Protest for progress

On 20 March 2023, in the High Court in London, Judge Snow found blocking a road and causing some disruption was deemed proportional to the climate crisis risk and so Felicity Rice and 3 others from a JSO roadblock in London were found not guilty.

Picture of Felicity Rice and other JSO protestors outside High Court in London following their not-guilty verdict
Felicity Rice and fellow protestors, following their Not Guilty verdict

Non-violent protest has played an important role in moving debate forwards. Suffragettes throwing themselves under the kings horse is how Women got the vote. It played an important role in ending Apartheid, and when major road-building in balancing the needs to protect nature and heritage .

Our area is very susceptible to flooding and the increasing risks from extreme weather and sea-level rise. Whilst BCP Council declared a Climate and Ecological Crisis back in 2019, action has been minimal under the Conservatives both nationally and locally. The Oil companies have been making massive profits on the back of short term supply fears from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and lobbying hard to unpick the move away from reliance on oil.

Some people are prepared to put their liberty at stake to challenge this, amongst them health professionals, who study and treat the consequences of our dependence on oil products, especially transport – crashes, poor air quality, stress, and heating – those in fuel poverty not able to heat their homes and suffering bronchial and other diseases.

Health professionals blocking Lambeth Bridge April 2022 (Extinction Rebellion)

This group were acquitted on trial in November, Judge Robinson remarked on acquittal “I was impressed by the integrity and rationality of their beliefs” and “their evidence was highly moving.”

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Giovanna Lewis, 65, a town councillor from Portland, and Dr Felicity Rice, Councillor for Oakdale were involved in similar protests, motivated by both fuel poverty and the Climate Crisis.

In a Guardian article in November 2022, Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emily highlighted the direct connection between the suffragettes and the current Just Stop Oil protests. That inaction is killing many people worldwide, and Governments are failing to act is the big scandal.

As we have also seen in recent weeks, the BBC and print newspaper are far from objective and neutral in their coverage. The storm over the tweet by Gary Linaker revealed to many the much wider manipulation of the media, with political appointees, and advertising revenues driving editorial content. Disruption will make the news, where just politely explaining the issues gets overlooked or sidelined.

Councillor Rice took part in a sit down protest on 29th October in London , she says ;

I believe it is proportional to the seriousness of climate crisis inaction by our government, and that our government is continuing to exacerbate the climate crisis despite knowing that it will cause human suffering due to increased flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, crop failures, sea level rise, biodiversity loss.

BCP itself is at risk of losing it’s beaches completely due to sea level rise, which would have a catastrophic impact on the wellbeing of all it’s residents in so many ways.  Various large areas of land, currently with homes on it, is expected to be flooded, particularly in Hamworthy, Poole and Christchurch.  Food security will be affected due to global and local crop failures.  Inequality is at risk of increasing.   

I did not glue myself to the road. Just Stop Oil protests are non-violent.  We have training on how to be non-violent, even in the face of violence from members of the public.  At all times we maintain respect for the members of public because we may have caused disruption to their day, however, if the government followed it’s own advice from the Climate Change Committee, then the disruption would not have been required. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently said ‘We have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to create a livable future’, and yet our government continues to invest in new fossil fuels we cannot safely burn.

The Lancet, a top medical journal, said just this year ‘A persistent fossil fuel addiction is amplifying the health impacts of climate change, and compounding the concurrent energy, cost-of-living, food, and COVID-19 crises we face.’ I believe that this protest will help to wake us all up to this inconvenient truth and the need for society-wide change to get us off fossil fuels – our future health depends on it.

It’s not about our morning coffee being too milky, it’s about the deaths of millions, the loss of everything we care about, in particular the loss of law and order. The level of disruption I caused was proportionate to the problems we face. I don’t want to be arrested, but I accept it as a consequence.

Medical institutions have been printing ever more concerned articles about the risks of climate change to health in the past couple of years, but it has not been enough. Protest, like this one, is like attempting to shock a failing heart, in the hope it will change its rhythm.  The Lancet said recently “There is some evidence that disruptive or radical non-violent actions…are successful at garnering public attention for a cause’’.

The protest is in a long tradition of non-violent civil disobedience for causes that seek to improve social justice and, in the case of climate protest, to secure a liveable future for all, including residents of BCP. 

By acting as I have done, I am fulfilling my duty of care to the residents in BCP and the public in general, alerting us all to the real and present dangers of the climate crisis and calling on our political leaders to act now to avoid climate catastrophe.