Soil scientist Rose Abramoff has long tried to be “apolitical,” she says, in her efforts to educate people about climate change: She’s supported efforts at non-profits and fact-checked materials for organizations, for example, alongside writing her own reports on the climate crisis. But not anymore.
“The paradigm is starting to shift for scientists,” she told Earther. “I was always taught to remain unbiased in order to maintain my credibility… but it’s not political to tell the truth. Serving the habitability of life on this planet is not and should not be a political issue. I can’t pretend that I don’t know what I know.”
So last week, she traveled by car from her home state of Tennessee to Washington, D.C., where she and several others chained themselves to the White House fence. She estimates she was there for about an hour before she was arrested.
Abramoff was one of about 1,000 scientists in 25 countries around the world who engaged in civil disobedience and one of over 100 confirmed arrests last week. The protests were organized by Scientist Rebellion, an international collective of science and academic activists that demand “emergency decarbonization” and wealth distribution from the top 1% of earners who have contributed—and—the most from our current fossil fuel-based energy system. A letter released by the group called current plans to lower emissions by governments worldwide “grossly inadequate.”
The protests coordinated with the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned of a jarring three-year deadline for the world to rapidly lower emissions if we want to limit global warming to only 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report highlighted that current oil and gas infrastructure is already enough to push us over that threshold.
Many of the protesting scientists wore white lab coats during the week of protests so that they could be easily identified in a crowd. Several scientist activists chained themselves to a Chase Bank in Los Angeles. Scientists in Spain threw fake blood on a government building. Others held teach-ins and organized community speaking events in countries including Malawi and Rwanda. Scientist Rebellion spokesperson Tadzio Mueller pointed to the “inconvenience” of the protests and how it mirrors the disruptions that will occur as more people are exposed to extreme weather.
“In rich societies, we have to understand that our wealth and stability are based on poverty and organized instability in many other parts of the world,” he said. “We live in externalized societies that continuously externalize the negative effects of their mode of production…so what these activists say [is] ‘this is what we’re exporting to the rest of the world.’”
The disruptions and protests continued into the weekend. Even after her arrest in front of the White House, Abramoff returned later last week. This time, she and other activists stopped rush-hour traffic on the I-395.
Climate scientist and activist Peter Kalmus was one of the several people chained to the front of a Chase Bank. It’s one of the many financial institutions that has contributed huge sums to funding fossil fuel projects despite announcing plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The organizers shut the main entrance and stood there for several hours until police officers with bolt cutters came and arrested them.
“We are in this genuine emergency, and we’re not acting like that. So we have to fix that,” he said.
Kalmus argues that declaring an emergency and deploying resources to address how the climate crisis is already affecting frontline communities is necessary to avoid more human suffering. He worried that the same governments ignoring and even worsening the crisis would probably bar climate refugees from immigrating closer to the poles. Many Central Americans at the U.S.- Mexico border are leaving their homes after natural disasters. But the current immigration system and systems in many conservative governments around the world do not address the present and future of climate displacement. “These are the kinds of issues that we have to start addressing now,” Kalmus said.
There are more protests planned in the near future. This week, activists glued their hands to the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy building and called for the department to stop all new fossil fuel projects. Another group of scientists and activists managed to glue themselves to the reception desk inside Shell’s London headquarters.