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How Extinction Rebellion can make climate change successful without antagonizing the public

How Extinction Rebellion can make climate change successful without antagonizing the public

An Extinction Rebellion poster reading 'Climate change = Mass murder'

Extinction Rebellion (XR), an environmental activist group, recently released its latest report. 2022 strategyIt appears that the organization is planning to reduce public anger this year in order to fight the climate crisis.

Last year, XR-led protests were in central LondonAnd All across the UKThis was the beginning. DisruptionArrests and Prosecutions. XR hopes to engage the public based upon mutual understanding in 2022.

It’s also doubling down on highlighting the need to end the fossil fuel economy. This includes stopping fossil fuel investmentsStopping new oil and gas production licensing and stopping subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

Both are difficult. Both are inherently interrelated. Many people still see fossil fuels as a threat to their health. indispensableessential for their daily existence and powering their homes and transporting people around. Demanding that governments simply turn off the “carbon tap” may produce the same antagonism that XR wishes to move away from.

XR could achieve both of these goals if it focuses less on putting pressure on governments to end fossil fuel economies and more on stigmatizing fossil fuel industries.

Our research shows that stigmatisationThis has already severely harmed fossil fuel industry. Just consider the success of the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has resulted in over 1,500 institutions – with assets of almost £30 trillion – committing to divest from fossil fuels since 2012. This movement was even mentioned by the fossil fuel company Peabody EnergyWhen it filed bankruptcy.

The same goes for governments. NorwayAnd Ireland, who’ve proposed laws banning investing public funds into fossil fuels, have highlighted the divestment movement as their motivation.

The divestment movement’s end goal is very similar to XR’s – to end the use of fossil fuels – but it aims to do so primarily by convincing the public that the fossil fuel industry is bad. This could be a better approach for XR.

Research has detailedly shown how corporations can be denigrated. Examples include the successful shaming industries such as tobacco, Weapons, cannabis, pornographyAnd Mass tourism. We’ve drawn three main principles from this research that XR could use.

A good source

To attack a corporation, group or industry, one must view them as moral or good. This is a difficult decision for XR, who has always been proud of being a “good” organization. Not liked.

An Extinction Rebellion poster reading 'Climate change = Mass murder'
Much of XR’s campaign imagery features links to death and destruction.
David Holt/Wikimedia

Not only are XR’s actions controversial, but its language is also often negative. XR is often associated with images Death related, such as the skulls featured prominently in its campaigns.

To change this, XR needs to connect with the public emotionally: preferably through associating itself to historic moral and civic struggles. XR is a great example of this. suffragette movement. It would benefit its cause by highlighting connections between itself, and women who fought against oppression.

Our researchIt has been shown that climate activists can increase their self-esteem by demonstrating support for their cause through civil rights fighters. Bill McKibben was a leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement and was also associated with student activists fighting for Desmond Tutu. Writing:

[Fossil fuel companies] are rogues … students know all this – they understand the grave importance of this battle. They know that Desmond Tutu, a hero of the past, has risen to the occasion.

A “bad” target

Stigmatisation campaigns must clearly frame the targets as having fundamental flaws that are almost impossible to eradicate. Instead of associating itself with negative imagery, XR’s targets should be intrinsically linked to at least one of what we call the four Ds – destruction, disease, deception and death.

Our study of fossil fuelA student activist who advocated divestment explained the importance of correctly assigning blame.

People need someone to blame, such as an enemy. It’s the fossil fuel industry … It’s very important that people don’t think it’s their fault. If they do, they won’t want to put up a fight. They will be able to look at themselves and decide that they should stop driving and recycle more. This is … total nonsense.

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Language has the power to change the world

Direct, non-violent action to encourage policy change won’t be enough to dismantle the fossil fuel industry’s grip. Instead, XR activists can draw from widely understood negative associations to change people’s perception of the fossil fuel industry from a provider of energy needs to a deviant destroyer of the planet.

Protesters against fossil fuel use outside the White House
Protests against fossil fuel industry have been framed as dangerous and moral., CC BY -NC – SA

The most powerful linguistic device for creating stigmatising associations is Analogie. Analogies – such as “her eyes are as blue as the sea” – work by making the unfamiliar familiar, by linking an unknown concept (the eyes of someone you’ve never met) to a well-known one (the colour of the sea).

Our studyIt was found that climate activists used analogies to compare fossil fuel industries with the tobacco industry.

Tobacco companies and fossil fuel companies … both sell highly dangerous products. The campaigns that have stigmatized smoking, particularly in the US, and in Europe, have done the hard work for us. We all know smoking is a disgusting habit, so why isn’t burning fossil fuels? It’s a no-brainer.

This comparison tarnishes the fossil-fuel industry with stigma tied to the tobacco sector: namely, their products cause disease or death, and the fossil fuels business knows this just as tobacco. HarmonizationTheir products are so manipulative that they force the public to buy them.

Overall, XR’s 2022 strategy reflects a turning point for the organisation. However, maintaining previous tactics – mass disruption and civil disobedience – risks rekindling antagonism. Instead, XR should focus on convincing the public that fossil fuels are as deadly as tobacco.

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