A Catholic environmentalist has insisted that those who demand action on tackling the climate crisis should not be labelled ‘extremists’.
The call comes after it emerged that environmental campaigners have been referred to the Home Office’s anti-terror Prevent programme amid fears they may become radicalised.
The Times has found that 45 activists were referred to Prevent over alleged environmental extremism in the past year. Prevent was set up to counter radicalism in the UK, but particularly within the Muslim community.
The figures come at a time of increased global focus on climate change and environmental issues, with activists such as Extinction Rebellion orchestrating synchronised mass protests around the world.
The prominence of teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg has also raised the profile of green causes.
Ellen Teague, of the Columban Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, said she is “wary” about the language and rhetoric of terrorism being used against persons and groups linked with legitimate protests against war or environmental destruction.
“Typically, environmental defenders peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of speech, association, and assembly. The environmentalists I know who engage in civil disobedience are challenging violence in the world, not promoting it,” she told The Catholic Universe.
“Those demanding action on tackling the climate crisis should be heard without fear of being labelled ‘extremists’.
“In Britain, groups such as Christian Climate Action practice non-violence; they are forced into radical peaceful action because it moves climate change up the public agenda.”
One of their members had recently told her that “I’ve tried everything else over the years, but nothing worked so well”.
“Those protecting ancient woodland from the HS2 project, trying to stop airport expansion, or undermine fossil fuel investment are doing a service of promoting the common good for the whole society,” she added.
Prevent was launched in 2003 as a counter-terrorism programme and relies on tip-offs in identifying those who may be at risk of becoming radicalised to commit acts of terrorism.
Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones said: “The use of Prevent to deal with social campaigners and environmentalists shows that the Home Office and politicians need to urgently define domestic extremism and give the police a tight legal definition that they have to stick to.
“I want the police to be focused on dealing with serious crimes, rather than chasing round after people who are peacefully taking part in the democratic process.”
Picture: Children take part in the YouthStrike4Climate movement. (Gareth Fuller/PA).