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London's Green protesters may have caused disruption - but they could be making history

PUBLISHED: 05:29 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:18 25 April 2019

A demonstrator is arrested during the second day of an Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge in London. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

A demonstrator is arrested during the second day of an Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge in London. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

This week MPs have returned to the House of Commons with the reactions of their constituents to events of the last three months ringing in their ears - and Theresa May will find she only has weeks, if not days, left in Number 10.

Extinction Rebellion protestors lying down inside the Natural History Museum in London. Picture: Mason Boycott-Owen/PA WireExtinction Rebellion protestors lying down inside the Natural History Museum in London. Picture: Mason Boycott-Owen/PA Wire

But actually what we've seen over the last 10 days is that when it all comes down to it, Brexit simply doesn't matter.

It is one of these ephemeral subjects that flickers across the political firmament for a few years, or even a generation, but in the longer term whether we stay or leave the EU doesn't matter at all!

The politics that does matter is being played out on the streets of London as the Extinction Rebellion protesters take up the cudgel that has so shamefully been ignored by our politicians and finally get us thinking about the future of the planet.

Now I do have serious doubts about the tactics they have used at times over the last 10 days – and I feel sympathy for those they have inconvenienced.

What on earth was the point of supergluing yourself to an electric train? Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA WireWhat on earth was the point of supergluing yourself to an electric train? Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

But the fact is the protesters have done more to raise the issue of the way the human race is driving the planet towards irreversible change than politicians have for the last 30 years.

Because while politicians turn claret in the face and look as if they're going to explode over the colour of their passport, they give the impression they couldn't give a damn about whether there's still going to be a planet to live on in 150 years' time!

The problem with Brexit is that while we are in the thick of it, it can seem all encompassing – it's like it must have been during the Corn Law debates of the mid-19th century.

At the time no one in Parliament could discuss anything else, it led to the end of the Tory and Whig Parties and their replacement by Conservatives and Liberals which were similar – but had significant differences.

But now only history nerds have heard about the Corn Laws, and you probably need to be graduate in Victorian History to understand everything that happened. They may have transformed society at the time, but now they are just half a page of an A Level textbook.

That's what Brexit will look like in 2169 – but the impact of what we do, or don't do to protect our planet today (or at least in the next 10 years) is likely to have a profound effect on the future long after we're dead and gone.

David Attenborough's documentary last Thursday was very informative – and was thankfully free of climate change deniers trying to use cod science to discredit the subject that virtually every climatologist on the planet agrees on.

But I suspect it was only watched by those of us with an interest in the subject. For that reason I doubt whether it really provoked any great discussions except among those already concerned.

The Extinction Rebellion protesters are doing that. People are not ignoring them. They are provoking a great deal of vitriol on social media – but they are also provoking some to think about the subject afresh: if some people think it is important enough to superglue themselves to Waterloo Bridge, the issue might be worth taking another look at.

Some of the protesters' targets were wide of the mark. Why on earth superglue yourself to an electric DLR train? Electric trains are just about the cleanest form of powered transport you can get (and an increasing proportion of electricity comes from renewables today).

And if you're trying to embarrass a politician on this subject, why aim at the allotment-loving Jeremy Corbyn? I can think of reasons some protesters might want to chain themselves to his fence, but over climate change? They did make themselves look rather ridiculous.

But the vitriol poured on some protesters has been really nasty. Dame Emma Thompson flew from LA first class to take part in the protests.

Would the flight have gone without her? Yes. Do you use more fuel if you fly First Class? No. Dame Emma could afford the ticket – so what's the problem?

The protesters have made their point now, and perhaps it would be good to give politicians a bit of time to see if they are prepared to take some action.

But would you trust the current bunch of MPs to see beyond the next Brexit vote (or three) to the future of the planet in 150 years' time? I think I can understand why those who took to the streets this month aren't exactly counting on the political classes doing the right thing for the planet.

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