Extinction Rebellion scientists: why we glued ourselves to a government department

Charlie Gardner, University of Kent; Emily Cox, Cardiff University, and Stuart Capstick, Cardiff University

One recent Wednesday, while most scientists around the world were carrying out their research, we stepped away from our day jobs to engage in a more direct form of communication.

Along with more than 20 others from Scientists for Extinction Rebellion and assisted in our efforts by Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, we pasted scientific papers to the UK government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). A group of us glued ourselves to the building, and nine scientists were arrested.

This kind of action may seem extreme for a scientist, but these are no ordinary times. As most members of the UK public now recognise, addressing the climate crisis requires drastic changes across society. In 2019, the UK parliament itself declared a climate emergency – and in an emergency, one must take urgent action.

Seemingly endless academic papers and reports highlight the need for the immediate and rapid decarbonisation of the global economy if we are to avert climate change so serious that it risks the collapse of human civilisation. The International Energy Agency, a respected policy advisory body to countries around the world, warned in 2021 that “if governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that “it is time for us to listen to the warnings of the scientists” on the climate emergency. But despite this, the UK government is choosing not to wind down the fossil fuel industry, but instead to expand it.

The government recently published its energy security strategy. However, rather than focusing on home insulation, energy efficiency and onshore wind as most experts suggest, the strategy promotes the expansion of oil and gas production.

Such measures do very little to address the pressing issues of rising fuel bills or heavy imports of Russian oil and coal. And as a self-proclaimed leader in global climate action, the UK’s doubling down on fossil fuels also sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world.

Evidence alone is easily ignored

In a choice between fossil fuels and a liveable planet, the government has chosen oil and gas. For scientists who have dedicated their lives to research, this is hard to take. Many of us do our work in the belief that, if we provide scientific information to decision-makers, they will use it to make wise decisions in the public interest.

Yet the global response to the climate crisis, despite decades of increasingly dire warnings, shows this to be naive. The reason is as simple as it is obvious: governments don’t respond to science on these matters, but to the corporate interests that invest so heavily in political donations and lobbying.

Scientists must face a difficult truth that doesn’t come easily to those of us who are most comfortable working diligently on experiments and journal articles: evidence alone, even if expertly communicated, is very easily ignored by those that do not wish to hear it.

If we are to help bring about the transition away from fossil fuels that the world so urgently needs, we are going to have to become much harder to ignore. This does not mean disregarding the evidence or abandoning our integrity: quite the opposite. We must treat the scientific warnings on the climate crisis with the seriousness that they deserve.

Become hard to ignore

History suggests that one of the most powerful ways to become hard to ignore – and one of the few options available to those who do not have deep pockets or the ear of politicians – may be through nonviolent civil disobedience, the refusal to obey certain laws in order to bring public and media attention to an unjust situation.

From universal suffrage to civil rights for people of colour and action on the Aids pandemic, many of the most progressive social changes of the 20th century were brought about in this way. Many would likely agree that such actions are morally justified in a planetary emergency.

The recent blossoming of environmental civil disobedience movements around the world, led by Extinction Rebellion and the Greta Thunberg-inspired youth strikes, has been hugely influential in changing the global conversation on climate. These movements have been linked to an unprecedented surge of public concern and awareness about the climate crisis.

The scientists arrested on that Wednesday included an expert in energy policy, an air pollution specialist, three ecologists and two psychologists, across all career stages from junior researchers to established professors. Some work on the planetary crisis itself, others on our societal responses to it, but none of us took our actions lightly.

Our understanding of our planetary peril obliges us to take action to sound the alarm, even if it means risking our civil liberties. And we are not alone. On April 6 more than 1,200 scientists in 26 countries participated in a global Scientist Rebellion, which included pasting scientific papers to the UK headquarters of oil giant Shell.

Civil disobedience doesn’t always need a particular target to be effective, because the main objective is to ring the alarm by generating media and wider public attention. Extinction Rebellion protests, for example, has targeted fossil fuel infrastructure, media and finance institutions and airports used by private jets, in addition to the general disruption caused by roadblocks.

But we went to BEIS because, as the government department responsible for climate change, it should be leading the transition away from fossil fuels. Instead, through enabling and promoting new fossil fuel extraction, it is doing the opposite.

Recent acts of law-breaking by scientists may seem radical, but the world’s most senior diplomat disagrees. On the release of the IPCC’s latest report, the UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

He could not have said it more clearly: while we scientists may have been breaking the law, it is the government that’s placing us all in danger.

Charlie Gardner, Associate Senior Lecturer, Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent; Emily Cox, Research Associate, Environmental Policy, Cardiff University, and Stuart Capstick, Senior Research Fellow in Psychology, Cardiff University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The game changers on climate

The game changers on climate

Earlier this month leading climate scientists issued their landmark report on climate solutions, directly to world governments, saying it’s “now or never” if we are to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5°C warming limit.

And the response?

Well, not what we need. Since the release, governments have announced or approved new oil and gas projects, despite the IPCC science saying we already have too many!

Climate scientists have had enough

A growing number of scientists have had enough, feeling obliged to step out of their labs and onto the streets to demand greater action. Following the release of the IPCC report, about 1000 scientists and academics in 25 countries took part in demonstrations, urging governments to act on the science. In the UK, a group of scientists glued scientific papers – and their own hands – to the windows of the government department responsible for energy, protesting the government plans for licensing of new oil and gas fields.

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Climate protest news 13 April 2022 / 1

Extinction Rebellion protest – live: Activists glue themselves to government buildings in week of mass action

Activists have glued themselves to UK government buildings in protest against new oil and gas as Extinction Rebellion continued its week of mass action in London.

XR said scientists – dressed in white lab coats – were taking part in the demonstration on Wednesday, even sticking scientific papers to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Wednesday.

Edinburgh climate activists ‘blockade’ government office in Shell gas field protest

Campaigners from groups including Stop Cambo and Extinction Rebellion Scotland have staged a sit down protest outside the Market Street building as part of a wave of action against the Jackdaw field

Activists have demanded plans for a new North Sea gas field are rejected in a sit-down protest outside a prominent Edinburgh government office.

Campaigners from the Stop Cambo movement gathered outside the Market Street building on Wednesday afternoon as part of a protest against Shell’s proposed Jackdaw field off the coast of Aberdeenshire.

The energy giant resubmitted an application for the location last week – despite having initial plans turned down by regulators in October – amid encouragement from the UK authorities for firms to ramp up oil and gas production in an effort to reduce energy reliance on Russia.

Just Stop Oil protesters arrested after gluing hands to road on twelfth day of action

JSO image

Just Stop Oil protesters have been arrested on their twelfth day of action as they glued their hands to roads and climbed on top of oil tankers in Essex.

The group launched a demonstration on an oil refinery in Purfleet, Essex

Images shared by Just Stop Oil show protesters on top of tankers in Purfleet with the message: “ We are in civil resistance. This morning we occupied a tanker on the roads near Purfleet terminal to stop the flow of oil”.

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COP26 News review day 11

‘We are not on course’: scientists warn action must match words at Cop26

Scientists attending Cop26 have sent a clear warning to policymakers: get a move on, because every moment of delay, every extra fraction of a degree of global heating will have dire consequences.

That message has been reinforced at Glasgow with reports, forums and discussions, but those involved in channelling the science to the world’s leaders are frustrated that words are still not being matched by actions.

Peter Stott, a climate scientist at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre who has been attending Cops since 1998, said he was marginally more optimistic than he had been before the Glasgow summit. “I have mixed emotions. I feel relieved that things have started to move, but I am concerned about the speed,” he said. “The scientific message we have talked about for 25 years is being acted on. That is a vindication. We might be starting to turn the corner. But I feel a strong sense of anxiety I haven’t felt before. I want to see the policymakers get a move on. In the next two years we have got to cut emissions rapidly.”

Cop26 targets too weak to stop disaster, say Paris agreement architects

Current national plans – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – would lead to 2.4C of heating, according to an influential analysis this week by Climate Action Tracker.

Countries are currently expected to return with better pledges in 2025, but many are now demanding the deadline should be brought forward. This is seen as the most closely fought area of disagreement as the UK hosts struggle to broker a deal.

“If that [five years] is the first time that countries are called to increase their ambitions, honestly that’s going to be too late,” said Figueres, founding partner of the Global Optimism thinktank.

COP26 aviation pledges ‘full of scams’, campaigners say

A COP26 declaration to cut aviation emissions is “full of scams”, environmental campaigners have warned.

The International Aviation ­Climate Ambition Coalition agreed to ­support measures to reduce the sector’s ­carbon emissions.

These included promoting the ­development of low-carbon aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels and carbon offsetting. It was signed by 20 countries ­including the UK, the US, France and Spain.

But Greenpeace is calling on ­European leaders not to support it, and urged them to ban short-haul flights and “massively invest” in rail instead.

Better public transport is the only way to cut carbon emissions, unions and campaigners urge

CREATING universal and comprehensive public transport is the only way to effectively cut carbon emissions from travel at home and abroad, unions and campaigners have said during Cop26.

Campaigners and politicians condemned the lack of consideration of rail, bus, ferry and cycle transport during proceedings at the summit today, where the focus was put on cars and planes instead.

Officials and delegates at the gathering in Glasgow made a number of announcements on transport, including on zero-emissions vehicles, so-called green shipping corridors, and on decarbonising air travel.

Tory Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that travel, including aviation, should be “guilt-free.” He also said that the government did not see flying as “the ultimate evil,” after officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were condemned for using planes for short journeys during Cop26.

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