Members of Extinction Rebellion Scotland would probably point to yesterday’s front page of this newspaper as all the justification they need for mounting Monday’s protest when they blocked off Lothian Road to traffic during the rush hour.
They would argue that the climate crisis is so grave that such tactics are necessary to keep this issue to the forefront of political decision-making and that politicians have been dragging their feet for so long that direct action of this kind is a weapon in their armoury that they have to use.
The fact that they tied up much-needed police resources in the Capital and disrupted traffic and pedestrians alike would be regarded as a price worth paying and they have promised more of the same for the rest of the week.
That the subject has made front page news may be welcomed by the protestors but the reaction from the public has been mixed and the column inches in newspapers have been largely confined to the waste of police resources and traffic tailbacks rather than the issue itself.
I agree that some politicians have been burying their heads in the sand and are guilty of complacency while others fly in the face of scientific opinion and deny the very existence of climate change. Campaigns that highlight the issue, harness public opinion and force politicians to take action now are to be commended but it is important that the message is not lost and that the tactics do not become the focus of attention rather than the potential environmental catastrophe that awaits us.
The amount of carbon dioxide is now higher than any time in the last 800,000 years and the Earth’s average temperature is increasing at an alarming rate (according to Nasa’s Earth Observatory) and the WWF predicts that the current pace of global average temperature rise puts half of all plants and animals at risk of extinction.
The oceans are getting hotter and much more acidic. CO2 emissions are by far the largest cause of global warming. Methane emissions are the second largest cause of warming and they are also rising.
Since 1950, virtually all the temperature rise has been the result of human activities, with natural forces having caused virtually none. The numbers of hot days and nights are increasing, permafrost is thawing, glaciers are melting, ice sheets are thinning and Arctic sea ice is disappearing. Heatwaves will last longer and occur more often with more heavy rainstorms and snowstorms becoming more intense and frequent. The list goes on and on.
It has been reported that to avoid the impending environmental crisis the world should keep global warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. At the present rate however, without decisive political action the temperature is more likely to rise by 4C by 2100.
That governmental intervention is required – along with much more improved technical solutions if the crisis is to be averted – is a given and environmental campaigners have vowed to keep pressing for political action but they have to be careful and keep public opinion on their side.
It is obvious that nobody would be foolish enough to deny the crisis exists just because they deplore some of the tactics deployed by campaign groups such as Extinction Rebellion – but will more disruption in the city’s streets further their cause or detract from it? Time will tell.