As ‘they’ persistently put it: any publicity is good publicity. However, this tends to be more the case for outrageous entrepreneurs (e.g., Donald Trump) and contemporary celebrities, rather than organisations pursuing a moral cause. Extinction Rebellion is the latter. A socio-political movement which uses nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse. And now it must resist danger from a new front: the mainstream media.
Increasing levels of research in recent decades has arrived at a general scientific consensus. We are damaging our planet at a rate that is spiralling out of control and this will serve deadly repercussions. These include, climate refugees, the extinction of various species and severe weather patterns (droughts and floods, for instance). The central cause for the inactivity displayed by businesses and ultimately governments is financial gain/profit security. Businesses see investments into renewable or ‘greener’ methods of production as insecure due to the ever-changing and improving technology in this area and are, in turn, holding onto purchase at the latest, cheapest and most financially sustainable date possible instead of replacing capital goods multiple times over a decade.
Business-first governments and profit-over-people industries are however, finally and thankfully being challenged. Organisations such as Greenpeace and ‘Green Parties’ have existed worldwide, primarily since the 1960s, though as of late new movements in the same vein have experienced a surge of popularity. The UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) has hosted peaceful marches through the streets of Westminster since the start of 2019. The credited and acclaimed Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student, has encouraged climate action universally and delivering powerful speeches to business and political leaders worldwide.
So why do Extinction Rebellion receive such a harsh reception in comparison to the UKSCN and Greta?
On the 19th of April, Sky News pushed out a headline ‘Extinction Rebellion: 680 arrests as police aim for business as usual’. This was two days after an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson was ridiculed on Sky News on live TV for peaceful protests against the heart of capitalism in London (‘rebels’, it was claimed, have targeted Shell’s offices, a MNC oil company as well as the London Stock Exchange).
The focus the mainstream media, namely Sky News and other centre-right/right-wing outlets, place on arrests, a smashed window and an overwhelmed spokesperson is pure injustice. This has influenced everyday people to condemn the peaceful protests that have the majority of everything on this planet at the heart of it. Somehow, parents who seek to preserve their children’s future are presented negatively for speaking against oil companies — the perpetrators of oil spills, unpaid taxes and one of the largest contributors to the crisis we face today, tomorrow and in the foreseeable future.
The ‘Us vs Them’ tactic has also been utilised to switch off working-class interest, a device commonly used to achieve justification of prejudiced policies and to spark fear of the left-wing of politics. The stereotyping and negativity Extinction Rebellion receive as ‘middle-class, self-righteous hippies’ is overtly damaging to the central goal of climate action, splitting the population through a political rift. This matter must be seen for what it is: crucial and threatening to us all and the result of greed. It is not in the long-term interest of any person to back the likes of Shell.
Despite the attack on Extinction Rebellion carried out by Sky News, the phrase I opened this article with remains relevant, even if to a lesser extent. In less than a year, climate change has progressed from a dinner-time topic next to the football and whether or not we actually landed on the moon, to being at the head of the political agenda, second only to Brexit.
Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg, the UKSCN and many other organisations have succeeded in pushing the most deadly threat we all face to the front of our newspapers, minds and chats.