Our Saturday morning breakfast table with friends at Don Pasquale in Cambridge doesn’t normally go in for vigorous debate. Generally the talk is of restaurants, football and classic cars but today was different being prompted by Extinction Rebellion (XR) digging up the lawn in front of Trinity College (see the photo).
Many people have been angered by this. They regard it as criminal behaviour and in fact that’s how the police have viewed it as well so they’ve arrested a few people. But then some of us conflated their opinion of the Trinity lawn dig-up with whether or not they were broadly in support of (a) what XR is campaigning for, and (b) its basic approach.
None of us have a problem with (a). It’s when we are challenged on (b) that some of us hesitate. Is XR behaviour simply non-violent protest which highlights issues which might otherwise be ignored? Maybe it continues an approach championed so successfully by Gandhi and other powerful civil rights movements. Or is it unacceptable behaviour which disrupts people’s lives unnecessarily and maybe illegal anyway?
I’ll go along with the former because climate change is a big and desperately important issue and we need major change not just in the behaviour of individuals but governments and industry as well and it’s the latter which is a problem. These organisations have such a massive investment in the status quo that getting them to change and getting to do that with some urgency is a big challenge. There’s irrefutable evidence, there are major political groups calling for change and many individuals when challenged are in favour but sometimes you need a catalyst to force governments to face up to reality. You’d think the recent floods and the fires and gale force winds would be sufficient but still there are major politicians who refuse to accept the truth of what’s going on. And that’s where XR has a role: to highlight the issue, to express impatience and to make our law makers uncomfortable.
And it does work. Witness the statement at the end of this week from the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council in which he claims that this council is doing what’s right. It is but not enough and not with sufficient urgency and without the XR action it wouldn’t have seen it necessary to make a point about it.
But I do have a problem with some of what XR does. It needs to get its message across forcibly but it needs to do so in a manner which does not alienate people who might otherwise support it. That’s why I’ve no problem with it blocking roads and disrupting council meetings. But although I don’t think it’s a big deal to dig up the Trinity lawn, it’ll be restored pretty quickly, I think it will be counter productive to its cause and result in the debate moving from one about the climate emergency to one about petty vandalism outside a Cambridge college.
So yes it’s tough being moderate, neither extreme left not extreme right but maybe there’s a position of being an extreme moderate: passionate about protecting the world for my grandchildren but equally passionate about including everyone to do what’s right.