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  • Writer's pictureRepublic Relations

How long will the ‘uncooperative crusties’ hold our attention

Climate change protestors have been disrupting traffic and day to day life in Central London for several days now. During that time, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group have featured heavily in the press - but how long will they be able to hold our attention?

The group argue that their tactics – which include chaining themselves to, or underneath vehicles – are similar to those of protestors such as the Suffragettes – and if it worked for them it can work now. Boris Johnson however, has described them as uncooperative crusties, the suffragettes were called far worse.

The womens’ suffrage movement in the UK began in 1903, had some success in 1918 but it was not until 1928 that women gained electoral equality with men – so women had to fight for 25 years to reach their end game. Extinction Rebellion are on a much tighter deadline – they want the government to reduce greenhouse gas emission to net zero by 2025, something that many, including climate specialists, say is an impossible objective.

Timing is crucial

The timing of any successful campaign is crucial. Parliament (also known as that utterly disgraceful bunch of self-serving shits) is in recess, and so it’s been a quiet news week, ideal if you want to secure media coverage. Good imagery is crucial – protestors gluing themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s fence caught my attention!

And, of course the climate change issue has been front of mind thanks to Greta Thunbergs impassioned speech at the 2019 UN Climate action summit, the school strikes and protests and programmes such as Our Planet. Certainly, few of us (unless your name is Donald) can fail to recognise that action does have to be taken if we are to stop the damage being done to the planet.

Public Opinion

Currently therefore, there is some sympathy and support for Extinction Rebellion – in fact a YouGov poll said that despite being most affected by the actions of the group, 40% of Londoners support them. However, there is a growing backlash and the same poll suggests that 52% oppose their action.

Any stunt that causes inconvenience to the public has a short shelf life. Yes, we agree with your sentiments – but if you keep making me late for work – I will change my mind and politely suggest you go forth and protest somewhere else. NIMBYism still exists.

PR Strategy not PR Stunts

To date Extinction Rebellion has been successful in raising the profile of the group itself and no doubt capturing the imagination of new members. It has also kept the issue of climate change front of mind. However, most experts in the field suggest their objective won’t be met – it’s impossible to do and so where do they go next?

An XR protest every week in every city won’t get the same headlines and risks a backlash from members of the public. The protests have been effective PR stunts but the group now needs an effective long term strategy that can articulated by a charismatic leader – something else that for now seems to be absent. I wish them well.

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