Scientists support mass climate protests

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Ecological economist Julia Steinberger, one of nearly 400 scientists, who endorses mass civil disobedience to pressure governments to tackle climate change at a protest at London’s Science Museum. Photo credit: Louise Jasper / Handout via Reuters.

By Anders Lorenzen

Responding to the dire lack of progress in tackling climate change, some scientists are changing course. Instead only just producing research they are also becoming voices calling for climate action. A joint declaration by almost 400 scientists has endorsed a civil disobedience campaign, aimed at forcing governments to take rapid action to tackle climate change, and warning that failure could inflict “incalculable human suffering.” The list includes a diverse mix of scientists ranging from climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and many others, spanning across 20 countries.

Climate activism has increased in 2019, with a combination of the school climate strikes and the protests of the Extinction Rebellion (XR). The school strikes were started in Sweden by the teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and XR began in London, but both have now grown into global movements. 

Also in London, 20 of those 400 scientists teamed up with XR last week gathering outside The Science Museum, which in the past has been criticised for allowing sponsorship from fossil giants such as Shell. Wearing white laboratory coats symbolising their research credentials, a spokesperson, Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster with a PhD in molecular biology, read out a text on behalf of the group stating: “We believe that the continued government 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. We, therefore, support those who are rising up peacefully against governments around the world that are failing to act proportionately to the scale of the crisis,” she said.

Grossman explained that she believes the urgency of the crisis is now so great that many scientists feel, as humans, that they have an urgent moral duty to take radical action. Up until now, many scientists have stayed clear of putting forward an opinion about what governments should do to tackle the crisis, in order not to undermine their claims to objectivity.  

Other signatories to the declaration included several scientists who had contributed to the UN body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has produced a series of reports underscoring the urgency of dramatic cuts in carbon emissions. 

One signatory, Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist at the University of Leeds and a lead IPCC author, said: “We can’t allow the role of scientists to be to just write papers and publish them in obscure journals and hope somehow that somebody out there will pay attention.” 

Monday last week XR launched a fresh wave of international actions, aiming to get governments to address the ecological crisis and the acceleration of extinctions among plant and animal species caused by climate change. Protests, the group says, are now more diverse and include different people from society, as well as scientists. So far over 1,400 people have been arrested.

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