Policing the pedal rebels: A case study of environmental activism under covid-19

25 June 2021

Australia, along with nation-states internationally, has entered a new phase of environmentally focused activism, with globalised, coordinated and social media–enabled environmental social movements seeking to address human-induced climate change and related issues such as the mass extinction of species and land clearing. Some environmental protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) have attracted significant political, media and popular commentary for their sometimes theatrical and disruptive forms of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. Drawing on green and cultural criminology, this article constitutes an autoethnographic account of environmental protest during the final stages of the initial COVID-19 lockdown in NSW, Australia. It takes as a case study a small protest by an XR subgroup called the Pedal Rebels. The article explores the policing of environmental protest from an activist standpoint, highlighting the extraordinary police resources and powers mobilised to regulate a small peaceful group of ‘socially distanced’ protesters operating within the existing public health orders. It places an autoethnographic description of this protest in the context of policing practice and green and cultural criminology. Additionally, it outlines the way in which such policing is emboldened by changes to laws affecting environmental protest, making activism an increasingly risky activity.