For supporters of the Government, it is worth going on about it all, until you are blue, sorry, green in the face: the faster drop in carbon emissions here than in other G7 countries; the relatively small proportion of those emissions that the UK emits; what the consequences of zero emissions now – or dramatically lower emissions in the medium-term – would be here on the NHS, schools, housing, jobs, bills, prices, even mortality rates (or to put it more plainly, whether people live or die). As ever, the rich would be better placed to protect themselves from these consequences than the poor.
On second thoughts, never mind Government supporters or Conservative activists. Members of all the main parties, once you strip away tactics and politiking, essentially take the same view. Ditto most voters. They do not see the sense in de-industrialising Britain – let alone when doing so wouldn’t make much difference to the global sum of emissions anyway.
As we say, one must keep trying to make the case for the practicable reduction of emissions (even climate change sceptics believe in greater energy security, or should do), research into new technologies, adaptation as well as mitigation, and the progress that has been made. Being miserabilist instead will achieve nothing – as we pointed out over the Government’s response to the Youth Strike 4 Climate.
At the same time, it is only realistic to acknowledge that there are limits to what engagement can achieve. In the case of the Extinction Rebellion zealots, gains are likely to be zero. The reason is simple: their outlook is not so much scientific, or even open to argument back-and-forth, as religious – or, to be more accurate, cultist. To say so isn’t necessarily to criticise religion: after all, all forms of belief are built on foundations than are ultimately non-rational – which isn’t to say irrational or unreasonable. But it is to get to the heart of what is going on with the fanatics who are clogging up the centre of London. On which point, it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of people, inside and outside the capital, are not being affected by the disruption. This is very much a London story.
None the less, it has a wider point to it. What we are seeing on our TV screens or Twitter feeds is a form of endtime-ism – the belief that human affairs are reaching a climax. Christianity, Judaism, Islam: all have variants of it, as do other religions. The end time instinct seems to be embedded in the human hard drive, like the capacity to appreciate music or art.
It often comes with the belief that only a chosen few can read the signs of the times.. “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring,” says St Luke’s Gospel. And then they shall see Robin Boardman-Pattison coming in a cloud with power and great glory!
There is too much class war in British politics, and being middle-class, or a member of any class at all, is no cause for shame. But it is striking that the green end-timers don’t seem to be what Theresa May, in the days when Nick Timothy wrote her speeches, used to call “ordinary working class people”. As is often the case with these millenarian movements, the leaders are literally educated out of their wits.
So engage with the cultists, if it’s part of your work as a politician, or simply because you fancy it. But the gain from doing so, both for you and for them, is likely to be limited. Cults evolve into great religions when they turn from apocalypse to the here-and-now, provide frameworks for the humdrum business of day-to-day living, come to terms with the society around them. Christianity managed it, after the Easter event, over scores of decades. If you’re waiting for anything useful from the Extinction Rebellion, get ready to wait for longer.