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Scientists arrested for climate activism

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Scientists engage in civil disobedience on the steps of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, Spain — Photo courtesy of Scientist Rebellion
Scientists engage in civil disobedience on the steps of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, Spain — Photo courtesy of Scientist Rebellion

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, climate activists from around the world joined together to protest increased emissions of CO2 and bring attention to the dire climate crisis at hand. In Los Angeles, activists chained themselves to the doors of Chase Bank, drawing the attention of a hundred police in SWAT gear, even though only a handful of activists peacefully sat outside the building.

Dr. Peter Kalmus (l) protests outside the JPMorgan Chase building in L.A. — Photo courtesy of Scientist Rebellion  

NASA scientist arrested
One of the activists, NASA scientist Peter Kalmus, was arrested. Following this, Kalmus penned an opinion piece for The Guardian in which he described his experiences from earlier in the day.

"I'm a climate scientist and a desperate father. How can I plead any harder? What will it take? What can my colleagues and I do to stop this catastrophe unfolding now all around us with such excruciating clarity?" he wrote.

Kalmus is a part of an organization called Scientist Rebellion, which was started by scientists disgruntled by the fact that governments and corporations are unwilling to take the climate crisis seriously. Before switching to earth science in 2012, Kalmus had been an astrophysicist. "I'd realized the facts alone were not persuading world leaders to take action," he wrote.

The frustration many in the scientific community feel when it comes to the ignorance of world leaders led to the birth of the Scientist Rebellion. "As scientists, we have tried writing reports and giving presentations about the climate and ecological crisis to those in power. We must now have the humility to accept [that] these attempts have not worked," the organization said in a statement. "Now is the time for us to take action so that we show how seriously to take our warnings."

"Nothing has worked," Kalmus reiterated in his article. "It's now the eleventh hour, and I feel terrified for my kids and terrified for humanity."

According to Scientist Rebellion's manifesto, "Human industrial activity has impacted the world as severely as the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs." Scientists credit greenhouse gasses for increased temperatures, the melting of the Arctic, and disastrous global weather events.

"I'm here because I'm desperate," Kalmus said in a live interview from the steps of Chase Bank. "I'm desperate for something to be done about the climate breakdown, I mean, it's getting so bad, and I've tried to do so many things already, and nothing has worked."

Police officers remove an activist from the Scientist Rebellion group blocking a bridge in central Berlin, Germany — Photo by Christian Mang / Reuters  

Activism across the globe
While he has now become the face of the movement in the United States, Kalmus is not the only activist who feels like the crisis is out of control.

In Spain, protesters threw fake blood all over the National Congress to support Scientist Rebellion. In Panama, protesters rallied at embassies. In Germany, protesters superglued themselves to an iconic bridge, and in Malawi and Uganda, they held teach-ins.

In Europe, scientists protested at the headquarters of Shell, calling out the corporation for exploiting natural resources for profit. In the United States, scientists chose to target Chase Bank for similar reasons. The 60 largest banks in the world, including JP Morgan Chase, have provided $3.8 trillion to fossil fuel companies since the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

"We chose JP Morgan Chase, because, out of all the investment banks in the world, JP Morgan Chase funds the newest fossil fuel projects," Kalmus wrote. "As the new IPCC report explains, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5 [degrees Celsius] of global heating, a level of heating that will bring much more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2 [degrees Celsius]."

"It's no exaggeration to say that Chase and other banks are contributing to murder and neocide [the deliberate killing of young people and future generations] through their fossil fuel finance," Kalmus added.

IPCC warns that climate crisis is dire
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose facts Scientist Rebellion has used, population growth remains a contributor to fossil fuel emissions. While emissions have been on a steady increase, the report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant drop in emissions from fossil fuels. However, by the end of 2020, the numbers were back up to their staggering levels.

The IPCC also indicates that the highest global demand for emissions comes from transportation and industry, particularly construction. In countries where incentives for investment in greener technologies are reinforced by national policy and international agreements, emissions are much more likely to drop.

The IPCC also indicated that the climate crisis goes hand in hand with income inequality. The study shows a global redistribution of energy sources, to which the wealthiest have the greatest access, would not only be possible but would result in a reduction of current emission levels.

"The additional energy demand needed to support decent living standards for all is estimated to be well below current average energy consumption," the report said. "More equitable income distributions can reduce carbon emissions, but the nature of this relationship can vary by level of income and development."

The IPCC found that the wealthiest 10% contribute the most global emissions, which it believes has become the biggest factor in the current crisis. "Increasing inequality within a country can exacerbate dilemmas of redistribution and social cohesion, and affect the willingness of rich and poor to accept lifestyle changes for mitigation and policies to protect the environment," the report said.

Don't look up
Because of the breakdown between the world's richest (who benefit greatly from fossil fuels), and everyone else, the climate crisis is quickly becoming out of control. "Earth breakdown is much worse than most people realize," Kalmus wrote. "The science indicates that as fossil fuels continue to heat our planet, everything we love is at risk. For me, one of the most horrific aspects of all this is the juxtaposition of present-day and near-future climate disasters with the 'business as usual' occurring all around me. It's so surreal that I often find myself reviewing the science to make sure it's happening, a sort of scientific nightmare arm-pinch. Yes, it's happening."

The "surreal" feeling Kalmus describes is starting to catch up to members of the public outside the scientific community. "The fact that NASA's data scientist risked his whole career just to get people to listen gives me Don't Look Up vibes," tweeted Jodi Solis. "We can't get people to wear masks when asked, how are we gonna stop climate change in 3 years?"

"Why did they arrest the scientists for speaking up?" asked another Twitter user, Jim Gumboc. Twitter user Stafford said, "Scientists, not conspiracy theorists, scientists, who are now desperate enough to break the law and get arrested to try and get the message through. The habitable planet is dying, climate change is here, now, what is your government doing? What are you doing?"

"We have to stop the financing of fossil fuels," Kalmus said through tears, shortly before being taken away by police. "We have to stop new fossil fuel projects. The more carbon we put into the atmosphere now, the worse it's going to get — and it's already really, really bad."