People in white coats hold up a sign.

Scientists in Norway participate in Scientist Rebellion's "The Science Is Clear" campaign.

(Photo: Scientist Rebellion)

'We Need to Engage People': Scientists Arrested Demanding Climate Action

"It is us doing our jobs and holding our government to account," one participating scientist said.

More than 1,000 scientists and academics in over 21 countries engaged in nonviolent protest last week under the banner of Scientist Rebellion to demand a just and equitable end to the fossil fuel era.

At least 19 of the participating scientists were arrested in actions linked to the group's "The Science Is Clear" campaign from May 7-13, organizers said at a Monday press conference. The group believes that researchers must move from informing to advocating in the wake of decades of fossil fuel industry disinformation about the climate crisis and the downplaying or ignoring of their warnings by governments and media organizations.

"It's urgent that scientists come out of their laboratories to counter the lies," Laurent Husson, a French geoscientist from ISTerre, said.

"Experts on tropical rainforests told me privately that they think the Amazon has already passed its tipping point. Let that sink in. The world needs to know."

Participating scientists in Africa, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America organized more than 30 discrete events during May's spate of actions. Scientist Rebellion is concerned that climate policy is not in line with official warnings like the final Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of the decade, released earlier this year, which called for "rapid and deep and, in most cases, immediate" reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in its "Summary for Policymakers."

However, some scientist-activists say that what researchers discuss internally is even more alarming.

"I was just at a NASA team meeting for three days in D.C.," Peter Kalmus tweeted Wednesday. "The scientific findings are so fucked up. Experts on tropical rainforests told me privately that they think the Amazon has already passed its tipping point. Let that sink in. The world needs to know."

The Science Is Clear campaign had three clear demands: that governments rapidly decarbonize their infrastructure in coordination with citizens assemblies that would also address growing inequality, that the Global North both provide money to the Global South to help them pay for the inevitable loss and damage caused by the climate crisis and forgive their outstanding debt, and that ecosystems and the Indigenous people and local communities that depend on them be protected from extractive industries.

Local actions also had independent demands in line with these goals. For example, Rose Abramoff—a U.S.-based scientist and IPCC reviewer—helped disrupt a joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature Wednesday with the demands that Massachusetts ban all new fossil fuel infrastructure and fund a just transition to renewable energy. The activists, who also included members of Extinction Rebellion, occupied the House Gallery for six hours before they were arrested.

Abramoff said at the press conference that she joined Scientist Rebellion when the data turned up by her field work grew too alarming.

"This can't be my job to just calmly document destruction without doing anything to prevent it," she said.

She has now been arrested six times including Wednesday. And while she was fired from one job, she remains employed, housed, and healthy with a clean record.

"I think more scientists and other people with privilege should be taking these measures," she said.

Janine O'Keefe, an engineer and economist, said she was treated with much more respect by police when she protested in a lab coat compared with when she didn't, and was often not arrested at all.

"I implore you to find the courage to go against the silence," she said.

IPCC author Julia Steinberger also said she felt activism was part of a scientist's duty.

"It is us doing our jobs and holding our government to account on the commitments they have made to protect us."

"It is us doing our jobs and holding our government to account on the commitments they have made to protect us," Steinberger said.

Several other scientists risked arrest alongside allied activists in direct actions throughout the week. Three scientists were arrested for protesting Equinor in Norway. In Italy, police stopped activists before they could begin a protest at Turin Airport and arrested all of the would-be participants. In Denmark, five scientists were arrested at protests alongside more than 100 other activists, and in Portugal, scientists and allies managed to block the Porto de Sines—the main entry point for fossil fuels into the country—without any arrests being made.

In France, meanwhile, police arrested 18 activists including five scientists for blocking a bridge in the Port of Le Havre Friday, near where TotalEnergies is building a floating methane terminal for imported liquefied natural gas.

"We've been trying to show people that gas is still a fossil fuel," Husson said at the press conference.

Husson said the activists spent time in jail before being released, though three of them are being charged.

Scientist Rebellion argues that participants in the Global North have more responsibility to carry out civil disobedience and risk arrest because their countries have contributed more to emissions historically and because they have greater privilege and protection under the law.

However, that doesn't mean that scientists from the Global South aren't making their voices heard. Around 200 scientists in Africa participated in protests throughout the week, including in Congo, where University of Kinshasa researcher Gérardine Deade Tanakula said she knew colleagues who had lost loved ones in extreme weather events.

Tanakula, who helped organize marches and spoke to staff and students at her university, pointed out that Africa had only contributed less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions but was on the "frontline" of their impacts, such as extreme flooding May 5 that killed more than 400 people.

"We can't just be observers or do research. We need to engage people, and we need to act in the name of science," Tanakula said.

Scientist Rebellion doesn't just focus on the climate crisis. The Science Is Clear webpage notes that human activity has overshot six of nine planetary boundaries that sustain life on Earth, and that—beyond just the fossil fuel industry—the entire current economic system is to blame.

"The underlying cause of this existential crisis is our growth-based economic system," Matthias Schmelzer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, said in the press conference.

"The underlying cause of this existential crisis is our growth-based economic system."

More than 1,100 scientists and academics have signed a letter urging both public and private institutions to pursue degrowth—a planned and democratic realignment of the goal of the global economy from increasing gross domestic product to ensuring well-being within planetary boundaries.

Members of Scientist Rebellion expressed optimism that direct action could help push through the changes it seeks. Abramoff pointed to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, which banned private jets months after activists blocked them from taking off. She also argued that two major pieces of U.S. climate legislation—the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law—would not have passed without grassroots pressure.

"I feel that we have so much power," Abramoff said, "and we just have to be brave enough to use it."

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