Extinction Rebellion need to get their facts straight – and ditch the broccoli man – if they want to be taken seriously

The ongoing climate change protests are brilliant, but XR let themselves down with alarmist and provably false claims, which makes life too easy for detractors

I’m a supporter of Extinction Rebellion. How could you not be? Do you want to live on a planet that looks like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?

Two million people in our country’s capital city are living with an illegal amount of air pollution, a proven cause of lung and heart disease that’s also been linked to, among other issues, miscarriage and teenage psychosis. If you oppose the direct action being taken in central London – with protestors gridlocking Westminster to raise awareness of the problem – because it mildly obstructs your commute to work, can I politely suggest that you reassess your priorities?

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere currently stands at around 441 parts per million (ppm), the highest it’s ever been. Approximately half of the CO2 emitted since 1750 has occurred in the last 40 years. The average size of vertebrate populations (excluding humans) decreased by 60 per cent between 1970 and 2014 and the number of floods and heavy rains has, globally, doubled since 2004 (quadruple what it was in 1980).

Do you need me to go on? Fine. Rising temperatures mean more deaths from dengue, a mosquito-borne virus that currently kills 10,000 people and impacts around 100 million per year, and the UK-based climate change resource Carbon Brief has consulted 230 studies to conclude that 68 per cent of extreme weather events in the last 20 years became “more likely or more severe” because of man-made climate change.

So, whichever way you cook your goose, it’s looking pretty bad out there, and your delayed train is a small price to pay for the invaluable work Extinction Rebellion is doing in raising awareness of the issue. What do they want? For the UK government to declare a “climate change emergency” and create a “citizen’s assembly” of activists who would consult experts and try to tackle the problem together. And when do they want it? Before our children are sailing to school on a dinghy in August, if at all possible.

All of which seems… fairly sane and normal. Extinction Rebellion are co-ordinating protests in 60 countries, no mean feat for an organisation formed just last year, and have created a global talking point. So why do they find it so hard to get their shit together when promoting their imperative message? Stick a camera in front of an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson and they turn into Super Hans, wide-eyed and trembling, wondering if his legs are on fire. One such spokesperson for the organisation, Zion Lights, appeared on the BBC last week to defend their position. It was painful to watch.

Interviewer Andrew Neil asked Lights to justify Extinction Rebellion’s recent claim that “billions of people are going to die in quite short order” and that “our children are going to die in the next 10 to 20 years”. In the end they both came to the conclusion that the figures were made up. Lights countered that “alarmist language works”, which is undoubtedly true. It does, however, beg the question: what’s the difference between getting what you want by pretending that the NHS will receive 350 million quid a week if people vote for Brexit, and getting what you want by pretending that, if you don’t, billions will die before we’ve finished getting ‘Old Town Road’ remixes? Just your perspective, I suppose.

Film and TV student Chloe Potamita, 21, from
Greece spoke about the contrast between violent protests in her home country and the peaceful nature of Extinction Rebellion

All this misinformation does is provide ammunition for Extinction Rebellion’s detractors. A man dressed as a piece of broccoli went on Good Morning Britain this week. It’s probably funnier in the retelling, because in reality it was as funny as one of the joke candidates that stand for the Monster Raving Loony Party every general election – that is, about as funny as bowel cancer. The broccoli was such a dope even Piers Morgan, a man with the IQ of a stick of celery, managed to outsmart him.

The broccoli was a representative of the vegan organisation Animal Rebellion, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, and when pressed on his political views, shrugged, “At the end of the day, I’m just a broccoli”. It was pointed out that the broccoli had no informed argument to make. And then you end up being in the depressing position of agreeing with Piers Morgan on something. Come Armageddon, come.

Two other Extinction Rebels went on Sky News last week and made the “billions are going to die” claim, which only invited the kind of oddballs that dwell on Twitter to denounce them as hysterical and alarmist. The organisation’s other goal – zero carbon emissions by 2025 – might be impossible, but at least there’s a point to it, the logic seeming to be that even when we fall well short, action will at least have been taken.

When the Metropolitan Police have made the democratic move of criminalising the protests in London, there’s enough to be alarmed about. So can Extinction Rebellion just stick the facts?