After Punitive Sentences of Climate Activists, Labour Must Repeal the Tories’ Draconian Anti-Protest Laws

The five climate activists who were, outrageously, jailed for between four and five years on July 18, 2024, for taking part in a Zoom call regarding protests on the M25 in 2022. The photo is from an Action Network petition to the new Attorney General, Richard Hermer KC, calling for a meeting “to discuss an end to the persecution and imprisonment of truth tellers and the current practice of courts concealing evidence from juries on climate science.”

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In a profoundly disturbing example of draconian judicial overreach in the UK, based on punitive anti-protest laws passed by the recently-departed Conservative government, five climate activists were yesterday given prison sentences of between four and five years for their role in organising climate protests on the M25 in November 2022 via a Zoom call.

Four of the protestors — Daniel Shaw, 38, Louise Lancaster, 58, Lucia Whittaker De Abreu, 34, and Cressida Gethin, 22, all members of the campaigning group Just Stop Oil — were given four-year sentences, while Roger Hallam, 57, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, was given a five-year sentence.

Hallam was sentenced even though he insisted that he wasn’t one of the organisers, and was, as he explained in a powerful post after his sentencing, speaking as an advisor, “recommending the action to go ahead to wake up the British public to societal collapse” if urgent action isn’t taken to address the climate crisis. He also explained his hope that the protests would, as the Guardian described it yesterday, “cause ‘the biggest disruption in British modern history’ in an effort to force the government to meet Just Stop Oil’s core demand, an end to new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.”

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The Limits of Polite Dissent: The Massive But Largely Ignored ‘Restore Nature Now’ March in London, June 22, 2024

The ‘Restore Nature Now’ march on Piccadilly in London on June 22, 2024, with Chris Packham on the edge of the photo. (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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They came in their tens of thousands, on Saturday June 22, to send a message to an uncaring government and a largely indifferent mainstream media: ‘Restore Nature Now.’

The march and rally, attended by at least 60,000 people, was, essentially, a follow-up to ‘The Big One’, last year’s massive, family-friendly, non-confrontational three-day event in central London, which I wrote about here (with numerous photos), and which mixed targeted environmental protest (outside government departments and the far-right think-tanks in Tufton Street) with education and celebration.

For ‘The Big One’, for the first time, Extinction Rebellion, which had renounced “public disruption as a primary tactic”, at least temporarily, at the start of 2023, created an extraordinary alliance of over 200 organisations, under the slogan ’Unite to Survive’, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Avaaz, Earthday, the influential youth movement Green New Deal Rising, the environmentally conscious clothing firm Patagonia, the Fairtrade Foundation, the PCS union, Don’t Pay UK, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), CND, Global Justice Now, NHS workers, War on Want, Stop Ecocide and CAFOD.

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Trying to Stay Sane in a World of Rapidly Accelerating Climate Collapse

Watching a wildfire: how do we deal with the reality of climate collapse and the failure of our governments to take the necessary action to ensure that the planet remains habitable?

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Some days are better than others. Some days, the dread, the anger, the sadness don’t begin until some time after I’ve woken up, but it never takes long, to be honest, until I remember that I’m living in a dying world.

If you think I’m exaggerating, I can only suggest that you’re not really paying attention to what’s happening. For at least 35 years, climate scientists have been warning, based on a forensic analysis of observable reality, that our obsession with burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) has been supercharging the atmosphere with greenhouses gases (carbon dioxide, methane and others) that are increasing temperatures worldwide to an alarming degree.

In 1992, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), drawing on the expertise of climate scientists worldwide, first began warning about the danger of ever-increasing greenhouse gas production, but it wasn’t until 2015, in Paris, that they were able to secure a commitment from most of the world’s governments to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, and to pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

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Photos and Report: Extinction Rebellion and 200 Other Groups “Unite to Survive”, Building a Movement Despite Mainstream Media Indifference

A great placard at ‘The Big One’, the Extinction Rebellion-led gathering in central London of over 200 organisations committed to urgent action on climate change, April 22, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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On New Year’s Eve, Extinction Rebellion (XR), the disruptive but non-violent climate activist group that did so much to propel the climate crisis up the political agenda in October 2018 and April 2019, occupying bridges, and, perhaps most memorably, occupying Oxford Circus with a pink yacht bearing the message ‘Tell the Truth’, directed at politicians and the media, announced a change of tactics.

“We quit”, they announced in a press release, stating that they were making “a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic”, in an effort to build a bigger and more inclusive movement “beyond traditional divides.” As they explained, “No one can do this alone, and it’s the responsibility of all of us, not just one group. It may be uncomfortable or difficult, but the strength of all social, environmental, and justice movements lies in working together.”

It was a bold move, although there was also a certain logic to it. After the actions of October 2018 and April 2019, tolerance for the group’s disruptive tactics had waned after a group of protestors blocked a morning rush hour commuter train at Canning Town, and the Covid lockdowns had then thwarted efforts to mobilise further.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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