In October 2019, the British climate activist group Extinction Rebellion carried out two weeks of civil disobedience in London and other cities around the world.
Six thousand activists blocked the five main bridges that cross the River Thames, which flows through London, preventing people from getting to work or home.
An Extinction Rebellion spokesperson went on national television and made a series of alarming claims. “Billions of people are going to die.” “Life on Earth is dying.” And, “Governments aren’t addressing it.”
Some journalists pushed back. The BBC’s Andrew Neil interviewed a visibly uncomfortable Extinction Rebellion spokesperson in her mid-30s named Zion Lights.
“One of your founders, Roger Hallam, said in April, ‘Our children are going to die in the next 10 to 20 years,’” said Neil. “What’s the scientific basis for these claims?”
“These claims have been disputed, admittedly,” Lights said. “There are some scientists who are agreeing and some who are saying that they’re simply not true. But the overall issue is that these deaths are going to happen.”
“But most scientists don’t agree with this,” said Neil. “I looked through [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent reports] and see no reference to billions of people going to die, or children going to die in under 20 years… How would they die?”
Responded Lights, “Mass migration around the world is already taking place due to prolonged drought in countries, particularly in South Asia. There are wildfires in Indonesia, the Amazon rainforest, also Siberia, the Arctic.”
“These are really important problems,” Neil said, “and they can cause fatalities. But they don’t cause billions of deaths. They don’t mean that our young people will all be dead in 20 years.”
“Perhaps not in 20 years,” acknowledged Lights.
“I’ve seen young girls on television, part of your demonstration… crying because they think they’re going to die in five or six years, crying because they don’t think they’ll ever see adulthood,” said Neil.
“And yet there’s no scientific basis for the claims that your organization is making.”
“I’m not saying that because I’m alarming children,” replied Lights. “They’re learning about the consequences.” […]
In December, I interviewed Lights, by phone. A lifelong environmentalist, Lights is the author of the 2015 book, The Guide to Green Parenting, which has been praised by climate activist Bill McKibben and former British Green Party leader Natalie Bennet.
Shortly after she told me her history, we started to argue.
“Let’s talk about the claims,” I said.
“Billions are going to die?”
“I didn’t say that,” Lights said. “Roger [Hallam] said it.”
“But he’s the Extinction Rebellion’s founder!” I protested.
“It doesn’t matter!” she said. “They have as much power as I do. So it’s not fair to say he represents us.”
Lights explained that Extinction Rebellion is not an organization in the normal sense. It is officially leaderless. […]
Lights then said something that caught my attention. “I’m like you,” she said. “I think we need nuclear.”
Lights said she had quit the Green Party 10 years earlier over its opposition to nuclear.
“I was in Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and got sucked into this idea of nuclear not being safe,” she explained.
Lights told me she changed her mind after a scientist told her nuclear energy was, in fact, safer than other energy sources. “I said, ‘That’s not what I’ve been told.’
And he said, ‘Don’t just listen to what people tell you.’ And so I looked it up and he was right. The data shows it is safe. And I realized solar panels and batteries are not going to meet demand. The more I read the more I realized, ‘Oh no! These things I believed aren’t true!’”
Michael Shellenberger was Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment,” Green Book Award Winner, and President of Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization. He is also the author of several bestselling books, including Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.