by Mo Metcalf Fisher

As Extinction Rebellion (XR) pack up after two weeks of protesting in the capital, it’s worth reflecting on what, if anything, they achieved.

The group claim to be a ‘global environmental movement’ that want ‘system change’. Its stated aim is to use non-violent civil disobedience to ‘compel government action on climate change’.

Fourteen days is a considerably long time to hold a demonstration and you’d have thought that whatever point they were trying to make was surely one that had been received loud and clear.

Yet, as I scour over social media and the web, I find it hard to find anything that really highlights the environment. I can, however, find plenty of articles and posts that talk instead about XR being a source of huge aggravation to many. 

Local Westminster MP Nickie Aiken, whose constituency is at the centre of much of the group’s activity, wrote: “The single biggest issue that has filled my mailbag over the past 12 months, covid aside, is idling police helicopters hovering above us for hours on end, day after day." She explains that the Metropolitan Police have to rely on the helicopters to provide officers on the ground with intelligence on protester activity as XR and others "fail to liaise with them on their plans". She adds: “The irony is not lost on me in that XR claims it wants to tackle climate change but fails to communicate with the police which in turn leads to air pollution from idling engines in the sky.”

Other MPs have responded to the disruption by reinforcing why they support the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Specifically, giving the police more power to place limits on protests if they become violent and disruptive. 

Then there’s been fury over the sheer cost of policing XR activity in the capital. Since 2019, the cost of policing their protests has reached an eye-watering £50 million. After the last fortnight, that figure is likely to rise even further. Understandably, people have questioned where this money could be better spent, if only the group took all steps to prevent carnage and public disruption.

It’s clear that XR aren’t sparking conversations about the environment anymore. Whether they ever seriously did in the past remains debateable. Admittedly, many of us have legitimate concerns about global warming: but this issue was never and is not the exclusive property of XR.

I have always regarded XR as a barrier to wider discussions about the environment. I believe they are far more than an eco-group. The clue being in their call for ‘system change’. This isn’t about the environment, it’s all about their own anti-capitalist agenda. They are focused on their brand and thrive off the publicity and anger.

If only to strengthen my reservations about the group’s real objectives, in March this year they targeted landowners and farmers by organising mass trespass of the countryside; spouting anger at a ‘tiny minority of aristocrats, oligarchs and corporate interests that control the land.’ In short, blatant anarchism.

In England and Wales there are 140,000 miles of rights of way as well as hundreds of thousands of acres of open access land for people to use. Rules around access are there for a reason, not least to protect crops and livestock. There could also not be a more irresponsible time of year to encourage unlawful access which could, given the timing, easily disturb ground nesting birds and other wildlife.

Last week I caused a bit of a stir on social media for suggesting people - to quote The Express - ‘eat steak in the face of Extinction Rebellion protestors’. While a tasty headline, I was making a broader point which is worth expanding on.

While XR followers have been exploring new ways to annoy people, our farmers have been working flat out to reach the ambitious goal of  Net Zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.

These stewards of the countryside routinely expand and maintain hedgerows which provide a habitat for wildlife. They carefully plant trees to create additional woodland. Many have diversified to produce renewable energy that helps power millions of homes. They do all this while producing some of the finest, sustainable meat from cows and sheep which are predominantly grass-fed, on farmland which cannot be used to grow other types of food.

Rather than helping the phonies at XR further cement their status as one of the most annoying, publicity hungry outfits in the UK today, you can help do your part for our environment by supporting British farmers instead. By buying their produce, you are helping to sustain viable agricultural businesses who can in turn continue protecting and preserving our countryside for future generations to enjoy.

Surely, enjoying a delicious Great British steak is better than feeding Extinction Rebellion’s ego?

Follow Mo on Twitter, here. 

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