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Extinction Rebellion may be our last chance

Guardian readers on the past week of protests, what global finance can do to save us from climate change, and other environmental matters

Extinction Rebellion protesters in Parliament Square on 17 November last year.
Wind of change … Extinction Rebellion protesters in Parliament Square on 17 November last year. Photograph: James Liu/Guardian Community

I hope Extinction Rebellion pushes climate chaos to the top of the political agenda, but Ben Smoke is right that glorifying arrest won’t advance the climate cause (Journal , 16 April). As well as diverting effort into battles with the criminal justice system, it distracts from thousands of ways to decarbonise the economy: pension funds, insurance companies and banks control $400tn in assets, making decisions daily about where to invest, as well as influencing company boards, as Larry Elliott points out (Threadneedle Street’s timely warning for banks and insurers to take climate change seriously , 16 April).

Local authorities shape our environment (and own £400bn in assets), and soon voters will decide who should run them. Every employer, school and household can make decisions that turn away from chaos.

The suffragettes’ battle for the vote is celebrated as a great victory for direct action, but 100 years later the struggle for women’s equality is still being waged within countless institutions. Creating lasting change takes political skill, as well as passion and persistence. For democracies to solve difficult problems like climate change and inequality, schools need to teach practical politics as a basic skill.
Titus Alexander
Author of Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy; convener, Democracy Matters

• I agree with Ben Smoke that it’s important not to fetishise the number of arrests in relation to current protests. Extinction Rebellion places too much emphasis on number of arrests. Think the government will negotiate on matters of substance? Think again. I speak as one taking part in the actions this week. The urgency is real, and people need to know the truth. But it will take profound public pressure on other parts of our system that hold us in stasis – vested interests, fossil fuel companies particularly, MPs and ministers, the media, finance, and local government. We need to listen to our allies and work with them, community groups and NGOs particularly. Extinction Rebellion’s sophistication around direct action will need to be matched by effective political strategy to achieve the kind of changes needed.
Gill Westcott
Cheriton Bishop, Exeter

• Thirty years ago I was chair of the Green party’s media committee. Caroline Lucas was the party’s press officer. We were working on the 1989 European election campaign – the one where the Greens won 15% of the vote but no seats (no PR then).

Two days ago, I visited three of the four Extinction Rebellion sites and talked to activists. They were deeply impressive, committed people – non-violent, refusing to blame and shame, empathic, compassionate and universalist (Climate protesters target transport and Corbyn, as disruption hits traders , 18 April).

Everything the Green party said 30 years ago is coming to pass. The planet can’t wait much longer. I commend the bravery, passion and wit of Extinction rebels. Recognised routes of influencing events have failed. Non-violent direct action led to the birth of civil rights for all in the US. Maybe it can lead to a Green New Deal here. This may be our last chance.
Lyn Dade
Twickenham, Middlesex

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a leading body fighting against climate change. This body is a political organization however and not a scientific body.

I’m raising investment for a reusable plastic-free biodegradable and compostable paint tin, to stop plastic single-use items ending up in landfill or the ocean in their hundreds of millions. I don’t disagree with the aims of the protest, but targeting all the business community is not right. Some of us get it and are doing something about it; please, activists, focus your protests on those who aren’t.
Kim Thonger
Finedon, Northamptonshire

• The letter about HS2 from Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram (19 April), mayors of Manchester and Liverpool, might be persuasive if it were not written while Extinction Rebellion takes action against climate catastrophe and David Attenborough delivers his powerful piece on BBC One.

The mayors’ letter is peppered with words and phrases that mean growth: economic potential, released capacity and, of course, the yearned-for “powerhouse”. But what the young people of Extinction Rebellion are saying is: how can you offer us a future based on growth? What is the point of releasing capacity if we run out of the planet’s fundamental resources: water, clean air, space to live that will not be flooded with seawater, soil in which food can grow?

What we need is a plan – a transport plan, an everything plan – that considers every single aspect in relation to the threat to these resources.
Alison Leonard
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

No more tall glass buildings

Tall glass buildings have a devastating effect on our collective wellbeing (Global finance must go green if we are to fight climate change , Journal, 17 April). They produce more CO2 per metre squared in construction and operation for every higher floor they support. Their huge energy demand spikes at the hottest/coldest times of day/year, driving grids to the brink of collapse.

Walkie Talkie and other City of  London buildings Pinterest
Tall glass buildings ‘can destroy the mental peace of neighbourhoods by their overbearing dominance of the skyline, like the Walkie Talkie in London’, says Susan Roaf. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

In future extreme heatwaves, like that of 2003, they can cause power outages across whole regions and resulting citizen deaths. They increase pedestrian discomfort, even killing people with the superwinds created around their structures. When they burn catastrophically, people above the fire may not survive. They reflect heat on to adjacent buildings, driving up their energy consumption and discomfort in those opposite. They shade whole urban areas from winter sun and the ability to generate solar energy in their shadow. They can destroy the mental peace of neighbourhoods by their overbearing dominance of the skyline, like the Walkie Talkie in London .

Who will pay to demolish them when they catastrophically fail, like Grenfell Tower did? Yet planners ignore such risks and fall over themselves to give permission for the next one. Norman Foster’s Tulip is the latest unnecessary London ego trip. The Tulip is indeed a huge (light) bulb heating up the sky and driving climate change. Bankers must take the responsible step of de-risking cities by never again financing these structures that should now be seen as gigantic climate risks.
Susan Roaf
Oxford

Invest in low-carbon but not in nuclear

In a week when Brexit for once did not lead the headlines, it is the world’s most critical problem that has come back to the fore – the dire concerns over climate change. Mark Carney’s warning to financial regulators, banks and insurers around the world to “raise the bar” can’t come soon enough. The Extinction Rebellion movement has very much focused attention this week on climate change, and whatever their methods, it is really important we focus public policy on this massive threat to our long-term wellbeing. Councils are fully aware of their important responsibility in this as local leaders, and the raft of climate emergency resolutions, coupled with developing programmes of radical action, is our contribution to dealing with this existential threat.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney Pinterest
Mark Carney. His ‘warning to financial regulators, banks and insurers around the world to “raise the bar” can’t come soon enough’, writes Councillor David Blackburn. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

It is about time the financiers picked up the baton, as the major societal change required to come anywhere close to dealing with this challenge needs both lots of money and the transformation of economies to work. So I encourage this sector to work more effectively with government at all levels and stop investing in high-carbon fossil fuels, but also in nuclear power, which is just too slow to realise and too expensive to deal with the urgency of the climate crisis.

The global temperature on an average has increased by 0.6 to 1 degree Celsius till the 20th century.

Billions, if not trillions, needs to be invested now in low-carbon energy, storage, efficiency, transport and heating solutions. Politicians can only do so much. Extinction Rebellion is right in that we should have been taking much more urgent action over the past 40 years, and as policymakers we should accept that common failure. Now is the time for rapid change so that all our grandchildren and future generations can have a real chance of a decent life. To the financial sector, I urge them to get on with supporting us in that endeavour.
Councillor David Blackburn
Chair of UK and IrelandNuclear Free Local Authorities steering committee

Vital that energy sector is nationalised

The article by Clive Lewis MP was excellent (Labour’s message to UK’s young climate strikers , theguardian.com, 12 April). But Labour’s ambition for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century is not fast enough. We will be committed to at least 2C warming by then due to CO2’s long lifecycle. The scientists who publish the IPCC report have been clear – we have 12 years to transform our power infrastructure. That transformation will cost $45tn according to the International Energy Agency. Your article on Mark Carney’s warning to the financial sector cites a figure of $20tn for assets at risk due to climate change.

Gordon Brown at the Labour Party conference in Manchester in 2008 Pinterest
‘As Gordon Brown taught the world in the 2008 financial meltdown, if you want to move fast, nationalise,’ writes John Curtis. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

There are only three choices regarding who will pay these gigantic bills: governments, consumers or shareholders. Only the government has the balance sheet, the borrowing capacity and the timeframe to mothball fossil fuel-driven power plants and build new renewable energy assets. As Gordon Brown taught the world in the 2008 financial meltdown, if you want to move fast, nationalise. The only practical way to turbocharge the energy transition is to nationalise the power sector, allowing existing shareholders an exit or opportunity to swap their shares into a renewable sector de-risked by government involvement.

In simple terms, a government exists to do what citizens cannot do for themselves. The ability to mobilise resources in the face of an external threat led the UK to its “finest hour”, as Churchill observed. The first paper connecting CO2 and the greenhouse effect came out in the 1970s. Nearly 50 years later the nations of the world have failed to rein in the pollutants responsible for global warming. The next generation are demanding a response to the climate crisis and those with the experience to legislate, to finance and to procure must advance bold measures such as nationalisation to deliver a better future.
John Curtis
Director, Ventnor Botanic Garden

Rebels cannot be all things to all people

Regarding Andre Spicer’s article about Extinction Rebellion (The Extinction Rebels have got their tactics badly wrong. Here’s why , theguardian.com, 19 April), semantics are important on the left/right political axis, but what’s more important is the plurality of messaging.

Extinction Rebellion cannot be all things to all people. In the wake of the current protests and David Attenborough’s Climate Change – The Facts programme, it’s now the job of other voices across the political and cultural spectrum to sound the clarion of change in language their respective demographics will understand. Extinction Rebellion and Attenborough’s team have opened the door to making that possible. Those of us in the media, the arts and beyond have a duty to get on with it.
Blake Wellsted
London

Environment must top political agenda

Sajid Javid referred to protesters “disrupting the lives of others” (Report , 19 April). Presumably far better to leave it until their lives are disrupted by rising sea levels, ferocious storms, flood, drought, crop failure, starvation, mass migration and extinction of much of the life of the biosphere. Any politician with the intelligence, or care for humanity, to see beyond the next election would be in Westminster right now urgently working out how to save the world from approaching catastrophe – but maybe that’s somewhere on the list, after the next-but-one Brexit extension.
Hilary Lang
Frome, Somerset

CLIMATE CHANGE FACT: Temperatures are breaking records around the world. The 21st century has seen the most temperature records broken in recorded history. 2016 was the hottest year on record since 1880, according to Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with average temperatures measuring 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures. Since the 1950s, every continent has warmed substantially. Nasa's latest visualisations, above, make that reality stark.

• Thank you for the ideas to mitigate climate change (Team green: firms and nations with a conscience , 19 April). We are just now setting up Whaley Bridge as a Transition Town, and the article has given us ideas for our projects around attitude change, and action.
Lorrie Marchington and Ann Sheehy
Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire

• Just been watching footage of the Extinction Rebellion demo in London. In the words of Jon Snow , “I’ve never seen so many white people in one place.” Could it be that the organisation is institutionally racist?
Andy Brown
Derby

• Has anyone totted up the extra pollution on London streets emanating from traffic jams caused by Extinction Rebellion protests?
Colin Baker
London

• I assume that Extinction Rebellion members all have a green energy supplier, like some of the rest of us.
Jean Corston
Labour, House of Lords