Radical action hit the news at the start of last week when dozens of activists occupied several M25 motorway junctions around London during the early Monday rush hour under the banner Insulate Britain.
Prior to that bold and highly disruptive launch, organisers held public meetings all over the UK in which they outlined the reality of the climate crisis, explained the campaign demands and recruited more than a hundred people from all walks of life who are prepared to sacrifice their liberty in this strategic and sustained wave of non-violent civil disobedience.
“We need to move rapidly. What we do in the next 3-4 years I believe, will determine the future of humanity.”
In the letter they demand that the government fund insulation of all social housing stock by 2025, and produce a national plan for a low energy and low carbon retrofit of all housing by 2030.
Sir David King has warned that the UK has no carbon budget left if we want to keep global temperature rise below 1.5º, and Insulate Britain have produced a report, backed by industry experts, which outlines how their proposal could create hundreds of thousands of worthwhile jobs while ‘levelling up’ and improving living standards. Thousands of people die each winter due to cold, and an estimated 7 million people are in fuel poverty, so the plan would also save lives, improve health and lower NHS costs.
Home energy is estimated to contribute around 15% of all the UK’s carbon emissions, so improving insulation would lower our dependence on fossil fuels and make a serious dent in our so far inadequate response to the global climate crisis.
The group’s letter asked the government for a substantial response and meeting, and warned of serious civil disobedience otherwise. The government completely ignored the letter and report, so members of the group began their motorway roadblocks several weeks later, quickly gaining the attention of national news and social media.
Over ten days, despite hundreds of arrests, concerned citizens have caused massive disruption across the south-east during five morning rush-hours, provoking ire and hatred from the right-wing media, and polarising opinions on social media. They have been characterised as an ‘eco-mob’ made up either of ‘crusties’ and ‘benefits scroungers’ who should ‘get a job’, or as well-off middle-class do-gooders out to annoy ‘normal hard-working people’.
For our film report, Real Media interviewed three of the activists we met on the first action. Two are self-employed (a graphic designer and a psychotherapist) both of whom are sacrificing income to take part. The other is employed at a major UK retailer, and sought permission from his employers to take unpaid leave for three months (which they gave in the full knowledge of what he was planning to do).
Although many of the arrests have been for ‘conspiracy to cause public nuisance’, the government has chosen not to follow the usual legal path, possibly because they may face powerful defence arguments in court exposing the delinquency of their climate solutions.
Instead, they have instructed Highways England (a government-owned company) to take out a High Court injunction designed specifically to prevent protest on or near the M25.
Insulate Britain have said that they don’t want to block roads, but they do want to begin to address the climate crisis while saving thousands of lives each winter, and they want the government to either get on with the job, or face them in court in front of a jury rather than use undemocratic legislation designed to protect those who can afford to buy the law.
Either way it looks likely that we will see further disruption and potentially historic mass imprisonment before this story is over.