May I start with one point of law. I wish to dispute the claim by the Prosecution that our action does not meet the criterion of addressing an ‘imminent’ threat to life. It is well-established in English law that ‘imminence’ does not only mean ‘that very night’ or the like. The classic example is its being accepted that if Anne Frank had stolen a car to escape from Amsterdam under Nazi occupation, the law of this country would not have held her guilty of a crime, and in particular that if a prosecutor argued that she should have waited until the Gestapo came knocking at her door before resorting to crime, that would have been a dangerous and excessively narrow interpretation of ‘imminence’ allegedly entitling her only then to the defence of necessity.
Our defence of necessity is that the Global Warming Policy Foundation represents an ongoing and ongoingly imminent threat to life in the same kind of way as Anne Frank faced. Every day that climate action is delayed by climate-delay and climate-denial multiplies the threat that climate breakdown hangs over us all, over our very lives, over the future itself.
But in the rest of my remarks, I don’t want to rehearse the legal arguments you have already heard from me and my lawyers. I want to do something different.
I want us to set aside our official roles, as much as we can.
I’m a philosopher by trade. My business is critical thinking and logic; in this way, my day job is very like the law that you on the magistrates’ bench are embodying here today.
I want to set all the rational arguments and the legalese aside, in these final five minutes, and address you directly, person to person, human to human. Because, sure, I’m here today because of my philosophy and because of the ethical demand upon me, and I’m here today because of the years I’ve spent working alongside the world’s leading climate scientists, but most of all I’m here today because of my nephew and nieces. One of my nieces wanted to come and see the proceedings here today; she wasn’t allowed into the courtroom, because she is too young. I did what I did that night in Tufton Street because I’m deeply scared and wounded whenever I contemplate what the world will be like by the time she’s all grown up.
The world my nephew and nieces are growing up into may become nothing like this one; because of our chronic and criminal inaction on climate, there’s a real and growing risk that all this ((gesturing at the room)) will be swept away. All the institutions we rely on, including yours, are now at risk. Law and order will likely break down, if climate breakdown causes civilisational breakdown, as is now on the cards.
You are intelligent professional people; even before the evidence that we presented here earlier, I’m sure you’ve read about the IPCC reports; you probably know what I’ve been saying already. You know, deep down, that everything now hangs in the balance.
So my question for you is this: Here I stand, I can do no other. I’ve tried everything else; you’ve heard the record of the years I’ve spent tackling this growing emergency through my academic reading, through my political activism, through influencing government, through being an elected representative myself. I had some small successes through some of it; and was part of a larger success when Extinction Rebellion moved the dial of opinion decisively in 2019. And you’ve heard how I’ve taken on the GWPF directly in debate, and how I led the successful campaign in 2018 to stop their ‘top man’ Nigel Lawson from being used as ‘balance’ to climate truth, on the BBC. And yet still these people at Tufton St, with influence still at the very highest level, still even now they try tirelessly to stop the alarm being raised adequately. What am I to do? What ought I to have done, if not what I did, knowing what I do?
We’ve known from the start that the very strong likelihood is that you’ll find us guilty. But I’m asking you now: what else would you have me do? Where else should I make my stand, if not as I did? And: If not now, then when? Would you have us wait til the Thames barrier is overtopped? Til the Palace of Westminster is flooded out? Can you honestly tell me I should have waited even longer than I did, before finally undertaking non-violent direct action myself?
Before making your final decision on our guilt or innocence, I want you to look into these eyes, and ask yourselves honestly: What else would you have me do? To expose the deniers to the light; to stop them from any longer being able to stop the alarm from being adequately raised.
See this fellow human being standing, open, before you. Tell me truly that I acted too soon, if you can. What my heart and my conscience tell me is that if anything I left it too late.
Tell me, please: what would you have me do, if not what I did.
Rupert Read is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia and the author of many books on the climate and ecological emergency including Parents For a Future. As one of the Tufton Three, he stood trial on October 28th.