Were The Climate Radicals Right After All?

The radical activists who think they have the answers to the cost of living crisis.

Smug is maybe not the word, but the climate activists of Insulate Britain must be feeling vindicated. A year after they called on the government to insulate Britain’s homes, surging gas prices have made their campaign seem uncannily prescient.

They were on the streets again this Wednesday. Not quite a triumphant return, since their demand has not been met. They were blocking roads in Westminster, one of several direct action groups to join Just Stop Oil, the climate activist group, for a month of daily blockades of the UK’s district of government.

They still all want to just stop oil, to paraphrase the name of their coalition. But they want more now, as well.

Britain is in the grip of a cost of living crisis. A more than doubling of gas bills, fresh food prices up a record-breaking 12%, and lately a hike in interest rates, have left Britons struggling to pay their way.

Climate activists have responded. In the past, they have been accused of failing to take into account the concerns of ordinary people. But now demands about the millions forced to choose between heating and eating are at the core of their agenda.

“The thing that the cost of living crisis and the climate housing crisis have in common is an immoral industry making billions of pounds out of people suffering,” Just Stop Oil supporter Emma Brown tells me. The 31-year-old former librarian turned full-time activist is down in London this week from Glasgow, taking part in Just Stop Oil’s blockades.

“The things that we’re asking for right now are things that would benefit people and benefit the cost of living crisis,” she adds. “So we want a nationalised affordable energy system, and one that’s built on investment in renewable energy.”

At the other end of the activism spectrum, Warm This Winter, a new energy bills campaign, sent its supporters to lobby MPs at the Conservative party conference last week. They were less disruptive, but they were making the same points.

“The solutions for the fuel poverty and energy crisis are actually solutions that will benefit the planet as well,” said Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. His is one of 40 organisations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and eight other environment groups, that are backing the campaign.

The first step is immediate financial support for people struggling to pay their bills, they say – then a plan for permanently lowering bills. “This means getting the UK off unaffordable gas through a government-backed, national rollout of home insulation and an acceleration of affordable renewables,” the campaign says. They claim to have signed up four Tory MPs to at least one demand in their agenda.

In terms of tactics, though, it is back to basics. Just Stop Oil began in April with an audacious ambition of halting the supply of fuel to the south of England with blockades and mass trespasses at oil terminals, and in October, they called for a mass protest on London’s bridges. Now, this month, they are back blocking roads and annoying drivers – and that may be a problem for their attempts at coalition building.

Just Stop Oil are not the only group causing massive disruption in the UK this autumn. Coming off the back of a summer of strikes that saw walkouts from railwaymen, postal workers, barristers and others, trade unions are promising more industrial unrest this winter.

But while they welcome the support of climate protesters, the major trade union-backed cost of living campaign, Enough Is Enough, does not mention climate or the environment at all in its five demands of government. Privately, trade unionists resent being counted alongside activists; some consider themselves more likely to be the people they disrupt than those who would sit in the road alongside them.

So it seems that the climate activists might have the answers to the cost of living crisis too. But, like Insulate Britain last autumn, they might be alienating the very people who would benefit from the solutions.

- Author: Damien Gayle, The Guardian


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