Extinction Rebellion: the Denier Backlash

The Extinction Rebellion protest movement has grown in scale and impact in recent weeks, bringing energy and chaos to the streets as people wake up to grim climate realities. Alongside the School Strikes, the new movement has been a massive, joyful, peaceful wake-up call to conservative environmentalists and compromised politicians alike.

But not everyone is taking it well. Several prominent climate science deniers are not pleased at this mass show of concern, and they’re using the platform the UK’s mainstream press continues to give them to express their ire.

David Rose kicked things off in the Mail with the “scoop” that Extinction Rebellion (or ‘XR’ as Rose insisted on calling them) met with Energy Minister Claire Perry. That might have been big news (or news at all) had the fact that Perry publicly offered to meet the campaigners been widely reported back in 2018 (including by DeSmog).

The article was accompanied by a report from an ‘undercover’ journalist who went to a public meeting XR held in advance of its actions. The standout revelations from this brave piece of journalism were that activists sometimes have dyed hair, sometimes eat food out of tuppaware boxes, and sometimes want to get arrested for their cause (which, of course, is Extinction Rebellion’s publicly stated aim).

Commenting on the ‘revelations’ in the Daily Mail, Dominic Lawson suggested that the meeting was significant because “getting to see a government minister isn’t easy.”

Well, unless you’re a fracking company, Shell, or BP, of course.

Lawson was distressed that the Energy Minister met with Extinction Rebellion at all, moaning that:

“…making Britain hell for business (and anyone who drives a car) is what Extinction Rebellion stands for. As the Energy Minister must know, its mission is to ‘save the planet’ by eliminating Britain’s CO2 emissions entirely by 2025. Or in other words, to reduce us to a state of mere subsistence, last seen in the pre-industrial age when life was (for the great majority) nasty, brutish and short.”

The idea that our fossil-fuel-based capitalist economy is the source of all that is good in the world, and that no other path is possible, is these deniers’ default setting. Lawson’s father, of course, is Nigel Lawson — Margaret Thatcher’s chancellor and the founder of the climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF).

In a familiar, if confusing refrain, Lawson Jnr ends: “It’s not British politicians that groups such as Extinction Rebellion should be haranguing and demonstrating against, but those in the People’s Republic of China.”

“The trouble is the Chinese state would treat rather robustly any Extinction Rebellion activists who attempted to demonstrate on its busiest streets, or to mount a naked protest in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. I don’t recommend they try that.”

The China baton was picked up by Viscount Matt Ridley, who wrote a carbon copy of Lawson’s rant for The Times. It was quickly cross-posted by the GWPF, to which coal-baron Ridley is an advisor.

And you can see why.

Echoing Lawson’s China jibe, Ridley writes that Extinction Rebellion “protest that Britain is doing nothing about climate change. Not true. No country has enacted a more draconian set of emissions targets, but try protesting in Russia or China — it would not be such a walk in the park.”

There’s a sort of veiled threat behind all these remarks: that Extinction Rebellion, should it want to go global, should expect similar treatment to other Chinese dissidents.

But what’s most remarkable is the scientific and ecological illiteracy of these writers. It’s true that China has been the world’s leading emitter for more than a decade. But it’s also true that China is trying to reform its economy from investment and manufacturing, to consumption and services.

According to Phillip Stalley ,Associate Professor and Fulbright Scholarship Program Advisor at DePaul University, while there may be some way to go, there are grounds for optimism about China’s climate targets:

“According to the Energy Information Administration, a U.S. federal agency, if China can rapidly shift to a service-based economy, it can reduce the amount of energy it uses by five quadrillion British thermal units by 2040, an amount roughly equivalent to what Spain consumes annually. Fortunately for everyone on Earth, most scholars say China can hit these targets.”

“China surpassed its official target, lowering its energy intensity by more than 55 percent between 1990 and 2015. Despite its current emissions growth, the United Nations Environment Program says that China remains one of the few major economies ‘on track’ to meet its Paris targets for reining in carbon dioxide emissions.”

There’s no point in Extinction Rebellion taking to the streets while China is doing nothing, the deniers say. Well, then I suppose it’s a good thing that China is becoming a world leader in implementing climate policies.

But that’s not really the point. As always, China is being used as a useful distraction.

What Lawson and Ridley seem to have missed is that when so many of the goods that arrive on our doorstep are marked “Made in China” it is simply not possible to pass the buck and pretend that western lifestyle and consumption isn’t intimately connected with production on the other side of the planet.

Consuming less and degrowth aren’t concepts that these commentators are likely to comprehend. But it is the economic backdrop to the Extinction Rebellion protests.

Lawson and Ridley are not alone in overlooking this inconvenient truth.

Ben Ramanauskas, a Policy Analyst at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, writes in Capex that  “Extinction Rebellion are wasting our time – and their own”. He argues:

“When we take into account that the Earth has the potential to be habitable for up to another 800 million years, by which time humanity could have developed the technology to set up bases on other planets, then humanity has the potential to be around for a very long time.”

“Not only will there be far more human lives in the future, if human progress continues on its current trajectory, then these humans will enjoy lives which are wealthier, happier, and healthier than anything we could possibly imagine.”

“Therefore, as the Philosopher Derek Parfit pointed out, we have the ability and the duty to maximise the welfare of future generations.”

By which he means deregulating everything and leaving the free market in charge, of course.

This is bizarrely utopian, even by the standards of a campaign group embroiled in scandals around ‘collusion’ to spread falsehoods for the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum.

The old dinosaurs of Lawson and Ridley (alongside Christopher Booker, who has written his last climate science denial polemic for the Telegraph) are becoming less relevant to the UK’s media space. But they are being quickly replaced by a new breed that has eternal faith in a capitalist economy and (often futuristic) technologies riding to the rescue at some undefined future point.

This ideological battle — and the denier voices that articulate it in the mainstream press — has become more acute as commentators and politicians are forced to make increasingly outlandish claims in defence of unsustainable western lifestyles.

An ideology supporting lifetsyles that Extinction Rebellion has taken to the streets to urgently condemn.

Comments (16)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    We really do need to take action to reduce the production of global warming gases. I read today that a German company is building a huge port in Iceland; why would anybody want to build a port in Iceland? It really comes as no surprise that they plan to reroute sea traffic through the Arctic rather than going round through either the Suez or Panama canals.

    It makes sense when you consider that ice in the Arctic is disappearing year on year through the effects of global warming and Iceland is ideally suited to be a hub to serve most western European countries in their trade with the far east and the west coast of the US.

    Follow the logic and as ice in Antarctica melts ever faster allowing the glaciers to slide from the land into the sea we will see water levels rise ever more quickly as the runaway effect takes place. The seafront, esplanade and shops in our nice little town of Helensburgh will be under water before the end of this century unless we act now to make an effective change to the way we consume.

    UK in itself will make little difference but news is global and if the protesters make a big enough splash to change our policies maybe other places will get the message and follow the lead.

  2. Alistair Taylor says:

    Good article, Mike, thank you.
    More power to Extinction Rebellion.
    We (humans) need to change our ways, drastically.
    Alberta province (Canada) just voted in a Conservative govt that are pushing for maximum tar sands exploitation.
    USA is a basket case regarding climate change.
    I worked in Antarctica and the Arctic for 25 years (1984-2009), largely with climate scientists, and the evidence is there.
    We need to live more carefully, more frugally, and more sensibly.
    Do more with less. End uber-capitalism.
    It’s common sense. (“not so bloody common”, as my Dad says.)
    Scotland, though a small country, can do it’s bit. And we’re a race of thinkers and innovators.
    More power to the elbow of George Monbiot too.
    (ok, a slightly disjointed post, but time to walk home on this fine sunny Moray day.)

  3. Mungo Armstrong says:

    Recommend that anyone interested in solving climate change should re direct their energies into help exposing the reality of Alien technology being kept secret by groups operating outside the democratic elected Governments. The technology already exists to solve the planets energy needs through free and clean means of production.

      1. J Galt says:


        While it may well be that Mr Armstrong somewhat overstates his case it’s interesting to note that electric cars were fairly common on the streets of Chicago around 1910, indeed they were especially pushed to affluent Lady motorists as having enough charge to safely convey them from the suburbs to downtown to do their shopping, lunch with their elegant friends and return them safely to said suburbs, thus saving them the inconvenience of rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi on the city transit.

        Now forgive me for wearing my tinfoil head apparel, but given even a moderate rate of technological progress we should now have cars capable of going round the world twice on a battery the size of a fag packet!

        Of course there’s been suppression of technology – even without aliens in the equation.

        1. James Mills says:

          Aliens ? Proof is clear to see – look at those fronting Brexit !

        2. Mungo Armstrong says:

          There’s no overstatement. Aliens have been visiting us since at least the 50’s and we’ all using technology derived from Downed Alien craft. Fibre optics, night vision, micro chips to name a few. This is real. We have the technology to wipe out fuel poverty now. It’s being deliberately kept from us. We must demand release of all the information around this.

        3. Robert says:

          In the 70s the UK had the world’s largest fleet of electric vehicles: milk floats (which delivered to your door in reusable glass bottles.)

      2. Mungo Armstrong says:

        See Disclosure Steven M. Greer M.D
        Oh it’s true alright. Without reasonable doubt. Hundreds of testimonies from high ranking US military personnel to airline pilots to air traffic controllers. Its through testimony that we establish innocence or guilt in law. Testimony is accepted as the primary means of establishing truth. Why are these testimonies being ignored?
        Well worth a read.

      3. Mungo Armstrong says:

        It’s mind blowing. Once you accept this is true and happening. And after reading this book you will have to accept this is fact. Then every other political cause becomes secondary.

        1. Wullie says:

          Love it. Just love it.

          And where do the aliens stay when they’re here. Who do they stay with. Are there any staying in Glasgow.

          I’d love to meet an alien and I hope he’d like to meet me. Maybe that why he came here

          Does he phone home, where is home, and will he take a citizenship test now he’s here.

          So many questions I’m dizzy. But yeah, great that the aliens are here.

          1. Mungo Armstrong says:

            Disclosure Steven M. Greer M.D

            All your questions are answered here if you can read.

          2. Mungo Armstrong says:

            This book contains hundreds of testimonies singed and authenticated by serious professional people who have had direct contact with Alien craft and technologies. Are you saying these accounts can be written off as lies, And if you are suggesting that, then how can we accept the testimonies of anyone? How can an individual be found guilty of a crime that has been proven through the testimony of a jury?

          3. Mungo Armstrong says:

            Testimonies of witnesses (not jury’s) I should say

  4. Mungo Armstrong says:

    Seen “Unacknowledged” on Netflix yet?


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