March 28, 2021
From Extinction Rebellion (UK)
363 views


James, who is originally from Turkey, was first arrested on Horseferry Road during the 2019 October Rebellion and charged with Obstruction of the Highway. He was arrested again in July 2020 after dying the Trafalgar Square fountains red with Animal Rebellion and charged with criminal damage, and a third time in September 2020 for the Stop the Presses action outside Rupert Murdoch’s printworks for which he has been charged with Obstruction of the Highway. He has pleaded not guilty for all three charges and is awaiting trials.

“XR was the first time I felt like I was part of a group of people who cared about the planet as much as I did. It was the first time that I felt like my actions were proportional to the size of the crisis we’re facing. Being arrested, whilst not pleasant and something I would rather avoid, I felt was necessary to communicate the seriousness of the climate and ecological crises to friends, family, the public and the government.”

Good afternoon. I appear before the court today because I was driven to act by the terrifying situation that faces us as citizens of this earth. Like many other ordinary people, who have undertaken similar actions before and since my own, I felt a duty to our earth and its inhabitants to protect life and fight for a better future for all.

It was through my Master’s degree in Physics, specialising in Atmospheric Physics, that I was first introduced to the climate science and grim reality of the trajectory we are on. I remember vividly in my third year of university, where my lecturer solemnly closed a lecture on the nature of runaway climate change with a simple statement “Yes, it really is as bad as it sounds”. These words have stuck with me ever since and still haunt me to this day.

How can I relax when government failure to act on the climate emergency is leading the future of myself, my friends, my country and the world to spiral into chaos and conflict?

I am only 24 years old and I am terrified about the future of our planet. I am terrified to even consider having children with the thought of bringing them into a world of resources wars, over limited water and food. I’m terrified that I won’t be able to live out my life without having to resort to physical violence to defend my friends and family from those who wish to harm us for our resources.

I do not wish to do any of these things. I would much rather spend time with my loved ones, contribute to my local community and enjoy my life. But I feel like my life is being taken away from me due to government inaction. How can I relax when government failure to act on the climate emergency is leading the future of myself, my friends, my country and the world to spiral into chaos and conflict?

I will now quickly present some evidence of the materials that have had the most impact and influence upon me and the basic information that was in my possession and which I was aware of before my action. These will show why I believe that without urgent and systemic changes in our society it is likely that civilisation will collapse along with global ecosystems. They will also explain my motivation for my actions for which I am here today.

Global commitments and temperature targets

In the very near term we are less at risk in the UK than in other parts of the world. However, many here are already feeling the impact, in particular the young and the old. The 2003 heat-wave, attributed by researchers to climate change, caused the loss of 70,000 lives across Europe, including in the UK. Homes in parts of the UK, such as Carlisle and Manchester, are already uninsurable due to flood risk. Tens of thousands of lives are lost every year in the UK due to air pollution attributable to fossil fuels, with children’s lungs the most affected.

In 2011, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change warned: “Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5˚C. If we are not headed for 1.5˚C we are in big, big trouble.”

In May 2015, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in 2012, issued its Final Report, which concluded The ‘guardrail’ concept, in which up to 2˚C of warming is considered safe is inadequate … Experts emphasised the high likelihood of meaningful differences between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of warming regarding the level of risk from extreme events.

In December 2015, the 197 Governments which are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change united in rejecting the 2˚C limit as dangerous and inadequate, by adopting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which reframes the limit as follows:

  • “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.

Leading research concludes that beyond the Paris Agreement limit, a tipping point may be crossed leading to runaway climate change and a ‘hothouse earth’:

  • “This analysis implies that, even if the Paris Accord target of a 1.5 °C to 2.0 °C rise in temperature is met, we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedback loops could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a “Hothouse Earth” pathway… Hothouse Earth is likely to be uncontrollable and dangerous … it poses severe risks for health, economies, political stability … and ultimately, the habitability of the planet for humans…Where such a threshold might be is uncertain, but it could be only decades ahead…”

It is evident from numerous authoritative sources, including the UK Government itself, that even 2.0 °C rise in global temperatures would be catastrophic and we should do our utmost to stay below 1.5 °C, to avoid the zone of extreme danger for all humanity and the rest of life on earth. Yet, here is the latest report on how we’re actually doing towards that target, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who provides the definitive synthesis of all peer-reviewed science on climate change. Its last full report in 2014 concluded that:

  • “In most scenarios without additional mitigation efforts … warming is more likely than not to exceed 4 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
  • “Under these feedback loops in emissions (such as from melting permafrost) we could end up in what the IPCC calls a “high emissions” scenario, for which they give a mean estimate of 4.3ºC warming by 2100.

Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2°C in Nature – Rogelj et al (2016)

  • “Substantial enhancement or over-delivery on current targets by additional national, sub-national and non-state actions is required to maintain a reasonable chance of meeting the target of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.”

Now what happens at these high temperatures that we are clearly on track for, again according to the UN, UK Government and scientific institutions?

CLIMATE CHANGE A RISK ASSESSMENT – Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy, sponsored by UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Summary: More extreme scenarios would likely have very serious negative consequences. Sea levels would rise, crop yields could fall significantly, and there would likely be large water shortages. If we fail to adapt, hundreds of millions of people could die from shortages, conflict, or increased vulnerability to diseases, and billions of people could be displaced.

Without increased political commitment and an acceleration of technological innovation, global emissions are likely to follow a medium to high pathway: continuing to increase for the next few decades, and then levelling off or decreasing gradually. On a medium-high emissions pathway, a rise of more than 4°C appears to be as likely as not by 2150( a probability of 50%).

For any emissions pathway, a wide range of global temperature increases is possible. On a medium-high emissions pathway, a rise of more than 4°C appears to be as likely as not by 2150, a probability of 50%.. A rise of more than 10°C over the next few centuries cannot be ruled out.

Food: Crops have limited tolerance for high temperatures. When critical thresholds are exceeded, yields may be drastically reduced. The probability of crossing such thresholds in a given year, for studied examples of maize and rice, appears to rise from near zero at present, to become increasingly significant with global temperature rise of more than 2°C, and in the worst cases to reach somewhere in the region of 25% (maize) and 75% (rice) respectively with global temperature rise of around 4-5°C. This is one reason why high degrees of climate change could pose very large risks to global food security. 75% of rice crops could be affected – how would that affect global food security and conflict?

Sea levels: With 1m of global sea level rise, the probability of what is now a ‘100-year flood event’ becomes about 40 times more likely in Shanghai, 200 times more likely in New York, and 1000 times more likely in Kolkata. Defences can be upgraded to maintain the probability of a flood at a constant level, but this will be expensive, and the losses from flooding will still increase, as the floods that do occur will have greater depth.

For the second time in 6 months, yet only the 3rd time in 50 years, my neighbour’s house flooded during heavy rain just two weeks ago. They had just finished rebuilding the flooded kitchen from the last flood literally the week before, which flooded again. They were heartbroken and devastated. How can people even in this country expect to carry on without knowing if they’ll have a safe home to live in, in just a few years time?

Global conflict: Climate change has already increased the probability of extreme events such as the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the Syrian drought of 2007-2011. These events have contributed to unrest and conflict, in combination with other factors such as food export restrictions, existing resource stress, poor governance and state fragility.

Global conflict: Security risks at high degrees of climate change seem likely to be of a different order of magnitude. Extreme water stress, and competition for productive land, could both become sources of conflict. Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale. It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed. The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable. The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.

Migration and Climate Change – International Organisation of Migration (IOM) – part of the UN.

  • Current estimates range between 25 million and 1 billion people by 2050.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) – ECOLOGICAL THREAT REGISTER 2020

  • 1.2 billion people lived in 31 countries that are not sufficiently resilient to withstand ecological threats.
  • More than 1 billion people face being displaced within 30 years as the climate crisis and rapid population growth drive an increase in migration with “huge impacts” for both the developing and developed worlds, according to an analysis.

Amir, the refugee from Syria that I met: Because of a four year drought, exacerbating political tensions with resource scarcity, he had to flee his country to become a refugee. He spent a year travelling, sometimes on foot, to get to the Netherlands. He watched his friend get beaten up by police in Greece for being refugees. He paid for flights, yet was tricked by people smugglers and conned out of money. He was desperate to leave his country as he knew it had no future. Why is this relevant? Because the UN Institute of Migration predicts there could be up to 1 billion climate refugees by 2050. Imagine 1 billion people like Amir, forced to flee their own country in search of a better future, struggling so desperately to make it a reality. How did I meet Amir? He came to an Animal Rebellion demonstration in Netherlands, because he knew taking action for the climate meant life or death for people just like him. Now he is a refugee staying in a barely refurbished prison, sharing his cell with 3 others.

Belief leading to Action

The information I have presented to you is a dry summary of only a minute fraction of the information that has come my way. It has left me feeling frustrated, depressed and, quite often, in despair and hopeless. I cannot really understand why those ‘in power’ have refused to act. After all it is their world too. It should be the right and freedom for all humans and beings, all around the world to have comfort and security that they have a future ahead of them.

This was the first time I’ve been arrested. I’ve never dreamed of myself as being someone who breaks the law yet I truly felt I had no other choice to do my moral duty and try to protect others from serious harm, suffering and death

We collectively know what to do to halt climate change but it is not being done. But to be depressed and to lose all hope only makes the problem worse. I am fearful for the future for myself, for my family and for all living creatures on this fragile planet. I believe there is a real and substantial threat to all our lives, and that, in accordance with the science, urgent and systemic changes to our society must be taken now to mitigate the danger. That is why I took action on October 15th with Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion. There had been countless scientific reports, letters from concerned scientists, marches, petitions, and promises. But the government was not acting responsibly and enacting the policies that are needed to address the climate emergency. If the Government had done its job of acting in the public interest by providing the public with honest information about the scale and urgency of the threat, and had addressed the threat instead of compounding it, I would not have needed to engage in nonviolent direct action, which I took as a last resort. Like most people, I do not like being arrested. I do not enjoy spending time in courts nor do I wish to spend scarce resources travelling to and from hearings. I am pleading not guilty, even though I did refuse to move when asked to by a policeman on October 15th.

I am pleading not guilty because I believed I was justified in remaining at the protest in what I considered to be a reasonable and proportionate response to the climate chaos emergency. I believed that my action, along with many of the thousands gathered in London that week, would help avoid disaster and lead to change. And this has been proved to be true. It has opened up a space for real debate about climate change and what practical actions can be taken. It was through the work of Extinction Rebellion that the UK declared a climate emergency, following Wales who was the first country to formally declare a climate emergency. Moreover, Extinction Rebellion was declared the biggest influencer on the climate by COP25, the renowned international conference on climate change. We know from history that standing up against injustices, through acts of peaceful civil disobedience, is one of the most effective ways to move our society forward, just looking at the Civil Rights Movements or the Suffragettes. Would Martin Luther King be looked on as guilty, or a criminal, for standing up for his right to a good and equal life?

To add:

  • I had not planned on staying there indefinitely – just until the government responded appropriately to reasonable demands of taking the climate emergency seriously.
  • The level of disruption caused on Horseferry was minor – in the scale of a few minutes of traffic far less significant than rush hour traffic – in comparison to the disruption of lives of 1 billion climate refugees and the rest of humanity potentially embroiled in global conflict.
  • I have spent years doing lawful campaigning. I have marched, written letters, organised coalitions of organisations, carried out research, spoken to thousands of people and spent almost every day of the last three years thinking about or working for a better future. I have made personal lifestyle changes and sacrificed energy, time and even my dreams and opportunity of doing a PhD in Astrophysics.
  • This was the first time I’ve been arrested. I’ve never dreamed of myself as being someone who breaks the law yet I truly felt I had no other choice to do my moral duty and try to protect others from serious harm, suffering and death, both in the present and in years to come. When I sat down on Horseferry Road with Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion, I have never been clearer about what I was doing. I understand that we caused disruption that caused difficulty, and I am sad and sorry for that. I do wish that it was not necessary. I understand that in taking these actions I have taken police and court resources that are needed, pressingly, elsewhere, and I am sorry for that, too.

To close, given that our fragile planet is suffering massive climate change that will soon, possibly within 10 years, culminate in massive loss of human and other animal life, I had to do all in my power to bring about the necessary changes to prevent this catastrophe. We must act now, otherwise we are facing mass starvation, war and societal collapse. Our house is on fire and it’s time to stop ignoring the alarms. Knowing this, I hope you will agree that what I did was a reasonable, proportionate and necessary response to the emergency situation that we are in. I appeal to everyone in this room to search their consciences and do everything in their power to ensure we leave our children a habitable planet.” I urge the court to find me not guilty. Thank you.

Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2°C in Nature – Rogelj et al (2016):

  • “The targets collectively lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to where current policies stand, but still imply a median warming of 2.6–3.1 degrees Celsius by 2100.”
  • “More can be achieved, because the agreement stipulates that targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are strengthened over time, both in ambition and scope.”
  • “Substantial enhancement or over-delivery on current targets by additional national, sub-national and non-state actions is required to maintain a reasonable chance of meeting the target of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.”
  • “We have a 50% chance of experiencing warming greater than 3.5ºC, and a 10% chance of experiencing warming greater than 4.7ºC, by 2100”

IPCC Summary Report on Climate Change (2014):

  • If we were then to suddenly cut our emissions to zero, IPCC models imply that our chance of eventually exceeding warming of 6.6ºC would still be uncomfortably high, perhaps around 5%.
  • If we don’t fulfill our promises under the Paris Agreement and we repeal current policies, or if feedback loops in emissions (such as from melting permafrost) are common or severe enough, we could end up in what the IPCC calls a “high emissions” scenario, for which they give a mean estimate of 4.3ºC warming by 2100, and a chance of exceeding 5.4ºC by 2100 between 10% and 34%.
  • If we stayed on such a track, the mean estimate for warming in 2200 is close to 6.6ºC (again relative to 1850-1900), and the 95% confidence interval comfortably includes 9.6ºC.

Migration and Climate Change – International Organisation of Migration (IOM) – part of the UN.

  • Current estimates range between 25 million and 1 billion people by 2050.

CLIMATE CHANGE A RISK ASSESSMENT – Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy, sponsored by UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

  • More extreme scenarios (say, warming of 6ºC or higher) would likely have very serious negative consequences. Sea levels would rise, crop yields could fall significantly, and there would likely be large water shortages. If we fail to adapt, hundreds of millions of people could die from shortages, conflict, or increased vulnerability to diseases, and billions of people could be displaced.
  • Without increased political commitment and an acceleration of technological innovation, global emissions are likely to follow a medium to high pathway: continuing to increase for the next few decades, and then levelling off or decreasing gradually.
  • The risks of climate change are non-linear: while average conditions may change gradually, the risks can increase rapidly. On a high emissions pathway, the probability of crossing thresholds beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable will increase over time.
  • For any emissions pathway, a wide range of global temperature increases is possible. On all but the lowest emissions pathways, a rise of more than 2°C is likely in the latter half of this century. On a medium-high emissions pathway (RCP61 ), a rise of more than 4°C appears to be as likely as not by 2150. On the highest emissions pathway (RCP8.5), a rise of 7°C is a very low probability at the end of this century, but appears to become more likely than not during the course of the 22nd century. A rise of more than 10°C over the next few centuries cannot be ruled out.
  • Crops have limited tolerance for high temperatures. When critical thresholds are exceeded, yields may be drastically reduced. The probability of crossing such thresholds in a given year, for studied examples of maize in the Midwestern US and rice in southern China, appears to rise from near zero at present, to become increasingly significant with global temperature rise of more than 2°C, and in the worst cases to reach somewhere in the region of 25% (maize) and 75% (rice) respectively with global temperature rise of around 4-5°C.Biophysical limits on the extent to which such tolerance thresholds can be raised may be an important constraint on adaptation. This is one reason why high degrees of climate change could pose very large risks to global food security.
  • On a high emissions pathway, the incidence of extreme drought affecting cropland could increase by about 50% in the US and South Asia, double globally, and triple in southern Africa, over the course of the century under central estimates. The uncertainties around these central estimates are large: for the US and South Asia, in the best case, drought incidence could halve; in the worst case, it could increase by three or four times.
  • With 1m of global sea level rise, the probability of what is now a ‘100-year flood event’ becomes about 40 times more likely in Shanghai, 200 times more likely in New York, and 1000 times more likely in Kolkata. Defences can be upgraded to maintain the probability of a flood at a constant level, but this will be expensive, and the losses from flooding will still increase, as the floods that do occur will have greater depth. Thresholds of adaptation beyond which ‘retreat’ from the sea may become more feasible than further increases in flood protection are not well defined, but the most significant limits may be sociopolitical rather than economic or technological.
  • Many elements of the climate system are capable of abrupt or irreversible change. Changes to monsoons or to ocean circulation patterns, die-back of tropical forests, and the release of carbon from permafrost or sub-sea methane hydrates could all cause large-scale disruption of the climate. The probabilities of such changes are not well known, but are they expected to increase as the global temperature rises.
  • Climate change has already increased the probability of extreme events such as the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the Syrian drought of 2007-2011. These events have contributed to unrest and conflict, in combination with other factors such as food export restrictions, existing resource stress, poor governance and state fragility. At low degrees of climate change, further such risks are most likely to arise in regions where climate change is reducing already stressed resources at the same time as high rates of population growth are increasing demand.
  • Security risks at high degrees of climate change seem likely to be of a different order of magnitude. Extreme water stress, and competition for productive land, could both become sources of conflict. Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale. It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed. The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable. The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism. The temptation for states or other actors to take unilateral steps toward climate geoengineering would be significant, and could become a further source of conflict.
  • The number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions: for example, on a high emissions pathway, the probability of the Tigris – Euphrates river basin falling into extreme water shortage could rise significantly after 2030, reaching close to 100% by 2070.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) – ECOLOGICAL THREAT REGISTER 2020

  • 1.2 billion people lived in 31 countries that are not sufficiently resilient to withstand ecological threats.
  • More than 1 billion people face being displaced within 30 years as the climate crisis and rapid population growth drive an increase in migration with “huge impacts” for both the developing and developed worlds, according to an analysis.

James’ story has been covered by the BBC and the Guardian.

See More Arrestees




Source: Extinctionrebellion.uk