Hitching a ride to XR’s art bandwagon
Extinction Rebellion’s blockade of the BP fuel station on Elizabeth Way had an artistic theme, with protesters’ art and musical skills to the fore.
XR activists strung out across the forecourt, blocking the entrance and exit routes from around 10am. Guests musicians performed through a sound system beside a giant 8ft by 3ft proclamation which offered a timeline of how a village school may be affected by climate change in the next 50 years. Starting in 2020, the diary - by XR rebels Jane Goodland and Idit Nathan - chronicles increasing floods and extreme weather in East Anglia. By 2031 school insurance becomes more difficult. By 2039 crops are failing, there are drought warnings, the temperature goes above 41 degrees. Typhus comes back. The educational curriculum is curtailed, and food becomes scarcer.
There’s a gap in the line blocking the exit so I step in. Everyone in the line is very friendly, the public not always so much. There was an incident involving a car earlier in the day, possibly: an XR spokesperson later claimed not to have heard of the incident but it was said to have involved XR activist Donald Bell, although Donald was walking around the forecourt in the afternoon with no apparent injury.
As I’m standing in line a driver in one of the passing cars winds her window down, shouts something at the protesters, and honks. It’s hard to work out what she said - pro or against - so I asked my placard-holding colleagues, one of whom looks bemused too.
“It was ‘we’re in big cars’,” said another.
“Thanks - though that sounds less than supportive,” I reply.
“Yes,” he says. “You get some like that.”
The music starts up, it’s a guitarist singing, it’s a bit Celtic to my ears. The sun is shining brightly - maybe too brightly? I watch the cars and their occupants as they drive by, and try to think noble thoughts about how the world will be so much better off without all this metal junk being dragged around town. I still feel like a bus****er though. I guess it’s a barrier you go through. Fact is, I haven’t stood by the side of the road watching the cars go by since I was hitching round Europe decades ago. In some ways, not much has changed. The roads are the same, the cars travel at similar speeds, they still use petrol engines even though the digital age has displaced or disrupted just about every other industry. The main change is that back then we were being happily hoodwinked about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. The petrol companies even added lead into petrol from the 1920s to 1989 in the UK, just to add extra vim to the fossil fuel project. And fossil fuel use is still increasing. In 2018 it went up at the fastest rate for seven years. It’s all still - give or take an XR protest - normalised.
Really, the 1980s was when Extinction Rebellion should have started, would’ve had had more of a chance of success, but the technological alternatives weren’t really there. Today, the technology is available but is not being rolled out fast enough. The Earth’s temperature is around 1.3 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, and is likely to hit the 1.5 degree threshold in a very few years - if there’s no tipping points before.
The XR rebels on duty at BP are friendly and inclusive, but also determined. There’s a week-long blockade in the city centre next month: this campaign isn’t going to go away until some sort of brake is put on the fossil fuel economy. Perhaps just a hint that the subsidies and state aid might stop soon might help?