So even one of Just Stop Oil’s wealthy donors is tiring of its classist stunts. Trevor Neilson, a co-founder of the Climate Emergency Fund, which has pumped money into Just Stop Oil, says the eco-irritants’ funereal, road-blocking marches for Mother Earth increasingly come off as ‘disruption for the sake of disruption’. You have ‘working people that are trying to get to their job, get their kid dropped off at school [and] survive a brutal cost-of-living crisis’, he says, and then along comes a ‘pink-haired, tattooed and pierced protester standing in front of their car’. It pisses people off, he said.
It is ‘counterproductive’, says Mr Neilson, to have pink-haired sons and daughters of privilege inconveniencing workers during a ‘brutal’ economic downturn. Again, he’s not wrong. The class-war streak in eco-activism is undeniable. Many Extinction Rebellion types are descendants of money. Writer Harry Mount calls them ‘Econians’, a green twist on ‘Etonians’. They’re the ‘public-school boys and girls who rule the wokerati world’. A survey of 6,000 XR activists who brought London to a halt in April 2019 found they were ‘overwhelmingly middle-class [and] highly educated’. Anyone who walked through London that month will have heard ‘Cut carbon emissions!’ being cried in cut-class tones and understood right away that our great city was under siege by vengeful aristocrats still smarting from the Industrial Revolution.
And yet there’s a problem with Neilson’s critique of JSO: it’s entirely focused on the problem of its style. He’s concerned only with the optics of poshos making life harder for working people. The question of why they do it, what moral fervour drives them to take such objectionable action, is left untouched.That’s because Neilson, like virtually everyone else in the capitalist class, supports JSO’s overall goal, which is to ensure the establishment makes good on its promise to reach Net Zero by 2050, if not sooner. He’s a fellow congregant in JSO’s religion of carbon reduction – it’s only its childish displays of religious zeal he has an issue with.
Neilson is a Californian entrepreneur who’s been throwing money at green groups for years. He’s a founder of i(x) Net Zero, an investment company that says ‘all forms of energy’ (my emphasis) ‘need to be decarbonised’. So he’s at one with the pink-hairs on the need to rein in modernity. It’s the same with the British government. It bemoans JSO’s blocking of the highways, and rushes through punitive laws to deal with it, and yet it shares with the Econians a devotion to Net Zero. Rishi Sunak fashioned an entire new government department called the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. JSO’s street zealots are noisy footsoldiers of a belief system cleaved to by the entire elite. They’re not protesters against government – they’re militant enforcers of the government’s own eco-writs.
It feels like the working classes are caught in a pincer movement. On one side, upper-class fanatics punish them on the streets by blocking their journeys by car; on the other, officialdom punishes them with green energy levies and green fuel taxes and ‘15-minute cities’ and all the rest of it. Sunak is set to reintroduce the green levy on energy bills, which will add up to £170 a year: your penance for daring to benefit from the energy unleashed from earthly fossils. London mayor Sadiq Khan forges ahead with ULEZ – his Ultra Low Emission Zone – which will force Londoners to stump up £12.50 a day for the eco-crime of driving. At least JSO brats only hold motorists up for a few hours – Khan deploys the weapon of severe economic pressure to make motorists think twice about driving at all.
The political class’s war on the car confirms that XR-style hostility to modern life is now rife in establishment circles. I bow to no one in my opposition to the eco-privileged who clog up the highways to send a stern message to what they view as the low-information polluting masses. But these people are small fry in the Net Zero religion. They’re the back-whipping outliers of the cult, not its priests. Edred and Tilly might stop your car for two hours but it’s officialdom that is erecting bollards, putting up spycams and introducing stiff eco-taxes to discourage ‘unnecessary journeys by car’ in the glorious name of the new god: Net Zero.
Trevor Neilson says JSO’s irritating behaviour might put people off from ‘join[ing] the movement’. Here’s hoping. For it is ‘the movement’, not its most grating ambassadors, that is the true problem. Net Zero has been institutionalised by governments across the West. They’ve sworn to achieve the holy state of carbon neutrality by 2050 or 2040. And the impact of their eco-adoration on the lives of working-class people has been disastrous. The Net Zero drive is causing the loss of farming jobs, dents in the pay packets of truckers, rising energy bills, rising fuel costs, the end of cheap flights. As Ross Clark says, the ‘uncosted fantasy’ of severe carbon reduction will leave us ‘poorer, colder and hungrier’. Well, not all of us. Mr Neilson will be okay. And Edred and Tilly.
Net Zero is best seen as the policy expression of the self-loathing of the elites, of late capitalism’s turn against itself. The neo-aristocratic disdain for the gains and wonders of industrial society might enlarge the sense of virtue of those who rule us, who get to pose as saviours of the planet, but it violently shrinks the prospects of working people and the global poor. Alongside the valiant scaffolders ejecting eco-zealots from the roads, we need more people willing to demand the ejection of Net Zero in its entirety from government policymaking. Growth and freedom are what will deliver us from the current crisis, not fear, hysteria and cruel reversals in the fortunes of working people.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer. This article was first published HERE