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May 15, 2022

Scientists organize protest against climate change inaction

by Phil West, Seattle Workers’ Voice

On April 4, the UN’s climate body, the IPCC, issued its Working Group 3 report assessing climate change mitigation progress and pledges (1).  This report is a voluminous examination of shortcomings and lack of progress in the effort to deal with climate change.  To draw attention to this document, the group Scientist Rebellion staged a number of protests during the week of April 4-9. Over 1000 scientists in more than 25 countries took part in these demonstrations, and several engaged in civil disobedience and were arrested. (2)

The nearest place to Seattle for one of these actions was in Portland, Oregon.  Some scientists and engineers were planning to go down there, and I decided to join them. The reason for this action was that Portland had voted to create the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), to fund local projects to counter the effects of climate change and promote social justice, (3) and a business-backed group, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) had come out with a statement opposing it. (4)

The scientists organizing this action are associated with a group called Scientist Rebellion, an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion group. (5) They planned to hold a rally at the PBA office building, march through the streets to the city government building, hold a rally there, then march back to the PBA building and hold an action during which some of the scientists planned a civil disobedience to get arrested.  About 100 people gathered for the rally, and they listened to speeches by a scientist and a minister.  Then they marched for several blocks, using bicycles to block off intersections.  At one point a driver got angry that a bicycle was in his way, and rammed through it, breaking it into pieces.  After listening to a few more speeches, the marchers returned to the PBA building, went up to the atrium on the second floor, and began a sit-in. Two members entered the inner portion of the atrium where the elevators were, and began a symbolic action to impede exit from the elevators.

After a while, the police were called to clear the inner atrium, and the two people there were arrested and cited for trespass. (6) One of them did not leave when told to do so, so he was cited a second time and conducted to a nearby holding cell.  Shortly after this occurred, the sit-in began to disperse, and I went to dinner with my host for the evening.  Later, the person who had been taken to the holding cell called us and told us that he had been released, and we went to pick him up from the police headquarters. Charges were eventually dropped against both activists.

Around the world, a number of scientists are now taking part in similar protests.  They are so worried about how little time there is to avert catastrophic climate change that they are engaging in civil disobedience. As a letter from Scientist Rebellion states, “we are terrified by what we see, and believe it is both vital and right to express our fears openly.” (7)   <>


(1) IPCC, Apr. 4, 2022, “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change”.

(2) Hilary Hanson, Apr. 16, 2022, “'We’ve Been Trying to Warn You': Fed-Up Scientists Get Arrested Demanding Climate Action”, Huffpost.

(3) Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, Sep. 29, 2021, “Portland’s massive clean energy fund plans $100M spending spree to fight climate change, promote racial and social justice”, Oregon Live,

(4) Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, Mar. 14, 2022, “Portland Business Alliance blasts clean energy fund ‘mismanagement,’ urges city leaders freeze spending”, Oregon Live,

(5) “We are scientists, calling for a climate revolution”.

(6) Bernadette Rogers, Apr. 20, 2022, “Arrested scientists were ignored – letter to The Oregonian”, Extinction Rebellion.

(7) “Our Demands Letter”, Scientist Rebellion. <>

What Scientist Rebellion wants the world to hear

Below is the text of the open letter being circulated by Scientist Rebellion. They are “asking scientists and academics around the world to put their name” to it. The letter itself, a list of present signatories, and instructions about how to add one’s name to the letter, can be found here. Unlike the UN’s IPCC, which is not allowed to go beyond being advisers to the rich and powerful of the world,  it does not submerge itself in calling for complex and arcane solutions that are acceptable to the market-based  economies of the present. Instead it stresses that “Current  actions  and  plans  are  grossly  inadequate,  and  even  these  obligations  are  not being  met.”  It points directly to the responsibility of the governments, corporations, and the very wealthy for the present crisis, and it connects achieving decarbonization with social justice, saying that the rich have to pay for the necessary steps. It calls for “degrowth”, which is a step towards realizing that major change in the present economic system is needed to deal with the environmental crisis. It repudiates the idea that scientists should be passive spectators of what is going on by calling for non-violent civil disobedience; this is a declaration that these scientists want to help people  take matters into their own hands,  although as the struggle grows, there will have to be a broader idea of how the mass struggle develops and how social change takes place. The letter deserves wide circulation. The full text reads:

We are scientists and academics who believe we should expose the reality and severity of the  climate  and  ecological  emergency  by  engaging  in  non-violent  civil  disobedience.  Unless  those  best  placed  to  understand  behave  as  if  this  is  an  emergency,  we  cannot expect the public to do so. Some believe that appearing “alarmist” is detrimental - but we are  terrified  by  what  we  see,  and  believe  it  is  both  vital  and  right  to  express  our  fears openly. 

The  population  sizes  of  mammals,  birds,  fish,  amphibians  and  reptiles  have  seen  an alarming  average  drop  of  68%  since  1970,  along  with  an  apparent  collapse  in  the pollinator  populations. At  this  rate,  ecosystems  around  the  world  will  collapse  well  within the lifespan of current generations, with catastrophic consequences for the human kind.

Self-reinforcing  feedbacks  within  the  climate  system,  in  which  hotter  climates  cause additional heating (e.g. increased forest fires, thawing permafrost, melting ice) threaten to drive  the  Earth  irreversibly  to  a  hot  and  uninhabitable  state.  These  effects  are  being observed decades earlier than predicted, in line with the worst-case scenarios predicted.

Increasingly  severe  heatwaves,  droughts  and  natural  disasters  are  occurring  year  after year,  while  sea  levels  may  rise  by  several  meters  this  century,  displacing  hundreds  of millions  of  people  living  in  coastal  areas. There  is  a  growing  fear  amongst  scientists  that simultaneous extreme weather events in major agricultural areas could cause global food shortages, thus triggering societal collapse. For example, the drought in Syria (2011-2015) destroyed  much  of  the  country’s  agriculture  and  livestock,  driving  millions  into  cities  and sparking a civil war from which the world is still reeling. We face a crisis possibly hundreds of times more severe. To be informed is to be alarmed.

Current  actions  and  plans  are  grossly  inadequate,  and  even  these  obligations  are  not being  met.  The  rate  of  environmental  destruction  closely  tracks  economic  growth,  which leads to us extracting more resources from Earth than are regenerated. Governments and corporations  aim  to  increase  growth  and  profits,  inevitably  accelerating  the  destruction  of life on Earth. 

• To achieve decarbonisation on the required scale demands economic degrowth, at least  in  the  short  term.  This  does  not  necessarily  require  a  reduction  in  living standards.

• For  a  just  transition,  the  cost  of  degrowth  must  be  paid  for  by  the  wealthiest,  who have  benefited  enormously  from  the  current  destructive  world  order,  while  others have faced the consequences.

• A just transition to a sustainable system requires the wealth from the 1% to be used for the common benefit.

The most effective means of achieving systemic change in modern history is through non-violent  civil  resistance.  We  call  on  academics,  scientists  and  the  public  to  join  us  in  civil disobedience  to  demand  emergency  decarbonisation  and  degrowth,  facilitated  by  wealth redistribution. <>

Picture: Scientists engage in civil disobedience to demand climate action

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  Last modified on May 18, 2022