Court Statements Selection 4
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 took part in the Extinction Rebellion action in London in October 2019. As part of it I lay down and refused to move in Horse Guards Road. I did not do this lightly; I have been a law-abiding citizen for most of my life, working for 36 years for statutory and non-statutory health and social services, and further contributing to society and my community since retirement from the Civil Service.
All climate scientists agree that the planet is already in dangerous climate and ecological breakdown which threatens all life on earth. This is an emergency, and our Government is not taking enough action to avert disaster despite the evidence over many years from the UN Conference of the Parties, Parliament’s own Committee on Climate Change, and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change; and despite the Government’s commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015.
I have been involved in the Green movement for many years and have tried all legitimate ways of protesting about the situation and asking the government of the day to respond, including writing to the Government and my MP, standing in local elections, marching, and taking part in other peaceful demonstrations. This has not been enough, so I decided to take part in the Extinction Rebellion protest actions in October 2019.
My reasons for taking part, and for breaking the law, were two-fold. Firstly to help raise the profile of the Crisis so that more members of the public would realise the urgency of it, and secondly to try to persuade the Government to do more. In the face of an emergency it is not enough to look on and wring our hands.
We can all do more individually to help avert disaster; my wife and I are vegetarians, we have rarely flown, we have solar panels and our car is electric, and persuading more people to change their own lifestyles will achieve something. I like to think that the Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019 increased the amount, and seriousness, of public discussion of the issue.
However, the Government must do what only Governments can do, and I hope my action has contributed to persuading the Government to take faster and more effective measures to rescue a future for us all.
I have been a law abiding citizen all my life. I have never been arrested in my 68 years. I have been a professional engineer and business manager in the aerospace industry for over 40 years working on critical defence systems for our Navy, Airforce and Army. I have been a local councillor and an NHS volunteer I have four children and four grandchildren. I am not someone with nothing better to do nor am I a hemp smelling old crustie as our prime minister has labelled us.
The climate crisis is unprecedented, and I have not taken this action lightly -
A few years ago, I decided to look into the climate crisis myself to understand what was being said by scientists and environmentalists I have read many papers and reports, including those produced by the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change IPCC report. I have also read many books, one in particular by Dr James E Hansen, Director of Climate Sciences at Columbia University and previously director of NASA Goddard institute he wrote: in 2009 (storms of my grandchildren). “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.”
And recently David Attenborough addressed COP24 2018 “Right now we are facing a manmade disaster……if we don’t take action the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”
The science is overwhelmingly clear. As a result, I have reached a point of complete despair. Despair, because our government is not listening to the science. I was present in Whitehall to protest in the strongest possible non-violent and legal way to my government. The place was appropriate being as close to Downing street as was possible. I chose to exercise my right to Freedom of Conscience (European Convention HR Article 9) and right to protest article 10 and 11.
There is absolutely NO DOUBT that the world is heading for a climate disaster, indeed it is already happening all over the world, floods, storms, drought, fire and food shortages. Recently you might have read about the Thwaites glacier in antarctica now melting at rate 80billion tons/year and the Greenland ice sheet has passed its tipping point and could alone result in an 83cm rise in sea level. Elsewhere we are devastating the environment through pollution and deforestation which in turn is destroying wildlife habitats. Governments prefer to prevaricate or take ineffective action relying on carbon capture technologies that do not currently exist to solve the problem in the future. They are not being honest with us about the enormity of the problem.
If action had been taken in line with the IPCC Paris agreement, we would have had a 50-50 chance of limiting the planet to a 1.5-degree C - it would still create hardship to millions -we are already at 1 degree C. Because of continued inaction we are on a path to a 3-4 degree C increase which will cause widespread death or famine to several billion people. We are also encountering the 6th major extinction of this planet -the first to be caused by human activity. 60% of wildlife has vanished since the 1970.
This is not alarmist it is reality.
If your house is on fire – and this planet -our home- is on fire, from the Arctic to the Amazon – how can you carry on business as usual?
Scientists have said we have just 11 years to turn things around.
We live on a planet with limited resources so it is clear, by the laws of physics, that consumption has to be limited or we will all die.
We need to stop being so greedy. The state has a duty of care to its citizens and has obligations under European convention HR article 2 to keep us safe and it is failing us.
The general public may think the UK is talking a lead, but it is not. The govt says our carbon emissions have reduced by 40% (since 1990) BUT THOSE calculations do not include air and marine transport defence emissions and the manufacturer of imported goods – which is very convenient as these activities continue to grow at an alarming rate, wiping out all but a few % of those savings.
My grandchildren will probably have a lower life expectancy than me. By the time they are in their fifties they may already experience shortages of fresh water and food. They will be subject to alarming levels of air pollution already responsible for some 40,000 deaths a year UK
We all have a moral responsibility to leave this planet in a fit state for our children. The trouble is we are all too busy trying to earn a living and support our families within the system we have created. Whilst not apportioning blame we have to accept it is flawed and needs to change.
I would ask all of you in this courtroom to reflect on this when you go home this evening. Most of us present here will probably live out their days in relative comfort and prosperity. But if you think beyond your own lifespan what can you expect for your sons, daughters, grandchildren. What is our moral duty?
That’s why I will continue to do what I can to create change.
If not me who? If not now when? I acted out of necessity. My conscience tells me it would be criminal to do nothing.
When my grandchildren grow up and ask me why this has happened? I can’t I look them in the eye and say I stood by and did nothing.
If you find me guilty it is for trying to protect life.
During the Extinction Rebellion protests of October 2019, disabled individuals had their democratic rights to protest hugely restricted due to the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service, with many of them facing much harsher conditions than non-disabled people. Even the Metropolitan Police’s disability advisers (The Disability Independent Advisory Group) have accused the force of “degrading and humiliating” treatment of disabled activists during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. Every single member of the DIAG signed a joint letter to Cressida Dick in response to the mistreatment. When I locked on to the wheel chair of a disabled activist, I was doing so in solidarity with that activist and all disabled protesters who had their democratic rights removed, while also highlighting the importance of tackling the climate emergency.
Before October 2019, I was working with children in education. During this time I had also learnt about the climate emergency, and had grown increasingly upset and depressed to know that the children I was working with will face the climate chaos ahead of us. I initially tried traditional campaigning, writing to my MP and signing petitions, but the people in power weren’t dealing with the urgency that is needed to save humanity. I left my work with children to help XR full time to ensure that those kids could have a future worth living.
XR is effective at highlighting the urgency needed, and has raised awareness to the public, as well as forcing politicians and businesses to face up to the climate emergency and their involvement in causing it.
Every person is many things to many people. I am a father, a son, a friend – but today I will speak as a professional engineer.
In my professional life I started working as a physicist, after getting a First in Physics from Imperial College. I later became an engineer – working in the area of embedded control systems, mainly medical electronics – for over 30 years.
I stand here as someone who understands Systems, Safe Operating Limits, and Multi-Mode Failure. A multi-mode failure is where two or more failures in a system, which by themselves are not serious, are disastrous when they occur together. Engineers have to think about these ‘worst case’ scenarios – not because they will happen, but because they might happen, and sometimes do. It would be grossly irresponsible to design and maintain an aircraft without this understanding.
But right now we are on an aircraft – actually it’s a spaceship – carrying not just 300 people, but nearly 8 billion – the whole of humanity.
The logic of multi-mode failure applies to our spaceship and the Climate and Ecosystem breakdown we are facing. We know that many lives are already being lost to this, and that there is worse to come. What many people haven’t understood yet are the feedback mechanisms, where global heating and ecosystem collapse start feeding on themselves and run out of control – just how unknown and unknowable what we are heading for is. They haven’t understood the risk of multi-mode failure leading to a crash with few survivors.
I can’t remember when I first heard about the Greenhouse effect and Global warming, but I know it was decades ago. When I first heard about this, fixing it would have been almost trivial. In that time I’ve watched with mounting concern, which slowly turned to mounting horror as, decade after decade, the government and the media failed to inform and failed to act. Almost every move in the right direction has been grudging and reluctant and wiped out by even bigger moves in the wrong direction.
And so we find ourselves standing at the threshold of disaster. We are almost out of time.
In moments like this, it becomes the unavoidable and inescapable duty of every citizen and every professional to take rational action to prevent present and future harm.
I have always tried to stay within the law, and it pains me that I caused disruption – but, having analysed the situation carefully, I concluded that this disruption was necessary.
I therefore plead guilty to doing my duty, both as a citizen and as a professional scientist and engineer.
Thank you for the opportunity to explain myself. I would like to argue that the inconvenience to the public that I caused in October was intended to draw attention to the extreme human and animal suffering that will happen - and is already happening - if we do not treat the climate emergency as an emergency.
First I would like to address the specific charges, before explaining why I took this action.
1. Aggravated trespass
I would agree that I was trespassing, but question why this is described as ‘aggravated’. This was part of a peaceful protest; I did not speak to any staff or members of the public, nor did I make any threatening gestures or movements. I did not resist or challenge the arrest, and I walked to the police van. I would however like to apologise for the inconvenience caused to the staff of the building.
2. Criminal damage
Before I entered the building with the other protestors, I knew that we would be using glue on the glass panels beside the door. I also knew that this glue is fully soluble using acetone, and that acetone does not damage or mark glass. None of us therefore had any intention to cause damage. When I sat on the floor, I placed my glued hand on what I supposed was a static glass panel beside the doorway. I realised, too late, that this was connected to a part of the door itself, and it began to move intermittently. A protestor sitting beside me had to place her foot against this panel to pause it and stop my hand being trapped. No force was used, only enough gentle pressure to pause the moving panel. The panel stayed paused throughout the protest, until we were unglued, but did not malfunction. I had no intention of causing any damage to it, and as far as I could tell, it was still working when we were all unglued and standing up.
Why I took this action
Why would a reasonably intelligent, law-abiding person glue themselves to a government building - an action which, on the face of it, is pointless?
The answer is actually contained in the question: like thousands of others, I have listened to warnings from scientists about global heating and destruction of the natural world for more than 30 years. In response I have signed petitions, written articles and letters, joined groups and demonstrations. This had little to no effect. Until very recently, ‘the environment’ was sidelined, it was an afterthought tacked on to political manifestos and government policy statements, always at the bottom of the agenda. So, like those other people, I felt utterly powerless as I saw forests and towns consumed by wildfire, seas contaminated by plastic, bee colonies collapsing, species nearing extinction, pollution from road and air traffic increasing, and global carbon emissions on an upward trajectory that now threatens the existence of all life on earth.
Last year that changed: a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion put the climate crisis firmly in the public eye: the British parliament declared a climate emergency and citizens’ awareness and concern increased dramatically. At the same time, the terrifying reality of the climate crisis became more pressing every week as we saw fires in California, the Amazon, Australia, floods in Britain, and bad news poured in about melting glaciers, increasing emissions, criminal damage to ecosystems, and massive declines in insect pollinator populations. The actions in October were therefore intended to persuade those in power to act urgently upon what the scientists know, to design all policy through the lens of the climate crisis, and to bring the emergency to the government’s doors – in this case, the door of the Home Office.
This was just one action I have taken with Extinction Rebellion; other actions are more positive. A few weeks ago, for example, a group of us planted over 800 native trees in Cornwall in a day. My own motivation is simple: I cannot stand the idea that when I die, the natural world may not go on after me, that today’s children will inherit a wasteland, with no woods, no meadows, no moths, and nobody to remember how beautiful and extraordinary it all was.
I am also a signed up Earth Protector (international campaign to get ecocide recognised as an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court).
I am seventy, an ex-manager in Further Education and a non-binary person, an author qualified up to MA level, and a Quaker. As a Quaker I affirm rather than swear on the Bible because we are required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time, rather than just in court. So I will acknowledge truthfully that I understood the consequences of not moving to Marble Arch when directed to do so by my arresting officer. I was prepared to be arrested – not wanting to be arrested but willing to accept arrest because my conscience required me to resist the immediate dangers of climate and ecological breakdown, and my wide-ranging reading of climate science obliged me to take the only actions left to me, after many other failed attempts to sound the alarm. My action was taken to prevent a crime - one that far outstrips all previous war, massacres or genocidal acts. Nothing less than the extinction of all human and complex life on earth. My evidence for this threat is the research over fifty years by thousands of scientists using multiple evidence repeatedly peer-reviewed and rerun through computers, tested against observable changes in the climate and ecology of the earth. Speaking to the UN 2018 Climate Change conference, David Attenborough described the threat as “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world.” It is unprecedented, worldwide and not a fantasy, cult, journalistic speculation or film storyboard but hard scientific fact.
As a Quaker I am part of a peaceful, non-violent group, known for their conscientious objections to war, involving acts of civil disobedience. In the same way, I contend that my small act, driven by conscience and necessity, of blocking a bridge, was a proportionate and rational response to the scale of the emergency, and to the British government’s failure to protect its citizens and its pursuit of policies that acerbate the climate crisis.
In my documents for the court I have offered evidence that there is an imminent threat to UK citizens from a number of factors, including Flooding/extreme weather.
This includes flood damage occurring now to health and livelihoods in the North of England, described in The Guardian Nov 14th 2019 as, ‘…at least 1,758 properties have been flooded across Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire… including 1,200 people evacuated in Doncaster alone.’
To show this threat is increasing, climate-driven, immediate and dangerous, I’ve presented evidence in four parts:
Firstly, last year’s Met Office research which found that for England and Wales there is a 1 in 3 chance of a new monthly rainfall record in at least one region each winter.
Secondly, a quote from Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency: “Climate change is likely to mean more frequent and intense flooding. Floods destroy – lives, livelihoods, and property.”
Thirdly, the Environment Agency’s 2018 description of changing weather patterns in the UK:
- summer 2012, the lengthy period of drought ended when almost 8,000 homes and businesses were flooded across the country...
- winter of 2013 to 2014 started with a coastal surge and record sea levels on the north and east coasts. This was followed by 12 storms in succession and became the wettest winter for 250 years – 11,000 homes were flooded.
- winter 2015 to 2016 brought widespread flooding to 17,000 properties across the north of England. December 2015 was the wettest month ever recorded.
- threat of flooding is real and increasing – as is also demonstrated by its listing as one of the nation’s major threats.’
Fourthly, a 2019 study by The Universities of Bath and Liverpool reporting that Northern England and southern Scotland have seen an increase in flooding of more than 11% over five decades.
Not only is flooding and extreme weather an immediate threat to the UK but loss of biodiversity directly threatens the UK food supply.
Invertebrate expert David Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex in his 2019 report, Insect Declines and Why They Matter itemises:
- 23 species of bee and flower-visiting wasp species extinct in the UK since 1850.
- The geographic ranges of many bumblebee species more than halved between 1960 and 2012.
- Butterfly numbers down by 46% between 1976 and 2017 and large moths down by 28% between 1968 and 2007.
Professor David Goulson goes on to say:
“Insects are integral to the functioning of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, performing vital roles such as pollination, seed dispersal and nutrient cycling. They are also food for numerous larger animals, including birds, bats, fish, amphibians and lizards. If insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.”
The UK State of Nature Report 2019 said:
- Average UK temperatures have increased by nearly 1°C since the 1980s with widespread impacts on nature evident already.
- 13% decline in average UK species’ abundance. 5% decline in average species’ distribution. 41% have decreased in abundance. 53% of species show strong changes. 15% of species are threatened.
- By 2020 most UK Aichi Biodiversity Targets supported by the Convention for Biological Diversity won’t be met.
And Kathryn Brown, Head of Adaptation at the UK Committee on Climate Change says about temperature increase and water shortage:
“We know that the risk of heatwaves and higher average temperatures is increasing as the climate changes. Our 2016 report showed that, without further action, the number of heat-related deaths could increase from 2,000 per year today to 7,000 in the 2050s due to climate change and population growth. Water shortages are also a concern: we can expect greater water deficits across the country, including in cooler wetter areas like the north-west of England. The area of land well suited to the production of water-intensive crops, such as rain-fed potatoes, could decline by over 80% by the 2050s.”
Applicability of Imminence criteria
In addition, I contend that an imminent threat to wellbeing is not when people are actually being killed by floods, starvation, diseases or drought. An imminent threat occurs when greenhouse gasses are first released.
In other words, the current level of UK CO2 emissions, which stand 364.1 million tonnes, or 1 million tonnes per day (as evidenced by the following Government report) will lead to deaths.
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/790626/2018-provisional-emissions-statistics-report.pdf (See Page 6)
Quote: ‘In 2018, UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were provisionally estimated to be 364.1 million tonnes (Mt), Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for 81 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.’
The action I took was in the face of government failure to protect its citizens against climate-related dangers. Evidence of Government failure can be found in the following statements:
- The Committee for Climate Change’s annual progress report, published in July 2019, found that the government delivered just one of 25 emissions-reducing actions recommended by the committee in 2018.
- Kathryn Brown wrote: “Government funding for adaptation support services in England has ended. Dozens of officials worked in the climate team in Defra, and with other departments to create the first National Adaptation Plan in 2013. Only a handful of officials existed in the same team in 2018.
- A 2019 report from the European commission found that the UK leads the European Union in giving subsidies to fossil fuels: €12bn (£10.5bn) a year in support for fossil fuels in the UK, significantly more than the €8.3bn spent on renewable energy.
- Sky News wrote: ‘The Government intend to add 192 million passengers to the 286 million that already use their terminals over the next 10-20 years. It far exceeds the ceiling of "at most 25%" that the Committee on Climate Change has told the Department of Transport is the limit for sustainable growth if the UK is to meet its commitment for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.’
Prevention of a Crime
Although I had been ecologically-minded for several years, I became acutely aware of the climate crisis when I read the 2014 IPCC 5th report. It said:
- Warming of the atmosphere and ocean system is unequivocal.
- It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since 1950
- It can be said with high confidence that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass in the last two decades and that Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.
- There is high confidence that the sea level rise since the middle of the 19th century has been larger than the mean sea level rise of the prior two millennia.
- Concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased to levels unprecedented on earth in 800,000 years.
This was a terrible shock because I could suddenly see that the Earth might be heading towards disaster. I then began to research the CO2 count in the atmosphere, discovering from the Mauna Loa observatory that we were already over 400 parts per million and climbing. Realising that during the 70 years of my life the CO2 in the atmosphere had increased from 310.99 to 409-414 ppm, I felt afraid and distressed. I began to suspect that climate change of this speed is effectively a death sentence.
Later I read the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C with its requirement for ‘deep emissions reductions’ and ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ if we were to avoid runaway climate breakdown. This included major changes in diet and land use, transport and sources of power; building and insulation, banking and finance, consumption, and resource management.
I then realised when I read the 2019 UN Report from Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that since 1980 the global biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82% and natural ecosystems have declined by 47%. This represents an additional ecological crisis which, in the words of the report, ‘poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.’
Finally, I read several recent reports spelling out the accelerated trends in climate change, including faster loss of Arctic ice than predicted, the speeded-up melt in Western Antarctica (Thwaite’s Glacier/Ross Ice Shelf), the Arctic heatwaves and increased forest fires, and the disastrous melting of the permafrost 70 years in advance of climate predictions, releasing large quantities of Methane.
During this reading I became aware of feedback loops and tipping points. In the words of World Meteorological Organisation Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, “Climate change causes and impacts are increasing rather than slowing down… Sea level rise has accelerated and we are concerned at an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rises. As we have seen this year with tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes.”
He concluded: “To stop a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the level of ambition needs to be tripled. And to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, it needs to be multiplied by five.”
The human impact of these changes on health and wellbeing has been documented by the Lancet in the following words:
‘In 2016, global transmission of the dengue fever virus was the highest on record, the Baltic region has had a 24% increase in the coastline area suitable for epidemics of Vibrio cholerae, and in 2016, the highlands of sub-Saharan Africa saw a 27·6% rise in the transmission of malaria.
A proxy of agricultural yield potential shows declines in every region, with 30 countries having downward trends in yields, reversing a decades-long trend of improvement.
The health burden has been immense, with people in more than 90% of cities breathing polluted air that is toxic to their cardiovascular and respiratory health. Indeed, between 2010, and 2016, air pollution concentrations worsened in almost 70% of cities around the globe, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries. In 2015 alone, fine particulate matter was responsible for 2·9 million premature deaths, with coal being responsible for more than 460 000 (16%) of these deaths, and with the total death toll (from other causes including particulates and emissions such as nitrogen oxide) being substantially higher.’
I have taken the court through how my understanding of the scientific climate and ecological threats developed because I have found that many people are in a passive relationship to science. They don’t challenge it, but don’t read it, and their acceptance cushions the full impact of understanding. As a Quaker, having read the science, I took it into my heart - which required me to act. During that process I raised the issue to little effect through lobbying my MP, letters/emails to MP, petitions, demonstrations, published interviews on my blog and personal lifestyle changes shared with others. However, when I, with others, peacefully occupied Waterloo Bridge, my actions had a powerful effect on public consciousness. Media coverage of climate increased dramatically, public opinion surveys moved from 15% concern to the current 80%, while Parliament and 60% of UK local authorities declared climate emergencies.
Given that scientists predict a window of 10 – 12 years (at most) during which we must reduce the carbon count in order to survive, I contend that I had no choice but to take non-violent action to highlight these life-and-death issues. Given the peaceful nature of the occupation, the severity of the threat, the UK Government’s inaction and the effectiveness of our protest in bringing the issue to public attention, I contend that my actions were appropriate, reasonable and premised on genuine belief and conscience. I also contend that the science and commentary I have offered means that the requirements of conscience, imminence, necessity and avoidance of harm have been met.
I am a 77-year-old retired university law teacher, a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. With the future of our planet and my precious family at stake from climate change, I joined Extinction Rebellion’s protest in April, and the occupation of Waterloo Bridge. The eight pages of evidence submitted by Police Officer Kyle Saville in support of this charge correctly state that during the Tell the Truth protest I failed to comply with a condition imposed by a senior police officer under the Public Order Act 1986 ordering me to leave the Bridge. I had resolved to remain there peacefully until the Government addressed seriously the many hundreds of pages of evidence of the devastating consequences of climate change and stood up to their statutory obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. I was also resolved that as part of the generation whose complacency had led to this emergency I should be prepared to be arrested if arrests were made. I returned to the Bridge after my release from Brixton Police Station.
On May 1st Parliament declared a climate emergency, in itself an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of our concerns. Since then the Climate Change Committee’s Annual Report to Parliament has reported that “It finds that UK action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is lagging behind what is needed to meet legally-binding emissions targets. Since June 2018, Government has delivered only 1 of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track….. Planning for climate change adaptation is a statutory obligation but the National Adaptation Programme (NAP) is incomplete. Of the 56 risks and opportunities identified in the UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment, 21 have no formal actions in the NAP. Furthermore, we have been unable to give high scores for managing risk to any of the sectors we have assessed in this report. We are now seeing the substantial impacts of a global temperature rise of just 1°C. The Paris Agreement targets a threshold of well below 2°C, ideally 1.5°C, but current global plans give only a 50% chance of meeting 3°C.
In these circumstances, although the UK is committed to working for global action to parallel our own adoption of a net-zero statutory target, it is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C. Government cannot hide from these risks. “
And in these circumstances, I suggest that my contravention of the Public Order Act pales into insignificance in comparison with the Government’s failure to comply with its legal obligations to secure us a viable future. I sincerely regret that Londoners were inconvenienced by my actions, but I could not in conscience stand aside in the face of the threats that confront us all.
On October 15th 2019 I joined a group of people sitting in the road on Millbank.
My intention was to make a statement about the climate and environmental emergency, in the clearest possible way. I am so strongly concerned by the lack of appropriate action being taken by my government, that I felt a visible protest was all that was left to me. I am aware that I have the same right to sit on the highway, in protest about something I can find no democratic means of affecting, as do the drivers who use the highway for travelling.
I am an Earth Protector under the Stop Ecocide Campaign. I took this action in order to protect my community, the Earth and future generations. I have been active in environmental causes and in particular in raising awareness of dangerous climate change for over forty years, since becoming a mother to young children.
I joined Friends of the Earth, helped start the Ecology Party in Cambridge, joined Greenpeace, helped found the first Transition Town in Wales in Llandeilo, contributed to funding the production of a major feature film about the effects of climate change, The Age of Stupid, in 2008, was co-founder and Chair of Eco Savvy, an environmental charity on the Isle of Arran, sailed the Atlantic in 2014 as part of an all women research expedition into the presence of plastics in the ocean, organised and sailed a similar research voyage around the entire island of Great Britain in 2017, ran numerous Carbon Conversations workshops in Wales and Scotland and lobbied my MP in the House of Commons in April 2019 – all in addition to a continuing stream of letters and petitions in an attempt to bring the emergency to the attention of those with political power.
In these forty years, public discourse on the subject of what we now call the climate emergency has shifted from laughing scepticism about so-called global warming, evolving slowly through a fierce debate between the minority following the science and the majority of those who denied the science, to the current situation which I would characterise as acceptance of the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but with generally very little understanding of what this might mean in practice to us in the UK, let alone elsewhere in the world, where the situation is in many places already critical. There is even more limited understanding of what actions we can and must take to prevent much further deterioration.
As you will see from my environmental CV above, I have played a small part in bringing about this shift. And yet, it is clear to me and to anyone who reads, for example, the 2019 Progress Report to Parliament by the Climate Change Committee that we are on course, globally, for an increase in temperature of at least 3 degrees centigrade. I believe this court is already aware that this is an incredibly dangerous prospect; is the court also aware that not nearly enough is being done to ensure it doesn’t take place?
As the Progress Report states, ‘the Adaptation and Mitigation Committees have reviewed the UK Government’s approach to climate change adaptation and emissions reduction… We find a substantial gap between current plans and future requirements and an even greater shortfall in action…. In these circumstances, although the UK is committed to working for global action to parallel our own adoption of a net-zero statutory target, it is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C. Government cannot hide from these risks.’ In truth, our government is doing far too little, far too late, and congratulates itself on having made better carbon reduction promises than other countries.
In my working life, I trained as a psychotherapist and worked, within universities and the NHS, with numerous clients suffering with mental health difficulties. Then, in the last twenty years in particular I began, with others, to question how it was that my training equipped me to assist people with difficulties in relating to each other or with finding ease in their human lives, but never looked outwards at our massive human failure to relate to the natural world – on which we are utterly dependent, for food, for water, for breath - in a sane and life-sustaining way. As part of this questioning, the Climate Psychology Alliance, of which I am a founder member, was formed and the discipline of eco-psychology was developed. In my later working years, and into the present I continue to offer groupwork within this discipline.
As an Earth Protector, I am also particularly aware of the effects of anthropogenic climate change combined with other human activities of mineral extraction, forest destruction, over fishing, pollution etc on our global ecosystem, resulting in massive extinctions of many forms of life. Funds from the Stop Ecocide Campaign, to which I and many others have contributed, are devoted to supporting low-lying remote states and coastal countries (that are vulnerable to extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems, susceptibility to climate disasters and have limited resources) to have access to legal support and, in particular, to the International Criminal Court.
In becoming an Earth Protector and Trustee of the Earth I made a declaration of love and acknowledgment that the Earth, the ecosystems of the Earth and inhabitants of earth, whether human or otherwise have the right to peaceful enjoyment. I made a declaration of belief that this peaceful enjoyment is both a moral and legal right, and that any human act or omission which severely diminishes such peaceful enjoyment is a crime.
Becoming a Trustee of the Earth is to become a protector of a law which is in alignment with a universally recognised moral code of respect, peace and a duty of care for all life. It is a direct expression of intent to create peace between all beings.
This declaration touches me to the core of my being. I simply could not and cannot stand by and do nothing when the people that I love, and the Earth that I love are so immediately threatened by this climate and extinction emergency.
Today I attended the City of London Magistrates Court. I pleaded guilty to sitting in the road in October 2019. I read out my statement and was told I could leave.
Then a moment later an usher came out and asked me to go back into the courtroom. The judge said that he could see my actions came from honestly and earnestly held beliefs, and for such a minor offence he felt the police normally would issue a caution. He was therefore striking off my guilty plea, and asking the police to retract the charge, and issue a caution in its place. He was talking about this being done for all the XR protestors with the same offence that day. (I should hear within 3 weeks).
I am so happy. This is the statement I read out in court.
“In October 2019, I felt I could do nothing else except highlight to our Parliament the emergencies we face in our natural world, to illuminate facts so awful to grasp that they have been ‘kicked down the tow-path’ as a matter of course by every government since they came to light.
My method of communication was to sit passively in the road - without intimidation or aggression, without violence or force. Just to sit and await arrest.
I did not choose this method of communication myself. It was the one selected by Parliament. For 30 years, environmental experts and climate scientists have sought to engage our political leaders about the emergencies in the natural world, through letters, emails, petitions, meetings, NGO lobbying, marches and protests. All have been met with silence. The one solitary time that Parliament has responded in a manner appropriate to the emergencies we face was when, in April 2019, people sat peacefully in the road.
11 days later, Parliament chose to debate and pass a declaration of Climate Emergency. This wasn’t because a building had been stormed, a riot, or aggression. They chose to engage with facts after a peaceful protest highlighted them.
But then, again, nothing happened for 6 months.
What option did I have - other than to engage our political leaders in the manner of their choosing? I wish so dearly they would select another; but where they lead so I have followed.
Because to remain silent in the face of a billion deaths in my lifetime.... as a minister-in-training in the Church of England, to pass by on the other side is simply not an option for me or my faith.
Parliament is guilty of gross negligence of duty in the face of the greatest preventable loss of life in history.
I am guilty of sitting in the road.”
It was happenstance that I was on Waterloo bridge that day, I was in fact on my way home from the Marble Arch protest to Waterloo railway station to take the train back to Dorking. We stopped on Waterloo bridge on our way to the station, the bridge was filled with people of all ages, it was peaceful and well mannered, poetry was being read and music played.
Then a large number of the police arrived, blocking the road before me and it became clear that they were going to start arresting people.
It was at that moment I suddenly decided to sit down on the road between the police and the stage. I felt it was my duty, a necessity and the only option open to me, to protect the citizens of my country from government inaction in the face of grave danger taking place now.
I had witnessed over the preceding days many arrests of ordinary people of all kinds, from an old lady in a wheelchair, to young university undergraduates, all of whom to a greater or lesser degree understood the magnitude of the immediate peril we now face from rapid climate change and ecological collapse. It was my own understanding of this immediate danger that made me choose to join the blockade of the highway.
I have a voracious appetite for science of all kinds, I fellow scientific journals, regularly listen to their podcasts and read books which help widen my understanding. I know the limits of my own expertise though but I do respect the expertise of others, I take expert opinion seriously and when informed voices say we are in the midst of abrupt climate change I give them due credit.
I believe the governments own Climate Change Commission (CCC) when it details the threats of the climate emergency and clearly states that we should have done much more already and only immediate action in the form of radical policy change will fend off the very worst of what is now inevitable. I am of the opinion that it is criminally negligent for the government not act on such findings and recommendations.
Our most ancient institutions such as the Royal Society have felt it necessary to issue warnings but no meaningful response comes from the government.
The Bank of England is publicly flagging the climate emergency as the most pressing economic variable, again without meaningful government response.
The worlds oldest peer reviewed scientific journal Nature continually details papers on the truth about the existential threat now impacting our society and the stability of globalised infrastructure, the truth about food security, energy security, health security, limits of growth, the truth about the threat of conflict, the threat to democracy and the threat to the social contract. All real dangers, all extant and all unaddressed by our government.
Instead the government from my perspective takes time to gaslight the public regarding the facts. When confronted with the truth it is ignored, downplayed or questions, and then turned into a party political gameplaying opportunity. There seems to be no real political appetite to act now or to tell the truth. Government inaction is self evident.
The government clearly has opportunity to act now in accordance with the social contract, it could prevent the loss of life and liberty, it could apply the precautionary principle but it does not .
We have nationally some of the best climate science and policy advice in the world. The government could be ushering experts from the Tyndall Centre into Cabinet meetings to inform themselves of the most prudent direction to take but unfortunately this is not the case.
This is the reality of all our lives, all our futures effected by government inaction, no action on things that need to happen now.
I asked myself the question, “What can one do?”.
Well I discovered that I have a right to protest against such gross governmental failure.
I discovered compelling social science that indicated that public protest is a seemingly essential ingredient that proceeds necessary social and political change.
Empirical evidence also demonstrated to me that peaceful non-violent direct action is the most effective way of achieving real change from politically intransigent dysfunctional governments. Non-violent direct action also has a far greater success rate with real lasting effects, much more than violent uprisings , a much better success rate than any kind of mass violent upheaval and disorder of the very type that I am actually seeking to prevent.
Extinction rebellion holds these principles at its core. I had become aware of XR’s existence only months before and had just attended a couple of meetings prior to the spring rebellion action.
It’s declaration of rebellion had been signed by many of the kind of establishment and expert people who I respect. Its aim was to create the kind of peaceful mass disobedience that evidence indicated was necessary. Arrests were also necessary but the disobedient behaviour was simply to block the highway, the lowest kind of arrestable action, and protesters comportment was to be polite and peaceful at all times.
This was the nature of the disobedience I encountered on Waterloo Bridge as I made my way to the railway station. My split second decision to join the Arrestables on the bridge was made on this basis, peaceful, non-violent and non-criminal legitimate protest.
I laid down on the road in the sunshine, I was not intending to stay long but perhaps as much as half an hour later my arresting officer turned up. She told me she was going to arrest me for blocking the highway under some kind of powers. This is just as I expected, I was blocking the road by lying in the sun holding hands in solidarity with other protesters from my small market town in the Home Counties, she was welcome to arrest me as far as I was concerned, I was not going to resist arrest. I was there to uphold my right to protest and so was going to stay where I was. The whole thing seemed to happen in the blink of an eye, I was quickly arrested and in the back of the van, all very efficient except for some protracted confusion over which station they were to take us to.
My middle class white lived experience of the police was one of reciprocated politeness. My arresting officer was equipped with impressive social skills as she professionally probed me for incriminating evidence. I told her I was on my way from Marble Arch to get the train home from Waterloo and that happenstance had led to me being there, I spoke about the predicament that the over release of carbon dioxide is putting us in, about the extant existential threat we are under, and how the mass arrests were in fact the kind of overreaction by the state that would give the climate crisis the exposure that was needed and in the longterm foster public support for action and that is why I had decided to protest for the first time in my life, I said, after all is said done the police can’t arrest everybody and the government remain legitimate.
I was then kept in a surprisingly cold cell given the hot weather, I was held until the small hours of the following day. By the time I was interviewed shortly before my release, I was exhausted but fortunately my solicitor was able to assist by writing down a brief statement for me. I found the interview an uncomfortable and confusing experience, I did not like having to repeatedly decline to answer so many questions in such a sleepy state.
It was not until months later upon receiving my charge in the post that I became aware of what exactly a section 14 is, or the actual conditions that were imposed by it. Unwittingly my movements were the complete reverse of what the police wanted me to do that day. I had left Marble arch and gone to Waterloo Bridge because it was on my way to Waterloo railway station. I do not feel it was made clear to me at the time that I was expected to return to Marble arch the very place I had left to return home from. I had believed my protest to be legitimate and non-criminal. I am frankly dismayed that the judicial system I believed to be insulated from political manipulation should seem interpretable as directly carrying out the governments overreach regarding civil liberties.
I cannot see the public good in giving me a criminal record the first time in my life I chose to protest, or how it is a public order offence when I acted in a calm and peaceful manner throughout.
I am baffled to find out that that out of all the arrests made by the police nationally so few end in a charge and out of those few charged only 6% end up in the courts but the CPS are seeking to charge all those arrested at the easter extinction rebellion demonstration and take 100% to court.
I find myself wondering where the public good lies in that but I am heartened by the good in the public my arrest has revealed to me. My barber rushed out of his shop scissors in hand and customer left waiting in the chair, so he could thank me for my actions and wish me good luck at court, an ex-sheriff of Surrey and a bride on her wedding day have done the same.
When the shock of facing a criminal charge was raw my new friend the vicar came with me to the solicitors so that I was never alone. I’m humbled to be accompanied to the courthouse by good people, local citizens taking time off work to support one another, all invested in supporting the aims of extinction rebellion.
When I chose to rebel against extinction by lying down on Waterloo Bridge it was for the public good. It was to stimulate immediate political effect, to stimulate government action, to prevent great harm from happening. My story is but less than a 10th of 1% of all the stories from the Easter Uprising, each is amplified by every single court appearance, each a ripple spreading out across another community and each hopefully one step closer to climate justice for all.
The earth’s temperature is warming rapidly.
A mass extinction of species is happening – mammals, birds, fish, insects.
Natural habitats are disappearing at a terrifying rate.
The polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising.
The Amazon is burning.
Floods and storms increase in frequency and intensity
Rainfall is failing in already dry climates and deserts are spreading.
All this is happening and, according to IPCC scientists, there is not much time now to prevent a catastrophic conclusion within the lifetime of our own children.
What are our leaders in the UK doing? Politicians, civil servants, planners, heads of old commerce and industry, media moguls – there is lots of acknowledgement of the problems but how much real change? How can we ordinary people make the case and force policy makers to give serious and effective attention to environment, ecology, and climate.
For me, a very ordinary person, - mass action, with non-violent civil disobedience as organised by XR, appears the only remaining avenue. It is too easy to ignore anything else. I really don’t want to cause annoyance and disruption to people going about their usual business. But that is the heart of the problem – business as usual.
In the face of the inexorable consequence of non-action or ineffective action – we must shake up “business as usual”. I apologise for being a pest and a nuisance to others - but think of the alternatives if none of us do anything. You who are just going about your normal business - please listen, make your own statement, take your own action, do something yourselves to protect our unique and (at present) living planet.
I am 67 years old and I have never been a court defendant before. I was brought up by devout Catholic parents who always taught us to respect authority and the law. They would have been shocked if they had been alive to learn that I had been arrested. But I have been aware for most of my adult life that life on this planet is in danger. In my twenties I was an active member of the Ecology Party (now known as the Green Party). I stood as a candidate for election to my local council and to Parliament. I have four decades of knowledge that conventional means of political activity and protests have made minimal difference to the spiralling catastrophe of climate change.
When I first heard about Extinction Rebellion, I was astonished to hear that one of their recommended tactics was to risk arrest. It put me off involvement for a while. I went into Central London on October 8th2019 to fulfil the offer I had made to be a volunteer steward that day, in support of the occupation of Westminster Bridge. The bridge had been re-opened overnight, so there was no stewarding to do. When I saw someone drop the end of a banner on Millbank, I decided to act on my belief by then that desperate times require desperate measures. I picked up the banner and waited to be arrested. The Section 14 notice made the non-indictable offence of obstructing the highway into a criminal offence, when I was peacefully exercising my rights to freedom of speech and of assembly. The Section 14 notice was imposed “in order to prevent serious disruption to the life of the community.” It did not seem proportionate to the catastrophic disruption of climate breakdown for me to agree to move to Trafalgar Square, which is the site of so many sanctioned but ultimately ignored protest rallies.
The prosecution in cases like mine has argued that my defence of ‘necessity’ for my action, in order to avert greater harm, is not valid, because no-one was about to be seriously harmed on Millbank at 9 a.m. on October 8th. But the impact of the climate emergency seems very present to me. I cough daily when I have to walk along air polluted roads. I live in East London, where the Thames Barrier has been raised far more often than its builders anticipated. I have family in Essex, close to coastline that has been engulfed by the sea. I have friends in Sheffield, whose city centre was heavily flooded recently. I have family in Australia, not far from raging bush fires. I can’t put out bush fires, but I felt sure that it was necessary to risk the loss of my status as a law-abiding citizen, to contribute to a global movement that is saying our governments must fulfil their social contracts to protect us.