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Do the ends ever justify the means?

July 17, 2019

Cast your minds back to March of this year; a bright pink boat and hundreds of flip flop wearing folk had set up camp in the middle of Oxford Street in London. But they weren’t camping out for sales. They were there in the name of saving the planet. This was of course the Extinction Rebellion protests that brought the capital to a standstill.

Supporters of the movement praised their commitment; cab drivers and delivery drivers bemoaned the nuisance they had caused; and those who were indifferent questioned if they were approaching the matter in the best possible way.

Fast forward to mid-July and the Extinction Rebellion protests have returned. There is again a strong presence in London, but protests have also spilled beyond the capital into Bristol, Leeds, Cardiff and Glasgow.

The disruption poses one major question: do the ends ever justify the means?

A proportionate response to inaction

Climate change is the single biggest threat that faces humanity. It does not discriminate. No matter where you were born or now live, if humans continue to destroy the planet at such an unprecedented rate you will be affected. The Extinction Rebellion movement may have only been founded in 2018 but calls for environmentally responsible government policy have been heard for decades. Al Gore’s ‘signature issue’ for his 2000 US presidential campaign was protecting the environment.

So, when governments across the world persistently ignore the cries of activists and conservationists, perhaps a little disruption to daily life is the only way to get noticed.

Peaceful above all else

It’s important to remember the nature of these protests. Demonstrators against climate change aren’t posing a threat of violence nor are they intimidating members of the public. They are fighting (in the most figurative sense of the word) for what they believe in. Extra traffic may feel like the worst thing in the world after a long day at work but it’s a small price to pay for necessary exposure to such a pressing issue.

The message is clear

The chief goal of any protest has to be to raise awareness. Whether you agree with their methods or not, you know why they’re protesting and what their ideal outcomes are. This is the strongest argument for the ends in fact justifying the means.

In spite of this, to suggest that there are no downsides to these protests wouldn’t be true…

Stretched resources stretched even further

It’s well documented that police numbers have been in steady decline over the last decade. A combination of government cuts and dwindling applicants have led to a shrinking of police presence on our streets. It’s then reasonable to expect there to be public outcry when swarms of police vans and officers are parked up beside the road. When regional police forces are advising locals not to report lesser crimes because they don’t have the resources to deal with them, the sight of officers doing nothing will be a hard one to swallow.

Their message alienates

The language and tactics a movement choose to deploy can be the difference between momentum gained and being dismissed completely. While the language and tactics will resonate with those already concerned about the environment, it does little to be inclusive of those on the opposing side or sitting on the fence. Extinction Rebellion would argue that if their message alienates someone on the basis of semantics or methodology then they weren’t likely to get on board with the message in the first place.

Disruption to working people

As a creative marketing agency, we know the effectiveness of being a disruptor; it can get you noticed and unsettle a monopoly held by a more established competitor. The Leeds ER protest is taking place on Victoria Bridge. It’s a site strategically chosen to draw attention to the complicity of financial institutions in the climate change debate. However, the impact of their presence will not only be felt by those in finance. This will affect commuters, cab drivers and delivery drivers to name a few. Their inability to do their job could be incredibly costly to them.

There is no black and white answer to the question of: do the ends ever justify the means? The only conclusion that can be drawn is that future protests will be scheduled if the UK government continue a campaign of inaction.

Do the ends ever justify the means? Are the Extinction Rebellion protests a proportionate response to an issue that will seal the fate of future generations? Or are protestors employing the wrong methods to communicate their message? Tweet us @otbtweeter with your thoughts.