This anti-climate change protest by Extinction Rebellion was extraordinarily foolish:
Let us count the ways:
- It was poorly targetted. Who was disrupted? Commuters in the East End of London. Not wealthy people, not decision makers. Ordinary people trying to get by.
- It had no thematic connection. The disruption targetted public transport. The net effect was to encourage people to DRIVE to work.
- It was arrogant and alienating. It elevated the concerns of the protestors over the concerns of people who the protest should aim to persuade. That makes the protestors concerns look insular, out of touch and arrogant. It makes action on climate change politically less likely and easier for politicians to demonise.
- It wasn’t direct action. Direct action is where people directly intervene for moral reasons against the thing they are protesting against. For example, disrupting the building of coal-fired power plant. The ethics of direct action are a thing in themselves but they very much depend on whether it is justified to directly stop a thing happening. This protest has the theatre of direct action but isn’t. There’s no ethical imperative here to stop people travelling by train.
There’s a moral equation between an extreme situation and extreme action. It is one that gets debated left and right, and within and outside of governments. However, just like war and revolution, that moral equation isn’t a carte blanche. There has to be a plausible connection between the action taken and some reasonable (and proportionate) chance of preventing, ameliorating or limiting the extreme situation.
There’s no moral justification for obviously bad tactics.