Extinction Rebellion: How The UK Reacted

In the second part of our series on protests, Madeleine examines the UK's reaction to the meteoric rise of Extinction Rebellion and climate change in public discourse.


Just a few years ago, the words Extinction Rebellion didn’t mean that much to very many people. Now, a cursory google search for the activist group returns millions of results, and they can be found making high-profile demonstrations in central London, at Glastonbury, and at the Royal Opera House. Extinction Rebellion (XR) first rallied together in October 2018, to gather in Parliament Square and officially launch their “Declaration of Rebellion” against the government.


The protest saw bridges blocked by protestors, trees planted in Parliament Square, and a coffin – symbolising the earth’s future – buried in a hole in the square’s lawns. Since then, they’ve continued to demonstrate all around the UK, staging elaborate acts of “civil disobedience” and “economic disruption”. This is all done in an attempt to gain the attention of the government and society at large for the issues at the centre of their movement: climate breakdown, potential mass extinction and social collapse.


Their recent push for increased demonstrations and further public visibility have caused controversy all over the UK – some love them, some hate them, some can’t quite decide. But where does the trend seem to be going? We’ve taken a look at how both the media and the general public has reacted to Extinction Rebellion, to try and gauge where these eco-warriors will stand in the future.


Newspapers' Perspective


The climate crisis has certainly been in the news more generally as of late, not just Extinction Rebellion. Data from Carbon Brief and the University of Colorado both found “climate change” cropped up in various media outlets more in April than ever before. The topic is certainly on everyone’s lips. However, direct reaction to Extinction Rebellion’s actions have been mixed – and it seems to differ from paper to paper.


The Guardian, for example, has been largely supportive of XR and its causes. The paper has used mostly positive language in its headlines about the protesters, and has posted many opinion pieces such as this, this and this which laud the work of XR over the past few months. To top it all off, Guardian poster boy Owen Jones sat down with the leaders of XR for a friendly chat over the group’s actions, aims and plans for the future, as you can see here. This is indicative of a wider trend within the Guardian to promote climate issues – they’ve gone so far as to release an article explaining why they are changing the language they use to refer to the environment.


Other news outlets haven’t been so kind – in stark contrast to Jones’s chat with XR is this painfully awkward interview between an XR representative and Sky News’s Adam Boulton. You can tell that Boulton really doesn’t like the protest group, and he doesn’t try to hide it one bit. Articles from Sky tend to focus more on arrests of Extinction Rebellion members and police response to their protests – from a reader’s perspective it seems they are far less supportive of the group than the Guardian is.


The Independent seems more neutral in its stance. While a lot of its articles focus on the arrests of XR protesters, and at least one contributor has criticised XR’s methods of protest, they have also posted opinion pieces which lend a sympathetic tone to their plight such as this one and another article lamenting the government’s slow reaction to climate warnings.



Celebrities' Reaction


Outside of the press, XR has received public acknowledgement from a couple of well-known figures. Radiohead, after becoming the victims of hackers who threatened to release hours of MiniDisc recordings made during sessions for their seminal album OK Computer, decided to release the recordings themselves for purchase instead of paying the hacker’s $150,000 ransom for their safe return. Profits from the sales, it was announced, would be donated to XR. The band also authorised the use of their music for XR promotional footage. So the activists at least have a friend in Thom Yorke and co.!


Aside from heroes of alternative rock, XR have high profile friends from within the environmental activist community too. Initiator of the School Strike for the Climate, Greta Thunberg, has publically expressed support for Extinction Rebellion and made an appearance at their protests in London in April. But it doesn’t stop there. Other famous supporters include Emma Thompson, Rowan Williams and Philip Pullman – good haul! Actually, it is quite difficult to find celebrity detractors…


General Public's Response


Recent polls have suggested that public concern about the environment has increased drastically over the last couple of years, and that much of the population shares the same concerns as Extinction Rebellion.


According to Opinium, 63% of people agree that we are facing a climate emergency, while 69% felt that climate change was already affecting life in the UK. On top of this, ComRes polled over 2000 British adults about their thoughts on climate crisis directly after Extinction Rebellion’s protests in April wrapped up. Participants where asked whether or not they agreed with the statement “I believe that climate change threatens our extinction as a species”, with 54% in agreement compared to only 25% in opposition. Concern around the environment is certainly increasing among the population.


But direct approval for XR’s goals, rather than simply a shared concern for its central issues, is popular too. A poll by Sky Data revealed that 60% of participants were in favour of XR’s aim of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2025, while 77% said they would support government moves to invest more heavily in renewable energy.


Both of those figures are substantially higher than the percentage of people who support our current ruling party in 2017. If XR can continue to galvanize support for its key policies, then who knows? It looks like we might be seeing more and more people at their protests as the years go on.


So what do you think about Extinction Rebellion? Are you annoyed by their antics or glad to see them sticking it to the man? Let us know!


Blog Post Crafted by Madeleine


Madeleine runs our Admin Team. Despite the fact that she read Japanese at university, Madeleine’s main passion in life is opera and she hopes to become the next Maria Callas some day...


Madeleine manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors.

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