Having mingled among the eco-warriors on Waterloo Bridge, I can confirm reports in the mainstream media: it was a self-righteous, middle-class jamboree. But rather than resting on my preconceived notions, I decided to explore the rationale and motives of the protestors. Here, dear readers, is a composite of my brief chats between the banners and hay bales. I abbreviate my informants as H (think Hermoine, Harriet and Henry).
N: What brings you here today?
H: It’s our last chance for survival. There’s no Planet B. Climate change will cause the sea to rise by two or three metres, and soon we won’t be able to cross this bridge. But it’s worse for people in poor countries, who are victims of rich countries’ pollution.
N: But Britain accounts for less than 1% of carbon dioxide emissions. What about China, which is building hundreds of coal-fired power stations? I heard that China has used more cement in the last ten years than the USA used in the whole 20th century. And the smog in Chinese cities is highly toxic. Why not put more pressure on the worst polluters?
H: Frankly, we have no right to tell the Chinese what to do, after the harm we’ve done in the West. They have every right to develop just as the Americans did.
N: But wait – you constantly remind us that we only have one planet. It seems like you’re treating China as if their part of the planet is exempt.
H: Look, the Chinese didn’t go round colonising the world and oppressing black people. We have no moral high ground.
The rich cause the most harm.
N: Surely the biggest threat to the environment is the sheer rise in world population?
H: That’s a right-wing trope. People can live green without damaging the ecosystem. Ecodesign, a meat-free diet, better public transport, and equality – these are the answers.
N: How does equality improve the environment?
H: The rich cause the most harm. An egalitarian society would allow people to live in harmony with their surroundings.
N: But getting back to population growth: more people need more food, more water, more electricity and more other resources. They need homes, and that means paving over what’s left of the countryside. That doesn’t seem very green to me.
H: That’s a misunderstanding. Rich people take up the most space, they use the roads more, have two or three cars, and they are more wasteful. Poorer people don’t leave as much carbon footprint. Don’t tell me that a mother using a food bank is more to blame than a white banker in the City.
N: Why the ‘white’?
H: Well, I find the worst attitudes are from people like you, who don’t seem to care about our children’s future. They won’t have a future if men like Donald Trump are in charge. Or those far right populists in other countries.
N: It could be argued that the likes of Salvini are doing more for the environment than your campaign, because he wants to stop mass immigration. Don’t you see the unsustainability of open borders, with the limitless number from Africa and Asia who would come to our small island, added by their high birth rates?
H: We don’t think like you. You are stuck in the old world of countries and sovereignty and jingoism, which is actually quite divisive. We all share Mother Earth. We believe in global citizenship.
N: Let’s take Nigeria as an example. A survey showed at least a quarter of its 400 million people would like to emigrate to Europe. If ten or twenty million came to Britain, would that be all right? When would you decide enough is enough?
H: I’d rather live next door to a Nigerian family of climate refugees than someone who’s too arrogant to check their white privilege.
N: But isn’t such overpopulation causing harm to our so-called ‘green and pleasant land’, and to the prospects of younger generations? What about their future homes and quality of life?
H: Younger people are bright and politically aware, and they’re demanding change. They don’t do this hate and petty nationalism.
N: But who is doing the hating?
H: You just attacked Nigerians.
Why should white men make all the decisions, particularly after the wars and inequalities they’ve caused?
N: I have nothing against Nigerians at all. I simply used that country as an example of high migration to the UK. Protecting the environment seems incompatible with encouraging millions of people to come here, as the Green Party does.
H: We are going to change the world, whatever you think. We have values: human rights and ecological rights.
N: Your banners demand an end to capitalism. But you are capitalists, aren’t you? You have your mobile phone, and your clothes are probably made by kids in a sweat shop in the far east.
H: Capitalism exploits, and disempowers people. The whole culture needs to change, not just the economic system but the political system too. That’s why we want a citizens’ assembly, so people get the policies that they want, rather than everything being tuned to vested interests. All the main political parties are corrupt, not just the Tories, although they’re the worst.
N: How would I get on a citizens’ assembly?
H: Well, it wouldn’t be made up of white men. It would be representative, properly diverse. Why should white men make all the decisions, particularly after the wars and inequalities they’ve caused?
N: Finally, what do you think of Brexit? Will an independent Britain be able to do more to protect the environment?
H: I think you know the answer to that.
Niall McCrae: I’m sure you’ll agree, readers, that this is all very emotive, but lacking in logic.
That’s just one problem of these environmentalists, who have been losing the PR battle after shutting down major bridges and Oxford Circus for a whole week.
A bigger problem, secondly, is their class-ridden condescension, for which they have little insight.
Thirdly, the hypocrisy. I am probably more green than most of these activists: I sold my car and rely on public transport, I never get taxis, I tour Britain rather than flying to alpine ski resorts or European city breaks. While I am troubled by global tech monopolies and the steel-and-glass towers destroying the London panorama, these so-called anti-capitalists see the wonders of modern architecture and a hyper-connected world.
Save the Earth, not the ‘watermelons’.
(Dr Niall McCrae is a lecturer in mental health, and a writer on social and political affairs. He regularly contributes to The Salisbury Review and Bruges Group website, and has written two books: The Moon and Madness, and Echoes from the Corridors: The Story of Nursing in British Mental Hospitals).