They’ve glued themselves to each other, barriers and the carriageway. They’ve blocked the Port of Dover, Junction 14 near Heathrow and the M25 nine times in over two weeks. And after nearly 500 arrests, they’re not about to stop either. But what is Insulate Britain and why are these environmental protesters always in the headlines?
UK homes are believed to be some of the oldest and badly insulated in Europe, with heat often escaping through walls, windows and doors. According to research by the European Commission, British households consume more gas than almost all of our European neighbours. In 2020 alone, England’s 25 million homes were responsible for the same level of emissions as all the country’s car emissions combined – that’s about 58.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
Just a few months ago, the Construction Leadership Council created a mass-insulation proposal that would not just help save families more than £400 in energy bills each year, but also help to boost the UK’s environmental efforts. This plan was shown to government ministers and a letter seen by The Guardian was signed by more than 50 organisations invested in fighting “fuel poverty”. Although the Conservatives are yet to set out clear plans for insulating Britain’s homes, Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised to make it his party’s “national mission”.
Insulating Britain’s homes isn’t going to be cheap – around £5 billion pounds over the next four years, to be exact – but the science shows that the long-term environmental cost of inaction is even more frightening.
As UK gas suppliers collapse amid an unexpected price surge and people panic over what will happen to their bills over the cold winter months, the country has to grapple with the reality that its houses are costly to keep warm – not just financially but also environmentally. Clearly, the current government hasn’t kept up with demands and invested in alternative energy sources, exemplified by its latest green light for the hugely controversial Cambo oil field. This is exactly the problem Insulate Britain is trying to highlight.
As the organisation continues to dominate headlines, THE FACE spoke to an Insulate Britain representative to answer all of your burning questions.
What is Insulate Britain?
We are a civil disobedience group [and disruptive protesting] is the tool we are using to campaign for what we want. We are focused on insulation in a single-issue campaign. The government needs to start taking the steps to protect us. This is the way they can start doing it the most effective immediate way. We’re basing our demands on what academics and industry are saying. So this isn’t something we’ve just plucked out of the air. We are seeking to amplify those voices who have already done this work.
Why did Insulate Britain choose this cause above all the other environmental causes?
Pound for pound, home insulation provides the most cost-effective way of reducing carbon emissions and it would have an immediate impact. So in many ways, it’s an absolute no brainer, we know we’ve got some of the leakiest, coldest housing stock around. Not only will it start immediately reducing emissions and so protecting people from climate change, it will also make our homes nicer to live in, protect thousands of people who are so cold every year that they die and benefit people who are having to make those really horrible decisions as to whether they heat their homes, or feed their children.
Who do you think should be responsible for insulating Britain?
We’re calling on the government to do it because we face a national emergency in terms of the climate crisis, and therefore, we need a national response to this.
Why are you targeting motorways?
Evidence of previous campaigns of civil disobedience points to the fact that what causes governments to move is the level of disruption. The suffragettes famously smashed all the windows in Oxford Street. And people ask, “what link did that have to campaign for votes for women?” But it is about pressuring the government to act and one of the ways that you can do that with civil disobedience is by causing disruption.
Do you have any provisions to let emergency vehicles through on the motorways?
There’s still a hard shoulder on the M25, so the emergency vehicles do have access to it. And then the people blocking would let blue lights through as standard procedure. So in that case, I don’t know if emergency vehicles with blue lights would get caught up in action. It’s heartbreaking that people feel the need to take this level of action to force the government to start protecting us, there doesn’t appear to be any good choices left to us.
Do you think it’s true that if you didn’t protest disruptively that more people would support you?
I think people are understandably upset, annoyed, irritated and furious at the actions that we take. And I understand the responses such as: “I don’t care if what you’re saying is a good idea, I’m not going to support you because you’ve massively disrupted me.” But there isn’t any evidence that the idea of insulating Britain is now less popular due to our actions learned or reacted. In fact, if you did a Google search of insulation after our actions have started and before, I’m pretty sure that many reports would not be making the news if Insulate Britain hadn’t taken to the roads. So insulation and insulating British Homes is now part of the national conversation in a way that it was not two weeks ago.
What does the donation money on your website go towards?
It’s for anything that’s needed around financing the campaign, such as when some of our protestors come out of custody. They may need to spend the night somewhere so it would pay for their accommodation.
How do you think the campaign is going?
It’s absolutely putting insulation on the map, it’s become part of the national conversation.
Are you aligned with any political parties?
We are unaligned. Although the campaign is political in that it’s aimed at government policy, we are not party political in that way.
Why do you think the media is trying to have a “gotcha” moment by painting your founder, Liam Norton, to be a hypocrite for not insulating his own home?
It’s always useful to brand people as hypocrites if you don’t agree with them, then you can say the message they’re bringing forward can be ignored. Some of the articles that have been running about us have been about insulation, and the energy performance certificates of various of our supporters’ homes. What this actually does is indicate why this needs a government response as our homes are badly insulated and it’s too difficult for individuals to bring their homes up to a good standard. And it’s very difficult for individuals to [insulate their own homes], you need to own the home, or you need to go through a complex process of applying for grants from your landlord and you also need to have the funding available to do it.