Our shared interest in protecting the planet

Children sit down at a blockade on Waterloo Bridge during the second day of a coordinated protest by the Extinction Rebellion group
Children sit down at a blockade on Waterloo Bridge during the second day of a coordinated protest by the Extinction Rebellion group

Although I am a self confessed motormouth, somebody who has never shied away from proffering an opinion on absolutely anything, I have never resorted to protest.

Even before I took on the mantle of neutral journalist nearly a quarter of a century ago, when I was a student, living off toasties and Super Noodles, I really couldn’t ever get too excited about anything which involved tearing me away from the pub.

Back then I did know a small committed group of people who took great exception to the building of new roads and the very thorny subject of fox hunting, so much so that they dedicated much of their young lives to protesting against such issues.

I knew a couple of bright lads who put their studies and careers on hold to live in protest camps up and down the country. They looked a certain way, sporting either shaved heads or dreadlocks with Dr Martens boots as standard and were nearly always vegetarian or vegan - before it became the staple diet of celebrities and Instagram wannabes.

Inevitably, they were dismissed as ‘Swampies’, after the most famous of 1990s’ activists, Swampy or Daniel Hooper, who became lodged in the national consciousness after playing significant roles in protests at sites such as the controversial Newbury bypass in Berkshire.

They were mocked by the wider public, largely because they didn’t look or dress like most of us and because they were considered to be fanatics who didn’t pay their taxes, therefore, it was argued by red-faced pundits, had forfeited the right to play any meaningful role in society. Even though I didn’t share their convictions, I have always had more than a healthy respect for people who are so committed to a cause that they make huge sacrifices to stand up for what they believe in.

During my career I have met hundreds of campaigners who believe that their cause trumps all others; some are motivated by the fact that their way of life is under threat while others believe they are acting in the greater good.

More often than not, the protestors usually have a vested interest in standing up to the ‘establishment’ especially when it comes to cuts to public amenities or developers wanting to build housing estates on their doorsteps. Although such issues do provoke an outpouring of emotions from large numbers of people, they do not unite everybody because their reach isn’t universal.

There is one issue which should unite us all and that is the future of our planet. Last week Extinction Rebellion protestors paralysed parts of central London by blocking bridges and chaining themselves to fences.

During the week-long campaign, the Met Police arrested nearly 1,000 people, aged between 19 and 77, and many of them looked like you or I and were moved to descend on our capital city because they truly believe that we are close to an environmental tipping point. Among their demands, they want world leaders to tell the truth about the true scale of global warming and they also want net carbon emissions to be zero within the next six years.

People like me have a lot to do if we are going to make a difference but I strive to buy local wherever I can and am by no means a frequent flyer.

Although it is unlikely that I will ever join them on the frontline, I am on side of the environmental protestors. We all should be.