It has become standard practice when checking the news to hear about the latest bizarre Insulate Britain protest. Sweeping the nation with pandemonium, the offshoot of Extinction Rebellion commonly finds itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. But why?


High demands

Typically, activist groups find themselves on a mission to fix what is wrong in a society and Insulate Britain is no different. Liam Norton, the head of the controversial organisation, demands that the government insulate social houses in Britain to a zero-carbon standard by 2025, and deal with the ever-growing dilemma of fuel poverty for the nation’s most vulnerable. This is to be done by fully funding a plan for all homes in Britain to become low-energy and low-carbon by 2030, with no additional costs for the public.

Given the ongoing climate disaster predictions, on paper, the above argument is not unreasonable. However, following their protests, it has become increasingly clear that our stance towards this radical group’s message is a stern and unforgiving: ‘get out of my way!’

The worst activist group ever?

Hundreds of commuters’ journeys came to an unpredictable standstill on September 13 when the first wave of Insulate Britain protesters purposefully swarmed onto the M25. Five separate junctions came to a halt as combustion engines churned away for hours, pumping out hideous levels of greenhouse gases. This marked the start of a two-month onslaught on vital UK roads.

In turn, a barrage of viral videos flooded social media platforms. The same scene was depicted at every protest site which saw members of the public arguing, hurling abuse, and even man-handling calm activists. Notably, many of the activists did not represent the typical demographic for a protester. Research, made following Chile’s environmentalist protests in 2010, found that the average age of protestors campaigning for change was 26.

When it comes to Insulate Britain, the majority of its protesters appear to be middle-classed and middle-aged. Somehow, an activist group made up of established doctors, teachers, biologists and engineers — instead of blind-sighted, passionate students — are the ones getting it all wrong with their counterproductive methods of blocking urgent ambulances and other emission-making vehicles.

It goes without saying that a group that wants to generate change should not appear to be futile in their methodology.  For our social-media-centred society that favours 30-second-long videos to establish credibility, footage of middle-aged protesters being tolerated by the police — whilst wasting everyone’s time as they sit in silence — is enough to portray the movement as a foul disgrace in the eyes of many.

One thing that has become apparent, is that Insulate Britain do not care how we perceive them. Whether they are viewed as advocates or antagonists is largely irrelevant. To put it simply, they just wish to stir the pot since any attention is good attention. A 2019 survey revealed that 34 per cent of the public ‘strongly’ opposed Extinction Rebellion’s protests — a pattern that also appears to be true for Insulate Britain. However, despite their low popularity, the protests have remained consistent.

‘What you’re causing is death, destruction, and havoc’ objected one driver, Ezah Smith, to a band of protesters at the Swanley Roundabout as cars were stopped from exiting and entering the M25. Ironically, the only disturbance of the peace came from irate drivers in a similar state of mind to Mr Smith’s. This raises the question: are we giving Insulate Britain exactly what they want by flooding the media with stories of raging drivers clearing the roads in a frenzy? It seems so.

An increasingly egoistic society

Undeniably, the recent bout of protests has made something very clear. Namely, that human nature can be forgotten at the drop of a hat. Personal circumstances like being late for work, or not getting the kids to school on time instantly outweigh investing time into social issues.

A general understanding amongst many sociologists is that western society is becoming ever more individualistic, which frequently breeds selfish qualities in its people. Journalist, Martin Jacques, pointed out in his 2002 article for the Guardian, ‘The Age of Selfishness’: ‘There has been a general decline in manners and courtesy within the UK. This decline is arguably directly reflected in the self-centred way that people tend to respond to Insulate Britain’s protests. He continues: ‘we may live in an age of freedom, but it should more properly be described at the age of selfishness’.

Individual gratification, for the most part, is progressively becoming the highest priority. Whilst we are supposed to be uniting over the idea of saving our planet, instead, we are increasingly absorbed by the greater importance of our daily lives. Could this egoistic dark path that humanity seems to be following be accelerating us towards a climate disaster?

An eye-opener

It’s true that insulate Britain are troublesome and sloppy. But we need to consider just one thing; why are these protests happening in the first place? Maybe it’s time to take a breath and stop focusing so much on our own lives and finally consider some of the demands of these older groups? Otherwise, the future does look quite bleak. Worsening protests and a changing climate are the building blocks for a dystopian landscape, which we are slowly rolling towards.

We should consider Martin Jacques’ words: ‘Britain, has a weak sense of the future’.