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Activism

Insulate Britain: Who are the protesters and why do they keep blocking roads?

Insulate Britain protesters are disrupting drivers on the UK’s busiest roads in an attempt to force urgent government action on the climate crisis.

A group of demonstrators has caused chaos on the roads by blocking major roads since September.

Dozens of people were arrested after traffic on the M25, the country’s busiest motorway, was repeatedly held up, followed by further action on the M4 and at the Port of Dover.

Most recently, members of the group glued themselves to roads on heavily trafficked routes into London including the Blackwell Tunnel and Wandsworth Bridge, defying fresh injunctions taken out against them by the government and resulting in more arrests.

The protestors have drawn ire from motorists and politicians, but insist their cause is too urgent to ignore.

What do the campaigners behind Insulate Britain want? The Big Issue explores.

Who are Insulate Britain?

The group is an offshoot of climate demonstrators Extinction Rebellion and other campaigning groups. It was created this summer to focus action on one specific way the government can tackle the climate crisis. 

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Little is known about the individuals involved but member Liam Norton has appeared on Good Morning Britain – before storming off live on air after clashing with hosts.

What do Insulate Britain want?

The campaigners are focused on the insulation of UK homes to make them more energy efficient, reducing the impact of central heating on the environment, and to make fuel bills more affordable for families.

They want the government to fully fund and coordinate the urgent insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025 and a national strategy which “gives British people the justice they deserve: a future for our loved ones, lower energy bills and safer living conditions”.

“We are scared,” Insulate Britain said in a statement. “Our livelihoods are at risk and the futures of our children are uncertain.”

The group is calling for a “legally binding” national plan within four months, covering the full low-energy and low-carbon retrofit of all 29 million homes in Britain by 2030.

Nearly 4,000 people have signed a petition started by the group.

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What are Insulate Britain doing?

For the past three weeks the campaigners have been blockading the M25, M4, some slip roads, major roads in and around London as well as the Port of Dover to draw attention to their demands.

Demonstrators glued themselves to roads and sat down in front of traffic, targeting rush-hour commuters to make the biggest impact.

Is home insulation really that important?

Electricity and heating in homes accounts for nearly a fifth of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), mostly from gas boilers emitting carbon dioxide.

Insulation vastly reduces the amount of heat lost through leaky roofs, walls and floors, meaning the home requires less energy to run in the first place.

The UK will fail to meet its net-zero emissions target – set for 2050 – without major reforms in the country’s housing and energy efficiency levels, the experts said.

UK homes are the oldest housing stock in Europe and are among the least energy-efficient, according to the CCC, with only eight million homes meeting the highest efficiency standards.

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What are people saying about Insulate Britain?

Motorists railed against the campaigners for causing danger on busy roads and creating obstacles which could delay emergency services, with some members of the public seen trying to drag demonstrators off the roads.

Boris Johnson said the group’s method, which disrupted commuters in rush hour traffic, would detract from their message and backed the police to “physically move protesters on”.

Meanwhile Priti Patel, the home secretary, slammed the group’s “guerilla tactics” and called the demonstrators selfish.

One man said his mother was left partially paralysed from a stroke because the demonstrations blocked him into traffic for six hours while he was trying to take her to hospital.

“The people of Britain understand that climate change is a severe threat to everything they hold dear,” said Liam Norton, a spokesperson for the group. 

“We have a practical solution and have received encouragement for our aims from many construction industry professionals.”

In early October a woman was seen pleading with demonstrators at Blackwell Tunnel to move so that she could drive her visit her sick mother in hospital.

What is the government doing about Insulate Britain?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the activists would “face contempt of court with possible imprisonment” if they flouted a court injunction granted to National Highways, giving police more powers to shut down their protests.

He called the group’s actions “self-defeating, disruptive and incredibly dangerous behaviour”, adding that activists are “being tracked down and served court papers”.

The government then took out a fresh injunction against the demonstrators in early October, banning activity which obstructs traffic and access to major roads in and around London. It also prohibits any behaviour which could damage the road surface and block services, such as gluing oneself to a road or abandoning a car.

Anyone who breaks the injunction could be jailed or receive and unlimited fine.

Are there more Insulate Britain protests planned?

Insulate Britain members will keep protesting on the M25 – and elsewhere – until the government makes a “meaningful statement indicating that they will insulate all of Britain’s 29 million leaky homes by 2030”, a spokesperson said.

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