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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40 Years of the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge: From Anarchy to State Repression to ‘Managed Open Access’

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, June 21, 2024. Photo via English Heritage’s official Stonehenge account on X.

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To celebrate the summer solstice today, I encourage you read my article from June 1, Joys and Agonies Past: 40 Years Since the Last Stonehenge Free Festival; 39 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield, if you haven’t already seen it, in which I marked the long passage of time since two particular events of great resonance — one fundamentally liberatory, and the other its complete opposite, an almost unprecedented demonstration of grotesque police violence against civilians.

To follow up, I’m adding some further thoughts and recollections about summer solstices at Stonehenge over the last 40 years, tracing a path from the anarchy of the festival, through the repression of the years that followed, to the vast but managed party that is now allowed to take place in the stones every year.

For those who were at the Stonehenge Free Festival — as I was in 1983 and 1984 — it really was a thrilling, eye-opening, anarchic gathering of the tribes, attended by tens of thousands of people, part of the multi-faceted resistance to the anti-communitarian tyranny of Margaret Thatcher that has, over the last several decades, morphed into a dispiriting and socially atomised world of empty materialism.

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As the Planet Burns, Why Is the Media Still Downplaying the Severity of Climate Collapse?

A speculative, but not far-fetched image of the reality of climate collapse.

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The world is on fire, like never before. As the author Gaia Vince explained in the Guardian on July 18, “This June was the hottest ever recorded on Earth. July led with the hottest ever day, swiftly followed by a hotter hottest ever day, then the hottest week — and, possibly, the hottest month. A few years hence, during the ceaseless climate catastrophes of the 2030s, as my kids’ generation reaches adulthood, they might ask about that terrifying summer of 2023 when 120,000-year-old heat records were smashed day after day: how did everyone react?”

For the ever-growing number of people who are aware of the scale of the crisis, in which catastrophic climate collapse is happening much quicker than even the most pessimistic climate scientists predicted, our options, sadly, are severely limited.

While brave protestors take to the streets, and interrupt significant events to try and raise the alarm, they face arrest, often through draconian new laws introduced specifically to try to prevent them from raising the alarm, and often face hostility, from mildly inconvenienced drivers, for example, whose disproportionate rage is often genuinely alarming, or from a wide array of ‘commentators’ — some ‘professional’, some not — who seem to regard interrupting a major sporting event for a few minutes, to highlight the suicidal nature of our collective inaction — as some sort of unforgivable crime.

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Have We Already Forgotten About New York’s Apocalyptic Orange Skies, and What It Told Us About the Climate Crisis?

The Empire State Building and New York City’s orange sky in June 7, 2023.

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For a few days, from June 7 onwards, when toxic, apocalyptic orange skies engulfed New York City and Washington, D.C., caused by wildfires in Canada burning on an unprecedented scale, it seemed that the reality of the climate crisis had finally struck home in two of the places that counted most in terms of sounding alarms in the Global North, where so much of the world’s economic and political power still resides, and where people, in general, are largely oblivious to the disasters regularly afflicting the Global South, via unprecedented heat, droughts and flooding.

For the Global North to wake up to reality, climate change, it seemed, needed to arrive on their doorstep, and for a few days the media coverage was suitably sombre, although, even then, as the worst of the pollution passed, the relentless churn of the news cycle returned to its typical dreary pattern of distraction.

Few dwelt on the irony that, as the veteran environmental activist Bill McKibben explained for the New Yorker, the arrival the toxic skies coincided with Joe Biden’s approval — to save the Inflation Reduction Act, “the first truly serious climate bill our government has ever passed” — of “the MVP pipeline, which will carry fracked gas across West Virginia and Virginia”, and which “is precisely the kind of new fossil-fuel infrastructure that climate scientists have repeatedly said we must stop building”, and of “plans for an enormous new oil-drilling complex in Alaska (and liquefied-natural-gas exports), and huge new offshore-drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.”

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Radio: I Discuss the Coronation, the Tories’ Suppression of Peaceful Protest and Criminalization of Refugees, Plus the Latest on Guantánamo, With Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

A new flag for the UK in 2023, under Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister and Suella Braverman as home secretary.

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For many years, I’ve been honored to be regularly invited to discuss my ongoing work on Guantánamo, as well as many other political concerns of mine, on Gorilla Radio, run by Chris Cook in Victoria, Canada, which is “dedicated to social justice, the environment, community, and providing a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.”

Chris’s latest show is here (or here as an MP3), and our interview took place in the second half of the hour-long program, after an interview with whistleblowing activist Ashley Gjøvik, following the publication of her article “Whistleblowers Are the Conscience of Society, Yet Suffer Gravely For Trying to Hold the Rich and Powerful Accountable For Their Sins,” published by Covert Action Magazine.

I’ve also embedded the show below:

The trigger for Chris’s interview with me was the Coronation, last Saturday, of King Charles III, which I covered in a post as part of my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, and also recorded a song about, entitled, “You’re Not My King,” also embedded below:

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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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Climate Change Heroes of 2022: António Guterres, Just Stop Oil, Greta Thunberg and Climate Scientists

The most widely reported climate change action ever? On October 14, two Just Stop Oil protestors, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in the National Gallery in London. Just one video of the action on Twitter, via the Guardian‘s environment correspondent, Damien Gayle, had 50 million views, but did the action help or hinder the message that urgent and unprecedented action is required to tackle catastrophic climate change?

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As 2023 begins, with new January heat records already established over much of Europe, 2022 ought to be remembered as the year that the reality of catastrophic man-made climate change became undeniably apparent, along with the shocking realisation that the degeneration of a balanced atmosphere that is conducive to our continued existence is happening much quicker than expected.

It appears, however, that, despite unprecedented floods, wildfires and droughts, melting polar ice and glaciers, and temperature records being broken around the world (including, for the first time ever, 40°C in the UK), the momentum required to bring about urgent and necessary change to our suicidal economic systems simply doesn’t exist.

As the mainstream media fails to adequately convey the urgency of our plight, and most national politicians also fail to recognise that their only purpose now is to bring to an end the predatory and largely unfettered pursuit of profit that is already making even the short-term security of humanity appear unviable, confronting the crisis has been left to relative handful of people around the world — primarily, climate scientists and environmental activists.

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Cop-Out at COP27: Still No Agreement to Even Reduce the Use of Fossil Fuels, As the 1.5°C Target for Global Temperature Rise Fades Away

A protest by Ocean Rebellion outside the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation in London on November 21, 2022 (Photo: Guy Reece).

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It’s been a while since I last wrote about the most pressing crisis that any of us have faced in our lifetimes — the ever-increasing fossil fuel emissions that threaten the very viability of life on this extraordinary planet, where, uniquely in the universe, as far as we know, the chemical balance of the atmosphere has allowed an extraordinary abundance of life, including our own, to blossom over tens of millions of years (or, in our case, the last 300,000 years).

In summer, as, for two days, the UK baked in the hottest temperatures ever recorded, I wrote two articles, Our Climate Crisis Paralysis: How, in the Face of Unprecedented Signs of Climate Collapse, We’re Still Being Failed by Politicians, the Media and Ourselves, and “Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality”, Doing Nothing While the World Burns and Extinction Looms, in which I added my voice to the many other concerned global citizens trying to wake people up to the unique gravity of the crisis we face, whereby the emissions caused through our profligate use of fossil fuels are already beginning to turn the earth from a generally bountiful garden into somewhere inhospitable.

This year really ought to have been a wake-up call — not just because of 40 degree heat in the UK, but also because of similar record-breaking temperatures around the world, leading to rivers drying up, wildfires on an unprecedented scale, and widespread drought, which has involved vast areas of agricultural land being rendered useless.

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From Tomorrow, 16 Days of Rebellion and Protest Against the UK Government — for the Climate, the Economy and Justice

Poster for Just Stop Oil’s ‘Occupy Westminster’ protest, starting on October 1, 2022. Photo taken on Deptford High Street, September 22, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Over the last few weeks, much of London has been plastered with posters advertising the environmental protest group Just Stop OIl’s ‘Occupy Westminster’ protest, beginning on Oct 1. The timing could hardly have been better, as, since it was first announced many weeks ago, a new fossil fuel-loving, climate change-denying government has been put in place — elected by just 81,326 Tory Party members and with no mandate from the people of the UK — which has proceeded to refuse to levy windfall taxes on the energy companies’ vast and unearned recent and future profits (choosing instead to put the burden on taxpayers for an energy price cap that was required to save the country from economic collapse), has lifted the ban on fracking, and has promised to open the floodgates to new oil and gas extraction (as well as, most recently, crashing the UK economy in the most alarming manner via unjustifiable and fiscally deranged tax cuts for the rich).

Backed by the malevolent far-right ‘libertarian’ think-tanks based in Tufton Street, close to Parliament, including the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), described by climate researchers and environmental groups as “the UK’s most prominent source of climate denialism”, Truss’s government has no interest in investing in renewables, even though the majority of the British public backs new on- and off-shore wind power, solar power and wave power, rather than fossil fuels, and also has no interest in investing to insulate Britain’s leaky homes, even though it would vastly reduce our energy needs, and well as providing significant employment.

The occupation of Westminster begins tomorrow (October 1), with activists gathering first at Euston, Paddington and Waterloo stations at 11am, and then converging on Westminster, with the plan repeated on Sunday October 2 (when, incidentally, the Tories’ train wreck of a conference begins in Birmingham), and, from Monday October 3, moving to Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing Street at 11am every day.

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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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