A rather disturbing video made the rounds on social media this morning.
— Mahatir Pasha (@mahatir_pasha) October 17, 2019
Two Extinction Rebellion activists stood atop a Jubilee line train, to stop it moving. They held between them a banner reading: BUSINESS AS USUAL = DEATH. An angry swarm of commuters swelled beneath, furious that their train to work couldn't depart, and eventually took matters into their own hands. They dragged the protesters down off the carriage, and started attacking them while TfL staff tried to take control of the situation.
The protesters were arrested and a large portion of the line was closed. Similar — although less violent — scenes took place at nearby Shadwell and Stratford.
To many this seems crazy. Public transport systems are much better for the environment than their alternative: cars. Many have been quick to make this point, there's a video of a commuter arguing with protesters who glued themselves to the DLR, yelling "It's an electric train though".
I strongly condemn the Extinction Rebellion protestors who have targeted the London Underground and DLR this morning. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/x17qrVDjx2— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) October 17, 2019
So what the hell are Extinction Rebellion doing?
In its press release the group says:
The actions are intended to bring economic disruption to the capital as part of the ongoing campaign to convince the Government to take meaningful action on the Climate and Ecological Emergency
On the surface of it, they're not wrong. Disrupting London's transport system does bring economic disruption to the capital. But who exactly bears the brunt of the economic hardship?
Canning Town is a largely working class area, the borough it is in, Newham, has the second highest proportion of its residents living in poverty out of all boroughs in London. Furthermore, Newham has the highest proportion of employed residents who earn less than the London Living Wage. Many of those angry commuters are on zero hour contracts, and their livelihoods are put at risk by Extinction Rebellion's actions. By saying that, I do not mean to condone the crowd's violence (those who acted that way were wrong), merely understand it.
Extinction Rebellion have targeted public transport before, back in April 2019 members stood atop the DLR at Canary Wharf. The area is a hub for the financial sector, an area that has had a huge role to play in climate change. Canary Wharf is also a station with multiple platforms, so although the protests disrupted services, said disruption was limited.
Those protests at least made some sense. Today's didn't.
Furthermore actions like today's turn people against the group, something that could make them more cynical about climate change — in effect achieving the exact opposite of Extinction Rebellion's aims. And misguided stunts like this, distract from the more noble protests the group has organised, like the nursing mothers protesting outside of Google HQ.
If we're to try and halt climate change, we need to encourage as many city-dwellers as possible to use public transport. Not stop them from doing so altogether.