Flop of the Month: Extinction Rebellion risks alienating public

Extinction Rebellion's goodwill will soon evaporate if it continues poorly-targeted and uncoordinated attacks that annoy the very people they need on their side.

Extinction Rebellion protestors hold up a train at Canning Town tube station
Extinction Rebellion protestors hold up a train at Canning Town tube station

There’s much to admire about Extinction Rebellion (XR) – the anti-climate-change campaigners certainly know how to generate publicity – but recent actions of some in its name may have done more harm than good.

Targeting commuters on public transport by climbing on Tube trains is not a good look. Focusing on car-users would surely generate more sympathy.

Indeed, a YouGov survey showed that most people supported the commuters who dragged a protester off a carriage at Canning Town, and the campaign group apologised for the "regrettable" scenes.

The fact that it happened in a predominantly working-class area did nothing to improve perceptions of ER as being a mostly white, middle-class indulgence.

This was reinforced by some recent protests. Yoga sessions on Westminster Bridge left XR open to ridicule and the widely-viewed video of protesters losing control of the hose as they tried to spray the Treasury in fake blood didn’t suggest a serious campaigning force either.

Part of the problem is XR’s decentralised structure, which makes it difficult to control what people do in its name.

As Grayling’s Frankie Oliver argued, it would benefit from switching from using science terms (‘food systems’, ‘biodiversity’) to more relatable messages; having a regular spokesperson and a grassroots education campaign would also help.

XR can’t afford these backward steps in tackling the most urgent issue of the day.

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