Climate change: disruptive mass civil disobedience is our only hope

Sarah, a member of Extinction Rebellion Greenwich, was found guilty in court last week of offences under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. This came as a result of her arrest during XR’s rebellion in August last year. XR blocked a road junction in London with a big pink table, with an open invitation for all to “come to the table” for crisis talks on action to prevent climate breakdown. This is the mitigating statement Sarah read out in court.

In the statement of my arresting officer there is a hysterical-sounding quote from me about not wanting the world to burn. At the time of my arrest, there were huge wildfires burning out of control in Algeria, France, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Canada.

In the US there were over 100 fires burning simultaneously, including the Dixie fire – the second largest ever recorded in the notoriously fire-prone state of California. Firefighters and park rangers were battling to save giant redwoods that had stood for over 2000 years. The most extensive fires on record were sweeping across Siberia.

XR in London, 23 August 2021. Photo by Gareth Morris

The images of these fires were all I could think about, as the police walked alongst the protestors telling us we’d “made our point” and were being “too disruptive”.

People all over the world were losing their livelihoods, homes and lives. Wildlife was being decimated. Ecosystems were being destroyed. In central London, a few hundred protestors were blocking a junction to call on our government to take action to tackle climate breakdown – and this is the disruption we can’t accept.

I didn’t want to be arrested. I don’t want a criminal record. I’m worried about the my job, which is extremely important to me. I’ve worked in safeguarding for the last 16 years, trying to protect children at risk of harm in order to ensure take they have a future to look forward to.

But that will all be for nothing, because none of our children will have a future if we as a species don’t do something to change the trajectory we’re on. There has never been a bigger safeguarding risk than climate breakdown.

I joined XR because I was terrified of the projections from leading climate scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, that I now know to be conservative estimates of what we are facing.

Over the last three years I’ve watched our government not only fail to take action to make things better, but actively continue to make things worse. Instead of focussing resources on preventing run away climate change and facilitating a transition to green energy and jobs, our government are continuing to subsidise fossil fuels and even support new oil, gas and coal extraction projects.


Meanwhile those scary IPCC projections are becoming reality at a dizzying pace.

Nobody in this courtroom can have missed the successive storms over the last couple of weeks which have left behind severe flooding, thousands of homes without power and several grieving families.

In other parts of the world it is much worse: hurricanes flattening low lying island nations, huge parts of Bangladesh under water, while drought and famine lay siege to Ethiopia and surrounding countries. The Amazon disappears in chunks the size of football fields every day. Ice caps melt, glaciers recede, crops fail and countless species slide towards extinction.

The scientific evidence is falling on deaf ears and meaningless lip service is paid at each Conference of the Parties (COP). The UK and other rich countries set targets that aren’t nearly ambitious enough to avert disaster, and then fail to meet them.

For at least 40 years we have known beyond any reasonable doubt that our carbon emissions need to fall rapidly in order for us to avoid by the worst impact of global heating. Instead they are STILL rising. Instead of legislating to prevent companies from polluting rivers and oceans, destroying ecosystems and emitting increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, our government is legislating to silence peaceful protest and lock away environmental activists.

XR in London, 23 August 2021. Photo by Gareth Morris

Climate breakdown will hit everyone, everywhere, but it won’t hit us all equally. As famine and flooding make areas of the planet uninhabitable the poor will die be in their thousands and the rich will flee to the parts of the world that can still sustain life, where the rich will build walls and hoard resources and the rest will fight for the means to survive. It sounds dramatic and apocalyptic – because it is.

I really don’t want to be standing here, but I can not sit by and do nothing while we cause our climate to collapse around us. Our governments are letting us down. Our legal system is letting us down. Disruptive mass civil disobedience has achieved societal change before when it seemed impossible, and is, as far as I can see, our only hope of achieving the change that we need.

That’s why on August 23rd last year I stood in a junction with other climate protestors, and I didn’t move when a police officer asked me to. And until we see things changing, I’m going to keep doing it.

2 March 2022. Reproduced with permission, and thanks.

□ About the photos. The slogan “Stop the Maangamizi”, displayed on the pink table, was coined by African activists campaigning for reparations to the global south for the crimes of ecocide and genocide – which is the meaning of “maangamizi” – committed by rich countries. With thanks to Gareth Morris for the photos.

□ A report on the impacts of climate change, published by the IPCC on Monday, is a “dire warning about the consequences of inaction”, Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, said. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.” The report, by Working Group II, provides a detailed assessment of the impacts on natural systems, and on the cities where more than half of the world population lives. See the IPCC press release, the whole report, the Guardian’s summary and reaction by scientists.

4 Responses to Climate change: disruptive mass civil disobedience is our only hope

  1. Yes. It is to show the level of climate crisis 🌍

  2. Casey says:

    Thank you for fighting for us all

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’ve tried to share this on fake book without success. Apparently some of the content has been reported as abusive!

    People & Nature says: Hello and thanks. Yes, this has been a problem for more than a year. I have protested, and so have many friends. See here:

    So, to keep in touch, please use whatsapp, telegram, instagram and the Linktree link (all on the top right hand corner). Or email me and I’ll send you updates. Thanks.

  4. Arne says:

    “Thank you for fighting for us all” – But Sarah cannot be fighting for us all. We need YOU reading this to join civil resistance in 2022, contact XR or teh new Just Stop Oil campaign. It is easy and there are some great committed people there that make it easy taking the jump into DOING something which has provenly the highest potential for achieveing real change. Thank you

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