Unless policy-makers act immediately, the planet will cease to be able to support human life in twelve years, three months and seven days … this event will happen on a Tuesday … after lunch.
No, that is not a skit from Monty Python but an approximation made by the latest virtue signalling publicity craze, Extinction Rebellion. This motley crew of eco-rednecks was founded in October, 2018 and quickly created a loose network from eco-conscious hippies to students on Easter break to antagonised aging Marxists. Together they have managed to show how social networks can be utilised to control an agenda with stunts that require limited funding, planning or intellectual coherence. The media, during a slow news cycle, are lapping up these attention whores who use the microphone and a myriad of intertwined social media accounts as acts of virtue signalling liberation.
There is one nagging question that won’t go away: Was The Guardian behind the founding of these “news-makers”? A few days after Extinction Rebellion formed and before any credible stunts, the newspaper published an editorial promoting this “new energy” and have been a step ahead of every move this group has made. This raises enormous journalism ethics issues.
Seeing through the idealistic “rebels for life”, anarchists and the vulnerable (truly frightened by the apocalyptic pronouncements and lack of action on seemingly simple solutions) one can find behind the scenes, as usual, the opportunists. NGO activists with excess funding and staff, lawyers and social influencers and journalists cum wannabe revolutionaries are all stepping forward to speak on behalf of this revolutionary flash in the pan via their quickly assembled “London Commune of Woke”.
Roger Hallam: Grifter for hire
Extinction Rebellion’s founder, Roger Hallam is a true grifter: part Dr Evil, part petty street performer. After giving up on shutting down Heathrow airport’s third runway, he went to King’s College London to radicalise students, posing as a PhD researcher writing on “effective radical campaign design” (I wish I were making that up) – in other words: a professional shit disturber who practices the art of manipulation on whatever he can get people angry about. Sweet!
Hallam’s generic 10 principles behind Extinction Rebellion to enforce a radical agenda are geared toward winning campaigns and mobilising lackeys (any campaigns and any lackeys). His market research spotted climate change as the easiest tool to disrupt society. This “scruffian” could have easily chosen public fear of vaccines or pesticides. He had already failed to mobilise people on air pollution, King’s College cleaning staff wages and Heathrow’s third runway. For a person with apparently no principles other than societal disruption, these five months seem to be the longest that this street rat has been able to focus on a single issue.
The stark reality is that Roger Hallam is a charlatan opportunist with a rather low intellectual capacity (although in some of his countless homemade video lectures he claims to already have a PhD). The British media did not do their homework, were suckered into covering his self-indulging street artist stunts and chose to report on Extinction Rebellion’s petty disruptions as news, legitimising this ragtag band of opportunists.
While the media stupidity is stunning it is no longer surprising. When you see the quality of media reporting on subjects from glyphosate to plastics to hormones, journalists generally lean toward the fear-based rather than the factual. In a 24/7 news cycle, social media responses dictate what stories to run with at the top of the hour (… and not many scientists react online).
Manipulating the Young and the Vulnerable
Extinction Rebellion’s shocking success can be put down to decades of activist fear-mongering that has created a disorder known as eco-anxiety. Vulnerable, caring people have heard repeated messages of pending apocalyptic doom (climate, bees, sterility, plastics…) to the point they are so freaked out they can no longer function or plan for the future. Story piles upon story until the depression is too strong for upset people to even bother to critically analyse the crap being disseminated. Activists can then spread whatever nonsense they want in their closed tribes (like humanity going extinct in less than a generation) as it just adds to the overall malaise.
With the immediacy of social media, every weather event leads to severe grief, every consumption causes profound guilt, every dispute deepens their despair. I have no doubt the young Extinction Rebellion protesters picketing Heathrow Airport were genuinely weeping at the thought they would be the last generation to inhabit this planet … I also have no doubt the crass operatives who got them to actually believe that are the most manipulative bastards to have ever opened a social media account.
This eco-opportunism is the most disgraceful abuse of the youth I have frankly ever seen. Young people, similar to those in my lecture halls, have enough in life to stress them out – career choices, graduating, social roles, finding their place in society and dealing with threatening pedagogues like that detestable Professor Monger. The last thing young people need is some manipulative Marxist revolutionaries in green shirts capitalising on their vulnerability with some concocted “End of Days” scenario to make them feel even more helpless.
Perhaps it’s time for some reality amidst the heightened absurdity of over-extended campaign rhetoric:
- The human race will not go extinct in 12 years. No credible scientist has ever said that.
- Industry and innovative technologies are making progress in reducing CO2 emissions in most Western countries. Emerging markets are following fast even as their economies expand.
- Outside of a few Emerging Asian river basins, the oceans are not choking on plastic waste. National waste management and recycling systems improve with development.
- Farmers are meeting growing global food needs and conservation agriculture with ag-tech is improving soil health. Shifting to organic and agroecological systems would decimate biodiversity and increase global food insecurity.
- Accounting for extended life expectancy, cancers rates are not increasing and medical advances have improved cancer survival rates.
- The honeybees are not going extinct and a good part of any biodiversity loss is due largely to urbanisation.
Any activists who plant these fictions in the minds of the young and the vulnerable, any activists who denigrate the achievements of research and technology, any activists campaigning on total fear and anxiety are promulgating political propaganda and unforgivable irresponsibility.
Sadly the product the manipulative operatives behind Extinction Rebellion are peddling is not hope or love but rather cynicism, outrage and hatred. Their values are not ecological or justice-oriented but smug self-serving sanctimony.
These petty scoundrels are cementing the distrust in authority, rejection of trade and industry and a denial of research and technology as they attempt to mold the coming generation of rebels, anarchists and revolutionary leftists. The only thing these insidious cranks offer in the midst of such despair is crass communal virtue signalling and pompous shaming of authority. As journalist cum revolutionary George Monbiot has become Greta’s speech writer, I can only consume so much absurdity in a single twitter scan.
And when faced with such absurdity, my mind carries me back to the safety of my youth when I dealt with the ridiculous with ridicule: a not-so-wasted youth riffing, word-for-word, Monty Python skits. Sure enough, Extinction Rebellion only makes sense as a parody, and what better parody than the People’s Front of Judea.
The People’s Front of Rebellion!
In the 1979 Monty Python film, Life of Brian, a little-known activist group called the People’s Front of Judea (essentially four misfits in a room) were scheming to overthrow the Roman Empire and prepare for revolution. Of course they spent much of their time in-fighting with a hodgepodge of other activist groups including the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Popular Front and the Campaign for Free Galilee. The writers were taking the piss out of the array of Palestinian factions and splinter groups at the time but the satire applies aptly to the myriad of environmental NGOs today.
When activist groups trade in hate and anti-XYZ campaigns, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see these hyenas turning on each other. Extinction Rebellion started from the premise that the last three decades of activism have failed to achieve anything. Their little anarchist-like ‘X-angle’ symbol started showing up at events organised by groups like Greenpeace to school strikes as these usurpers hitch-hiked on other movements. “Splitters!”
Ironically, these established activist groups now either have to join them in their radical techniques or accept their own irrelevance.
When innocent Brian wanted to join the ranks of the People’s Front of Judea, he needed to prove himself with a stunt – to scribble some graffiti on a public building. NGOs love doing these little symbolic acts of petty defiance (the streets of Brussels are still marked with Stop TTIP and CETA graffiti from marches 30 months ago) as I suppose it provides a sense of small wins for big egos. The activist groups have accepted they will never do more than disrupt progress and that defeatism has been built into the limited Extinction Rebellion campaign (an Easter holiday stunt). (I smiled remembering in Life of Brian how the Judean People’s Front sent a suicide squad not to rescue poor Brian on the cross but to perform a useless public stunt.)
Like Brian’s unexpected graffiti success (due to some poor grammar), I’m sure the Extinction Rebellion operators must be simply giggling to themselves at how much disruption and media attention their little stunts have achieved in just one week.
What have the Romans ever done for us?
At a clandestine planning meeting of the People’s Front of Judea, John Cleese’s character, Reg, tries to rally his troops with outrage against the enemy by declaring, rhetorically: “What have the Romans ever given us?” The activists then sheepishly acknowledged a range of achievements (from the aqueduct, sanitation, the roads, irrigation, education, medication …). At which point, Reg declares:
“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
This ridiculous hypocrisy encapsulates the stupidity seen on the streets of London over the last week, and, in short, what the environmental movement has become today. You can simply replace the word “Romans” with “science”, “technology” or “capitalism”. What has science ever done for us? What has capitalism ever done for us? Well … a lot!
Humanity is experiencing an incredible period of technological achievement and human development. We are living longer, healthier lives, exposed to fewer toxins or diseases. Science is developing technologies that are progressively polluting less and working to clean up the environment. We are feeding more people on less land; we have more sustainable manufacturing and recycling programmes; we are continually developing means for reducing energy consumption and protecting people in ways never imagined even a decade ago.
In my lifetime I have seen technologies, services and goods innovating at incredible speed. I have also seen a lifetime’s worth of people like Reg (in Life of Brian) wanting to stop these human achievements, ignore their benefits and rebel against humanity. True, the achievements are not perfect and there is still a lot to fix but we are heading in the right direction and the alternatives these revolutionary zealots are proposing are destined to make matters worse. The good news of our health achievements can be overturned by anti-vaxxers. The good news of our energy achievements are unplugged with anti-nuclear campaigns. The good news of food security advances can be starved by agro-ecologist puritans.
Good news does not lead to more donations. Good news does not enrage troops fighting for your selfish revolution. Good news does not sell copy or clicks. Good news is not welcome when your product is cynicism, fear and outrage.
Protest movements want to bring every issue to the table and work to remain inclusive to all suffering from what they have determined to be oppressive. In one of their many “manifesto-drafting” episodes, the People’s Front of Judea member, Stan (Eric Idle), wanted to be considered as a woman but felt oppressed that he could not have a baby. So they drafted a clause giving him the right to have babies, even if, through no fault of his own, he hadn’t a womb. As Francis said: “It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.”
Reg (John Cleese) muttered: “Symbolic of his struggle against reality.” This is indicative of how environmental NGOs, in fighting against everything, have almost nothing rational left to stand for. Green groups acting against fossil fuels also have to include the No-Nukes campaigners, leaving no room for viable energy alternatives. Pro-organic lobbies want all agricultural technologies removed from farming and yet expect biodiversity to improve even though farmers will need to plough under more habitats to limit the expected food crisis. All single use plastics (… hell, all plastics) must go. The chaos this will cause manufacturers and service providers as they struggle to find sustainable alternatives is unthinkable. I have been a guest in hospitals quite a bit in the last year and have benefited from single-use plastics … I wonder what medical staff think of these Extinction Rebellion demands.
A simple solution: Don’t consume. On the streets of London, I can’t help noticing the hypocrisy of the Extinction Rebellion “non-consumers” with their iPhones, leather shoes and chemical hair dyes (harking back to the days of those darlings from the Occupy Wall Street movement). Like Stan in Life of Brian, they are fighting for the right to live without conventionally grown food, energy, manufactured consumer goods or plastics, even if, in their struggle against oppression, they cannot.
Reality is not important to an idealist.
There’s a Manifesto for That!
Drafting manifestos is a common tool for movements. In another scene from the Life of Brian, when Brian had been captured, the People’s Front of Judea was too busy drafting an ultimatum to the Romans to be able to react to the news. How many times in Brussels have we seen Green 10 letters, action points and manifestos? New coalitions are formed around every issue in Brussels with tabled resolutions and key demands. I once came upon the Pythonesque minutes of a secret meeting in Berlin of a series of NGOs and MEPs putting forward a manifesto against Baysanto. Extinction Rebellion started with a manifesto (of course) but it is so bland and generic even the Risk-Monger can claim to follow it.
When Brian was being crucified, his “friends” came not to rescue him but to present him with a declaration on his martyrdom:
‘We, the People’s Front of Judea, brackets, officials, end brackets, do hereby convey our sincere fraternal and sisterly greetings to you, Brian, on this, the occasion of your martyrdom. Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman Imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture, and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed on behalf of the P.F.J., etcetera.’
Activist groups need martyrs (and this fits our social media culture that embraces virtue signalling). Every person arrested, every victim of science, every tale of oppression is used by activists as a story-building tool for the cause. How could there be a struggle against oppression if no one is suffering?
There’s no pleasing some people
What would happen to activist campaign groups if living conditions were improving, people were living longer, exposures to dangerous toxins were going down and public safety increasing? What would happen if, as reality indicates, our well-being is getting far better with advances in science and technology? Groups like Extinction Rebellion would continue to draft their little manifestos saying “That’s not good enough!” and demand a shift in our power structures.
As Brian said to the suddenly unemployed ex-leper who was cured by Jesus: “There’s no pleasing some people.”