In Glasgow, the well-known eco-skeptic host Boris Johnson disguised himself as an environmentalist with a speed that would shame a quick-change artist into early retirement. Meanwhile his government, to name just one thing, approved the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in the North-West, in Cumbria.
Amid these green crocodile tears, the country is crossed by angry protests against the rampant ecocide. Some of these are led by Insulate Britain, a group of activists that for a couple of months has been paralyzing roads and key junctions around major cities with guerilla actions.
At eight in the morning on Tuesday, there were three roadblocks near London, Manchester and Birmingham, with dozens of arrests. Two dozen were arrested in Manchester, after the blockade of a major road near the airport. The statement issued by the demonstrators reads: “Britain should be leading the world with radical plans to decarbonize our society. Instead, our government is actively setting policies that will drive emissions higher.”
Their demands include introducing mandatory insulation in all British social housing by 2025 and making it available for homes already built by 2030. And they are also fighting fuel poverty, the energy insecurity faced by millions of citizens, especially the elderly, who are unable to pay the increasingly astronomical costs of household utilities.
The group continues to act in defiance of the explicit prohibition on such actions, imposed by injunction at the request of the British highway authorities after the first such activities. Looking at their methods of civil disobedience, their absolute nonviolence and some of their material immediately makes you think of a spin-off of Extinction Rebellion, and that is indeed where some of their founders come from. The method is always the same: they sit in the middle of the road, taking advantage of a red light, some gluing their hands to the ground with very powerful glue, and they expose themselves to the predictable—but rarely justified—ridicule of motorists.
Everything lasts for at most a few hours; then, the demonstrators are removed by the police, and often arrested. In this thunderous clash between collective needs and individual rights, every now and then someone is dragged away by force by the angry drivers. The group includes many retirees as well.
The real beginning of the protests was in September, with some strike actions, including the blockade of the port of Dover, and then continued in October, when the city tunnel of Blackwall, which connects the areas north and south of the Thames, was blocked. Both actions created monstrous traffic jams in a national road system already clearly unable to withstand the exorbitant flow of cars.
So far, total arrests have numbered in the hundreds, with 18 days of roadblocks since September. Before yesterday’s actions, the tally was 770. But it’s safe to imagine that if the UK wasn’t hosting COP26 during these very days, the reaction of Interior Minister Patel would certainly have been much harsher, as she herself admitted. IB are obviously being demonized by the center/right-wing press and some government figures, especially Tories who confuse ecology with the Chelsea Flower Market.
The only open support they have at Westminster is from the Greens. According to a poll in early October, public opinion was 72% opposed to the group’s actions, 18% were in favor and 10% unsure. It’s hard to entertain the hope that, after the massively-overdue warning of the Scottish climate conference, these percentages will change.
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