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Insulate Britain: Be Impossible, Demand the Realistic

Charlie Waterhouse, a member of Extinction Rebellion’s media team, sets out why he believes the actions of Insulate Britain should be praised not demonised

An Insulate Britain protest action on 20 September 2021. Photo: Jeff Gilbert/Alamy

Insulate BritainBe Impossible, Demand the Realistic

Charlie Waterhouse, a member of Extinction Rebellion’s media team, sets out why he believes the actions of Insulate Britain should be praised not demonised

When the students of the Paris Uprising in 1968 graffitied the French capital with ‘Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible!’ who would’ve thought that it would be 53 years later, on the other side of the Channel, that this most imaginative revolutionary call to action would meet its prosaic alter ego?

For what is Insulate Britain if not the manifestation of an equally baffling position: Be Impossible, Demand the Realistic?

The group’s continuing actions are the perfect reaction to the ridiculous position in which humanity finds itself in 2021. Like a three year-old repeatedly told to not touch the fire, our species seems inexplicably drawn to find out what the end of the world feels like. And, like Extinction Rebellion before it, Insulate Britain appears destined to be the latest in a line of non-violent civil disobedience movements demonised for daring to do something about our society’s collective myopia when it comes to the climate and ecological crisis facing us.

Insulate Britain offers a perfect dilemma. For when Middle Britain is presented with the image of retired doctors, electricians, councillors, nurses and clergy sat on a soggy motorway slip-road, clasping cheap vinyl banners and tubes of glue, asking for a painfully dull demand of insulating every home to cut emissions, what could be more obvious than insulating people’s homes? What could be more logical than suggesting that we must actually attempt to do something about the climate crisis? What could be more sensible than trying to do something that will also create many decent jobs and save people money?

Does it not seem obvious to politicians that drastic action of this kind was coming? Petitions, marches, demonstrations, writing letters, talking to MPs, standing outside Parliament doesn’t work. Politicians don’t listen, companies don’t care, and populations don’t have a clue about how change really happens – because change only ever happens to them, not with them.

And what do we think is going to happen next, as floods and famines and fires increase? As more and more people across the world are displaced by the crises unfolding? As supply chains and labour and food starts to fail? As all of this causes much more disruption than protestors on motorways?

I believe that both Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion are reasonable responses to what’s going on. No one should be surprised they exist or be angry with them for not always being polite about it. Because what is more reasonable than recognising harm and attempting to raise the alarm, and shouting increasingly loudly when that alarm is ignored?

Just because we don’t want to think about it, does not mean it’s not going to happen. Just because people want to Keep Calm And Carry On, doesn’t mean it will go away.

What happens next is catastrophic. What happens next is war over food, water and desperate attempts to find safety.

What happens next is also eloquently laid out in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic The Ministry For The Future. A wet bulb event in India means millions of deaths and a populace that realises it is being abandoned turns to terrorism. High-emitting industries, such as flying and international shipping, are ended almost overnight.

That is why Extinction Rebellion has tactics people don’t agree with. Why Insulate Britain is so repetitively annoying. Because both groups have done the graft of travelling to the future and deciding that an alternative should be on offer, believing it is better to try and solve things through non-violence because the alternative is too terrible.

Stopping traffic is nothing. Roadworks stop traffic every day, as do accidents. Floods are now stopping traffic regularly. The response from the Government and right-wing media shows us that we are doing the right thing. Prince Charles’ intervention, saying that he understands people’s frustrations as well as the problems tells us we are doing the right thing. 

And now is the time to do the right thing; to get off the fence; to really face up to what is happening. 

The Government has a choice: it can actually do something about the crises we face or it can stick its head in the sand, criminalising those who are clamouring for change along the way.

And you have a choice too: keep your fingers tightly crossed, say your prayers, and hope against hope that someone else will come and save you. Or you can do your bit and be the ancestor your future family desperately needs. 

“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary,” observes the author Ursula K Le Guin.

It will take fewer of us than we think to turn ‘annoying’ into ‘revolutionary’; imagination into paradigm shift. But tomorrow is too late. Be Impossible, Demand the Realistic.

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