Nine months later, and for the first time in my life, I am on trial, for breaching a ‘Section 14’ order intended to clear rebels off the streets.
In the dock, I take the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Telling the truth because other people haven’t.
The government has a binding legal obligation to inform the public, and has failed. The media has told partial truths and untruths, actively misinforming the public, undermining the work of climate scientists who have faced death threats for their tenacious truth-telling.
I speak in my own defence. This is my statement.
I want to thank the court for its time and attention, to thank the police officers for their part in this, to thank the Judge. I particularly want to thank the court usher, for her presence and her part in creating an atmosphere of kindness. Thank you. I understand that I have about half an hour to make my statement, and I thank the court in advance for listening to it.
My name is Jay, and I am a writer. I have written about climate change and the living world for decades. I have also spent a lot of time in Indigenous communities. They are likely to be severely affected by the climate crisis. I have been writer in residence at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and worked with the organisation Tipping Point to communicate the severity and urgency of the climate crisis to the wider public.
Nothing I or any of us has done has had anything like the necessary effect, nothing in proportion to the horror that is to come and, indeed, is already happening for many people in developing countries. No amount of careful peer-reviewed scientific study has appropriately alerted the public, largely because the two avenues through which this information should have been spread — the government and the media — have signally failed in their duty to sufficiently inform the public and at times the media has actively misinformed the public.
When I heard about XR, I felt that this is exactly the kind of movement that was necessary: a movement absolutely committed to peaceful direct action in order to make the media and the government ‘Tell The Truth’ about the situation we are in. That is why I was particularly happy to be by the Pink Boat, within sight and sound of the BBC with Tell The Truth stencilled on it.
By April last year I had decided to risk breaking the law, for the first time in my life. I respect the principle of law. Indeed, one of the things I most fear about the climate crisis is the widespread and terrifying lawlessness of societal breakdown. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) argues that if the courts allowed a defence of necessity for acts of conscience, then the result would be (I quote) ‘anarchy’: ‘necessity can very easily become simply a mask for anarchy’, the CPS write in their recent letter to me. If anarchy is understood to mean fraud, violence, intimidation, murder etc, then it seems there are already laws to protect people and property from any such acts now, but there will not be any such assurance in the future when the full evils of climate breakdown hit. Further, in a strictly non-violent protest, acts of ‘anarchy’ do not take place.
My actions caused some inconvenience for which I am genuinely sorry. I acted in a wholly peaceful way to draw attention to the current deaths and the impending horror of the climate crisis. I am a signed-up conscientious earth protector and I consider I acted out of Necessity to prevent a ‘Greater Evil’.
I understand a Section 14 can be imposed if there is danger of serious disruption to the life of the community. In my view, we were attempting to protect community in a broad sense, including those not in the immediate vicinity, including the community of the unborn. This is for the children.
The CPS says that I ‘must have known that blocking a highway could have no impact on the alleged threat. In the present case, there is no real nexus between the failure to comply with S14 … and any actual threat of death or serious injury from climate change… the only intention was to raise publicity for the campaign’. I would argue that there certainly is a real nexus between the failure to comply with S14 and the evils of the climate crisis. That nexus is the media. The CPS is absolutely correct to say the intention was to raise publicity for the campaign. This is not so much their prosecution as it is my defence.
I am setting out my argument now in brief and then I will go through step by step with evidence.
The climate crisis inflicts inevitable and irreparable evil.
Avoiding a climate crisis cannot be done without first raising public awareness.
Governments are not raising public awareness sufficiently.
The media are not raising public awareness sufficiently.
The media has the power to set the agenda and shape public priorities, however, media coverage of protest is low when there is no disruption.
Media coverage increases dramatically when there is disruption and a willingness to test the law.
Peaceful but disruptive civil disobedience is intrinsic to XR, and is necessary.
XR gained massive coverage and created an urgency in public discourse, significantly altering the attitude of the media towards the climate crisis.
Widespread press coverage in turn altered public awareness. Press and public awareness led directly to policy change, eg declarations of climate emergency and zero-carbon targets.
I include an expert witness statement from John Ashton who was the British Government’s climate change Ambassador and Special Representative for three successive Foreign Secretaries. My second expert witness statement is from Professor Justin Lewis, Professor at Cardiff University Research Centre in Journalism and Media. My third expert witness statement is from George Marshall, specialist on climate communications for the IPCC and the UK government.
The climate crisis inflicts inevitable and irreparable evil
The World Health Organisation says ‘Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.’ The DARA International report, commissioned by 20 countries, says ‘Climate Change causes 400,000 deaths on average each year… combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade.’ DARA reports that ‘the deaths are mainly due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries.’
The British Government’s former climate change Ambassador John Ashton writes: ‘it is … reasonable to characterize the climate crisis… as a climate emergency.’ Professor Lewis writes: ‘An overwhelming body of scientific evidence suggests [climate change] now presents a clear and present danger to life on earth.’
A report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found evidence that a 1.5-2 degrees Celsius increase in average global temperatures is likely to be crossed by 2030 at current rates of emissions.
This is exacerbated by tipping points of unpredictable but irreversible impacts with devastating consequences, as the Guardian reports, which many scientists say have been given insufficient weight in the IPCC report.
Avoiding a Climate Crisis cannot be done without first raising public awareness
John Ashton writes: ‘One precondition for faster progress within our democratic system will be an enhanced level of public awareness…’
Governments are not raising public awareness sufficiently
Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Institute has said that ‘The lack of awareness of the UK public of how climate change is already affecting them represents a colossal failure by the Government and its agencies, including the Environment Agency and the Met Office, to communicate with the public about this issue.’
The media are not raising public awareness sufficiently
Professor Lewis writes: ‘Over the last 30 years media coverage has not matched the significance of the issue or the weight of scientific evidence.’
The media has the power to set the agenda and shape public priorities. However, media coverage of protest is low when there is no disruption
Professor Lewis writes: ‘peaceful demonstrations with no conflict are less likely to get media attention than protests which involve conflict.’ Decades of lawful marches have not worked. Professor Lewis is quoting solid academic studies and research.
Media coverage increases dramatically when there is disruption and a willingness to test the law
Professor Lewis writes: ‘media coverage of demonstrations generally increases if the police make arrests. For this reason, Extinction Rebellion have been conspicuously successful in putting climate change on the media agenda.’ Again, Professor Lewis is quoting solid academic studies and research.
Peaceful but disruptive civil disobedience is intrinsic to XR, and is necessary
John Ashton writes ‘Peaceful but disruptive direct action, on a scale capable of communicating directly and without distortion across society is also necessary.’ He is, I stress, the UK’s former climate change Ambassador. He has not come to that conclusion lightly that peaceful but disruptive direct action is necessary, and says it because of what he knows about the climate and the insufficiency of state action.
XR gained massive coverage and created an urgency in public discourse, significantly altering the attitude of the media towards the climate crisis
Professor Lewis writes: ‘It is only over the last year or so that we have finally begun to see a shift towards more serious, significant and sustained media coverage of anthropogenic climate change. This has been in direct response to the School climate strikes and coverage of acts of civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion.’
Widespread press coverage in turn altered public awareness
Quoting a YouGov poll, six weeks after the April Rebellion, the Guardian stated: ‘The environment is now cited by people as the third most pressing issue facing the nation … ahead of the economy, crime and immigration.’ The Guardian added that ‘Public concern about the environment has soared to record levels in the UK since the visit of Greta Thunberg to Parliament and the Extinction Rebellion protests in April.’
An Ipsos Mori opinion poll in August 2019 showed 85% of Britons are now concerned about climate change, with the majority (52%) very concerned. Citing the effect of Extinction Rebellion, Ipsos Mori’s poll showed the highest levels of public concern for climate change in the last 15 years.
Press and public awareness led directly to policy change, eg declarations of climate emergency and zero-carbon targets
The concept of declaring a climate emergency was developed by XR. Climate emergency declarations have been made by the church, the majority of local authorities, many universities and other organisations. As a direct result of the April Rebellion, a climate emergency was declared by Parliament in May 2019.
A poll in November 2019 found that 56% of people backed a net zero carbon target of 2030.
Professor Lewis comments that XR putting climate change on the media agenda ‘in turn, has prompted a political response.’
George Marshall is a communications specialist and founder of Climate Outreach, external communications advisers to the IPCC and the World Bank, and to many governments including the UK. As Marshall writes:
polling data … shows a very significant increase in public concern about climate change and demands for governmental action…I have no doubt that the protests of Extinction Rebellion played a major role in this shift in attitudes and in bringing the issue of climate change to public and government attention.
Marshall shows that the British government has a binding legal obligation to develop educational public awareness on climate change and its effects and he writes:
As a specialist in communications, and advisor to many governments, I have no hesitation in saying that the British government has failed to meet these obligations and still has no adequate strategy for achieving them. In my view the effectiveness of Extinction Rebellion in bringing the urgency of climate change to public attention, and the repeated demands of the protesters to “Tell The Truth” are entirely within the spirit of this international commitment. The failure of the government to build a broad-based public mandate for action has required this form of disruptive action.
So to sum up where I have got to so far: I have argued that, contrary to the view of the CPS, there is absolutely a real nexus between my failure to comply with the Section 14 order, and the evils of the climate crisis: and that nexus is the media. Climate change is killing people and will kill more. Particularly children. The only way to attempt to avert it or lessen its effect is to massively increase public awareness. The only way to do that is through the media. Neither the government nor the media had adequately informed the public as to the scale, speed and horror of the situation. Part of the problem is that the media barely reports on protests that simply involve speeches and crowds standing around where they are told, out of the way. The media does, though, report on protests with mass arrests. And this strategy worked, as all the evidence shows.
I want the court to know that for me it has been incredibly hard — frightening, actually — to get to the point where I break the law and risk becoming a convicted criminal. I have needed a lot of help and support along the way, and I am really touched that, unprompted, my expert witnesses offered the following words. It meant a lot to me to read them.
Former Ambassador John Ashton writes:
The decision to participate in direct action of any kind is intensely personal, especially if it might lead to arrest and a criminal record. In the case of the climate crisis, future generations will look back on those who made that commitment, and who acted peacefully and with compassion towards their fellow citizens, as heroes in a justified struggle…They are far from being criminals. And if, from an excessively narrow perspective they can be alleged to have committed any crime, they will be seen to have done so only in pursuit of the true public interest in preventing a greater crime from being perpetrated.
Professor Lewis writes:
To criminalise Extinction Rebellion would be, in effect, to penalise an example of good and thoughtful citizenship. It would, in effect, send a message that the minor inconveniences caused by their actions are more important than the most serious threat to life on earth humankind has ever faced, one that places us and future generations at risk. … History will judge them in the same way we now judge the civil rights movement.
Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, said Nelson Mandela. History is calling from the future, a hundred years from now. Half a hundred years. Ten. Today. Calling the conscience of all of humanity to act with the fierce urgency of now. This is the time. Wherever we are standing is the place. We have just this one flickering instant to hold the winds of worlds in our hands, to vouchsafe the future. This is what destiny feels like. We all need to live by a credo that matters. This is mine. We have to be greater than we have ever been, dedicated, selfless, self-sacrificial.
Humanity itself is on the brink of the abyss: our potential extinction. We face a breakdown of all life, the tragedy of tragedies: the unhallowed horror. Time is broken and buckled, and seasons are out of step so even the plants are confused. Ancient wisdoms are being betrayed: to every thing there was a season, a time to be born and a time to be a child, protected and cared for, but the young are facing a world of chaos and harrowing cruelty. We are nature and it is us, and the extinction of the living world is our suicide. Not one sparrow can now be beneath notice, not one bee.
Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars, and they are lining up now to write rebellion across the skies. There is no choice. This is a rebellion for the young people and for the grandmothers. This is for the turtle and the salamander, the dugong and the dove. It is for the finned, furry and feathered ones, the ones who scamper and swim, the chattering, chirping and hooting ones.
Each generation is given two things: one is the gift of the world, and the other is the duty of keeping it safe for those to come. This contract is broken, and it is happening on our watch.
The world’s resources are being seized faster than the natural world can replenish them. The climate crisis means the future will pay dearly for the actions of the present. Children can do the maths on this, and know they are being sent the bill. And the young are in rebellion now. Why? Because they are the touchstone of nations, carrying the moral authority of innocence. Because they are young enough to know cheating is wrong and old enough to see they have been cheated of their safety, their dreams and their future. Because they are young enough to be awed by the magic of living creatures and old enough to be heartbroken by their slaughter. Because they are young enough to know it is wrong to lie and old enough to use the right words: this is an emergency.
Worldwide, the heaviest emissions have been produced by the richest nations, while the heaviest consequences are being felt by the poorest. The few have sown the wind, and are forcing the many to reap the whirlwind.
Extinction Rebellion’s vision is a politics of kindness. Its vision depends on values that are the most ordinary and therefore the most precious: honesty, decency, fairness, and care.
This vision has a map. It is the map of the human heart. Believing in unflinching truth, reckless beauty and audacious love, knowing that life is worth more than money and that there is nothing greater, nothing more important, nothing more sacred than protecting the spirit deep within all life. This is life in rebellion for life.
This credo is what brought me to standing in the dock here.
I am wearing this bracelet. A mother came up to me in Oxford Circus with her daughter, about five, who had made this ribboned wristband, and her mother asked me if I would mind wearing it. Would I mind? It’d be an honour. It was to say thank you to people who were willing to be arrested, she said. So I wore this for the child, as she had made it for me. Without knowing each other. And that is the point. That we will hold the hand of strangers, a little bit of me stays with her, and a little bit of her stays with me. The bonds between us all.
I am not going to talk about the law, and I am not going to discuss the fact that the Chief Inspector has been shown in two cases involving XR in December to have misunderstood the European Human Rights Act. I am not going to talk more about the precise legal grounds for the defence of necessity. I am not going to include all the legal arguments for our right to protest and whether this is being infringed.
I am not going to talk about the law. I am going to talk about justice. At the Rebellion in April last year I saw one of the most poignant things I have ever seen. On Waterloo Bridge, amongst reams of forget-me-nots, a little girl in a red cape was writing in chalk on the tarmac. She wrote: ‘There is no planet B so we’re asking for your hep.’ She examines what she has written, then carefully adds the missing ‘l’. Help. She walks away. Then she stops, turns back, studies it again, kneels down and adds ‘Please.’ It is unbearably painful to see a child on her knees pleading for her life. This is injustice of the most damning sort: that children are facing lives dramatically and horribly affected by the climate crisis. Really seeing the truth of this situation is terrifying and full of grief.
There would be justice if her plea was heard. Justice if her life was protected. It would be fair and just if the next generations could grow up without feeling terrified, with reason, of what the future holds in a world of climate crisis, whose imminent threat of evil will be so great that it holds all other evils within it. All forms of brutality, rape and murder. I feel passionately that we need to protect life — in all its forms — and to act with justice towards future generations.
The job of a writer is to be a good messenger for others, even if it is difficult. A few years ago, I went to West Papua, to talk with Indigenous people there, who are the victims of a genocide because their lands are being seized for extractive industries. It is a microcosm of the situation many indigenous people are in. A few years before I visited, writers and reporters had been shot for covering this genocide. Yes, I was scared. Yes, I went. It is Indigenous People who are at the sharp end of the climate crisis, they who are losing their land and water, their lives, and their languages and culture. It is their children more than any who risk losing their lives because of the climate crisis. This is for the children.
I love children and always wanted a child, but I am truly relieved now that I do not have one, because I would at some point plead with them not to have a child of their own. My own grandmother was a Pankhurst, and I am happy to follow in those footsteps except for one thing: I would not want to be a grandmother myself.
I am here looking for justice in all its beautiful forms, knowing that every one of us alive on earth today needs to be looking to a very different court in a very different future, to assess our guilt or innocence.
In Oxford Circus, I was passed a little handwritten note. It said ‘I can’t get arrested because I am only ten but thank you for doing this for me.’ It is my vow to live guided by justice for the world I love, a world where in the eyes of a child I am innocent.
In the dock, I felt desolate with isolation. I couldn’t read the judge’s face. In the middle of my statement, I suddenly thought I was going to cry, and the judge asked if I needed to take a break. I went on to the end. Only then could I see the judge’s expression. His eyes were red and looked full of tears. Then the verdict. ‘It is with a really heavy heart that I have to convict you.’
He ruled as a judge, then he spoke as a man. He expressed his belief that ‘we have a responsibility to the whole of the world,’ adding ‘I accept and believe that with all my being’. And then, all eyes on him, Judge Noble, this judge in a mad situation, nobility of soul at odds with the circumstances of the law, said: ‘This is going to be my last Extinction Rebellion trial for a little while. I think they only allow us to do so many of these before our sympathies start to overwhelm us. When I started, I was fully expecting to see the usual crowd of anarchists and communists, and all the dreadful things the Daily Mail say you are. I have to say I have been totally overwhelmed by all the defendants. It is such a pleasure to deal with people so different from all of the people I deal with in my regular life. Thank you for your courtesy, thank you for your integrity, thank you for your honesty. You have to succeed.’
And that is when everything changed. Sometimes it falls upon a judge to be great, who used that moment to speak truth to the power that is the Daily Mail and bestowed on us all a generous and chivalrous tribute. ‘To speak the true word is to transform the world,’ said educationalist Paolo Freire. As the court rose, we were, all of us, standing in a place of grace. Because that is where — and why — the real truths are told.