If your house was burning down and the emergency services were not answering your call, what would you do? Would you try to put out the fire yourself? This is what climate activists are currently doing, and what they will continue to do, whatever changes the government makes to legislation to curb protest.
Despite politicians across the world committing to net zero, action is yet to follow rhetoric. Instead, nations continue to extract fossil fuels from the ground and burn them, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere contributing to extreme weather that will displace millions. Here in the UK, the government has approved new oil- and gasfields in the North Sea, despite hosting Cop26 just a few months ago and committing to decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet its net zero target by 2050.
Activists like me, who make up Just Stop Oil, have decided that if governments and businesses will not act to stop the burning of fossil fuels, they will. Some have targeted oil terminals, tankers and petrol stations in England and Scotland.
Just Stop Oil supporters have been arrested more than 1,200 times since our campaign began at the beginning of April. Many will not be deterred by greater penalties as the government brings in new public order measures targeted against us. In today’s Queen speech, new measures included new criminal offences of locking on, and going equipped to lock on to other people, objects or buildings; interfering with key national infrastructure; and measures to make it illegal to obstruct major transport works. Fossil fuel infrastructure has been given more protection than people currently living in the global south, and future generations.
They act not because it is legal, but because it is the right thing to do. It’s the difference between civil resistance and protest. They have tried writing to their MPs, writing petitions, and donating money to charities. It hasn’t worked. They don’t want to cause disruption but it’s 2022 and they can no longer stand by: they have chosen to step up.
They are no longer asking the government to change; they are putting our bodies on the line with the intention of causing disruption to force change. Strengthening protest law will not stop the disruption. Instead our government faces locking up hundreds, maybe thousands of ordinary people.
If that appears extreme, think about what António Guterres, the United Nations general secretary, said: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”
One year ago, Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, said we have three to four years to determine the fate of humanity. In this scenario, isn’t inaction the criminal offence?