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Scientists face arrest for demanding climate action news and research

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

The climatologist was one of seven protesters arrested on April 6 (then released). Their motivation: the dire warning that time is running out quickly 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, Abramoff was back — this time walking with a group of climate activists on I-395 during rush hour. The group was arrested again, but not before they blocked traffic on one of Washington’s busiest freeways.

In both cases, their demands were clear: faster and stronger climate action from world governments and an end to the burning of fossil fuels.

“It was my first experience of civil disobedience for some reason,” said Abramoff, a climatologist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who stressed that his activism is carried out in his own name and does not reflect the positions of his institution. . She also spoke with E&E News only on her own behalf.

In the past, she had participated in marches and worked with nonprofit organizations, community groups and educational programs on issues related to climate change. But most of her previous activities “fitted into that usual mold of scientists as mostly non-partisan and non-activist,” she told E&E News. “It was my first real departure from this.”

A Growing Revolution

Abramoff participated in protests over the past week as part of the climate movement”Scientific Rebellion– a loosely knit international organization of scientists advocating for stronger climate action through nonviolent protests and acts of civil disobedience. (Abramoff is one of the organizers for participants in the United States and Canada.)

According to Abramoff, Scientist Rebellion started as a small, largely European movement a few years ago. It has recently caught the attention of scientists around the world. Last November, he staged his first coordinated international campaign with protests in Glasgow, Scotland, during a major UN climate conference.

More recently, participants staged protests in cities around the world following the release of the IPCC’s climate report last week, demanding faster and stronger global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Los Angeles, four scientists were arrested after handcuffing themselves at the entrance to a Chase bank. In Germany, scientists demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection. In England, they demonstrated 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 the National Congress in Spain.

Scientist Rebellion estimates that a total of around 1,000 scientists in 25 countries took part in the protests over the past week, often wearing lab coats to identify themselves.

Many of them were joined by protesters from other movements and organizations. Abramoff was joined in Washington by protesters from climate activist group Declare Emergency and indigenous activist groups Honor the Earth and Camp Migizi. Extinction Rebellionan activist movement calling for stronger government action against global threats to the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity, also held a number of protests around the world last week in response to the new IPCC report.

In a open letter Signed by more than 150 scientists from around the world, Scientist Rebellion describes itself as a group of “scientists and scholars who believe that we should expose the reality and gravity of the climate and ecological emergency by engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. Unless those best placed to understand behave as if this is an emergency, we cannot expect the public to.

The group adopted, as a sort of slogan, the phrase “1.5C is dead. Climate revolution now!” This is a reference to the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, if possible, or “well below” 2 degrees. vs.

The world has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius, which means the two goals are fast approaching. And the release of the latest IPCC report has called into question the world’s ability to meet the 1.5C target. Global emissions are expected to peak over the next two years, nearly halve over the next decade. and reach net zero by mid-century.

Although it is possible to bring global temperatures below 1.5°C later, by physically removing carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere, many experts believe that exceeding the target – at least temporarily – is extremely likely at this point.

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

Scientist Rebellion shares many common goals and strategies with other climate activist groups, such as its cousin Extinction Rebellion, including a focus on nonviolent civil disobedience. Organizers describe the movement — and the emphasis on involving scientists — as an effort to bring more attention and credibility to climate activism.

“There is a persistent public perception that activists are extremists who exaggerate the problem and overreact by breaking the rules,” the organization’s website reads. “Scientists becoming more involved in activism, especially when it comes to arrestable offenses, increases the credibility of civil disobedience. As one of our members said, “They can’t just call us a bunch of hippies.”

“Clear and present danger”

The scientific community has historically expressed mixed views on the extent to which scientists should also become activists on issues related to their own work. But in recent years, a growing number of scientists have begun to advocate for more activism on the issue of climate change.

“There’s really a paradigm shift starting among scientists about this idea of ​​neutrality and impartiality,” Abramoff said. “I really think this change 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 scientists have sometimes made controversial suggestions for activism.

In December, a trio of environmental scientists published a editorial in an academic journal calling on climate scientists to stage a global strike. Scientists should refuse to conduct further climate research – at least in areas where they are simply “documenting” the impacts of global warming on the planet – until governments agree to stronger climate action, have- they suggested.

The paper was met with mixed reviews from other scientists voicing their opinions on Twitter. While some sympathized with the authors’ frustrations, others argued that scientists have an ethical responsibility to continue their research and should work to bring about social change in other ways.

Most activists are not calling for a moratorium on scientific research. But a growing contingent of scientists around the world are advocating for greater participation in climate activism and environmental justice movements.

“It makes no sense for scientists to remain silent when their science informs them of the existential risk of a clear and present danger that is growing very, very rapidly,” said Peter Kalmus, a NASA climatologist. Kalmus also stressed that his activism and his interview with E&E News are conducted only on his own behalf and do not reflect the positions of his employer. “I think all scientists should speak up and take action,” he said. “And not only that, but scientists have a moral responsibility to do so.”

Kalmus also took part in a protest last week as part of the Scientist Rebellion campaign. He and three other scientists donned lab coats and gathered in Pershing Square in Los Angeles, where they chained themselves to the entrance of a JPMorgan Chase & Co. bank and called for an end to the burning of fossil fuels. According to BloombergJPMorgan Chase is the world’s leading provider of financing to the fossil fuel industry.

On the door behind them, they posted a forest green sign that read, “We are nature fighting back.”

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

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

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

“I feel really hopeless and terrified,” he said. “I can see so clearly where we are headed in terms of climate change, and I don’t sense any momentum or any intention on the part of world leaders to actually take care of this planet and deal with this issue, which really needs to end the fossil fuel industry as soon as possible.

To meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, the IPCC has warned that global emissions must peak by 2025. As that milestone approaches, Abramoff said, she expects more activism from the from concerned scientists around the world.

“Now that we’re kind of a growing movement, I think you’re likely to see rising stock rates happening all over the world,” she said. “I think you’ll see a steady handful of action, hopefully a slowly growing wave of action as the clock ticks down to 2025.”

Reprinted from O&M News courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.