As tensions rise in Hong Kong and the protests become ever more violent, some have begun wavering in their support for the umbrella-wielding protestors. Closer to home Australians have suffered from the aggressive, violent, and destructive behaviour of the young Extinction Rebellion activists. But the protestors in Hong Kong are fighting to defend democracy against a Chinese Communist Party-backed government. They aren’t fighting to change the behaviour of the people around them.
In reality, the two groups couldn’t be further apart. While Hong Kong protestors move aside to allow traffic to pass them, the petulant Extinction Rebellion activists proudly disrupt traffic and close roads, even around hospitals.
Hong Kong faces an existential threat to its identity and democracy thanks to China’s draconian rule and blatant disdain for the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework; a threat kept alive by the memory of the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre which took place less than a decade before the former British possession was handed to China. With an armed Chinese garrison stationed across Hong Kong, residents are never far from a reminder of what could happen to them.
Unlike the Hong Kong protests which have drawn over one million people — around a seventh of the total population — into the streets, Extinction Rebellion protests are run by a small number of radical activists who use crude and often violent tactics. Earlier this month, protestors engaged in a ‘Nudie parade’ during the week-long Melbourne protestors where activists stripped down to little more than glitter and body paint forming messages like ‘Stop Adani’ and ‘Compost the Rich’. Other protest actions in October included an ‘extinction rave’, flash mobs, block parties, a ‘water birth for a better earth’ and a funeral procession for the Earth. Meanwhile, Hong Kong protestors faced police brutality, tear gas and even live bullets while challenging the violation of their human rights and the obstruction of freedom of speech.
Extinction Rebellion climate protests deliberately obstruct and annoy their fellow Australians, damage local businesses and waste valuable police time. They are unashamed of the harm they inflict on innocent people but are rather encouraged by the slap on the wrist that even repeat offenders are getting away with. Protestors forced the Queensland government to retaliate and pass a law banning the use of dangerous devices and trip wires intended to harm rail crews. By contrast, the protestors in Hong Kong are polite, apologetic and thoughtful — cleaning up after protests and apologising for the inconvenience. Most importantly, the protestors there have clear and concise demands while the Extinction Rebellion activists endlessly chant vague slogans like “Tell the Truth!” and “Act Now!” while raving about capitalism being evil.
The way we handle global issues, like climate, requires a genuine conversation and a commitment to realistic goals. Nations across the world including our own have been taking reasonable steps to reduce carbon emissions while protecting jobs. Unfortunately, it turns out we haven’t been doing a good job according to the rebellion’s leadership. One of the only clear demands they have been able to articulate is that the Australian government must cut our greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, a demand that would cripple our economy and devastate countless families through job loss and increased energy bills. Just like their behaviour, the dialogue offered by Extinction Rebellion is angry, immature and inflexible.
It is beyond a joke to suggest that the publicity stunts of Extinction Rebellion are comparable to the protests in Hong Kong. Doing so is an insult to people who are truly fighting for their future. At best it reflects a lack of self-awareness by the climate activists, at worst it is an attempt by Extinction Rebellion to piggyback on the global sympathy that genuine protestors have stirred in Hong Kong and divert it towards themselves.
Eliot Metherell and Anjali Nadaradjane work for the Australian Taxpayers Alliance.
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