At just 21, former engineering student Louis McKechnie has been arrested 20 times and spent six weeks in prison.
It has made him one of the most recognizable faces among British climate activists.
Over the past two years, he’s been part of a slew of groups that have used increasingly radical, hard-hitting stunts to raise awareness of the issue.
After Extinction Rebellion, Animal Rebellion and Insulate Britain, McKechnie is now a full-time member of Just Stop Oil, which aims to halt all new fossil fuel projects.
In March, he risked the wrath of football fans when he tied himself to a goal post in the middle of a game between Newcastle and Everton.
“I was seriously scared,” he told AFP news agency. “There were 40,000 people screaming ‘wanker, wanker, wanker’.”
Despite feeling a “wave of guilt” at invading the fans’ sporting passion, he managed to sit out Premier League play for seven minutes.
McKechnie, who wore a zip tie around his neck, said he felt vindicated.
“I did it for them (the fans) at the same time. Your government is lying to you and you deserve the right to know,” he said.
An angry fan kicked him in the head, but McKechnie said he didn’t feel it. However, hundreds of death threats afterwards forced him to leave social media.
– Selfish Minority –
“I expected to become public enemy number one… but I’m willing to make that sacrifice. We knew we weren’t going to be popular,” McKechnie said.
But he thinks it was worth it, even if only a fraction of the crowd searched Just Stop Oil online to see what it was all about afterwards.
“I don’t need them to agree with the tactics, just the message,” he said.
Since his first direct-action protest — a solo roadblock — McKechnie has disrupted the red carpet at the BAFTA Awards.
He spent 53 hours 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground on pipes at an oil terminal in Scotland and damaged pumps at a petrol station.
It was a protest that blocked London’s M25 ring road that landed him behind bars along with eight other members of Insulate Britain, who are campaigning for better home insulation.
He was arrested on his 21st birthday on November 17th.
The judge accused the protesters of “breaking the social contract, according to which in a democratic society the public can be expected to tolerate peaceful protest”.
However, shortly after his arrival, two prisoners approached him behind bars to say thank you.
The right-wing tabloid press was particularly critical of the demonstrators, calling them “eco-anarchists” and accusing them of “sabotage”.
The Daily Mail branded McKechnie an “eco-zealot” and took aim at his long hair and aviator glasses, calling him a “John Lennon look-alike”.
The government now wants to step up its legislative arsenal against the “guerrilla” techniques used by what it calls a “selfish minority of protesters” to disrupt the lives of ordinary Britons.
But McKechnie said, “We’re not going to stop because we can’t afford it. We are more afraid of the climate crisis.”
– ‘Radical, outrageous’ –
McKechnie added he sees no end to the protests as long as they remain non-violent and do not endanger lives.
“We don’t do it for fun. We’re doing this because we’re desperate,” he said.
Three decades of demonstrations and petitions have not worked, he noted.
“If things don’t work, we have to keep escalating. We have to become more and more radical and outrageous.
“Not because we want to, but because we have no choice.”
McKechnie is originally from Weymouth, a small coastal town in southern England threatened by rising sea levels.
He was just a child when his mother, a local environmentalist, was studying sustainable development in low-income countries.
“A big part of her life has been trying to achieve change through the political system and I’ve watched her try and fail for so many years,” he said.
His father Alex, a teacher, describes his son as “a hardworking, thoughtful, quiet young man”.
“He’s not a hooligan,” he told AFP news agency.
“He’s not afraid of confrontation. He’s in the right place at the right time and that’s very gratifying to see as a parent,” he added.
The road may be long for McKechnie, but he is not giving up.
“We’re trying to educate people,” he said. “It works slower than we would like, but it works.”
#young #British #climate #activist #pushing #protest #boundaries