NY Times: Have we reached peak climate alarmism?

On New Year’s Eve, the UK environmentalist group known as Extinction Rebellion which is best known for blocking traffic and pouring soup on priceless works of art, announced that it was giving up. “Our #NewYearsResolution is to halt our tactics of public disruption. Instead, we call on everyone to help us disrupt our corrupt government,” the group said. As Beege pointed out a few days later, part of that reassessment may have been the result of some new laws which gave police more leeway in dealing with disruptive protesters. In short, the activists couldn’t count on being treated with kid gloves for much longer.


Today the NY Times interviewed Clare Farrell, one of the group’s founders, and also Alanna Byrne, one of their current spokespeople, about the sudden shift in strategy. You have to listen closely but there’s an admission here that what they were doing wasn’t working.

Alanna Byrne: The media have framed it as us saying we’re stopping disruption altogether, which isn’t exactly right. What we’re saying is that we’re going to take a step back from disrupting the public in the way that we have been — disrupting roads and bridges and getting in the way of people going about their day-to-day business — and instead going straight to government. Disrupting the perpetrators more. We’re working toward a big date in April where we’re aiming to get 100,000 people to come to Parliament.

What is prompting that change of focus?

Clare Farrell: I think people all over the world have been looking at Britain and going: What are you doing?…

Byrne: And it also feels vital and necessary to be able to look at your own strategy and be honest, to say what’s working and what isn’t, and sometimes to say, let’s just try something else. I think that’s where we’re at.

Farrell: We used to talk about shifting the Overton window. I think we have successfully shifted that.


They may have shifted the Overton Window but by their own admission they’ve also failed to accomplish anything much in terms of winning converts. Honestly, that’s something I could have told them would happen if they’d asked. You generally don’t win people over by blocking traffic and making people’s lives more difficult. That’s just not a big draw. But I guess some people only learn the hard way. Now they’re thinking about how to actually appeal to more people.

Byrne: The reality is, in the past four years, tons has changed in terms of public awareness and engagement. Shifting from climate change to climate emergency was a radical shift when we first came onto the scene. But even as people become more and more aware, the reality is, as you’ve just said, emissions areoi9 still rising. And here in the U.K., certainly, the government is backpedaling on climate progress. I think we have a responsibility as sort of climate communicators in this space to be radically honest and true to that first principle, which is to tell the truth. And the truth is, four years later, nothing much has changed, even though people are more aware than ever.

We know from polling that people across the U.K. are terrified of the climate crisis, but the reality is that those people aren’t showing up — they’re not coming out on the street. So I think we have to say to ourselves, if people aren’t going to come and put their arm in a lock or glue themselves to something, how do we create a space where people can show up?


As you keep reading it becomes very clear that, fundamentally, this group has trouble winning hearts and minds because they everyone who isn’t just like themselves.

Farrell: To me, the general public has a very basic understanding of the causes and the likely impacts of climate change, but I really don’t think that people have got their head around how fast it’s happening…

But it’s not a statistical analysis problem, it’s a risk problem. And I don’t think we’ve had a decent public discourse on risk. Even if there’s a 0.05 percent chance that you kill everyone, you don’t do that thing — you don’t do that project, you don’t build that bridge, you don’t get on that plane. But talk to people from the insurance sector and they will tell you that the whole of humanity is acting like a crazy person. It’s a total madness that we’ve allowed the thinking to be so poor.

Again, we’re supposed to take lessons on thinking from people who spent four years angering the people they needed to win over with stupid stunts. Here’s a thought that probably hasn’t occurred to them: Maybe the rest of humanity isn’t crazy. Maybe it’s you.

So is this a sign that maybe we’ve passed the point of peak climate alarmism? I’m not sure about that. The UK group may be changing its approach but these types of protests have spread to other areas including the US and Germany. It remains to be seen if all of these fellow travelers around the globe are ready to try something new.


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David Strom 12:40 PM | July 24, 2024