Court Statements Chapter 2
These statements were written by XR rebels who took part in non-violent civil disobedience during 2019 and 2020 and were charged with a criminal offence. They were read aloud at their court hearings, almost always by the defendants themselves although during the Covid-19 pandemic some were read by a solicitor or by the court clerk. In legal terms they are statements of mitigation but the writers’ objective was primarily to explain to the court, in their own words, why they did what they did. They are individual expressions of the desperate urgency of the climate crisis.
The statements included below are anonymised and not in chronological order. They represent a small proportion of the total: if anyone whose statement is not included would be willing to share it, please send it to email@example.com.
I decided to enter a plea of guilty to the charge of obstruction, because the truth is that I did sit down in the road knowing the consequences of my action. I did it because I want the government and industries and us as individuals to tell the truth about climate change, to admit the consequences of our actions on the planet that we live on and are part of, and to do something about it.
I sat down in the road because I believed that I was doing so to prevent a far worse crime, that of destroying this planet. I and many others have tried to draw attention to the climate emergency by legal means, by writing to MPs, by signing petitions, by participating in demonstrations. But nothing seems to change. Government after government pays lip service to doing something about climate change but precious little seems to happen.
We have destroyed the natural habitat of much of our wildlife. We are tearing down ancient woodland, trees that use up carbon, so that people can get to London 20 minutes faster. We are filling the oceans with plastic. We are burning up fossil fuels in ever bigger and faster cars. We are using up the earth’s precious resources without a care for the future of our children and the planet. 2050 is too late to reverse the damage. It may already be too late. We need to act now.
I sat down in the road to draw attention to the need to do something before it’s too late. If climate change got a fraction of the attention that has been given to COVID, if the press and the government treated it as the crisis that it is, then I wouldn’t have needed to sit down in the road. Covid has proved that if the attention and the will are there, then things can change dramatically.
I have two daughters and three grandchildren, two of them recently arrived in this world. One of them is four months old and loves looking at the dappled light through the trees. I worry that there won’t be any when she grows up. I want them to grow up in a world where we respect the planet and all who inhabit it. I want them to live in a world where food is plentiful because we have not destroyed the soil and the heat is not destroying crops. I want them to live in a world where millions are not dying because of food shortages and extreme weather cycles, caused by global warming.
I want to be able to look my children and grandchildren in the eye and say that I did what I could to draw attention to the climate emergency, even if it meant breaking the law by sitting in the road. Hopefully it had some effect.
We have a beautiful world, and it is filled with such amazing people. For all its faults and failings, this world is our home.
From our failure to understand the boundaries of the planet that we're on and act accordingly, we are at great risk.
The UN Climate Change reports make it clear that we have treated our atmosphere and oceans as a dumping ground for CO2 and other climate changing gases and pollutants, and explains how that is warming the planet. Our industrial civilization, and our farming methods, and our consumption, so many choices we've made about the way we live, points us towards a planet that will become virtually uninhabitable if we continue as we are.
We already see the impact of this. I have lost track of the number of "once in a hundred years" events by way of storms that we are experiencing, like the rain last week. We've got rising sea levels and warmer seas. Our planet is burning in so many places.
We know why - the science is clear. We are in a place of immense danger, from reduced harvests, water shortages, significant areas of the world soon to become uninhabitable, and all the pain and suffering that this will bring to so many.
In the middle of this, I would have thought that the Government, our elected Government would have been far more concerned with how they could best care for us as citizens, how they could care for us as a nation, how they could be part of the world's nations acting together on this, but no.
The government isn't listening and acting in a way which is appropriate to the level of risks we're facing. 2050 is too late.
I have been on countless marches, campaigns, written to my MP, attended council meetings, and very little actually happens.
I took the action of sitting in the road not to block the business of Londoners, or to cause trouble to hard working police officers, but I did it as part of the Extinction Rebellion protests, because I see no other way for us to convince the government of the need for real concerted action, given their apparent indifference.
I am pleading not guilty to a charge under the Public Order Act 1986.
The material facts of the case are not in dispute. We all deliberately sat down in the road, having given notice of the time and place , enabling the police to redirect traffic in an orderly manner. I did not take this action lightly.
In terms of the Public Order Act, my plea is of “necessity”. To establish duress of circumstances I need to show that I acted reasonably and proportionately to avert an immediate mortal threat.
I remind you of the circumstances. In centuries past, radiation from the sun in summer has fallen on arctic snow and permafrost. Most of this radiant energy has been reflected back through the atmosphere. The rest has been absorbed by the snow or permafrost, raising its temperature and melting some of the ice. In the winter these would receive less solar radiation. The melted ice would refreeze. The seasonal cycle and the global climate would remain stable from year to year, even from century to century.
Today, with global warming, that long term cycle is broken. Some of the ice which melts in the summer no longer refreezes in the winter. Consequently as the snow and permafrost melts, the sun’s radiation no longer hits just snow. It hits water or solid ground. It is no longer reflected straight back through the atmosphere. It is absorbed by a darker surface. It heats up that object. The increased temperature in turn melts more ice; revealing more of the darker surfaces, melting more ice, leaving more dark surfaces, in a runaway chain reaction spiralling out of control. The environment becomes hotter as more ice melts, and more ice melts as the environment gets hotter.
We probably haven’t reached that situation yet. All we know for sure is that we are getting closer and closer to a tipping point beyond which the process will become unstoppable. And once it takes hold we know that the Antarctic ice sheet will reach its own tipping point. Sea levels will rise catastrophically. Poorer people in the Indian Ocean and in Bangladesh are already starting to suffer. Neighbourhoods and countryside we cherish in Kent and Sussex will be lost to future generations.
That will take time. I won’t live to see it. What’s urgent is to act now, because we know that the tipping point can’t be far ahead; we will recognise it only in retrospect. There is no time to lose. I guess the critical instant will be towards the end of a hot summer: probably September. Remember that it was in September that we chose to block the road in Dover. I took that step with a heavy heart. There was no alternative.
For me as an individual, the imminent danger is particularly challenging and I feel a personal responsibility for sharing my own insight for two reasons. Firstly, much of my professional life has been taken up with research on radiation transfer. My first monograph on the subject was published sixty years ago, in 1959, and has formed the basis of much subsequent development worldwide in this field.
My second reason is that, after I retired, I worked as a Human Rights Observer in refugee camps and in remote villages, on the edge of the Negev Desert in Palestine, and in Northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan). There I saw at first hand what it means when the village well runs dry. No water for crops. No water for cattle. No water for children. Terrible choices: who is to have the last drop? That’s what climate change means. It’s what climate change is going to mean here at home if we allow the day to come when we turn on the tap and water no longer comes out.
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t add that my wife and I have fostered twelve children, of whom we adopted six. I now have 31 grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. (Some of our foster children were already teenagers when they came to us).
I tremble for their future, especially knowing that my generation – our generation – has been largely responsible for the climate emergency. For their sake too I need you to understand my hopes and anxieties.
That’s all I have to say. Thank you for listening.
(The writer was born on 8 March 1928)
I was born on April 30th, 1936.
Your honour, the last thing I ever imagined is that I would need is to be here today, and I hope for the understanding of the court as I believe I acted out of necessity.
The principle aim of Extinction Rebellion is, through Non Violent Direct Action, to oblige the Government to tell the truth about Climate Change even though the evidence is that Economic Growth greed is given precedence and intensifies the advancing mass extinction. As evidence of that our Government is still subsidising fossil fuels and our carbon emissions are still rising.
Dr James E Hansen, Director of Climate Sciences at Columbia University in New York writes: “I wish to counsel every parent and every grandparent . I urge you to take a stand so as not to let the full burden of responsibility befall our children. Arm yourself with information of the highest quality, think for yourself and then exercise your full intellectual and moral capacity to help the generations survive.” He goes on to say: “The international scientific consensus acknowledges that global climate change from persistent high fossil fuel emissions is now well into the danger zone.”
Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics, and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge. He is best known for his work on sea ice. He states that if the release of methane from the Permafrost in the Arctic Ocean speeds up then the catastrophic results would be within a year. I am not willing to risk it happening later than sooner and do nothing.
Charlie Gardner, a conservation scientist and lecturer at Kent University, as I believe you are aware, states:
That over 1,500 scientists have signed a declaration of support for non violent direct action against government inaction over climate change and ecological emergency. “We note that the scientific community has already tried conventional means to draw attention to the crisis. We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law” and I fully concur.
I have done my best to become as scientifically informed as I can be which is why I am here today. And as an 83 year old grandmother who, like most people, cares deeply about my family, my community, my country and the planet’s present and future, I cannot not do what I have done. My actions are driven by a biological imperative to protect my children and grandchildren and which is also for the greater good. I believe that it would be really criminal not to have taken the actions I have.
I deeply regret that if, in being obliged to make these vitally important protests, we cause any trouble and take up valuable police and court time. I know we do our best to minimise this and wish, with all my being, we were not obliged to do it.
Sir or Madam,
I am pleading guilty to the charge of sitting in the road with members of Extinction Rebellion in October 2019 for which I was charged with non-compliance of section 14 and which has since become Obstructing the Highway.
However as the road was already blocked off by the police I was not actually blocking the free movement of traffic, as the police were already doing that.
In the history of our country and of all free nations ordinary citizens have stood up to injustices and have indeed felt a moral obligation to do so. It would be unconscionable for an informed citizen to stand by idly when people are dying now, or are undergoing immense suffering through floods and drought, while we ourselves, and more importantly our children and grandchildren are doomed to a catastrophic future unless we act with urgency.
I, along with most literate citizens, can undisputedly claim to have been informed repeatedly of the existential threat posed by the heating climate by the overwhelming opinion of the scientific community. I do not feel I can turn a blind eye to this information and while I had hoped that my retirement would be spent pursuing more sedate hobbies such as painting and gardening, I have by the inactivity of our government, been forced instead into the discomfort of sitting on cold asphalt and using up the last years of my life in activities I had not chosen.
And already myself and my family have been very personally affected by the ecological crisis facing us. My son now in his 30's, like many of his generation, has made the difficult decision not to have children, because bringing children into the world to face an apocalyptic future seems like an act of cruelty.
This generation of young people feel abandoned by those in power, who seem to find it impossible to look beyond immediate gains.
I act without any particular political agenda but out of a sense of responsibility and care for my child, for all children and for the survival of all life.
I am pleading guilty purely for administrative purposes. As an older citizen diagnosed recently with a heart condition that has not been fully investigated due to the restrictions of the Covid Pandemic, I feel that travelling to court to London with the dangers of exposure to the virus that that would present would be unduly risky for me.
My name is JK, I am fifty years old, I live in St Ives, Cornwall and work in my own business as a wine merchant. I have two children aged nineteen and twenty one. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
On Monday 7th October 2019 I was arrested on the approach to Lambeth Bridge in London and charged with wilfully obstructing the highway. This was as part of the Extinction Rebellion protest taking place at that time.
For two years or so, I have been increasingly concerned about climate change. To research this I have read books, scientific papers and countless newspaper articles. I am not a climate scientist but my engineering training means I understand the subject.
What I discovered is terrifying. The problem we face is so serious and so difficult to solve that I no longer expect my children to die of old age.
For a parent, there can be no worse prospect than contemplating the untimely death of a child. But it is worse even than that. We face the possible death of every human being, the end of society as we know it.
Many would reject these thoughts as scare mongering, but they are not. We are on course for the planet to heat by 3 to 5 degrees centigrade. That will make most of Africa uninhabitable. In the UK where we import 50% of our food we face mass starvation as crops fail and a breakdown in law and order as people kill one another to survive. Billions will die across the world.
Faced with such unimaginably bleak prospects my actions in blocking a road seem to me a small matter. I accept that I broke the law but I was simply trying to sound the alarm.
What is perhaps most appalling is that we know how to prevent climate breakdown. We could be planting trees, installing renewable energy, changing our farms, decommissioning cars and taking the logical steps needed to save our children. But we do not.
Our government ignores irrefutable evidence and has no viable plan to tackle these issues. That is the real crime and their negligence and self interest will cost the lives of millions.
Unless we wake up very soon we face the loss of everything we hold dear. I stand by my actions in October. I believe they were proportional. In fact the least I could do in a desperate attempt do to save the lives of my children and possibly all the other children in the world.
I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.
I am a clinical psychologist by profession and practiced for 11 years in the NHS helping people with trauma, depression, psychosis, anxiety and other distressing difficulties. I have a first class degree in natural sciences from the University of Cambridge, and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of London. I do not have a degree in climate science or social change, but I have enough training in science to have an understanding of the methods by which scientific knowledge, is formed, assessed and reported, to have some understanding of systems theory, statistics and probabilities, and to understand some of the psychological mechanisms which lead humans to denial and disavowal in the face of threat. These have informed the action I took in April.
I’ve been informed and aware of the threat of climate change for over a decade. During that time I’ve gone on marches, signed petitions, volunteered at a wildlife centre, written to journalists and my MP, given talks, set up a community sustainability group, campaigned for the green party, and stood for election. None of this has much effect on the threat, because there has been little government leadership.
I now offer support groups for people distressed by the ecological and climate crisis, pro bono or for donation. Recently I have begun training others to hold such groups, as the need is large and growing. They are attended by teachers, midwives, students, cafe workers, artists, builders, retired grandparents, council workers. Those working as sustainability officers are some of the most distressed; they know the horrors of what is to come. The most painful to witness are people’s images of their children’s futures, of their children starving, daughters being raped, sons being shot, as society breaks down. In my clinical work I have had young people come to me grieving their lost future, and the children they do not feel they can have.
Psychologists tend either by our nature or training not to turn away from pain and difficulties in the world, we spend our working lives turning towards these things and hearing others distress. I ask you to take this into account in assessing the actions that I took. Just because the majority of the population has not (as yet) taken such actions, it does not mean they are not the right and reasonable thing to do.
I am by nature a law abiding citizen, I respect the law and understand that the justice system serves to protect people and society, and, in doing so, we are all here, upholding common principles. I believe this case is about the way in which the common principle of protection from harm should be enacted.
I believe my action was defensible as it was necessary to reduce immense and immediate harm and therefore there was duress of circumstances. Relevant Case law on necessity on the grounds of duress of circumstances includes R v Martin  R.T.R. 63, where a husband feared his wife would commit suicide if he did not drive their son to work, whilst disqualified. The judgement set these tests for defence of duress of circumstances:
(1) “[W]as the accused, or may he have been, impelled to act as he did because as a result of what he reasonably believed to be the situation he had good cause to fear that otherwise death or serious injury would result”
◦ (2) “[I]f so, would a sober person of reasonable firmness, sharing the characteristics of the accused, have responded to that situation by acting as the accused acted?”
In the case of Crown v A (conjoined twins)  2 WLR 480, the Court set out the key principles to be applied to a defence of necessity that the lesser of two evils was being avoided, where one of two conjoined twins would lose their life following a separation procedure:
“There are sound reasons for holding that the existence of an emergency in the normal sense of the word is not an essential prerequisite” and
(i) the act is needed to avoid inevitable and irreparable evil;
(ii) no more should be done than is reasonably necessary for the purpose to be achieved;
(iii) the evil inflicted must not be disproportionate to the evil avoided.”
I will outline the harm which I sought to reduce or prevent by my action that day. As we know, greenhouse gas emissions are causing dangerous changes to the climate. Emissions spiked by 2.1% in 2018. The IPCC special report of 9/10/2018, found that “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050”. The IPCC predicted that at current rates of emissions we will reach 1.5 degrees heating at some point after 2030.
The most grave concern with respect to climate change is the risk of carbon and heating feedback loops in the earth system, that then lead to irreversible tipping points. An example of this is the release of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas presently frozen in permafrost. It’s release would further increase global heating and trigger other feedbacks such as rainforests drying up and burning down, and ocean current circulation stopping. These feedback loops or tipping points, are now an imminent risk.
The IPCC report of 2018 was extremely concerning and yet has been demonstrated to be dangerously conservative by numerous scientists. I present Exhibit 1, The What Lies Beneath Report which explains the IPCC’s conservatism as a result of scientific assessment, leaving out feedback loops due to uncertainty, by politicisation, and watering down of language. The report details the expected warming by the end of this century under current policies, once factors excluded by the IPCC, such as feedback loops, also referred to as ‘carbon sensitivity’, have been included.
Exhibit 1: What Lies Beneath report, by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, published 2018 by Breakthrough - National Centre for Climate Restoration, Australia
I will quote from page 13 and 14 of this document
“Climate change is an existential risk to human civilisation: that is, an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.”
“Temperature rises that are now in prospect, after the Paris Agreement, are in the range of 3–5°C. At present, the Paris Agreement voluntary emission reduction commitments, if implemented, would result in planetary warming of 3.4°C by 2100, without taking into account “long-term” carbon-cycle feedbacks. With a higher climate sensitivity figure of 4.5°C, for example, which would account for such feedbacks, the Paris path would result in around 5°C of warming”
“Yet 3°C of warming already constitutes an existential risk. A 2007 study by two US national security think-tanks concluded that 3°C of warming and a 0.5 metre sea-level rise would likely lead to “outright chaos” and “nuclear war is possible”, emphasising how “massive non-linear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal events”.
The Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) explains what could happen:
“If climate change was to reach 3°C….Most regions in the world would see a significant drop in food production and increasing numbers of extreme weather events, whether heat waves, floods or storms. This likely scenario for a 3°C rise does not take into account the considerable risk that self-reinforcing feedback loops set in when a certain threshold is reached, leading to an ever increasing rise in temperature. Potential thresholds include the melting of the Arctic permafrost releasing methane into the atmosphere, forest dieback releasing the carbon currently stored in the Amazon and boreal forests, or the melting of polar ice caps that would no longer reflect away light and heat from the sun.”
“Warming of 4°C or more could reduce the global human population by 80% or 90%, and the World Bank reports “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible”. Prof. Kevin Anderson [eminent climate scientist] says a 4°C future “is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable”.”
“A 4°C warming by 2100 would subject 47% of the land area and almost 74% of the world population to deadly heat, which could pose existential risks to humans and mammals alike”
“At 4°C of warming “the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world”. Ecological breakdown of this scale would ensure an existential human crisis.”
To add to this, scientists are predicting that these tipping points are very possible within a 1-2 degrees temperature rise. We have already passed 1 degree of heating, so this means potentially right now, certainly imminent. I wish to show the court Exhibit 2 titled ‘Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against - the growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions.’ by Lenton et al published in Nature on 27/11/2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0 . This scholarly article makes the case that tipping points could be exceeded already ie between 1 and 2 degrees. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago. At that time, these ‘large-scale discontinuities’ in the climate system were considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Information summarized in the two most recent IPCC Special Reports (published in 2018 and in September this year) suggests that tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2 °C of warming”. I show the court a graphic illustration of the impacts of 3 degrees warming as Exhibit 3 ‘The hard truths of climate change — by the numbers’, by Jeff Tollefson, published in Nature 18/9/2019. https://www.nature.com/immersive/d41586-019-02711-4/index.html
I believe the defence of necessity rests on the harm being immediate and to specific persons. I submit that the harm is done by the release of greenhouse gases and it is inarguable that this is immediate. Every minute, every second, this harm is being done, as we speak right now. An analogy is the release of radioactivity or asbestos into the environment, the harm is done at the point of release, even if some of the impacts aren’t measurable until later. Some people will indeed be hit by the effects of these gases almost immediately, as we see in the floods, hurricanes, bushfires, and heatwaves that have been occurring every month since the action in April. Every further tonne of CO2 released into the atmosphere increases the occurrence of these events and does harm. We can be absolutely certain that, without governmental action, some individuals will die immediately, and in addition I submit that all those who live beyond a certain date have a high risk of dying from greenhouse gas-related harm.
There are billions of individuals at risk but I believe specific individuals need to be named, and so I name my two children, who are aged 9 and 11, as the threat to them was a significant motivator of my action. At current life expectancy my children would both live to 2089. I think the court would agree that they would ordinarily have a high chance of reaching the age of 60, which for them would be in 2066 and 2070 respectively. According to these scientific reports, by about this year, 2070, the earth's temperature is on course to reach around 3 degrees warming above the preindustrial average. To quote again above, a US security think tank predicts this kind of global temperature would lead to “outright chaos” and “nuclear war is possible”, and “massive nonlinear societal events”. Therefore in April, as now, I live knowing that from around 2030, when my children have just reached adulthood, they will be living in a world experiencing catastrophic impacts of greenhouse gases, and that by 2070 there is a very high probability that they, and their school friends, will be killed by it, one way or another, whether by starvation, or war, or in a heatwave or forest fire. I have already lost a baby daughter, and I know what it is to bury one's child. And I do not mean to diminish the lives of those in more equatorial regions who are, and will, suffer the impacts of climate change much sooner.
Even if this scenario had only a fifty percent chance of happening - and that would be objectively optimistic - does not a fifty percent chance of children dying constitute sufficient peril for a necessity to act? And because we know climate tipping points may be passed between 1-2degress of warming, it is only now that we have a chance to prevent this. In months, or if we are lucky a few years, but possibly already, it will be too late, the feedbacks will have run away from us and the heating irreversible. I cannot think how a threat could be classed as any more immediate.
How did I believe my action would prevent harm? I hope the court will agree that the release of greenhouse gas emissions has not, can not, and will not, be halted by voluntary actions on behalf of individuals or businesses. No other harm is prevented in this way, we do not leave it up to individuals to voluntarily not murder, steal or rape. We have laws to ensure all of society does not commit these acts. The harm of greenhouse gas emissions must similarly be prevented through legal restriction, and the accompanying policy to support this. This must be preceded by the government informing and engaging with the public in order to build the democratic mandate for the action that is required.
So, in order to prevent the premature death of my children, my action had therefore to be aimed at forcing the government to enact the process of communication, mandate building, legal and policy implementation. As the court may be aware, recent governments have instead actively reversed policies that would have helped reduce or prevent catastrophic climate heating I present as an example Exhibit 4 an article by Abby Innes, Assistant Professor of Political Economy at the LSE published on April 29/4/19. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/government-climate-policy/. To quote from page 3:
“Recent Conservative Chancellors have increased financial support for North Sea Oil and Gas. The 2016 Budget halved the Supplementary Charge (a top up tax) on the industry from 20% to 10% and announced £20m in funding for a second round of seismic surveys in 2016-17, to encourage exploration for new sources of oil. This budget also abolished the 35% tax collected from the profits of oil and gas production by reducing the rate to 0% and backdating this to 1 January 2016. As for the 2017 Autumn Budget, Hammond announced an effective moratorium on new support for low-carbon electricity.”
What options did I have to prevent this imminent harm? It is self-evident that traditional campaigning and community methods that I’ve participated in have been basically ineffective against this threat as greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. I based my action partly on the findings of Dr Erica Chenoweth, professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. I present Exhibit 5: Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, August 2011). This social science research provides evidence on the most effective action that can be taken in such situations. This was found to be non-violent civil resistance, which includes boycotts, strikes, protests, and organized non co-operation. In her research professor Chenoweth systematically explored the strategic effectiveness of civil resistance campaigns using aggregate data on major campaigns from 1900 to 2006. To quote the core finding, on page 2 “Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time”.
With knowledge of this social research I felt I had no choice but to participate in nonviolent civil resistance, believing that the harm is catastrophic and imminently irreversible, and this form of protest is by far the most likely to succeed. Therefore after much deliberation I undertook the action of peaceful civil disobedience by sitting on Waterloo Bridge. The question may be raised as to why I did not move to Marble Arch. To move to Marble Arch and protest there in what was essentially a park, would have been to be ignored by politicians and the media. It would have rendered the action ineffective. And what use is it to act to prevent harm, what right is it to protest, if one is only able to undertake ineffective protest? The risk of harm is immediate and catastrophic, therefore to prevent the risk I submit that the only reasonable action I could take was the most effective action I knew. To undertake less effective action would be increase the risk of my children and others dying. That is not a path I could in conscience or reasonableness take. That is why i believe it was a necessity for me to not comply with section 14.
One test of necessity is that the action is proportionate and no greater than the harm to be avoided. I do accept that disruption was caused and it is unfortunate if disruption to the lives of the poor or otherwise vulnerable occurred. I have spent nearly all my working life trying to support the vulnerable, abused and disadvantaged. I am extremely aware of the levels of disadvantage and difficulty many people in this county live with, and I do not take any impact upon them lightly. However it is extremely hard to undertake action which is effective and yet does not as a biproduct have some effect on the locality. However I believe that the greater harm that we acted to prevent is vastly, unimaginably orders of magnitude greater than the disruption created by the protests. And it is the poor who will suffer first and greatest from the effects of greenhouse gases, from heatwaves, food shortages, and social unrest.
Did April’s actions have a material effect on government and public opinion?I believe it is clear that the protests diminished or postponed harm to my children and others as they demonstrably shifted the opinion and policies of the public and some leading politicians. This has changed the public discourse on climate change which is a necessary precursor to policy change. Here is evidence to support this: Exhibit 6 is an Ipsos mori opinion poll in August 2019 https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/concern-about-climate-change-reaches-record-levels-half-now-very-concerned
Entitled ‘Concern about climate change reaches record levels with half now 'very concerned'
Page 1: New polling shows 85% of Britons are now concerned about climate change, with the majority (52%) very concerned.”
On page 5, Antonia Dickman, Head of Energy and Environment Research at Ipsos MORI, said:
“In 2005/6 we saw a peak in concern about the environment, reflecting the prominence of media reporting around, for example, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the Kyoto Protocol coming into effect and the Stern Report.
But climate fatigue appeared to set in, particularly in the aftermath of the economic crash when it struggled to compete for public consciousness. Recently though concern has been creeping up again, and after events such as Extinction Rebellion, the school strikes for climate, and the climate emergencies being declared by Local Authorities this latest poll shows the highest levels of public concern for climate change that Ipsos MORI has recorded in the last 15 years.”
The concept of declaring a climate emergency was developed by XR, and is the first demand of the protests. XR campaigns were largely what brought about the passing of climate emergency declarations by the majority of local authorities, and the many other universities and other organisations around the country that have declared climate emergencies since the beginning of this year.
Further support comes from poll in November 2019, Exhibit 7 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/07/majority-of-uk-public-back-2030-zero-carbon-target-poll?fbclid=IwAR2AMUgg8HQZ827atb2uyQ4j_lYPIyHCxvqe10HOksOnwR9_pDT0zj_1M5c which found 56% of people back a net zero carbon target of 2030, including 47% or conservative voters. I hope that the court will agree that before the April 2019 protests this would not have been the case, indeed a zero carbon target was barely part of public discourse, let alone polled on.
In the immediate aftermath of the April protests, parliament voted to declare a Climate Emergency and several prominent politicians have been vocal that the Extinction Rebellion April protests were a causal influence. I present Exhibit 8: “Jeremy Corbyn forces MPs to vote on declaring climate emergency after Extinction Rebellion protests over political inaction” , The Daily Mail, 28 April, 2019
I submit that the action has progressed the public discourse thereby reducing or delaying tipping points, compared to if the protest had not occurred. However, we must be clear that our actions were interrupted by the police and associated arrests. If the police had not intervened with arrests and disrupted the process, if they had recognised that it was a necessity I submit it is extremely likely that the protests would have continued for longer, grown in size, and therefore been more affective. I submit that it is the criminalising of the protest which prevents it from having its full effect. Therefore it is impossible for me to demonstrate fully whether being part of this assembly prevented greater harm, as my act was interrupted and prevented through arrest.
And the right to peacefully but effectively protest is why I believe these cases are so important, as I respectfully ask you to consider, whether criminalising peaceful, respectful, effective action, that is our greatest chance of reducing this imminent harm that will imperil billions worldwide and our own children... whether this warrants criminalisation, or whether, as I beg you to consider, it was a necessity. And to consider that, with all that I knew, I could not in conscience have acted in any other way.
My statement to the court - What an Extraordinary System
This situation is quite extraordinary. I was arrested on 24th April. Yet all I was doing was trying to ensure a reasonable future for my children and grandchildren, for your children and grandchildren, for everyone’s children and grandchildren and for the future of the planet. How can this be a crime? What an extraordinary system that deems the protection of life to be a crime.
The government chooses not to act, despite the scientific evidence of a climate and ecological emergency. In fact, the British Government is breaking the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2: the Right to Life. Given this irresponsible attitude, I chose to exercise my right to Freedom of Conscience (ECHR Article 9) and act. I acted to save life. But I was arrested for this …
I have never done anything like this before. I’ve certainly never been arrested. But then I listened to one of Gail Bradbrook’s speeches in October last year (Heading for Extinction and what to do about it. September 2018). I hadn’t realised that the climate situation was as dire as it is. I hadn’t realised it was such an emergency. But once I knew, I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. I had to act. In the face of all the really terrible and frightening facts about the future of humanity and the future of our planet - how could I not act ? So I had to join Extinction Rebellion.
David Attenborough agreed that “the facts are incontrovertible”, that “the UK must take radical action”, even “that we cannot be radical enough”; he added that “the government must inform and educate” (New Scientist 9 July 2019).
He’s right. It is the responsibility of the government to tell the truth and to take the necessary action. But they are not. And if the government doesn’t listen, if the government won't tell the truth, if the government won’t take responsibility, then the people have the right and duty to rebel.
So I joined Extinction Rebellion to rebel. I rebel for my grandchildren, I rebel for my children, I rebel for all the young people whose futures are so very bleak, who are currently protesting, being genially smiled at and patted on the back, but not actually being respected or listened to. I rebel for the future of our planet.
But I should have known. We all should have known. We should have known 30 or 40 years ago just how desperate the situation was. The government knew. But we were not told. And even now, when the situation is dire, they declare a climate emergency but do nothing about it. Shame on our leaders for not standing up for our young people, for their future, for our planet.
We face a climate emergency of unimaginable proportion. But most people don’t know the facts. Our April rebellion brought many of these facts to a much larger audience. Yes, we disrupted people’s lives. But in the face of climate catastrophe that is exactly the message - it can no longer be business as usual. We are facing a climate emergency. And our lives will eventually be disrupted much, much more so than they were in April,
Rupert Read of Extinction Rebellion says in his pamphlet “Truth and its Consequences” (July 2019) “We are in rebellion against a government that cannot be conceived as legitimate because how can a Government possibly be legitimate that is committing its citizens to an unprecedented mass murder-suicide?” The government has failed in its duty. So the only way forwards is to rebel non-violently, to do all we can to get those in power to tell the truth and act on it.
When I and over a thousand others sat peacefully on the London streets in April, we were doing the only thing we could do to effect change - we were rebelling - by disrupting business as usual and drawing attention to the climate emergency. So we were arrested. But we were committing no crime. We were doing our duty. We were telling the truth. We were telling the appalling, uncomfortable, difficult truth that the government will not address. We will all have no future if we don’t act now. The threat is existential. It is that serious. It is that huge.
We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction. On Wednesday 24th April I was doing what I could to ensure a reasonable future for my children and grandchildren - as well as all those young people whose protesting voices are not being listened to. I was doing what I could to try to ensure a future for the planet.
How could I not act ? How could I not do whatever I could for my grandchildren and their future ?
I know that pleading “necessity” does not normally win a trial in court. But these are not normal times. I acted out of extreme necessity. I had no option.
I should not have to be pleading guilty for trying to protect life.