Extinction Rebellion (XR) are continuing their latest series of protests and civil disobedience in central London to demand drastic action on the climate emergency.

Among them are campaigners with the Richmond chapter of XR, such as climate activist Melanie Nazareth.

The Richmond and Twickenham Times spoke with Melanie recently about XR's aims and how people not involved were reacting to the protests.

Can you describe what's happening at the protests in central London at the moment?

Well we started these protests on Monday (August 23), which was quite an interesting day. The police 'kettled' the demonstration. We put up a big pink table at a junction (in Covent Garden) and the idea was for everyone to come to the table and talk to us. But because the police kettled it, it meant that the public couldn't get to it. That was very disappointing. One of the primary purposes of this week is to do some outreach and talk to the public. So it was good on Tuesday to have a big march and do something similar in Oxford Circus.

On that occasion we managed to talk to a lot of people, and it was very interesting because overwhelmingly the public were very responsive and supportive, and that is not what is being portrayed generally. It's not what you'll hear on the talk shows and so on. But when we have spoken to people it's really evident that people actually know about the climate crisis, and are very worried about it. But there's a sense that they feel helpless and don't know what to do. It was really good to talk about that.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

What's been the most common reaction of people you've spoken with who might not be directly involved in the protests?

We've had quite a few people come up to us and say 'well done, carry on what you're doing'. So clearly they are not part of XR and they are not protesters, but they think it is important that someone is protesting. I think the other interesting take away is that a lot of people are actually worried about what's happening with the climate.

Is that why you got involved in XR?

Yes I've actually been in XR since April 2019. I fell into a rebellion by walking into the protest on Waterloo Bridge and that was when I learnt about what was happening. That's why I joined XR Richmond. And in fact I find it really important to do this sort of thing because it helps me deal with feelings of great anxiety. Because we're not really moving fast enough. It's a very worrying picture, but at least I'm trying to do something about it.

A lot of people including those in authority have said that the UK is going faster than a lot of other G20 countries in decarbonizing its economy. What's your response to that?

I don't think that's actually correct when you dig down. Because what that does is it ignores the fact that we have a lot of embedded carbon in our imports. We import a lot of products from China, and then we complain that the emissions problem is theirs. We've managed to export our carbon emissions, effectively, and they've counted in other countries' production, but what they are doing is coming back to this country in the products that we consume as we become a more service economy. So we need to tackle that. One of the ways of tackling that is the finance sector. But also we are stuck. We've seen the government talk a lot of words but there's very little action...The funding of the fossil fuel economy is equivalent to a small nation. I think around 15 per cent of global emissions are funded through the City of London.

How confident are you that institutions like banks, which are not democratically accountable, are going to be responsive to civil disobedience?

One of the things we are doing next week is moving our protests away from the West End, which have been designed to reach out to the public, and into the City of London. So, in a way, we'll be testing the waters on that. But there are two things that you can do. One is to make an economic impact by being disruptive. The other is to draw public attention to this, to remove the 'social license'. If enough people make a fuss and banks are sufficiently embarrassed, and think it will affect their customer base, banks like Barclays for example who also have a high street presence, they may stop funding projects. The third thing you can do with these actions is to get the government to legislate, to restrict the way that funds can be used. So in order to try and get something concrete on the table this time, we're demanding an end to all new funding of fossil fuel projects. So no new projects should be funded.

Do you think the government are receptive to that demand? The Prime Minister has suggested they might approve the new 'Cambo' North Sea oil and gas project.

This government is very difficult to persuade. It's determined to go it's own way, which has got nothing to do with the climate crisis and all to do with its desire to be re-elected. I think that's a pretty terrible indictment of its moral obligation, particularly in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit which we are hosting. That's one of the reasons why we chose to go into this rebellion this august. We know if the government isn't approaching its resposbilities as host of the COP we're heading for disaster at the summit because no one is going to take them seriously if the host nation has no credibility at all.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

A lot of people in XR have compared what they are doing to former civil rights groups like the suffragettes, but they are quite different in the sense that the suffragettes used political violence at times to further their aims, whereas XR are explicitly non-violent. How useful do you think that aspect of XR — that it is a non-violent group — is to your cause?

The suffragettes weren't generally violent towards people so much as towards property, setting post boxes alight, or cricket pavilions. You can point to Emily Davison throwing herself in front of the King's horse. That's one of the few times they were putting life in jeopardy. Regardless of that, a core principle is sticking to non-violence. We are talking to people who are in a society like ours, who need to know that we are not going to provoke a violent revolution, that we're not going to use violence. We need people to know that so there can be an element of trust and so that they can come on board. It's not something for violent revolutionaries. It's for everyone.

The other thing is that the research suggests there is a much greater likelihood of success if you remain non-violent statistically. The work of Erica Chenoweth, for example, suggests that you are much more likely to succeed if you are non-violent, and that's partly because you bring along more of the population. The other thing is that you are seen to have the moral high ground. From a personal point of view, I would not be part of a movement that espoused violence against people. I'm very impressed about how people are motivated by love, a fierce love of the planet, rather than by a hatred of anything else.

What's the response from Londoners who might have been disrupted by the protests?

I anticipate there will have been people who would have been annoyed. There will have been delayed, their bus journeys and so on. Surprisingly, we've passed drivers who have given us the thumbs up, so clearly there's a level of understanding about why we might be doing this. But other than apologising, saying 'I'm really sorry we are doing this'... If we don't do this nobody takes any notice. The disruption people have experienced for a short while, is nothing compared to what's coming, if we don't do something about this, if we don't get the government and corporations to act. People with their hands on the levers of power have to understand that it's important to act...