Environmental extremism just isn’t that cool anymore

Andy Mayer

April 19, 2023

Whisper it quietly but Extinction Rebellion and fellow travellers like Just Stop Oil are already dead. They’ve not stopped, gone quiet, or become any less annoying, they’ve just losing any lingering public interest in their boring bad behaviour. The organisations, whether catastrophising climate action, oil licencing, flying, or home insulation attempt to push the boundaries of the right to (peaceful) protest by engaging in petty crimes to encourage public outcry. Their most recent stunt was vandalising tables at the Sheffield Crucible during a world championship snooker match.

There is clearly no link between either the game (or JSO’s act of orange-washing green baize) and drilling the North Sea to fuel heat and transport. This was pure nonsense theatre, designed to generate those sweet sweet social media clicks about an issue with which people are perfectly familiar. Judging by the forecast collapse of investment in North Sea energy, the debate already appears to have been won by quieter activists in the heart of Government.

The stunt was a childish tantrum, rooted in the 100-year-old Dadaist movement, the utilisation of opposition and nonsense in art to make political points. Originally the rather more serious matter of the folly of war in a period when Governments were turning boys into splatter paintings to advance their borders. Dadaism yielded Duchamp, surrealism, and photomontages; their descendants have managed a pink boat, throwing soup, and traffic jams.

The public reaction generally is one of tired irritation; with the protesters, the Police – when they’ve failed to uphold the law – and woke courts – when they refuse to prosecute. Although that is changing given several recent convictions. The major achievement of the movement appears instead to be shaking politicians out of their lazy virtue signalling into noticing that some of the ‘green’ views they echo are rooted in profoundly ignorant ideas about how the world should be.

Taken seriously, exhortations to go Net Zero by 2025 would kill people, in vast numbers. Homes could not be heated in winter, most could not travel, supply chains for essential goods would collapse, crop yields would more than halve, and cities could not function. A national programme to insulate homes to offset part of that, couldn’t happen either, the solutions are either mined using diesel generated power, or manufactured directly from fossil fuels. Air pollution would fall, but the tiny difference this might make to life expectancy would be little comfort as you fight your neighbour over a dead rat to feed your children.

Even the milder campaign, to stop all new domestic drilling is a nothing proposition. This would increase emissions through import substitution, not unleash a wave of green growth. We are then being coercively lectured by emotional toddlers who identity as adults. Their ideas rooted in feelings, not facts, expressed through the medium of narcissistic display. They are to environmentalism what Matt Hancock is to dignity in public life.

Conversely, a different kind of environmental direct action might be far more effective. The guerrilla gardening movement for example find miserable and vacant public spaces and beautifies them with plants. It’s not legal but then no one thinks an unsanctioned daffodil display requires prosecution. Useless local authorities can be embarrassed into community pride through public campaigns to to clean up streets – a job we are already paying to have done.

Those are the real rebels, taking on the state and companies positively when they fail to take environmental stewardship seriously. Not the needy anarchists who meaningfully influence government decisions to expend billions enriching landowners and corporations with green subsidies. It’s time the environmental movement reclaimed their reputation from these losers.


  • Andy Mayer

    Andy Mayer is Chief Operating Officer and environment, energy and infrastructure analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Written by Andy Mayer

Andy Mayer is Chief Operating Officer and environment, energy and infrastructure analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

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