Environmental Protests – Business as Usual?

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a wave of intensifying environmental protests across the UK and around the world. Most recently, efforts have been focused at London’s financial sector, protesters gluing themselves across bank entrances in a stance against ‘the corrosive impacts of the financial sector on the world’. In the UK over 1000 demonstrators have been arrested since the 15th of April and more than 10,000 officers have been deployed. But are these protests triggering a response from politicians and businesses?

Extinction Rebellion, the group behind the latest wave of protests, propose three actions to be adopted by the government in order to save the environment. The first is to admit to the scale of the global environmental crisis; the second is for the UK to legally bind themselves to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2025, and their final demand is for the government to put together a Citizen’s Assembly, whose role would be to help ensure that the goals are achieved.

Critics believe that achieving zero carbon emissions in just 6 years is unrealistic. And whilst the government has already been discussing a plan to aim for net zero emissions, their deadline had been pencilled-in for 2050. However optimistic you may be, it’s hard to believe that the government could achieve a goal 25 years ahead of their original schedule.

It therefore seems that if the UK is to get anywhere close to meeting the demands of environmental pressure groups, then the issue of climate change will need to be attacked from all angles. That is to say, businesses will have to start pulling their weight in the struggle to move towards a green economy. 

Last week, 21 business executives told The Times newspaper that they backed Extinction Rebellion’s call to action on climate change, including support from Unilever, The Body Shop and green energy providers Ecotricity. Extinction Rebellion have recognised the need to reach out to businesses and have set up a new platform named XR Business, which they hope will help focus business minds into making more environmentally conscious decisions, but ultimately many businesses are unlikely to make major changes if these changes will eat into their profits.

16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg recently met with all major political party leaders in the UK, except Theresa May, who sent Michael Gove on her behalf. Many of those supporting the protests say that all too often environmental issues are swept aside, in favour of short-term political and economic gains. It’s fair to say the Prime Minister’s absence hasn’t helped to counter this view.

What is clear is that the climate crisis isn’t going to be solved by politicians and policies alone, neither will it be solved by a handful of businesses. A more fundamental change in the way we view the environment is needed. Consumers will need to become more conscious in the way they shop and in doing so businesses will follow suit. Extinction Rebellion’s demands may be a little ambitious, but what’s important is they’ve got people talking about climate change again. We can only hope that once the noise of the protests dies down, we don’t all forget the cause for change. After all, there is only so long that the environment can withstand ‘business as usual’.