Confidence in Extinction Rebellion ‘dented’ by London protests says Milton Keynes councillor

Criticism was turned onto climate rebels Extinction Rebellion (XR) at the first meeting of a special council committee that has been set up to see what Milton Keynes can do to save the planet.

Monday, 21st October 2019, 4:32 pm

The committee met at Milton Keynes Council on Thursday, the same day as climate protesters got on top of a London Underground train and were set upon by angry passengers.

“What I saw on the news with Extinction Rebellion, I thought was utterly appalling,” said Cllr Ric Brackenbury (Lib Dem, Campbell Park & Old Woughton). “It really dented my confidence in Extinction Rebellion as an ally and a group we can work with and trust.

He urged the group to “bring people along with you” instead of disrupting lives.

The Climate Change Task and Finish Group in action

But Milton Keynes XR member Jo de Montgros, who was appearing as a witness on the Climate Change Task & Finish Group, said the group is a movement without any hierarchy directing its actions.

“It has a lot of people who believe passionately in this topic,” she said. “They’ve been putting themselves on the front line over the last couple of weeks, and a lot of them feel very desperate and beaten, physically beaten in some cases.

“The people who took part in that action decided to act alone, which is why they turned up without the support networks,” she said.

“I think there is a lot of soul-searching and regret in the XR community and it needs to go back and look at how such things can be prevented in the future.

“I think it’s very sad if the outcome has been to turn people away from the movement because the majority of the movement is made up of people who are trying to work together.

“I very much hope that the council will still reach out and work with us.”

Cllr Brackenbury added: “I do hope they can prove they are better than we saw. In political parties we know that whenever somebody does something daft, you may think it’s stupid. But if you are a representative of that group, whether it is sanctioned by the majority or not, the association is there.

“Is it about creating attention by any means possible or is it about that journey of bringing people along with you?”

Cllr Brackenbury’s Lib Dem colleague Paul Trendall (also Campbell Park & Old Woughton), said he thought XR was “bombarding people with bad news” and creating an “atmosphere of despair.”

“We do need to put some good news into the mix. During rationing in war they would say here’s your four ounces of butter but we are winning the war.

“Progress has not been fast enough, but we have made progress.

“You need to give people a bit of good news every now and again, then people would have a lot more respect for what you do.”

But Jo de Montgros said people must “tell the truth” about the climate emergency. “We haven’t yet started to put in place the actions we need.”

The committee also heard from a range of others, including the MK Youth Cabinet, who have produced their own lesson climate change lesson plan for local schools.

Open University Psychology lecturer Dr Volker Patent said that the council needed to consider the way it communicates to the public on the issue, to get people to take action.

“Describing the climate breakdown as a “war”, rather than a race against time increases conservation behaviour,” he said. “We should call it a climate breakdown, rather than climate change.”

Expert witness Catherine Rose, the Green Party’s would-be Milton Keynes North MP, detailed a long list of policies that the council could adopt to be environmentally friendlier.

Catherine Rose, and Jane Whild, of the Women’s Equality Party, criticised the committee for having five men and only one woman as members.

Catherine Rose said: “Diversity isn’t a strong point among you. That’s not to criticise the individual men here for your skills and abilities, I love you all!”

Committee chairman, Cllr David Hopkins (Cons, Danesborough & Walton) said the committee was “determined to deliver” a series of recommendations.

It is believed that the council can do more on transport, planning, waste and in the way it works to cut down on greenhouse gases. They plan to produce a report by March, 2020, which could then go to the ruling cabinet.

Future meetings of the committee are due to consider issues of transport, planning and housing, and sustainable energy before it considered its findings and finalises a report.