Insulate Britain, the environmental activist group, has gathered attention over recent months following a series of high-profile protests blocking major roads.
Since September 13, demonstrations have taken place on busy motorways including the M25 and A20, which were described as “incredibly dangerous” and “unpredictable” by National Highways.
Members are demanding action from the government on home insulation to cut domestic energy waste, a key contributor to the climate crisis.
Liam Norton, a member of Insulate Britain, took questions from Independent readers about the group’s controversial tactics:
Q: How does blocking roads lead to better insulation for homes?
The people you stopped are neither in favour of nor causing badly-insulated homes. The government who could provide funding for better insulation aren’t being affected by your roadblocks.
So what’s the mechanism that gets us from angry travellers to government providing funds?
A: Well social movement theory is pretty clear that if disruption goes on for too long people will start to ask questions of the government. They will be asking for the police and the courts to be tough and to imprison them.
The key is to have a demand that is so reasonable it would backfire if they were sent to prison. The government know this so they have allowed the disruption to continue. The problem with that is that if the group continue, like IB have, then you allow the constant embarrassment of the unmet, reasonable demand to continue in the media. Before COP 26 this has also been magnified.
We may not have enough numbers to worry the government at the minute, but that will change when people realise their kid’s futures are being sold out. So when we get the numbers there will be a tipping point where the government will negotiate. This is not protest, this is resistance and it is the only way to demand change from entrenched power.
Q: Has everyone in your group done what you are asking us all to do and insulate your homes?
Or like the guy on TV that stormed off when questioned is it all "we want free stuff".
A: I’m the guy that stormed off!
What we are saying is the country needs to come together to fight an existential threat as we have done many times in the past.
If we do not create a national programme to decarbonise our homes then this country we love will be destroyed, that’s just the reality of the physics. So, like the existential threats of the past we should borrow the money and pay it back later as we simply can’t afford not to do it.
The young now will be furious in the future if the older generation today betray them and will simply remove pensions in order to pay for the flood defences etc as tough decisions will need to be made.
Q: What is the correct, or optimum, level of CO2 in the atmosphere? I’m not interested in where it comes from, I just want to know what the right level ought to be.
A:Well for 10,000 years carbon levels were pretty stable at 280 parts per million (ppm) which allowed farming and consequently civilisation to grow. Since the industrial revolution they have skyrocketed to around 418 ppm.
Homosapiens have never before lived through CO2 levels that we currently experience. Sea levels were many metres higher the last time we saw similar levels. What we are doing is incredibly dangerous.
Q: I really struggle to understand why you feel that disrupting the day to day lives of ordinary people is justified. People are trying to return to some kind of normalcy after unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic, with fragile mental health and a reduced sense of control over their own lives.
To stop someone being able to simply get to work, school, to see a loved one seems unnecessarily cruel to me, let alone disrupting the work of the emergency services. Why do you think this is going to get you support from ordinary people?
A: Ordinary people with the least power are more powerful than they could ever imagine if they have the imagination to see themselves as historical actors. Insulate Britain have changed the national conversation with less than 150 people.
In terms of people’s sanity I don’t really accept a few hours in a traffic jam is going to break a large proportion of people into breakdown. We must remember that we are looking at the deaths of millions if not billions of people within a generation or two.
What we are doing is entirely proportionate in terms of what the reality is. This is a binary choice. Either you are in resistance against evil or you are complicit in it.