Allegations of bullying, racism and power-trips are hurting Extinction Rebellion’s credibility
It was a disastrous interview that had viewers glued to their screens. The Extinction Rebellion spokeswoman Zion Lights was asked where the group had obtained figures which it claimed showed that climate change would kill “billions of people . . . in the next 10 to 20 years”.
Ms Lights, a leading figure in the group, had to admit that the figures were “disputed”. The BBC’s Andrew Neil, sensing blood, pounced, accusing her of “scaring people with rhetoric”.
Looking back, Ms Lights, 36, who has since left the organisation and become a campaigner for nuclear energy, said her experience in “XR” had left her “exhausted”, and is candid about what she perceives as its misgivings.
“What people didn’t know when they watched that was I had been in this massive battle internally with XR for six weeks over that figure,” she told The Times. “A lot of us, me and a lot of scientists, said ‘it is not OK, you cannot make up figures, people need to be reined in’. But there was a cult following of the founder, Roger Hallam, who had made up the figure.
“They would say ‘no, we’ve found a scientist who supports it’. But that’s not how science works. I came off the show and I was exhausted, part of me just died. I have a master’s in science communication. I just said to them, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do it’. ”
It’s an extraordinary claim and gives a rare insight into the fractious arguments behind the scenes that have until now been kept largely from the public.
Ms Lights, a mother of two, left XR in June having grown disillusioned at what she said was its refusal to acknowledge that its numbers were not backed by evidence. She told The Times that since leaving she had received death threats and abuse from members who called her “turncoat scum” and a “nuclear shill”.
A group spokeswoman said claims of an internal battle about the figures were “total nonsense”, and that Mr Hallam’s claim, which came from his own research, related to the likely number of deaths by the end of the century.
The Times has spoken to XR insiders who have laid bare a series of allegations including racism, bullying and a cult-like following of Mr Hallam that resulted in accusations of financial mismanagement.