Kate Chesterman agonised over whether or not to take part in the Insulate Britain protests but ultimately decided not to. Here she explains why.
Whether or not you agree with Insulate Britain’s action is not the point
I agonised over whether or not I should join the Insulate Britain Campaign. So did many other climate activists. Ultimately I decided I couldn’t and so I’ve taken my “position” – and so, it seems, is everyone else as the action unfolds. And for many, that position is vitriolic opposition.
But actually, to focus simply on what the campaigners of Insulate Britain are doing is to miss the real point.
Firstly, why couldn’t I join the campaign?
One of the reasons I am a climate activist is because I believe life is important. The lives of the indigenous tribes and the populations of equatorial countries, whose environments and ways of life stand to be utterly destroyed as those of us in the so-called “first world” continue to pursue a way of living that is too often characterized by greed and consumerism and which results in disproportionate amounts of carbon being spewed out into the atmosphere, matter. The species we are wiping out matter. The delicate eco-systems we are wrecking matter.
And if life matters, all life matters. So, I also have to be mindful of the lives of everyone closer to home, even as we all travel to and fro on our motorways producing carbon like billy-o, putting our own futures at risk as well as the rest of the world’s. Our conundrum is that the very foundations of the way we operate day-to-day are laid using tools that are killing us. And so, we drive our deathly combustion engines not just for pleasure, but also out of necessity: to make a living, get to vital hospital appointments, help those who need our care, attend funerals and facilitate any number of other activities that we rightly regard as important. Looked at in the perspective of the all the destruction that will be caused and the billions of lives that stand to be lost if we don’t do something about the Climate Emergency, each of these individual pursuits might seem insignificant. But personally, I can’t care at a macro-level (billions/future generations) if I divorce myself from the care and concerns of individuals in the here and now. The possibility that if I sit on the M25 someone might lose their job, miss their cancer treatment, or even die on the road is, for me, just too weighty. And so I didn’t join Insulate Britain.
Does that mean I think the Insulate Britain protestors are just selfish (and much worse), as they are largely being portrayed on social media? As someone who has spent a fair bit of time with the seven CCA members who have been participating in the campaign, my answer has to be no. I feel privileged to call these people my friends. Their thoughtfulness, care, and deep spirituality has made it my honor to walk, pray and protest with them over past months.
So, to me, the point isn’t whether Insulate Britain protestors are, or are not, doing the right thing by sitting on the motorway. We could all debate that one until the polar icecaps melt. The point is the shocking reality that about 100 people are sitting on the motorway – repeatedly, despite arrest and threats of violence.
What we really need to be asking is: how on earth did things get to this?
One way things got to this has been through a failure of the democratic process. Increasingly, we see those who are terrified about the trajectory our world is on taking to the streets because they feel they have no other meaningful way of registering their concerns than through direct action. The outcome of the ballot box is neither reflective of granular issues, nor truly representative of the population as a whole. Writing to one’s MP is – in most cases – about as effective in bringing change on climate policy (or any policy, for that matter!) as wallpapering one’s living room. Government consultations at both national and local level are reduced to the farce of the tick box. And so, we resort to direct action to get our point across and direct action becomes increasingly disruptive as the failure of our democratic process has increasingly serious impacts.
Secondly, Insulate Britain have devised this protest because insufficient attention is being paid to the utter failure of successive Governments to fulfil their pledges to insulate the homes of some of the poorest in our society. Fulfilling those pledges would not only assist in reducing fuel poverty, but make a material contribution to cutting UK carbon emissions. It’s no good trying to duck the issue by pointing to China and telling protestors to go there. Yes, China’s climate emissions currently rank at about 26% compared to the UK’s 1% but, historically, the UK has been a huge contributor to global emissions so has something of a debt to pay to the world. Also, as a country seeking to be a global player, Britain has a solid role to play in leading by example. If a body of climate protestors are able to affect government policy in Britain, that raises the possibility of the UK influencing the practice of other countries. And if enough countries act, maybe the tide can turn, including even in China.
The anger of those who have been inconvenienced or distressed by Insulate Britain’s actions is real and, in many ways, justified. But writing protestors off as “****ing morons” ignores the challenge their actions present. In the face of failing democracy and the utter dereliction of duty displayed by our Government when it comes to protecting its own citizens, I have to ask myself: if sitting in the middle of the M25 isn’t the right thing to do, then what is?
If you don’t believe we are in a Climate Emergency, I would suggest that you haven’t been paying sufficient attention. If we are, then join with me as I face the challenge: what actions are we going to take – actions that we fully and wholeheartedly believe in – to try to bring pressure to bear on a government that is simply not addressing the need to reduce UK carbon emissions with anything like the urgency it needs to? If you think you have more intelligence and morality than people who are sitting on the M25 out of sheer desperation for where our world is headed then, please, use those attributes to work with others towards finding the solutions we all desperately need.