Is stopping Canberrans from getting home really the best way to fight climate change?

Genevieve Jacobs 3 November 2021 201
Man extinguishing burning pram outside Parliament House with protestor on ground

Parliament House security staff extinguish a burning pram during a recent Extinction Rebellion protest. Photo: Supplied.

“Grandfathers, youth and parents-to-be alike have spectacularly blocked Commonwealth Avenue Bridge in the national capital with trucks and tents, and have locked onto each other with bright yellow and pink pipes,” read the press release late last week.

“Happening now: Extinction Rebellion blockade Commonwealth Bridge in national capital as government commits future generations to climate collapse.”

I knew about it already: my phone was pinging with irritated Region Media staff members trying to get home to the Northside from Deakin, while I’d (just) managed to turn around at Parliament House for an alternative route.

The protest was part of a series of dramatic actions staged by members of the Extinction Rebellion group, who have glued themselves to the forecourt at Parliament House, set prams on fire in the interest of saving future generations, and dressed themselves as various politicians.

We live in a vibrant democracy where the right to protest is aligned with our right to free speech. Extinction Rebellion is deeply concerned by what commitments Prime Minister Scott Morrison will make at the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, that is currently being watched by the world.

The colourful, energetic Extinction Rebellion movement is deadly serious about the need for urgent action on climate change by our elected representatives. But is annoying a lot of people who fundamentally agree with them going to achieve that?

Here’s the rationale from the group’s press release:

“After peaceful climate protesters were, once again, arrested for protesting on Parliament lawns yesterday, and no members of parliament responded to Extinction Rebellion’s demand to meet with them, Extinction Rebellion activists were left with no choice but to set up camp on Commonwealth Bridge.”

So, nobody paid any attention at Parliament, therefore it was necessary to disrupt the lives of thousands of ordinary commuters making their way home instead? To leave those commuters idling in their fossil fuel-powered vehicles, strumming their fingers in irritation as they ran late to pick up their children and feed their families?

And the ACT is the most solidly progressive jurisdiction in Australia, where there was a Greens landslide at the last local election, and where the vast majority of our federal representatives are in Opposition anyway?


READ ALSO: ‘Burning Pram Lady’ sentenced after spending 16 days in jail for climate change protest


A number of Extinction Rebellion members have appeared in ACT courts recently, and they received relatively short shrift from the bench.

Magistrate Robert Cook told Deanna Marie ‘Violet’ Coco that she might look to Gandhi’s model of passive, consistent, law-abiding protest to get something done, rather than leaving Parliament House staff with scorch marks to clean up after she incinerated a pram.

Protest has prompted social change in Australia’s past – the Vietnam moratorium marches in the 1970s come to mind – although the enormous protests against the Iraq War seemingly had no effect at all.

Think of other protests that have been powerfully effective: the Freedom Rides here and in the US where activists and minority groups challenged racism by exercising their ordinary rights as citizens, whether to take public transport or use a community swimming pool.

More recently, school students striking for the climate have created plenty of debate, often around their own kitchen tables.

The bridge blockade was just annoying – not dangerous, like the anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne and Sydney that risked creating COVID-19 super-spreader events.

But you have to ask whether those involved were mostly caught up in the thrill of their own actions, rather than, Gandhi-like, galvanising the masses to achieve real change.

Raise your voices to the heavens, rally your people, make yourselves heard in the corridors of power through the strength of your movement. Bring people on board. But show some courtesy to everyone else while you’re doing it.


What's Your Opinion?


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201 Responses to Is stopping Canberrans from getting home really the best way to fight climate change?
Rhiannon Agutter Rhiannon Agutter 5:43 pm 05 Nov 21

Don’t forget these morons also damaged a heritage listed building not too long ago.

    Bizi Kat Bizi Kat 7:45 pm 05 Nov 21

    Rhiannon Agutter Don’t forget the morons on the hill have damaged our children's future.

Frank Calipari Frank Calipari 10:35 am 05 Nov 21

Why don’t they protest outside Chinese Embassy as clearly they & Russia don’t believe this climate change movement.

Instead they enjoying what idiots like this are doing to own governments.

jwinston jwinston 10:56 pm 04 Nov 21

XR are pests!

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 10:29 pm 04 Nov 21

May as well tell kids to protest on the weekends too

Megan Taylor Megan Taylor 9:51 pm 04 Nov 21

Gosh, your lifestyle wasn't affected in the bushfires? Lucky you.

Julie Kidd Julie Kidd 8:34 pm 04 Nov 21

Extinction is annoying too.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:20 pm 04 Nov 21

A sobering reality check for anyone who thinks that letting off a bit of anthropogenic steam in a regional city in Australia will make the slightest difference to the global trajectory of fossil fuel consumption –

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/chinas-timeline-to-ditch-coal-adopt-green-technology-may-be-too-slow-to-help-climate

Note particularly inconvenient truths such as this –

“In 2020 alone, the country brought 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity into operation. That’s more than three times the amount built in the rest of the world over the same period, and enough to power about a fifth of the whole country.

Environmentalists like Li Shuo, who’s a carbon emissions and energy specialist for Greenpeace, say China’s insatiable demand for nonrenewable energy will make it difficult for it to meet its goal of net zero emissions by 2060.

Li Shuo, Greenpeace:

If you really end up peaking, let’s say, in 2030, the curve in between 2030 and 2060 is very steep, to the extent that many people will just think this is science fiction.”

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:26 am 05 Nov 21

    Is it possible that the Chinese are smarter than we are?

    Do they know that the claims made about man made carbon dioxide causing climate change are false so there is no problem in “making hay while the sun shines”. I mean, if the UN gives China a free kick every time these COP gabfests are held and no one bothers to demonstrate outside their embassy why wouldn’t they think that there isn’t a problem.

David Malcolm David Malcolm 8:19 pm 04 Nov 21

All it does is annoy the general public. The majority of the population accepts that climate change exists, but they also don't want to have their lifestyle affected. These muppets want to shut down the entire fossil fuel industry which (unfortunately) at the moment doesn't have a realistic alternative to provide a stable grid.

John Wurcker John Wurcker 7:55 pm 04 Nov 21

Dear Genevieve, As a grandfather who was on one of the trucks, thank you for covering last week’s bridge blockade by XR. If you are interested in learning more about the motivation of the ordinary Canberrans doing extraordinary things who make up XR ACT, would be happy to put you in touch.

I also used to think XR’s actions and support in Canberra would be best served by avoiding inconvenience to the public. As you infer, Canberra is largely made up of well-educated and informed citizens, who know about the climate emergency and have voted in the most progressive, climate action focused government in the country. That’s great – but is it enough to rest on our laurels? The breadth, but lack of depth, of what would seem to be many Canberran’s commitment to the urgent and radical action required to avert the impending disaster was brought home by the response of one motorist saying – “get out of the road, I’ll be late for my gym session” – yes, they really said that. XR’s actions won’t please everyone – that is not our aim – awakening and energising other ordinary Canberrans prepared to do extraordinary things is.

So apt that reference is made to Gandhi at the end of your article. Like the suffragettes, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and so many others who have championed radical change to a broken system (and who were largely vilified at the time), a fundamental tactic of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience (in India and South Africa) was non-compliance and breaking the law.

To those readers who do not resonate with this message, I am sorry for the inconvenience caused. For those ordinary Canberrans who want to connect about doing extraordinary things to reduce the suffering of future generations, go to https://www.xract.org/get-involved

    Acton Acton 6:35 am 05 Nov 21

    John, irritating, disrupting and inconveniencing ordinary people, just going about their lives does not bring people around to your cause. It has the opposite effect. Ghandi promoted non violent peaceful process but what XR is doing is using tactics of intimidation, bullying, coercion and vandalism. Your tactics simply punish people, not persuade.

    nobody nobody 9:43 am 05 Nov 21

    John, most people who are in a cult do not realise this, Extinction Rebellion is a cult.

    XR have been prancing around the front of parliament for a few weeks, and very few have joined in. This is why XR then decided to go and block Commonwealth Avenue, to try and seek the attention they were not getting at parliament.

    Please stop comparing Extinction Rebellion to Martin Luther King, Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. XR look like a mob of looney-tunes who are more comparable to Hare Krishna, Ananda Marga or the Moonies.

    If you really want to make a difference, not just cause a disruption, join or form a political party, get involved in the election next year, setup a weekly information table in Garema Place where people can choose to stop and listen or just walk past and go about their business.

Joshua Walrath Joshua Walrath 7:53 pm 04 Nov 21

Pointless things:

1. Power at the cost of the future

2. Protests without inconvenience

3. A screen door on a submarine

    Tristan Flynn Tristan Flynn 2:07 pm 06 Nov 21

    Joshua Walrath Even submarines have to come to the surface eventually and when they do... flies.

kenbehrens kenbehrens 7:30 pm 04 Nov 21

Ok nutter activists, if what Australia took to Scotland doesn’t measure up to your expectations, how do you feel about China, Russia and Saudia Arabia. They didn’t even go!

catada catada 6:28 pm 04 Nov 21

A cult, where on did people get that idea from?
And as for workable solutions, there are plenty of politicians, scientists, engineers and businesses with workable solutions solutions already, they have had 30+ years – what we are saying is that it is time for our leaders listen to them rather than destructive profiteering industries like the fossil fuel lobby who put their short term profit before people’s lives.
Extinction Rebellion does suggest a People’s Climate Assembly where everyone gets a say – from factory workers to scientists, to housewives, to tradies, to farmers, everyone. Leaving it to the politicians hasn’t worked.

Anthony Graeme O'hara Anthony Graeme O'hara 6:10 pm 04 Nov 21

The net result of blocking traffic is people burning more fuel by being stuck or driving a longer route to get where they want to go.

If you want change on Climate Action, read up on the various policies offered by political parties, vote smartly and pester them to go through with their plans.

    Megan Taylor Megan Taylor 6:15 pm 04 Nov 21

    Anthony Graeme O'hara been doing that for years. No progress.

    Rich Fallon Rich Fallon 6:35 pm 04 Nov 21

    Megan Taylor then time to make personal choices & enjoy that warm inner glow.

Anna Nicole Anna Nicole 5:49 pm 04 Nov 21

It’s impossible to measure the impact of “climate actions” - from writing to your MP or posting something on Facebook to blocking traffic. But if we do nothing, nothing will change...

To paraphrase David Suzuki, each of us is a drop in the bucket, but with enough drops we can fill any bucket. XR has certainly put the #ClimateEmergency on the front page! 📰🌏⌛️

catsparx catsparx 5:28 pm 04 Nov 21

Here’s the thing – we are running out of time. If transformational social change & the end of fossil fuel dependence doesn’t happen across the next handful of years, human civilisation itself will not endure.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Really crazy and impossible to get your head around, yet this is what the science is telling us, whether we want to believe in it or not.

You’re damn right – blocking a bridge full of traffic is horribly inconvenient, yet as stunts go, it pales in comparison to a government that’s willing to risk the future health and safety of its citizens in exchange for a few more years of dirty money as the fossil fuel industry enters a global death spiral.

Australia’s leaders are not doing their jobs and by standing idly by, we are letting them get away with murder. Literally. Got a suggestion for alternatives to non-violent civil disobedience as a response to the global climate crisis? Something that will make the Morrison Government wake up to embrace new and equitable green energy futures? Great – let’s hear it. I’m all ears.

In the meantime, here’s a story to help put things in perspective:

https://www.vice.com/en/article/xwvgeq/an-incomplete-timeline-of-what-we-tried

James Fellows James Fellows 5:02 pm 04 Nov 21

The RiotACT please ask the protestors which is the best way?

Selena Michelle Selena Michelle 4:33 pm 04 Nov 21

Well your writing about it so I’d have to say yes.

Rusty Baird Rusty Baird 4:18 pm 04 Nov 21

At least it's better than forming a gang of thugs in high viz and punching the police

Michael Gormly Michael Gormly 3:57 pm 04 Nov 21

One thing's for sure, NOT blocking bridges etc achieves nothing when the corridors of power are controlled by big fossil money. Writing to your local member does nothing – it's just seen as 'static' by politicians serving their corporate donors.

    Tristan Flynn Tristan Flynn 2:06 pm 06 Nov 21

    Michael Gormly But it also releases more pollution as the cars are forced to idle, thereby defeating the purpose.

    Mat Barber Mat Barber 2:14 pm 07 Nov 21

    Michael Gormly so punishing the general public for the inaction of the useless Morrison liberal government does what exactly?

Vander Leal Vander Leal 3:43 pm 04 Nov 21

YEAH! Let's protest... but let's do it as unnoticeable as possible!

🤦

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