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Activism

Insulate Britain defends protests and says ‘conventional activism’ has failed

Insulate Britain’s “disruptive” methods of protest are being questioned. But with weeks until global climate event COP26, the group says the time for polite activism is over.

Controversial climate action group Insulate Britain has said “conventional” activism has failed to create change and defended its “disruptive” protests. 

Over the past five weeks, the group has repeatedly blocked the M25 and other major roads. The protests have led to hundreds of arrests, new laws to stop their stunts and huge media attention.

But members’ actions, which also include supergluing themselves to roads, have been met with criticism from the public as well as politicians and the police.

Now, spokesperson Dr Bing Jones has told The Big Issue that members feel their methods are the only way to bring about real change.

“Despite all the efforts by the other groups, particularly more conventional groups like Greenpeace, progress is ridiculously slow and we have very little time,” he said.

“Conventional politics, conventional demonstration, conventional lobbying just are not working. So, we have to be more disruptive.”

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Differing from other climate groups, Insulate Britain has one specific demand. It wants all social housing in the UK to be fully insulated by 2025 and for the government to complete low energy and low carbon retrofits for all homes by 2030. 

Activist Cameron Ford joined the movement after hearing former chief scientific adviser Sir David King explain that the next three to four years would determine the path of humanity when it comes to the climate crisis. 

“I think XR have done a fantastic job of raising the alarm bells and they’ve moved the conversation on massively but when I heard about this very much solution-based movement Insulate Britain, I feel that that’s the next wave of what we need,” he said.

“Insulate Britain needs to be here because we are not seeing the result that we need to.

“We can’t just keep gently scratching on the door of the government saying: ‘Come on would you please do a bit more.’ We need to show them that we are serious about their inaction.” 

When asked about possible collaboration between Insulate Britain and other climate groups, Ford said: “I think we are all banging on at Number 10 in different ways right now. Insulate Britain is a pretty new movement, we do not have a lot of people or resources. It is really difficult to have these cross committees on how we are going to approach it all together.” 

“We’re all going to be doing our own thing, but it’s all for the same goal.”

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Insulate Britain has recently made the decision to suspend its infamous road protests for 11 days as it acknowledged the disruption in an open letter to the prime minister. 

“We cannot imagine undertaking such acts in normal circumstances. But the dire reality of our situation has to be faced.” 

Greenpeace’s head of climate has defended Insulate Britain’s actions, suggesting the group is balancing the threat and disruption caused by their protests versus the threat and disruption caused by the climate crisis. 

Speaking of the group, Kate Blagojevic said: “The climate movement as a whole is a web, everyone is doing their bit and every group has its own space. There is a space for XR and Insulate Britain – that’s exactly what makes a democracy is the ability to use different tactics. Imagine if we were all to do the same thing- that would not be powerful.

“It is not for me to say what activism should look like, it is up to the individuals taking part to assess their own risk. Greenpeace also makes use of direct action – just last week we blocked Downing Street – an action that did result in arrests.” 

Image: Insulate Britain

Executive Director of Greenpeace John Sauven, however, speaking to the Byline Times, criticised Insulate Britain.

He drew a distinction between the group and Extinction Rebellion: “The thing about direct action is that you put your own life and liberty on the line, but not those of other people…The problem with IB is that by going out in front of cars on a busy motorway I guarantee you that at some time people may be injured or killed.

“It puts innocent people, including children, at risk. Those people haven’t volunteered to do that and it oversteps the mark.” 

Green groups are expected to continue to put pressure on the government ahead of COP26 with the government being accused of failing to meet the climate goals it has agreed to. 

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