Why I joined XR Harrogate and why peaceful protests are the only way to win climate war

The moment Jess Thompson knew she had to get involved with Extinction Rebellion Harrogate was when she realised her own efforts to recycle and compost weren’t enough in the climate crisis.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 12:04 pm
Updated Friday, 9th October 2020, 12:12 pm

For some, it may have seemed an extreme step but for this Harrogate mother-of-two it was simply the natural thing to do.

Jess said: “Like a lot of people, I’d read a lot about the science of climate change.

"Climate change is the one issue that will effect everyone" - Jess Thompson, member of Extinction Rebellion Harrogate. (Picture Gerard Binks)

“I’d made changes in my life; not using my car, shopping locally, recycling waste.

“But I found myself getting frustrated that, for all the talk, people in power were not doing nearly enough 18 months after a climate crisis was declared.”

Much of the publicity this year about Extinction Rebellion has focused on the disruption caused by this global grassroots movement’s tactics of non-violent direct action with a growing number of public events in London and across the country, including Harrogate.

Amid the heat of political debate some politicians and commentators have even gone as far as to call for the XR movement to be classified by law as “an organised crime group.”

A picture of Extinction Rebellion Harrogate group's protest at the Prince of Wales roundabout in Harrogate earlier in the year. (Picture by Edward Lee).

Harrogate XR member Jess, who works in a charity shop, admitted such claims were hurtful.

She said: “I’ve been involved with several of the actions this year in Harrogate, including The Prince of Wales roundabout, and at the London one in September in support of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.

“It’s heartbreaking when some people call us terrorists.These actions may be disruptive but they are peaceful.

“Beforehand I am a little apprehensive but excited, too. You see such a very diverse group of people involved, from doctors and nurses, solicitors, parents and students to retired folks.

“We are always keen on being well organised and opening up conversations to anyone.

“We even have well-being teams giving out hand sanitisers and face masks.

“It is alarming when we get kettled during a protest and it makes it difficult to safely social distance.

“But if petitions alone would make governments do the right thing to save the planet then that’s what we would be doing.”

XR's tactics may be controversial in some quarters; members glued themselves to the pavement outside the House of Lords during one demonstration this year.

But many of the ideas of groups like Extinction Rebellion Harrogate would appear to have won the day both nationally and closer to home in the Harrogate district itself, at least in theory.

In 2019 North Yorkshire County Council voted unanimously to produce a carbon reduction plan and support the Government’s ambition for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Coun Don Mackenzie, the county council’s executive member for transport, points to the county council’s investment in bus travel and improving air quality.

Also in 2019, Harrogate Borough Council set out the goal of having a net zero-carbon economy in the Harrogate district by 2038.

To that end it set up the Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition, packed with local experts, businesses, volunteers and the public sector working together to promote carbon reduction throughout the district.

Coun Phil Ireland, Harrogate cabinet member for carbon reduction and sustainability, points to a list of policies designed to reduce this district’s carbon footprint.

Coun Ireland said: “Climate change and the impact we’re all having on the planet, is at the forefront of people’s minds and rightly so.

“This needs to be supported at both a national and local level and so we have agreed a carbon reduction strategy with the aim of meeting the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change targets and a final goal of carbon neutrality.”

But there are signs this may have not yet have gone far enough for some, and frustation is building.

The Harrogate Advertiser has learnt that in recent weeks the array of local ‘green’ groups has begun joint discussions on the local situation.

For Jess, as for other memembers of Extinction Rebellion, the time for talking has simply passed.

She said: “We’ve got to do what is legal and what is within our rights. Climate change is the one issue that will effect everyone,” she said. “When you are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other people, normal people, who feel the same way as you, it is an awesome experience.

“But I’m not going to partake in anything illegal. I don’t want to be ‘arrestible’. I’ve got my two kids to worry about.

“XR allows you to do as little or as much as you want.

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