Extinction Rebellion: A Critical Evaluation

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It never ceases to amaze me just how many foreshadows of upcoming events or trends have made their way into this blog over the months. I refer to these foreshadows as “Future Echoes” (an early episode of Red Dwarf revolved around this very concept).

With a lot of mainstream news now starting to examine some of the environmental topics that we’ve already been looking at for over a year now, it does seem like Green is very much the In-Thing of 2019. That can only be good… just as long as by 2020 it hasn’t become passe!

I should be delighted by this. After all, as a self-appointed “Wind Warrior” who a few years ago did a website called “Crook Hill Eco Disaster”, surely it should be music to my ears that Eco-Warriors are on the rise! On a superficial level, it’s great; the more eco-conscious the planet, the better. But that’s not to say I don’t have some cognitive dissonance going on at the same time, indeed some critical thinking that needs to be done. I simply wouldn’t be me without asking awkward questions, would I now?!

Maybe it’s ego… We should always check our egos first and foremost when evaluating our responses to any challenging stimuli. There is often an element of elitist hipsterism that rankles whenever an obscure minority interest suddenly goes mainstream, minus the original edge that made it so compelling in the first place. This would not be uncommon; after all in economics there is something known as a “positional good“: a good or product whose value derives almost solely from making its owners seem slightly aloof from normal society, rather than any intrinsic value of its own. The classic example, for years and years during the 80s and 90s, was the Apple Mac: a quasi-Green, anti-corporate, counter-culture, rebellious option for those who liked to “think different”. Are Apple Macs still a positional good? Or have they moved squarely into the mainstream?

I’ve long seen the Green Party as similarly deriving much of its value from its leftfield (not necessarily left-wing, just anti-mainstream) position on the political spectrum, and therefore in society, rather than having any bona fide credentials as an environmental organisation dedicated to conservation per se. That’s also what my instinctive reaction is towards Extinction Rebellion, the latest in a long line of high-profile organisations who I should be cheering and siding with, as they say they stand up for the environment against wanton eco-destruction. However, something about them strikes me as too “positional” to be truly in harmonic resonance with the Voice of Nature.

I could be misreading the public mood, but the general verdict from the mainstream seems to be, at best, indulgence towards the folly of youth, and, at worst, disrespect. Now this isn’t my subjective opinion, far from it. It’s more an objective assessment based on social norms and real-life public reactions to the protestors.

It becomes a genuine problem for the environment if those speaking up on its behalf  alienate the general public, by coming across as unappealing, unprofessional and altogether too far removed from the norms of working adults. It pushes environmentalism into the hands of the freaks and the weirdos, instead of normal folk. Like me. Ahem! I joke because I know what it’s like to be ridiculed, shunned and sidelined for standing up for the environment. It ill behoves me to do the same to others. Still, activists need a thick skin and should always be conscious of the optics of their operations.

All of us, no matter where we stand within the wider environmental movement, need to therefore be aware of the impact of our actions and statements on the general public. It’s an ongoing process: to act, to take on board feedback, to critically assess that feedback and to improve our actions accordingly. I often premise my more outrageous online skirmishes by saying: “I’m well aware I come across like a lunatic…but thanks for engaging, and let’s have an interesting debate about WHY!”

The very act of critical thinking itself is thus innately good for the environment, because it fosters equilibrium, balance, well-reasoned decisions and thoughtful, considerate contemplation about whether we are changing the world for the better or worse. As long as Extinction Rebellion are routinely critically thinking their actions, I can cut them some slack for any mistakes and misjudgements. We all do it, and if we’re serious in our aims then we should be happy to engage with those who criticise. We need to win hearts and minds of those who might need convincing, not just talk to those who already share our views.

The overarching point of all this is that environmentalism shouldn’t be defined as belonging solely to the counter-culture, it shouldn’t be a positional good specifically designed to signal the virtue of a few white knights fighting to save the planet vs the dumb masses. This is cult-like behaviour, meeting several of the criteria of dangerous groups.

Maybe it’s just that I have a very different version of environmentalism from the Extinction Rebellion crew, but I’m not totally convinced that what they recommend is in fact best for the future of the planet. Even if the problem is as they say it is, how good is their solution?

For me and my style of environmentalism, it’s primarily a personal relationship with the Earth, although communication and bringing other people along is an essential second step. But the first step, the Sine Qua Non, is ensuring I regularly have a physical communion with the Earth. We connect with the air every time we breathe, granted, but we should also connect with the land and sea (rivers will do if we can’t make the seaside, after all it’s the same water, just a bit further upstream!)

Let me illustrate what I mean: on a sunny Bank Holiday, the protestors chose to spend hours in the sweltering, concrete jungle of London rather than actually touching base with nature. For what it’s worth, I spent Easter Monday exploring my local 700m peak, Great Whernside (not to be confused with Yorkshire’s highest mountain Whernside, miles away on the other side of the Dales). I immersed myself in the soft, soothing, unspoilt shapes of the fells rising to meet the big sky.

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In doing so, I felt myself relaxing, unwinding, reconnecting with my spiritual essence and meditating over life’s mysteries. My belief is that these direct communions with nature are of a deeper benefit to our affinity with the planet, than spending too much time in the groupthink of the cities. Therefore, if climate change is the problem Extinction Rebellion claim it to be, these upland open spaces contain the solution, and I see my role in the eco-movement as simply to spread awareness of the vital importance of conserving these landscapes, to protect them at all costs, and to encourage as many people as possible to also spend as much time as they can surrounded by the beauty of nature.

It doesn’t have to be about the mountains and moorlands, that just happens to be my niche. It could be gardens, parks, even the tiniest slither of green, undeveloped urban space. Just somewhere accessible where we can spend time directly interacting with the natural world.

Within the protestors there will indeed by some Earth Lovers, some Pagans and Wiccans; however there will also be an awful lot of Muggles who can’t wait to get back home to their Xboxes. Let’s be honest: at the age of 16 I’d have probably gone and got fully involved as a social thing, I do get that entirely, and it’s certainly not a bad bandwagon to jump on. If anything introduces people to caring about the environment, that can only be a good thing.

But it’s also an example of the Watermelon psychology, if you remember my piece about Watermelons and Bananas. Watermelons are those who support Green causes on the outside, but down to youthful inexperience they have an external locus of control and can thus be easy prey to get co-opted into various other socialist causes.

Could Extinction Rebellion even be a front for the rollout of 5G? Make up your own minds…

This brings me on to my final concern: the elevation of technology over nature. This is where Extinction Rebellion really need to don their critical thinking and self-awareness hats. Opposing wind blight needs to be totally separated from climate change denial in their minds, and it needs to be seen for what it is: just other strain of opposition to corporate desecration of the natural world.

True, there are some folk who hate wind turbines because they don’t subscribe to the theory that we even need to lower CO2 emissions; but there are many others, like me, who simply place electricity second in priority to nature. Of course we need electricity, but we need the natural upland watershed landscapes even more.

Anti-wind activists therefore need to be paid attention to and heeded by Extinction Rebellion, because these guys are the real deal when it comes to standing up for the planet against huge corporations, often privately and with no fanfare. I made this point in pretty much the first entry I ever wrote, and I’m saying it again now, so there is no doubt whatsoever.

OPPOSING INAPPROPRIATE WIND BLIGHT DOES NOT EQUATE TO BEING A CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER! 

IT SIMPLY MEANS DOUBTING WIND FARMS ARE THE SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE THEY SAY THEY ARE.

AND EVEN IF THEY DID HELP A BIT, THEY CAUSE SO MANY OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS THAT THEY’RE SIMPLY NOT WORTH THE BOTHER.

I barely talk about climate change in this blog, because I really don’t have anything useful to say about it. I just don’t like pollution full stop, whether it be of the land, sea or air. I would however err on the side of acting as if climate change is a genuine threat (because that’s the Precautionary Principle in action), whilst simultaneously keeping a calm head and critically thinking about the proposed solutions (a must-read article that critically examines the available sources of low-carbon energy, including wind).

Having done all this critical thinking, and despite having a few issues with their answers to the problems of environmental destruction, all in all I feel generous towards the Extinction Rebellion guys. I assume, deep down, we share the same aim of a clean, green planet. Who doesn’t, after all?

I just need them to know that wind turbines won’t provide what they’re looking for. I for one wouldn’t want to live in a world – even with the threat of climate change solved for good – if the price we had to pay for survival is forests of huge spinning metal blades, owned by multinational energy companies, blocking us from our connection with the natural Earth.

And I’d be gobsmacked if any fellow Eco-Warrior really wanted to live in that kind of world!

EDIT: I’ve read that back and I do sound a bit holier than thou! I apologise if that’s the case, as always I’m just showing my inner workings and explaining exactly why I feel the way I feel. All I can say is, my findings ARE based on my own research and fieldwork, they really are. I genuinely do trace our interconnecting mountain ridges and watersheds by eye and by feel. I am 100% for real when I say that I can sense whether I am in Wharfedale, Airedale or Calderdale entirely by the shapes of the valleys! It’s all true 🙂 I probably deserve pity more than praise, but this deep connection to the Earth is precisely why I care so much, and precisely why inappropriate wind blight physically hurts me so much.

It also explains my uncanny knack for uncovering USELESS wind turbines at the sources of these rivers, that just keep on breaking down!

EDIT 2: A very busy this week! Dramatic fire engulfed the Paul’s Hill Wind Farm in Moray. Boo-hoo. If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen! Obviously it’s a tragedy that so much wild land has caught fire, but at least there’s a silver lining to the story. On a more serious point, the fire risk is now plain to see. If by any chance you’re reading, Duncan, when I said your wind farm ran the risk of being burnt down to the ground, this is what I was talking about… the voice of Nature. Not lil ol’ me going around with a box of matches and a petrol can, but simply nature reasserting its dominance over the uplands. Electrify and industrialise them at your peril…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-48017104?fbclid=IwAR364AsQ6WAZgXMTY5G95JLH3zOKN2i5Hvh6_BaN4Na4tEyjJ_gS4eX9uH0 

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