Insulate Britain: A proportionate reaction to an extreme situation

There is no need for a moderate flank of Insulate Britain, says Sarah Lunnon, former Green Councillor for Gloucestershire County, as the looming effects of the climate crisis are far from moderate.

Cars in traffic jam
Cars in traffic jam
Sarah Lunnon

As a response to the Insulate Britain campaign, Dr Rupert Read has called for a moderate flank. He suggests that the people currently facing contempt of court proceedings, or actual imprisonment, for disrupting the Great British public, steal insulation and randomly install it in the homes of the deserving poor. There is much to unpick here. Insulation and retrofit are skilled jobs. What is needed is for every home to be insulated, the wealthy having some of the greatest heating emissions. We need a nationwide mobilisation backed by the state, not a bunch of well-intentioned Robin Hood insulators. 

There is also the argument that disrupting and annoying the public is counter-productive and fails to achieve results. It cannot be said loudly enough – campaigns of mass nonviolent civil disobedience are not popular, they are either physically, economically or emotionally disruptive. By their very nature, they are not moderate. They seek to address the roots of an issue and are thus radical. It is only with historic distance that those who acted are accepted as being right and justified; we all look back and think, ‘If I had been born a British woman in the early 1900s, I would have been a suffragette’. By today’s standards, the suffragettes were not moderate. They would not be viewed as peaceful demonstrators – they bombed homes and smashed windows, they spat at police officers and horsewhipped politicians. They were fighting for political representation. Now, we are fighting for humanity and for the numerous lifeforms we share this world with. Just how moderate should we be as we face the loss of ordered civil society? For right now, that is how this ends. This was the outcome negotiated at COP26 – what is moderate about that? 

That's the loss of every ambulance, every school, our food supply and law and order gone…  it will impact everyone and everything you love. Every right and freedom that has been struggled and worked for is going to be lost, every cherished place, every culture and every tradition gone. Even the Ministry of Defence recognises that, as we head above 2C, we face increased civil and international conflict over diminishing natural resources. That's war over food and water, and it is only a wartime mobilisation that can now reduce the catastrophe we face. Yet, the public will only accept such a sacrifice when they understand and connect with the enormity of the tragedy. To refuse to communicate this honestly is a betrayal of past, present and future generations.

Insulate Britain, in blocking the nation’s motorways, are conveying the severity of our current situation – it is so extreme that the response of ordinary people is to sit in the road and disrupt the everyday life of the nation – and demonstrating the implicit violence of our current system by bringing it into the open as explicit violence, the purpose of nonviolent action, as Martin L King and Gandhi knew. Our Government is engaged in a crime against humanity, destroying this country with full knowledge of what it is doing. Insulate Britain has shown that it doesn’t even intend to start insulating our homes.  

Instead, it imprisons those that act against it.

And what are the facts of our current situation? Well, leaving aside the ecological emergency which is causing the widespread and rapid extinction of life on earth, we are approaching 420 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. The danger point was going over 350 ppm. As a result, global temperature has now risen 1.25C, above the pre-industrial average, and will pass 1.5C by 2030.

Further temperature increases are locked in. The carbon lag – the time it takes between putting the gas into the air and creating higher temperatures – means present temperatures will increase by 0.8C. Global dimming – the heating effect of the reduction in pollution due to stopping the burning of fossil fuels – adds another 0.8C.  The Arctic blue ocean event – referring to the ice totally melting in the late summer, estimated to occur around 2030-35 – adds another 0.4C. These figures come from peer-reviewed academic literature, the gold standard of scientific knowledge. Those are the facts. Let’s do the maths – 3.5C is locked in, even before we factor in the addition of human emissions after 2030, or the other 60 odd positive feedback mechanisms mentioned in the literature, including the dieback of the Amazon, exponentially increasing forest fires, and methane release from permafrost. 

At 2C, a thousand million people will live in areas rendered uninhabitable due to extreme heat. A global average of 2C will mean average temperatures rises of up to 7C inland, and over 15C on a ‘hot’ day. Around a billion people will become refugees. A billion refugees. A hundred Syrias in the course of a decade. At 3C, 20 per cent of the earth’s land surface will become uninhabitable and two billion will be on the move. At 4C, billions will have starved to death. 

All of this was set to happen because, during the ‘crucial debate’ of the last 20 years, the political class refused to stand up to corporate special interests, and the environmental movement didn’t have the guts to tell the public the brutal truth.

Sir David King sums up well where we are now: ‘We have to move quickly. What we do, I believe, in the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity’. What he means is, unless there is a massive reduction in emissions and massive investment in geoengineering, billions will face famine. This, then, is the ‘greater disruption’.  Insulate Britain supporters are in prison or sitting on the motorway, delaying people getting to work in the morning by a few hours, to get the Government to pay attention – to stop promising and act. 

And one of our leading Green philosophers is calling for a moderate flank. I have another suggestion – organised, nonviolent civil resistance. This means putting our bodies on the line; this means standing by Insulate Britain on the roads and in the jails. It’s time for the Greens to choose – are we bystanders complicit in climate genocide, or do we have the courage to face facts and resist?

This time will not come again.