Extinction Rebellion has not yet marked its first anniversary, but the environmental pressure group has rarely been out of the news since its formation.
In the past few days around 30,000 UK members have been involved in a number of targeted protests around London, including blockading the BBC’s Broadcasting House, staging a sit-in at London City Airport and demonstrating outside a major government oil and gas summit. Thousands of demonstrators have been arrested.
Their actions have provoked anger in many quarters, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson dubbing them “unco-operative crusties”.
But the protesters claim they have been forced to take action because those in power are doing almost nothing to combat climate change, which threatens the future of life on earth.
“It’s not like we’re doing this because we want to, it’s because we have to,” according to Luke Fitzgerald, a 24-year-old political science graduate living in Stirling.
Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, has the stated aim of using civil disobedience to compel government action on climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and the risk of social and ecological collapse.
However, Fitzgerald, pictured right, is concerned the group’s message is being misunderstood and portrayed as some sort of political uprising.
“You do get this kind of notion that this is a cabal of global elite leftists who are taking to the streets and causing carnage,” he said.
“That’s not really true. Climate change is not about politics.
“It’s a shared common problem that will affect everyone on the planet.
“Ultimately we’re on a public outreach mission. Everyone is our ally, so you can’t go waving the communist flag or anything like that – we’re there for the climate, not for any other agendas.”
He admits there is a constant threat that XR could be infiltrated by extremists or anarchist groups, using it to further their own aims.
“Going by research into climate movements generally, it can be a big problem groups could potentially face. That’s the last thing we would want to happen.
“As any movement grows in scale there is always going to be people on the outside who want to infiltrate it – on the right and the left – to push their own particular agenda.
“But I think the structure at XR is good and the people it attracts are good – they get the bigger picture and what we’re aiming for.”
XR has picked up a number of high-profile supporters – including 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, actors Emma Thompson and Mark Rylance, wildlife presenter Chris Packham and even the PM’s own father Stanley Johnson.
Fitzgerald says he joined the group when he realised it was his chance to push past politics. “I was looking into what could be done and delving into the politics, like climate treaties, and realised they are not going anywhere. The penny dropped for me.”
He admits he had not taken the “climate crisis” particularly seriously until he read some of the scientific reports that have been produced on the subject.
“I thought that ultimately technology would get us out of it.
“But then I sat down and read a bit more. I was presented with the cold, hard facts, without any political bias – just the science of it.
“I thought, oh my god, this is really serious and we’re just not appreciating it. I got this feeling of dread in my stomach.”
That’s when he decided he could no longer sit back and do nothing.
“Even Scotland’s carbon neutrality targets only give us a 50/50 chance of not exceeding the 1.5C deemed catastrophic. And I thought, would I put my child in a car which had a 50/50 chance of not crashing? It actually makes no sense at all. We need to push the politics out the door and get down to what the business is.”