Crackdown on Climate Protests a Growing Trend

Protesters blocking the entrance at a mining conference in Melbourne, Australia, last week.Credit…William West/Agence France-Presse


It’s nearly impossible to have lived in a major city across the world this past year without having witnessed a climate protest. Extinction Rebellion protestors who have blocked traffic as well as mass transit in London were at first supported by the public but soon came to be jeered, and physically dragged off of the trains they had blocked by angry commuters and law enforcement officers.

As more and more cities and federal governments crackdown on protests, we’re left grappling not just with free speech issues but about whether alarmed citizens should be prevented from pleading with the public to do something about the greatest threat facing humanity.

Blunder from Down Under: Australia’s government is very pro-coal and vigorously defends the industry which is at odds with the climate action most Australians want. As the New York Times explained, a surge of climate activism is flooding Australia as the country falls behind on its promise to reduce emissions — effectively ignoring the Paris Agreement the Trump administration just abandoned. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded with a threat that’s alarmed scientists and free speech advocates, arguing that the government should outlaw “indulgent and selfish” efforts by environmental groups to rattle businesses with rallies and boycotts. In addition, Morrison is also working to prevent boycotts of carbon-intensive industries like airlines.

Australia’s police have been following Morrison’s lead with unethical behavior. As the Guardian explained,

Victoria police have expressed “extreme disappointment” at the behaviour of two officers involved in policing climate change protests in Melbourne last week, after one was photographed with a sticker on his body camera and another was discovered to have posted “inappropriate memes” on his social media.

Why This Matters: In the U.S., we saw how the Trump administration wanted to seek a criminal crackdown on pipeline protests as a way to appease energy-producing states that have stymied climate action. As an almost exact mirror to the protestor crackdown happening in Australia, a fossil fuel industry-friendly leader is trampling on the rights of citizens in favor of aiding corporate interests. That should make us all cringe.

Here’s The Thing: Peaceful protest is our right and most climate protestors are doing exactly this. On the other hand, the ones who are blocking commutes have to contend with headlines like these which paint activists as out-of-touch zealots. Those headlines may be shaping public perception more than the message of climate strikes and while unfair, they should force a conversation about what effective protest looks like in 2019.  My (Miro’s) vote is that more boycotts are needed. Americans will usually always choose cost-effectiveness over altruism but corporations with high emissions or those who donate to climate-denying politicians will pay attention quickly if their bottom lines are being affected.

Go Deeper: “Climate strike” named 2019 word of the year by Collins Dictionary.

Go Even Deeper: Actress Jane Fonda has made it her mission to get arrested protesting for climate action each week. So far she’s been pretty successful but listen to her interview with CNN’s Don Lemon about how 2019’s climate strikes are different from Vietnam War protests that she witnessed.

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