Scientists back civil disobedience in climate change action


Almost 400 scientists endorsed a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing governments into rapid action to tackle climate change, warning failure could inflict “incalculable human suffering.”

In a joint declaration, climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others from 20 countries broke with the caution traditionally associated with academia to side with peaceful protesters courting arrest from Amsterdam to Melbourne.

Wearing white laboratory coats to symbolise their research credentials, a group of about 20 signatories gathered to read out the text outside London’s century-old Science Museum in the city’s upmarket Kensington district on Saturday.

“We believe continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non-violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of current law,” said Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster with a PhD in molecular biology. She read the declaration on behalf of the group.

“We therefore support those rising up peacefully against governments around the world that are failing to act proportionately to the scale of the crisis,” she said.

The declaration was co-ordinated by a group of scientists who support Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience campaign that formed in Britain a year ago and has since sparked offshoots in dozens of countries.

The group launched a fresh wave of international actions on Monday, aiming to make governments address the ecological crisis caused by climate change and accelerating extinctions of plant and animal species.

A total of 1 307 volunteers were arrested at various protests in London on Saturday, Extinction Rebellion said. A further 1 463 volunteers were arrested last week in 20 cities, including Brussels, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney and Toronto, according to the group’s tally. More protests in this latest wave are due in the coming days.

While many scientists shunned overt political debate, fearing being perceived as activists might undermine objectivity the 395 academics who signed the declaration chose to defy convention.

“The urgency of the crisis is now so great many scientists feel, as humans, we now have a moral duty to take radical action,” Grossman told Reuters.

Other signatories included scientists who contributed to the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which produced a series of reports underscoring the urgency of dramatic cuts in carbon emissions.

“We can’t allow the role of scientists to be to write papers and publish them in obscure journals and hope somebody out there will pay attention,” Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist at the University of Leeds and a lead IPCC author, told Reuters.

“We need to be rethinking the role of the scientist and engage with how social change happens at a massive and urgent scale,” she said. “We can’t allow science as usual.”

Extinction Rebellion’s flag is a stylised symbol of an hourglass in a circle and its disruptive tactics include peacefully occupying bridges and roads.

The group electrified supporters who said they despair at the failure of conventional campaigning to spur action. Its success in paralysing parts of London also angered critics who complain the movement inconvenienced thousands and diverted police resources.

Extinction Rebellion is aligned with a school strike movement inspired by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, which mobilised millions of young people on September 20. It hopes scientists’ support for the urgency of its message and its embrace of civil disobedience will bolster legitimacy and draw more volunteers.

The group said more than half the declaration’s signatories are experts in climate science and the loss of wildlife. British universities and institutes were well represented with signatories also coming from the United States, Australia, Spain and France.