Oct 7, 2021: Eager and anxious to show off its environmental credentials at an important UN meeting in the coming days, the UK is nevertheless currently struggling to cope with growing domestic protests by climate activists.
The Extinction Rebellion uprising has paralyzed cities and has vowed to do the same at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow later this month. In recent weeks, the previously unheard of offshot, Insulate UK, has also caused motorway and road closures, leading to several arrests and court restraints.
According to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the protesters are a “a confounded nuisance” and “welcomed the move by the new powers to isolate them in prisons where they belong.”
The government is keen and on track to reduce carbon emissions and ensure that the new commitments to reduce global warming are met at the summit.
But it also takes hints from the largely right-wing British press that is increasingly hostile to environment activists, calling them “environmental mobs” and “eco-idiots.” Both Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain have been accused of endangering lives with their tactics, including sticking to tarmac and sitting in front of traffic during rush hour.
The activits themselves come in all shapes and sizes, while there are people who say they would block the road even if a dying patient in an ambulance was held up in the demonstrations, there are others like 36 year old Speers, who hails from Cornwall, in southwest England, and has little resemblance to the media stereotype, dubbed “crusty” by Prime Minister Johnson.
Speers is a clean-shaven, fast-talking, former professional poker player, and more importantly, says he left his old life behind to fight climate change through civil disobedience.
He says, “As soon as they come out with a meaningful statement that they will get on with their job, they will meet their own targets, I will get off the road, I cannot sit by while this government completely fails the citizens it is obliged to protect.”
On Monday, Spears was outside London’s royal court as more than 100 protesters from the group were barred from blocking roads. Some sports beards and woolen hats, but mostly from parents and their children to the elderly and even members of the clergy, were drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds.
A 60-year-old retired IT consultant, Janine Eagling said she joined Insulate Britain after a 30-year environmental campaign because of the need for immediate action.
The UK has seen many environmental demonstrations in the past, such as those against infrastructure projects such as the Road Bypass near Newbury in the West of England in the 1990s.
The HS2 rebel group for one has spent several days in tunnels they secretly dug near the Euston Main Line terminal.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Tuesday announced new measures to tackle Insulate UK, which wants all British homes to be environmentally efficient and more.
She said she would not tolerate “environmental fighters violating our way of life and wasting police resources” as she announced plans to criminalize motorway obstructions and infrastructure interference.
On their part, Insulate Britain called Patel and other ministers “cowards” and warned that blaming campaigners would do more harm than good in the long run.
A planned rally of 50,000 to 100,000 people could take place in Glasgow during the summit. Police Scotland, which is deploying around 10,000 officers a day in a two-week meeting, said it would help with peaceful demonstrations and unlawful protests to a point.
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