonstrations since the 1970s: drum circles, gluing or chaining oneself to streets and trains, and making the entire scenery of the gatherings more closely resemble a music festival that got out of hand than they do a political movement.

Until Friday, estimates of costs to businesses incurred as a result of these protests were at £12 million ($15.6 million). At the building of the oil company Shell, activists sprayed graffiti on the walls, blocked entrances, and smashed glass. Following this incident, more than 600 people were arrested by the London Metropolitan Police.

But for these protestors, making the entire city of London two hours late for work, putting small businesses at serious risk, and giving an oil company’s insurance secretary an extra hour of paperwork is justified in service to the cause. After all, mass extinction is more important than your child’s birthday or selling the daily newspaper, right?

A Misguided Effort

The strategy of these activists works much as every other movement, be it the anti-immigration crowd, the nuclear disaster theorists, or the “robots will take all the jobs” group: Take the worst possible scenarios, count them together, and declare it the only possible outcome. As a result, we get headline after headline of dying bees, insects, and drowning polar bears. This isn’t news—we’ve been doing it for years now.

The Extinction Rebellion isn’t anything new in that instance. Like any other movement, it requires a sense of urgency to make it interesting. If immigrants aren’t coming over the border as we speak, then there isn’t much of a reason to build the wall as soon as possible. The same is true for environmentalism. If the planet is still going to be around for a thousand years, then there isn’t much imminent danger to drive fanatical activists or popular opinion.

The movement includes a striking level of hypocrisy with members filming their anti-capitalist environmentalist protest on their iPhones.

What is so telling is the level of hypocrisy this movement brings to the table. There is the obvious example of filming your anti-capitalist environmentalist protest on your iPhone, but there is also the mind-blowing fact that British actress and environmental activist Emma Thompson joined the protest by flying (!) in from Los Angeles. This is particularly fascinating because the Extinction Rebellion also protested London Heathrow Airport, into which Thompson flew.

The protesters are so entitled and self-absorbed that the London Metropolitan Police chose to turn off the WiFi in the metro area as a means of deterring protestors from blocking the train. Can’t livestream the revolution that way, can you?

Do Something with Your Life

Looking at the protestors, one recalls dealing with the same group that protested nuclear energy decades ago. Now that nuclear energy has gained more social acceptance and that established science has come down on behalf of its safety, a new target is needed. These days, environmentalists have shifted their ire toward consumer consumption levels. They dislike the fact that average consumers have access to things like meat, cars, and affordable air travel, and they are willing to go the extra mile to get those things overtaxed, restricted, or banned.

The Extinction Rebellion is yet another middle-class temper tantrum instigated to make some people feel important: They choose to live in the center of a modernized, prospering society, benefiting from all the advantages that free markets have provided.mum-and-dad-funded art students who are looking for their moment of Instagram fame by getting arrested by a police force that would be more productively employed by focusing its resources and attention on the frightening epidemic of knife crime in London.

They could pool all this time and energy into becoming engineers to develop the next supersonic plane that runs on low kerosene consumption or a fusion reactor capable of providing electricity for centuries with no carbon emissions. They could set an example by building communities that are ecological and self-sustaining. But no, they choose to live in the center of a modernized, prospering society, benefiting from all the advantages that free markets have provided while ruining the day of a person who’s already late to work or someone selling a croissant to a commuter.

To the Extinction Rebellion protesters: grow up and do something constructive with your life.

  • Bill Wirtz is a Young Voices Advocate and a FEE Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. His work has been featured in several outlets, including Newsweek, Rare, RealClear, CityAM, Le Monde and Le Figaro. He also works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

    Learn more about him at his website