Photo by Olivier Chassignole/AFP via Getty Images

The rise and rise of AAAAAH-ctivism

Not every problem is the end of the world

Artillery Row

“How many kids have to die?” were the apocalyptic words of a Just Stop Oil activist on Sky News last week. She grimaced and flung her hands out as she asked presenter Anna Jones, and others in the studio, what it would take for them to get involved in the fight against climate change. Would it be “until the water’s lapping at your ankles? Until your own kids haven’t got food?” Forget the British mantra to “keep calm and carry on”. Anyone watching would get the impression that the advice is now firmly to “PANIC!!”

Far from jumping on the nearest piece of furniture to protect myself from rising tides and who knows what else — sharks with Leave-Means-Leave-branded laser beams shooting from their heads, for example — I felt strangely immune to someone telling me the world’s going to end. Like the “boy who cried wolf”, there’s no shortage of middle-aged people ready to cry apocalypse. It’s no surprise one’s sensory reactions have resultantly dialled down a notch or two.

I only really noticed the rise of AAAAAH-ctivism this year, after covering the war on cars. Whenever I have defended the petrol proletariat — those punished every time they drive a car — I am struck by the increasing number of people telling me I don’t care about “CHILDREN’S LUNGS!!” or “PEOPLE DYING!!” Last month Wales introduced 20mph speed limits, which vast amounts of voters have objected to. The counterargument to any perfectly pragmatic concerns is always “SO YOU THINK SPEED IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIVES?!” It is quite an effective way to close down debate, portraying it as a matter of being for or against death.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when AAAAAH-ctivism began. After all, fear mongering is nothing new in politics — one of the most disastrous examples being Tony Blair and George W. Bush’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” claims that led the West into the Iraq War.

The effectiveness of health scaremongering has not gone unnoticed

Following some quiet(ish) years in Blighty, the hyperbole ramped up around Brexit, when Labour MP David Lammy compared the pro-Leave European Research Group to the Nazis, as well as advocates of South African apartheid. Elsewhere, militant Remainers repeatedly warned of the Hard and Far Right being on the march. Writing for The Guardian in 2018, Michael Chessum set the tone when he warned, “We are living through a moment of encroaching darkness and nationalist resurgence.” Nowadays, you could say that the “darkness” looks more like a £6 salmon sandwich at Pret.

One gets the sense that AAAAAH-ctivism never quite landed during Brexit, seeing as the “scary” option won. The Establishment had better luck terrifying people in 2020, when COVID arrived. It was, of course, a proper threat this time, with a grave impact for many families. Still, adding extreme fear to the mix was less than helpful — amplifying the role of Joe Bloggs in a pandemic over which he had little control.

Preston City Council could be found warning young people “don’t kill Granny” to ensure their compliance with lockdowns. That was no match for the Government’s Nudge Unit, which set the standard for scaring Brits. It used images, such as that of an intensive care patient in a mask, with the caption: “Look her in the eyes and tell her you always keep a safe distance.”

The effectiveness of health scaremongering did not go unnoticed, especially by eco-socialists and their blissfully unaware acolytes. Ask any middle-class Londoner (especially mums who live in East Dulwich) what they think of Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ, and the answer will be something along the lines of “well, it’s economically painful, but WE’RE SAVING LUNGS!” The Mayor of London knew exactly what he was up to this year, when he uttered “children’s lung growth” at every opportunity possible to sell his policy. Yet there are reports that childhood asthma is increasing in Lewisham because of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, something Khan advocates.

There’s no end to the nuisance and problematic nature of AAAAAH-ctivists — the biggest issue being that no one will know when there is an actual apocalypse, given how many times alarms have been raised. They ruin every sensible political exchange, reducing it to a hysterical binary of “do or die”.

Far more disturbing is that I can’t help thinking many of the AAAAAH-ctivists get a kick out of scaring others. It gives them a power that they’ve never had before, playing with nervous taxpayers as though they were wet putty in their hands. Take Roger Hallam, the co-Founder of Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, who once prophesied that failure to tackle climate change would mean “a gang of boys will break into your house demanding food. They will see your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, and they will gang rape her on the kitchen table”. Okay, Rog …

Even the eco activist on Sky had a type of glint in her eyes — rather like someone who has Munchausen syndrome — as she warned that we will all have water coming up to our ankles. Noah’s Arc or not, this girl will be keeping calm and carrying on.

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