In the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, Brian is a simple man who just happened to be born approximately 2000 years ago in an obscure Middle-Eastern town called Bethlehem. As he grew he was mistaken for the Messiah and against his wishes was proclaimed as such and venerated by followers he never sought or wanted. In one particularly funny scene his followers gathered at his home and demanded that he came out to greet them. His mother appeared at the window and just before closing the shutters she shouted ‘He is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’
Fiction has become reality and now we too have our own false Messiah. She is a reluctant hero for many and as with Brian she doesn’t see herself as many do. Her name is Greta Thunberg and she is a False Messiah for the start of this Millennium.
Don’t get me wrong. Please read on and don’t fall into one of the two polarised camps and judge me. I am not going to condemn her outright nor am I going to raise my hands in worship as many Extinction Rebellion devotees appear to be doing. A lot of memes deride her for her age, inexperience and lack of education, but this unfairly denies her a voice and smacks of elitism. Some adults are more educated than others. Does this mean that those less educated have no right to a voice? Some have even lowered themselves to making personal remarks about her, which are both unfounded and unhelpful. Even at the Golden Globes Awards in January 2020 comedian Ricky Gervais took a sideswipe at her while criticising many of his peers by accusing them of spending less time in school than she has.
I get her passion and understand her desire for change to save the planet. I even get the way she sees the world in black and white absolutes. Is she a figurehead merely being used by others around her? She denies this but ask yourself how much control does she really have over a worldwide movement that has millions of followers? She has been proclaimed – just as Brian was – to be more than she is.
Incidentally, I have read her book (paperback) which in itself raises ecological issues. Her book is short and full of repetition but it is fair to say it is a de facto manifesto. In it she calls for an absolute halt to greenhouse emission producing activities and she is not only focused on carbon. From time to time she goes back to her ticking time bomb that has been winding down since climate experts declared we have 12 years to do something before climate change spins out of control and goes beyond the tipping point. The book is essentially the passionate rantings of a teenager.
Greta: How many trees were destroyed during the print run? Were they sustainable? And what about the ink? Just asking…
She advocates strikes by school children, having initiated this herself. This is where I understand her desire for change, but it is counterproductive. To harm children’s education only harms them and has little or no effect on others. At best it galvanised more followers and she may consider that to be a price worth paying.
I was in KFC recently (for my sins) and my attention was drawn to a young girl who was probably no more than 12. She was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘My Generation will Save the World’.
‘What arrogance.’ I commented to my wife.
The young girl tucked into her unsustainable chicken while sitting there dressed in her fast fashion (of which the t-shirt was a major part). At best she was a hypocrite and at worst she was doing something just because it is trending and covered in hashtags. I might be being a bit judgemental as she may well be oblivious to everything and I am unfairly maligning her. However, the point remains that the whole Extinction Rebellion thing is rife with hypocrisy, unless of course its members are scraping a subsistence living which is completely off the grid.
Extinction Rebellion is arrogant and a borderline terrorist organisation. It is impossible to do the wrong thing for the right reasons with integrity. In late 2019 Sky News did a special feature called Inside the Rebellion and through the lens of a handful of members it showed how they function and how they train new joiners. Let us consider their modus operandi.
Members are generally organised into cells that come together to form mass protests, such as those seen in London in recent months and they believe in non-violent protests and training is provided on how to do this.
Activist Roman Paluch Machnik compares himself to both Gandhi and Martin Luther King and states categorically that a key strategy of Extinction Rebellion is to clog up the legal system and drain police and other legal resources. When he converted (his words not mine!) to Extinction Rebellion he had to agree that he was willing to be arrested. Disposable phones are used to help make members untraceable and according to Extinction Rebellion artist Miles Glyn they ‘are non-violent and aiming to create a new society.’
Another activist, Dr Bing Jones, claims that as a representative of a literate scientific group he wants to use Extinction Rebellion ‘to make a splash’. He says, ‘The idea is that people can do what they like so long as it is within the principles of Extinction Rebellion and self-organising systems and self-organising groups are a key part to the whole thing. The downside is it can be a bit chaotic. It is very much a mixed bag and it’s rather marvellous.’
After gluing himself to the front door of the Department for Business and Energy he was eventually unglued and led away by the police. As they took him away, he declared that ‘today was a real achievement – good work today!’
Another protester, 19 year old Daisy Wyatt, helps provide ‘protest training’. During an interview her mother commented that Daisy has got more tattoos and a nose ring since joining Extinction Rebellion although she does concede that Daisy seems to have found her identity. Of course Daisy can do what she wants, but the nose ring and tattoos seem to be more indicative of a 19 year old rebelling and looking for identity more than anything else as further demonstrated by her at the protest site in Trafalgar Square. Daisy shows the cameras her tent and says brazenly with the police in the background, ‘Of course I won’t show you what’s in it because of present company.’
I may be wrong, but it has to be a reference to something illegal and bearing in mind Extinction Rebellion believe in lawful protests it not too much of an assumption to think she is talking about illegal substances.
Protest sites spring up as tent cities, as precedented by Occupy Wall Street and alongside the campers other tents appear that are dedicated to well-being and meditation. These sites are examples of what Extinction Rebellion call regenerative culture. Again there is no problem with this, but is Extinction Rebellion a climate protest group or a quasi-religion – an idea further reinforced by the group’s own ‘eco-prayer’.
Furthermore how far has this drifted away from Greta’s vision and how much control does she really have?
Angie Selter, described as a middle class and middle aged member stated, ‘I have been arrested and to prison many times. […] In this country it’s fine, we don’t get tortured and we get some food. We get an hour’s exercise in the fresh air so compared to what most people in the world have to suffer – absolutely nothing – I don’t know why people are so scared of it.’
Her idealism is at least in part fuelled by the fact that she can protest whereas the greatest global sinners in the world are autocratic states like China and Russia or emerging economic powerhouses such as Brazil and India.
The fact is that she is targeting the wrong nations. Britain is among many nations that are moving in the right direction – even if not fast enough for some. Maybe she should stand before the Kremlin or in Tiananmen Square and protest? According to recent figures more than half of Britain’s energy now comes from renewables and the proportions are growing all the time. One of the London group’s aims is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025, 25 years ahead of government targets at the time of the news report. Since then, as a vote winner, all of the major parties (with the exception of the Green Party who already had a short time frame) revised this figure downwards.
Extinction Rebellion believes in people power but that can mean chaos and inconvenience for those not involved and consequently aviation and airports are primary targets. London City Airport has been a primary target. One protester, actually managed to climb on top of an aeroplane, just imagine the public outcry if he had been a Muslim, not that it matters. He endangered an aircraft and therefore it has to be understood as an act of terrorism. Another protester who looked more like an anarchist than a really passionate climate change protester, climbed on the building and declared, ‘We’re taking this airport’
Picture: ‘We’re taking this airport.’
How dare he? And how dare they? A fact of modern living is travelling. How would they feel if a bunch of protestors ruined their holiday that they had been looking forward to all year? What makes them better and have the right to destroy others’ plans? Travel in general does have a heavy environmental cost but persuasion rather than coercion is going to me more effective.
This brings me neatly to the next absurdity that is Extinction Rebellion.
For some inexplicable reason one of the targets of the recent London protests was the London Transport Network. Protesters climbed on top of a London Underground train and unfurled a banner. Why are they targeting public mass transport systems? These are far more environmentally friendly than individuals using their cars.
Activisim demands real action and not just words and anarchy. It is almost inconceivable that I consider well-known petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson as a paradigm of this. In a recent interview (The Jonathan Ross Show broadcast on ITV on 7th December 2019) he slammed Greta Thunberg as dangerous, although he admits that after a recent visit to Cambodia when he witnessed the dramatic effects of climate change for himself he too now has come to understand the devastation we are causing. He commented with a smirk that it would be far better to plant 7000 trees and be carbon neutral than to sail across the Atlantic to New York on a yacht that was essentially plastic with a diesel engine as a reserve.
Extinction Rebellion is essentially hypocritical and until they withdraw to their caves it will always be so. Predominantly teenaged groupies, clad in fast fashion and adorned with cheap plastic accessories, are Extinction Rebellion’s army. Zealous millennials ready to fight for their planet – on this point I concede respect for them – but so wrapped up in the trappings of modernity they cannot see the lie their lifestyles make of their beliefs Smartphones and laptops powered by toxic batteries, that even endanger the exploited factory workers often in the Far East, drive the rebellion that is reliant on sharing information and rapid communication.
During the making of their documentary, Sky News filmed an Extinction Rebellion planning meeting taking place. And there it was for the whole world to see. In prominent view was a single use plastic bottle – the archenemy of the environment. If the purchaser’s principles are so strong, why didn’t he order a drink in a glass or cup or go to a more ethical café or even better bring a flask from home?
Extinction Rebellion complete with a plastic bottle.
According to Sky News a certain fringe of Extinction Rebellion members believe that breaking the law is ‘considered a necessary sacrifice’. In one example a protester jumped in front of a taxi. The driver said if he had hit her he would have lost his licence and his livelihood through no fault of his own and this brings me to my final point.
Extinction Rebellion are misdirecting their protests and not only by targeting the London Underground. The truth is that with the exception of the few, most of us cannot make any meaningful change to the climate as an individual (we cannot all plant 7000 trees like Jeremy Clarkson did),
Yes collective actions can make a difference, but my household recycling won’t make a drop of difference on its own. Only total community engagement can do this.
So rather than targeting the masses, Extinction Rebellion would be better off targeting large corporations such as supermarkets that individually wrap cucumbers in single use plastic and package meat in oversized plastic containers. The same can be said for toy manufacturers who are just as guilty for overusing packaging; and these are just two simple examples that quickly jump to mind.
Targeting the producers and educating the end users is a far better idea than denying that family who have save up all year and not had a holiday in 5 years.
Greta started by thinking she was taking a stand and for this I respect her, but the whole thing has got out of control and there is no way a teenager has overall control of everything that Extinction Rebellion does. Extinction Rebellion is full of hypocrisy and is frequently downright dangerous and often misdirects its protests. Most are idealists, but some are anarchists. The whole organisation is flawed as is their Messiah’s thinking.
Brian wasn’t the Messiah, nor is Greta and the whole Rebellion should go extinct!
Much of the information for this article has been taken from Greta Thunberg’s own book and a Sky News documentary ‘Inside the Rebellion.’
© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services. 2020