The danger of scientists being arrested for demanding news and research on climate action

Rose Abramoff drove from her home in Knoxville, Tennessee, into the nation’s capital last week to handcuff herself to the White House fence.

The climate scientist was among seven protesters arrested on April 6 (and later released). Their motivation: the dire warning that time is quickly running out to achieve global climate goals, as detailed in a major report last week from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Two days later, Abramov returned—this time on a rally with a group of climate activists down I-395 at rush hour. The group was caught again, but not before they stopped traffic on one of Washington’s busiest highways.

Either way, their demands were clear: faster and stronger climate action by the world’s governments and an end to the burning of fossil fuels.

“It was my first experience with civil disobedience for whatever reason,” said Abramov, a climate scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and she emphasized that her activism is done on her behalf and does not reflect her foundation’s positions. I also spoke to E&E News solely on her behalf.

In the past, I have participated in rallies and worked with nonprofit organizations, community groups, and educational programs on issues related to climate change. But most of her past activities have “fitted into this usual mold of scientists as being essentially nonpartisan and non-activist,” she told E&E News. “That was my first real exit from it.”

growing revolution

Abramov participated in last week’s protests as part of the climate movement “Scientists’ Rebellion” – a loose international organization of scientists that calls for stronger climate action through nonviolent protests and acts of civil disobedience. (Abramov is one of the organizers for participants in the United States and Canada.)

The Scholars Rebellion began as a small, largely European movement two years ago, according to Abramov. It has recently attracted more interest from scientists around the world. Last November, it staged its first coordinated international campaign with demonstrations in Glasgow, Scotland, during a major United Nations climate conference.

Recently, participants held demonstrations in cities around the world after the release of last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Climate Report, calling for faster and stronger global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Los Angeles, four scientists were arrested after their hands were tied to the entrance to Chase Bank. In Germany, scientists demonstrated outside the Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection. In England, they protested outside the headquarters of Shell PLC. They pasted documents on government buildings in Mexico, occupied the headquarters of an oil and gas company in Italy, and threw fake blood on the facade of Spain’s National Congress.

Rebellion scientists estimate that a total of about 1,000 scientists in 25 countries took part in last week’s demonstrations, often wearing lab coats to identify themselves.

Many of them were joined by demonstrators from other movements and organizations. Abramov was joined in Washington by protesters from Climate Action Activists Group Emergency Declaration and Indigenous activist groups Honoring the Land and Camp Megji. Extinction Rebellion, an activist movement calling for stronger government action on global threats to the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity, also organized a number of demonstrations around the world last week in response to the new IPCC report.

In an open letter signed by more than 150 scientists from around the world, the Scientists Rebellion describes itself as a group of “scientists and academics who believe we must expose the truth and severity of the climate and environmental emergency by engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience… unless People are in a better position to understand acting as if this is an emergency situation, we can’t expect the public to do that.”

As a sort of slogan, the group has adopted the phrase “1.5C is dead. Climate revolution now!” It’s a reference to the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, if possible, or “significantly below” 2°C. .

The world has already warmed by more than one degree Celsius, which means that both goals are fast approaching. The release of the latest IPCC report has raised questions about the world’s ability to ever achieve the 1.5°C target. Global emissions should peak within the next two years, fall by about half over the next decade and reach net zero by mid-century.

While it may be possible to bring global temperatures below 1.5°C at a later time, by virtually removing carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, many experts believe that exceeding the target – at least temporarily – is highly likely in these circumstances. stage.

“It is almost inevitable that we will go past 1.5 at least temporarily,” Jim Sciaa, an energy expert at Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC working group that prepared the report, said in a hypothetical presentation of the results last week.

Scientists’ Rebellion shares many common goals and strategies with other groups of climate activists, such as its cousin Extinction Rebellion, including a focus on nonviolent civil disobedience. Organizers describe the movement – and its focus on the participation of scientists – as an attempt to draw more attention and credibility to climate activism.

“There is a lingering public perception that activists are extremists who are exaggerating the problem and overreacting by breaking the rules,” the organization’s website states. “The increased involvement of scholars in activism, particularly when it comes to arrestable crimes, increases the credibility of civil disobedience. As one of our members put it: “They can’t just consider us a bunch of hippies.”

‘A clear and present danger’

The scientific community has historically expressed conflicting opinions about the extent to which scientists should also become active in topics related to their work. But in recent years, an increasing number of scientists have begun to advocate for more activism on the issue of climate change.

“There is really a paradigm shift that has begun among scientists around this idea of ​​neutrality and remaining unbiased,” Abramov said. “I really think this shift is just an acknowledgment of the inherent humanity of scientists and the fact that we have feelings – and inalienable rights to express those feelings.”

Some scholars have sometimes put forward controversial suggestions regarding the activity.

In December, three environmental scientists published an op-ed in an academic journal calling for climate scientists to launch a global strike. They suggested that scientists refuse to conduct any further climate research – at least in areas where they “simply document” the effects of global warming on the planet – until governments agree to stronger climate measures.

The paper was met with mixed comments from other scientists who expressed their views on Twitter. While some sympathized with the authors’ frustrations, others have argued that scientists have a moral responsibility to continue their research and should work to effect social change in other ways.

Most activists are not calling for the cessation of scientific research. But a growing group of scientists around the world is calling for greater participation in the climate activism and environmental justice movements.

“It doesn’t make sense for scientists to remain silent when their knowledge of an existential risk is a clear and present danger that is increasing very, very rapidly,” said Peter Calmos, a climate scientist at NASA. Calmus also emphasized that his activism and interview with E&E News are conducted solely on his behalf and do not reflect his employer’s positions. “I feel that all scientists should speak out in this way and take action,” he said. “And not only that, but scientists have a moral responsibility to do so.”

Calmos also participated in a demonstration last week as part of the Scholars Rebellion campaign. He and three other scientists wore lab coats and gathered in Pershing Square in Los Angeles, where they chained themselves to the entrance of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and called for an end to burning fossil fuels. According to Bloomberg, JPMorgan Chase is the world’s largest financing provider to the fossil fuel industry.

On the door behind them, they put a forest green sign that says “We Nature Stands Up.”

“The scholars of the world have been ignored, and they must stop,” Calmus said in an emotional speech as he stood chained to the door of the bank. “It’s time for all of us to stand up and take risks and make sacrifices for this beautiful, life-giving planet, healthy air.”

The police eventually arrested all four scientists after they refused to clear the area. They were later released.

It was Kalmus’ first experience risking arrest while engaging in civil disobedience, he told E&E News. But it has been involved in various other forms of climate activism for at least 16 years. Calmos has two teenage sons and says he is “willing to risk everything” to ensure a livable planet for his children.

“I’m actually really desperate and terrified,” he said. “I can clearly see where we’re going in terms of climate change, and I don’t feel any momentum or any intention on the part of world leaders to really care about this planet and take care of this problem, which really requires ending the fossil fuel industry as quickly as possible.”

To reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that global emissions must peak by 2025. As that milestone approaches, Abramov said, she expects more activity from concerned scientists around the world.

“Now that we’re kind of a growing movement, I think you’re likely to see increased rates of action happening all over the world,” she said. “I think you will see a steady slight decline, and hopefully there will be a slowly increasing tide of movement as the clock approaches 2025.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.

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