On 26th January 2021, longstanding CCA member Ruth Jarman was in court. In September 2020 she sat in the road during the September Rebellion. Ruth was found guilty of failing to comply with conditions laid down by a senior police officer in a Section 14 order and fined a total of £1104 (£440 fine, £664 court and other costs). Here is the powerful statement she wrote for court, to explain why she felt she had to do what she did.
I guess I am here because I am a scientist, a Christian and a mother.
I first learned about climate change while studying Chemistry at Oxford University nearly 40 years ago. I thought then that governments would act, that humanity would realise it was heading for destruction, and put survival before the status quo. Since then, I have seen the science to be more and more certain and more and more terrifying, while government action is still not even close to what is needed.
I first heard about tipping points at a Royal Society lecture while pregnant with my first child, who turned 21 last month. I heard that at 1.7 degrees global warming, Greenland would start to melt, raising sea levels by 7m, and that this would be unstoppable and irreversible. And, critically, the natural arctic cooling system, where white ice reflects sunlight back into space, will be replaced by dark sea and land that will, instead, absorb the energy, escalating global heating. The prediction that the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the earth, would burn up at 3 degrees global warming, triggering further temperature escalation, gave rise to a comment from the floor: ‘surely this would be curtains for humanity.’ The panel did not disagree. I have brought up three children knowing and understanding the latest science on climate. What Extinction Rebellion are saying now I have known for decades. Here is an extract from my diary of Jan 2005, when my son was 3 months old:
‘For a few weeks now I haven’t been able to look into Thomas’ trusting blue eyes without my heart filling with sadness for the life he is set to have on our earth. We have to turn things around in ten years for him to have any hope of a normal, happy life with reason to have children in a world that is not hurtling towards apocalyptic suffering and desolation and wars. Oh God, I pray against the powers of darkness that are taking away my children’s future… I love them all the same, but I am more of a mother bear with Thomas. I would happily give my life to protect him. I’m desperate to protect his future, and I feel hopeless and helpless. It is the best of times, but the shadow of the worst of times is already hanging over us, taking the colour out of everything I do.’
A lived faith
I am also a Christian. And for me faith is a bit pointless unless it is lived – in the Bible it says that ‘faith without deeds is dead’ (James 2:26). My faith provides me with values in which to try to ground the way I live, summarised by ‘what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8) and of course the golden rule, to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ And the story Jesus himself used to illustrate what this means – the parable of the Good Samaritan – that we cannot walk on by when we see suffering. In the face of the desecration of God’s good creation that is happening now, the 6th mass extinction, where 1 million species are threatened with extinction, I cannot walk on by. In the face of the mass starvation that will happen when temperatures rise above what coral, crops and livestock can withstand, I cannot walk on by. Bonhoeffer said that, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
When you’ve tried everything else
There are other ways to make my opinions known, I know. I have been doing all these for decades, and still do them now. I have spoken to churches, groups, demonstrations, I have written to and met with my MPs, taken a colourful petition signed by 600 school children to Downing Street, led my local primary school to an Eco School’s award, my local church to a Silver Eco Church award, written to the BBC, to newspapers. I am a member of my local Anglican diocese’s environmental group, and work for two national Christian environmental charities, Green Christian and Operation Noah, the latter I co-founded. For 20 years my Christmas letter has included a call to act in some way, alongside the usual family news and seasons greetings.
But humanity is still pushing the dominoes of tipping points, which, looking round the world last year, at the fires, floods and droughts, may well have begun to fall. Just one example of the state of inaction – coal burning is expected to increase this year while our own country is still handing out permits for new coal mines.
So, if my two decades of campaigning are not being heard, what do I do? Give up? For me, the call is still there to act, and where there is still the opportunity to speak out, I must take that opportunity. Nonviolent civil disobedience has in the past brought about changes in society faster than they might otherwise have occurred. If there is a slither of a chance that it might help now, then we must do it. But, more than that, even if there is no chance of averting catastrophe, I still feel called to tell the truth about the state of the earth, and the criminal negligence of our government that also knows – they are as well-informed as I am – but chooses to ignore the science. The Government’s independent advisors, the Climate Change Committee, said in its progress report last year that the UK has failed on 17 out of 21 progress indicators, and that just two of 31 key policy milestones have been met over the past year.
There is clear evidence that the mass protest by XR in the last couple of years has had an impact on the awareness of the seriousness of climate breakdown and the political mandate for the government to act. I have been campaigning on climate for two decades. Two weeks on the streets of London in April 2019 brought about the Parliament’s declaration of climate and environmental emergency.
We need to act now
I am not a lawyer but people have been telling me that we cannot plead necessity because the threat is not immediate. However, in geological timescales the threat is immediate. It may already be too late, because once the tipping point dominoes start falling there will be nothing we can do to stop them – the greenhouse gases released from natural sinks of forests and permafrost will dwarf the human-created emissions. But the lag time between policies to be put in place, for emissions to happen, for the impact of those emissions to take effect in the natural world will take decades. The threat to humanity is immediate and existential. If the law can’t recognise that then it seems to me that the law is not fit for purpose for the Anthropocene.
As I said, I am a scientist, a mother and a Christian. But really, wanting to avert climate breakdown and civilisation collapse shouldn’t be a niche occupation. In fact the only hope is that ordinary people wake up to the emergency and stop being bystanders to the unfolding apocalypse. That, as Mike Berners-Lee says in his latest book, ‘we all take our consciences to work.’ That we each ask ourselves ‘what can I do in my position, with the power and ability I have, to raise the alarm’. The questions you ask, the decisions you make, in this court today, are choices you make based not only on your knowledge of UK law, but also on what your conscience is telling you is the right thing to do at this time in human history.
- Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, Will Steffen, Johan Rockström, Katherine Richardson et.al. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252
- 7m sea level rise, triggered at only 1.7 degrees global warming, puts the whole of the City of Westminster under water. https://www.floodmap.net/
- UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
- FT: Go-ahead for new UK coal mine attracts ire of green campaigners: https://www.ft.com/content/5b04e813-6bdb-476a-9f4a-137432a7b314
- The Secretary General to the UN said in 2018: ‘If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.’ https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2018-09-10/secretary-generals-remarks-climate-change-delivered