Protest is not a Crime

The government’s Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Policing Bill) reaches a crucial stage this week. The measures are designed to control political challenges by threatening dissenters with disproportionate punishment, effectively scaring people into forfeiting their right to protest. Many people are aware that this Bill is a threat to basic civil liberties but don’t realise how much worse it has become following a series of amendments that have been slipped into the Bill at a late stage, without proper scrutiny or debate. These amendments would: 

Criminalise any protest that might “interfere” with infrastructures such as roads, railways, oil refineries and printing presses. This could be used to ban all effective protests, including protests against airport expansion and picketing by unions taking industrial action. 

Criminalise protesters who attach themselves to another person, to an object, or to land (“locking on”). This was one of the forms of protest used by the suffragettes in their campaign for votes for women and has been used successfully by road protesters and Extinction Rebellion. 

Greatly expand police “stop and search” powers, allowing the police to stop and search people or vehicles if they suspect they might be carrying any item that could be used in prohibited protests. A prohibited protest is defined in the Bill as any protest that has “a relevant impact” on or causes “serious annoyance” to any two people within the vicinity of the protest, or that causes “serious disruption” to any organisation. Material for use in protests might include placards, banners, loudhailers or any other items commonly used by protesters. 

Give police the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur in a particular area. 

The Bill gives the police, acting under instruction from the government, the power to stop any protest. The criminal offences created by the Bill and its amendments carry a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison. 

These are dictatorial powers that would remove some of our most basic democratic rights and freedoms. They would enable the government, or future governments, to turn the UK into a police state. Even former senior police officers describe the Bill as “harmful to democracy”.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights state that the Bill’s proposals are “oppressive and wrong” and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated the measures undermine human rights legislation.

WHAT CAN WE DO? 

Protest this Saturday, January 15th at 2pm Sheffield Town Hall. (organised by Extinction Rebellion but all welcome)

Green Party Peer Jenny Jones has released a pack to help people campaign against the bill. These include social media posts, placards and a template email to MPs/Lords.

Because the latest amendments to the Bill were slipped in at a late stage in the House of Lords, the Lords are able to remove them. The amendments will fall if the Lords vote against them. The last vote is on 17th January. 

Green and Liberal Democrat peers will oppose these amendments. The Labour Party has so far failed to offer strong opposition to the Bill and it’s vital that Labour and independent peers now join other peers to stop these extremely dangerous amendments. 

Ideally, the Bill should be voted down. If passed it will create a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities, while the government manifestly fails to provide adequate sites and permitted stopping places, and has implications for access to the countryside and people experiencing homelessness. Sheffield Peer Baronness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle spoke about this in the Lords, and repeated the conclusion of the National Police Chief’s Council that “We believe the criminalising of unauthorised encampments is not acceptable.”

For a country that so often prides itself on civil liberties, this Bill represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens, in particular those from marginalised communities, and is being driven through at a time and in a way where those who will be subject to its provisions are least able to respond.

I urge you to raise public awareness of the dangers of the Policing Bill and increase pressure on peers and on the Labour Party generally to oppose it. Join in local protests, talk to your friends and colleagues about it, post about the bill on your social media and write to your MP.

You can also sign this petition by 38 Degrees calling on the government to stop this attack on our democratic rights, and encourage others to sign. More than 181,000 people have already supported it.

Sheffielder and Act Now performer Janice Brown is best known for her performances as Mother Earth, having a climate crisis. She was arrested last summer for sitting in the road in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the climate emergency. Janice said “I didn’t harm anyone, but if this legislation had been passed I would now be facing 51 weeks in prison. Meanwhile, Shell, Exxon, BP and Total are directly responsible for countless deaths all over the world as homes are flooded, crops fail and wildfires blaze. Why aren’t the Chief Executives of these companies in the dock? We must stop the Police Bill from taking away our democratic right to protest. ”

Mother Earth having a climate crisis! Please act to stop the Governement banning protest.

Here is a list of Members of the House of Lords to write to.

Action Pack from Baroness Jenny Jones

Template letter (but please edit it to make it personal)

Jubilee Debt Campaign letter

Do they know it’s Christmas? The media are ignoring the crisis in East Africa.

As most of us prepare to enjoy Christmas with plenty to eat and drink our media are ignoring the dreadful fate of people in East Africa. The poorest and most vulnerable children on the planet are being killed in huge numbers by climate breakdown. We still listen to “Do they know it’s Christmas” on the radio, but where is today’s equivalent to Bob Geldof, alerting the world to what is happening, and where is today’s Live Aid, popularising giving for emergency aid for those in dire need?

Of course, it is necessary to report the rise of Omicron, Party Gate and Tory sleaze, and even the wonderful winners of Strictly. (We do need some good news.) But surely the media should devote some column inches to the biggest humanitarian disaster the planet is facing.

 More than 260,000 children aged under five may have died from extreme hunger or related diseases in East Africa since the start of the year, according to Save the Children.

Using data compiled by the UN, Save the Children evaluated mortality rates for untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition in children under five across eight countries in East Africa. Using a conservative estimate, the humanitarian aid agency discovered that about 262,500 acutely malnourished children may have died between January and November 2021.

East Africa is currently experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, with concurrent emergencies like drought and floods across the region leading to mass displacement and severe hunger. While communities in eastern Kenya, southern Somalia, and parts of Ethiopia are reeling from successive drought, parts of South Sudan remain underwater after three years of unpredictable and excessive rains.

Health centre admissions of children suffering acute malnutrition have risen dramatically in 2021, with a 16% increase in the first half of this year from an already high baseline. Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and dangerous form of undernutrition. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin, with visible wasting of body tissue; or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin. Currently, less than half of acutely malnourished children (46%) across East Africa are being treated for the condition.

From https://fscluster.org/sites/default/files/documents/fsnwg_statement_october_2021.pdf

Akuol, the mother of 17-month-old Abdo in Bor, South Sudan, has struggled to get enough food for herself and her son. The delivery of the humanitarian supplies she usually relies on has recently been hampered by heavy rains’:

“There is nowhere I rest comfortably, no food (no grains, no oil) and the house we are living in is like living on the street. I have no one to turn to for help, sometimes I go and beg to people at the riverside and buy food to eat if I am lucky to get something. We have no food to eat, we wait for humanitarian support and when it is finished we stay without food. For the period that we are waiting for the next ratio (food distribution), we remain without food and that is how the situation is for us.

“There is food shortage because when it rains it is difficult for humanitarian food to be brought to us and distributed.”

Kijala Shako, Director of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media for East and Southern Africa, said:

” In a year that saw the COVID-19 pandemic continue to wreck lives and economies, and conflict kill and displace thousands of families, it has been the impacts of the climate crisis that have ultimately taken the highest toll on children.

“At COP26 last month, high-income countries and historical emitters had the opportunity to support the development of funds to address rapidly escalating loss and damage. Unfortunately, they missed the boat. Today’s shocking figures tell the human story behind what we are calling for.

“Deaths from hunger are not inevitable and we have the tools, skills and experience to reach children and their families before it’s too late. Countries that are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis must be supported for the damage that is already being done — that they themselves have played a very little part in creating. It is vital that we see the creation of a new climate finance mechanism for loss and damage by 2023. At the same time we also need to see a drastic reduction in fossil fuels to limit warming temperatures and reduce these kinds of disasters.”

Save the Children is calling on governments to fully fund humanitarian response plans, and support social protection schemes and health and nutrition services for children, including the treatment of acute malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition is linked to nearly half of all under-five deaths. In 2020, 149 million children were stunted (too short) and 45 million children were wasted (too thin). Without fast and decisive action from the global community, an additional 3.6 million children around the world will become stunted by 2022 and an additional 13.6 million children wasted because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And what of the future? Unless we reverse the ever-increasing temperatures on our planet by stopping the use of fossil fuels, it won’t just be East Africa experiencing hunger and starvation. Crop failures around the world will make food scarce everywhere.

Defend the right to protest

Heather Hunt at a Kill the Bill protest in Sheffield. The banner reads "Defend the right to protest."
Heather Hunt

Picture the scene. On a rainy morning in London, an Extinction Rebellion protest is in full swing in Millbank, demanding the Government start to act now to prevent billions of worldwide deaths which will happen if we don’t drastically reduce our carbon emissions.  Hundreds of people are sitting in the road, chanting and singing. Sheffielder and former clinical psychologist Heather Hunt is walking around, trying to dry a banner, wet from the night before. She is there to support friends, not to block the road or be a nuisance. Unlike many who sat in the road, she has no intention of being arrested. She had been there 20 minutes when suddenly, without warning,  the strong arm of the law grabs her from behind, tells her she’s under arrest and marches her off to a nearby police van.  

Heather told me the story in South Street cafe. “I was arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, whereby police need to ensure potential arrestees know the consequence of not moving. I did not hear any warning. I was shocked and angry at the injustice. After 14 hours in Brixton police station, I was discharged pending investigation, as were several other Sheffield arrestees. I was more shocked 5 months later when I was charged with Wilful Obstruction of the Highway. I felt that this was ridiculous, so I pleaded not guilty. The legal team from Extinction Rebellion were extremely helpful and supported me in developing my defence.  In June this year, I defended myself in London Magistrates court, cross-examining the police and putting up my defence.  But I was found guilty and got a massive fine and costs of £1,525.”

Heather then had to decide whether or not to appeal. “My first reflection was not! I had no personal motivation for going to appeal. There’s no heroic story about what I was arrested for and I’ve lost trust in the British Justice system. The XR legal team says I have a 50:50 chance of acquittal. If I lose I need £620 ready for court costs. Not very good odds. Anyway, it’s a long, tedious, lonely and stressful process. Then I reflected on  “love and courage.” Love for the earth and, in light of the draconian Police and Justice bill,  love for all the non-violent protestors courageously risking arrest and its consequences. Courage, I thought I could find if I was going through the appeal process in solidarity. So amazing and heartwarming, members of XR Sheffield agreed an appeal would be important for all protestors, present and future. From solitary to solidarity! I would be standing  up for justice and the right to protest for and with others.” 

If Heather is granted the right to appeal, she hopes the Ziegler ruling can apply to her case. 

 The Ziegler ruling comes from a  Court of Appeal case of four protestors charged with Wilful Obstruction of the Highway. They had locked on and blocked the road to an arms fair in London, in December 2017. They were protesting about weapons being sold to dictators and human rights abusers. The Crown Court judge hearing this case in July ruled that Article 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act does include the right to protest on the highway if it is considered relevant and proportionate and that there is no automatic primacy of the rights of road users over protestors.

But the Government are pushing hard to make all protests illegal. George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian “The last-minute amendments crowbarred by the government into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are a blatant attempt to stifle protest, of the kind you might expect in Russia or Egypt. Priti Patel, the home secretary, shoved 18 extra pages into the bill after it had passed through the Commons, and after the second reading in the House of Lords. It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media, there’s a resounding silence.”

New clauses in the Bill mean that it would be illegal to block a road for any reason, and those found guilty face 51 weeks in prison. It doesn’t matter if you are locked on, sitting in the road or standing holding a banner, all could face 51 weeks in jail. 

Shockingly, the amendments contain powers to ban named people from protesting. You can be banned if you have previously committed “protest-related offences”. Due to the draconian measures in the rest of the bill, it will be difficult to attend a protest without committing an offence. You can be banned if you have attended or “contributed to” a protest that was “likely to result in serious disruption”. This could mean almost anything, including being noisy. If you post something on social media that encourages people to turn up, you could find yourself on the list. You can also be banned from associating with particular people or “using the internet to facilitate or encourage” a “protest-related offence”.

I wish Heather and all those fighting the Police Bill, whether in Parliament, in the courts or on the streets, every success in defending the right to protest and in defeating this Bill. 

Sign the Liberty petition here. 

“The climate isn’t top of my list…” A message to parents and grandparents.

Regular Sheffield Star letter writer Jayne Grayson wrote this.

“If I am honest the climate really isn’t at the top of my list. Sorry if that upsets others but going away for two weeks of sun at Christmas is the top of my important. Keeping a job in this time of uncertainty, making sure my son passes his GCSEs, saving up enough money so we can retire early and not have to work till we are 75, those matter to me more.

Yes we do our bit, we recycle, we have cut meat out as much as we can, we leave the car at home and walk more, that’s my bit to help if it’s not enough sorry but there’s more things I care about right now.”

Here’s my reply.

Jayne Grayson tells us that she has a son about to take his GCSE’s but she doesn’t care about the climate. It is clear she is out of touch with climate science.


The failure of COP26 means that we are hurtling towards the planet overheating to 1.5 degrees. Instead of planning to reduce emissions by  45 per cent by 2030 as scientists say we need to, we are on a path to increase them by 16 per cent by that date. World leaders showed they cared more for the interests of the fossil fuel companies than the future of our children. In 2030 Jayne’s son will be in his 20’s and in the prime of his life.
Once the planet exceeds 1.5 degrees warming we can expect many feedback loops to kick in. Indeed some are already happening. For instance, methane is bubbling up from the melting permafrost in the arctic. This methane has been locked away for millennia but will now contribute to further heating the planet. Unless we change course, eventually, there will be so many feedback loops that the planet will keep heating up regardless of how well we control our emissions. Food will become scarce as crops all over the world fail. Cities will flood and civilisation will collapse. 


The planet is a bit like a human body. It can cope with a fever. But if a human continues to overheat, eventually the vital organs fail and they die. That is what we are doing to the planet. 


I’m sure Jayne loves her son, so if she does not want him to have to face this future she should act to demand world leaders take the necessary action to prevent it. This is not about whether we sort out our recycling or rinse our dishes. This is about Governments completely changing our societies, moving quickly from fossil fuels to renewables, insulating all homes and buildings, providing decent public transport so we don’t need cars, taxing frequent flyers, planting millions of trees, revolutionising agriculture, stopping new roads from being built and contracting, not expanding airports. 
You don’t have to glue your face to the road Jayne, but it seems the Government will only listen when they are forced to by the overwhelming voice of the mass of the people. Parents and grandparents, if you love your children, get involved in the movement to stop climate catastrophe today. 

How full will the prisons be before the Government starts to Insulate Britain?

The failure of COP26 has changed the climate of protest in this country. Extinction Rebellion’s Paralympian James Brown has been jailed for a year for his protest on top of a plane. Nine Insulate Britain protestors have been jailed for contempt of court for breaking injunctions preventing them from sitting in the road. Eight were sent to prison for three or four months, while the ninth, Ben Taylor, was given a six-month sentence after a judge said his submissions to court were “inflammatory”. Ecologist Emma Smart, one of the imprisoned, has since been on hunger strike for two weeks.

On the weekend following the imprisonments climate activists from many groups gathered outside the court, then marched and sat down on Lambeth Bridge. This resulted in 131 arrests of peaceful protestors, but you probably haven’t heard about it as it was largely ignored by the media, who were more interested in the violent Covid protests in Europe. 

Dr Abi Perrin wearing a lab coat holding a placard saying "I AM FRIGHTENED THAT OUR GOVERNMENT WOULD RATHER IMPRISON SCIENTISTS THAN FOLLOW THEIR ADVICE."
Dr Abi Perrin photographed by Hannah Woodhouse on Lambeth Bridge

One protestor on the bridge said that if he is imprisoned ten more will take his place. And if they are imprisoned a hundred more will take their place. And if they are imprisoned a thousand more will take their place. Campaigners are following the tactics of Gandhi, who eventually made the British Government listen by filling the jails with non-violent protestors. 

Alanna Byrne of Extinction Rebellion, who took part in the Lambeth Bridge action, said, “When I saw the “Highway 9” give their testimonies in court this week, I knew I had a duty to take a stand today in their place. These people willingly gave up their freedom to push the government to act on the greatest crisis we’ll ever face. The failure of COP26 should shock everyone into action. World leaders are protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry over the general public, they are not coming to save us. All we have left now is to come together on the street and rebel for all we hold dear. The government thinks that this injunction will scare people into submission and stop taking action. But the opposite is true. This has only ignited a fire in people that will spread faster than they know. “

I have never been happy with Insulate Britain’s tactics. I would much rather protests were focussed on the Government and the Corporations that cause the emissions. But the aims of Insulate Britain are spot on. Insulating houses will be a triple win. It will reduce emissions, reduce fuel poverty and provide thousands of worthwhile jobs. Any Government serious about tackling the climate crisis would do this first, not lock up the people demanding it.

Bing Jones a retired Sheffield doctor, has been taking part in Insulate Britain protests. He told me 

“We’re failing on the climate. Emissions rise while BP makes a billion dollars a month profit. Science, media, COP and polite demonstrations are not changing things fast enough. Our kids are strapped in a car driven by a madman heading for a cliff. I’m at my wits end so I’ve joined Insulate Britain. I’ve been arrested 6 times. It’s different. It’s a step up. This is civil resistance. It’s ordinary people sitting silently and blocking roads and saying STOP to business as usual. Saying send us to prison. Making a demand that everyone can understand: that government insulates and retrofits our homes to save 15% of UK emissions, make hundreds of thousands of proper skilled jobs and lift 7 million and more people out of fuel poverty. We could abolish heating bills, it’s a win, win, win. This is a big disruption but it’s ordinary people telling the uncomfortable truth that our government is not really interested in saving us. I’m a doctor, I want to look after people but I can’t go on doing what I know doesn’t work. It seems to me that the only honourable place to be just now is in prison.  9 in prison now for contempt of court, 23 more on their way to prison and 131 arrested last Saturday from various groups. If enough people do this we might just make real, rapid change.”

Insulate Britain explain their demand on their website. “The UK has some 29 million homes and they are the oldest and least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe. Every year vast amounts of energy are wasted in heating and, increasingly, cooling our buildings. 

In order to meet UK commitments under the Paris Agreement to stay below 1.5C, and legal obligations under the Climate Change Act, emissions from heating and powering homes must be reduced by 78% in less than 15 years and then to zero by 2050. 

​Nearly 15% of the UK’s emissions come from heating homes: an overhaul of the energy performance of the UK’s housing stock is needed to reduce the energy demand.

​The UK needs a nationwide programme to upgrade almost every house. That is 1.5 homes per minute to the year 2050. Currently, the UK Government does not have a robust long-term national strategy with a funding mechanism in place to retrofit our homes. “

Surely the Government must act to put this right rather than face the prospect of jails overflowing with peaceful climate campaigners?

Here I am 13 years ago, busy insulating our new roof.

COP26 was a failure, but we must never give up.

COP26, the most important meeting in human history, has failed abysmally to slash emissions as climate science demands. Neither did it provide the countries on the front line, who have contributed least to emissions, with the finance they need to fund climate adaptation and start to repair the massive damage they have experienced as a direct result of rich countries emissions. At one point funding “loss and damage” was on the table, but the US, UK and EU  watered it down to “hold a workshop”. The plan to phase out coal was watered down to “phase down coal” (whatever that means) on the insistence of China and India. The final agreement is here.

200 scientists and academics have written an open letter, calling COP a failure and demanding a green revolution. 

Anita Sonia, an activist from Kenya tweeted “ I will go back to my country where millions of people are facing negative effects of climate change. I’ll tell them that I went to COP26 and requested leaders to open their hearts but none of them felt their pain.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland tweeted “It is nothing less than a scandal. Just saying the words 1.5 degrees is meaningless if there is nothing in COP26 agreement to deliver it. 

History will remember it as a betrayal of the global South – abandoned to the crisis with no money for transition, adaptation or loss and damage.

Prof Bill McGuire wrote in the Ecologist, “ For there to be any possibility of keeping the global average temperature rise – since pre-industrial times – to below the 1.5° guardrail, greenhouse gas emissions needed to fall by 45 per cent by 2030. Instead, they were on a path to climb 16 per cent by that date.”

Among the hundreds of banners and placards at last Saturday’s massive Climate Justice demonstration in Sheffield, this is the one that spoke most to me. “Don’t give up”. Having witnessed the failure of COP26 it is tempting to throw in the towel, become oblivious to the bad news and enjoy the rest of the time we have on earth as best we can. 

But that would be shirking our responsibilities. 

George Monbiot has other ideas. Talking on the Frankie Boyle show, he said “ When they tell you we are just the Government there is nothing we can do, that’s bull****. There is no economic barrier standing in the way. There is no technological barrier standing in the way. The only thing that stops them from doing what they need to do is the lack of political will. And so we have to get together in our millions to demand that they show that political will and defend our life support system.” 

Dr Aaron Thierry a climate scientist who founded Extinction Rebellion in Sheffield, was arrested taking part in a peaceful act of civil disobedience with Scientist Rebellion at COP 26. He said

“It’s clear that the COP process has failed: all we have to show for it are three decades of rising emissions. The science is clear. We need to halt all further fossil fuel investments and exploration, today! Yet governments continue to increase production, all their fine words and promises are hollow; we can see by their actions that they have no intention of doing what is required to prevent catastrophe. Rather than wait for our leaders to continue to fail us, we must rise up and take to the streets. As scientists who fully comprehend what is at stake, we are standing in solidarity with the youth and frontline communities and taking a stand.”

Activists laid down in the street outside the entrance to the COP26 Blue Zone to remind delegates and governments of the millions who have already died due to the failure of previous COPs and the further deaths that the failure of COP26 is locking in. Each shrouded body held a death certificate, reminding passers-by of the multiple hazards to human life that result from climate breakdown.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. The climate emergency hits groups who are already poor the hardest – including indigenous peoples and many of those living in the Global South – people who have had the least opportunity to make their voices heard as part of the COP process. The message of protestors on Glasgow’s streets has been clear: justice to all peoples must lie at the heart of climate solutions. However, it seems the fossil fuel lobbyists, who had a bigger delegation than any country, were more successful at influencing world leaders. 

We must not give up. We must get active. Join an environmental group, join us on the streets and demand politicians and corporations take action to stop the destruction of our life support system. We need to build the biggest mass movement in history, uniting families, Trade Unions, environmental groups, justice groups, youth, OAP’s, everybody, to get the change we need. 

Wanting to survive is not radical. Knowingly continuing with business as usual is to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. 

What’s so important about 1.5 degrees?

In the run-up to COP26, it has been heartening to see the increased coverage in the media of the climate emergency. The BBC drama “The Trick” was tv at its best. But much of the coverage has annoyed me because it has focussed on personal lifestyle changes rather than the systemic change from Governments and Corporations that we need if we are to save ourselves from extinction.

The most annoying and frequent misinformation has been commentators speaking about climate change becoming “dangerous” when it reaches 1.5C. We have already heated the planet by 1.2 degrees and this is already incredibly dangerous. We have experienced vast wildfires,  monster hurricanes and droughts that ruined crops In Africa, the US, Canada and China. I am sure the residents of Fishlake will confirm that the warming we have already experienced is dangerous. Commentators should be more careful with their language.

Why did the Paris agreement put so much emphasis on the importance of avoiding 1.5 degrees of warming? When scientists talk about “dangerous” climate change they are pointing to the fact that we have to avoid a “hothouse earth” scenario. This is when feedback loops combine in a cascade so that the earth keeps heating up even if humans succeed in stopping our greenhouse gas emissions. The truth is scientists do not know at what temperature this will happen. Scientists have done an amazing job, modelling the different futures we can expect, depending on how successful we are at reducing emissions. But we are in completely unchartered territory, so these models can’t be relied on. Predicting the future has never been easy and these calculations have got to be the most complicated problem humanity has tried to solve. 1.5 degrees may be too optimistic, or too pessimistic. The 1.5 degrees was a round number, arrived at by the negotiators in Paris. Rich nations wanted it set at 2 degrees but island states and low lying nations realised that this would mean genocide for them, so they demanded 1.5. We can’t use it as a figure for which we are safe until it is crossed. Instead, we have got to maximise our efforts to reduce all emissions as quickly as possible. 

Some feedback loops are already kicking in. In his book “Our Final Warning. Six degrees of Climate Emergency”, Mark Lynas identifies some of them.

“Arctic sea ice has been shrinking by 13% a decade since satellites began measuring it in 1978. That means that half of the entire Arctics stock of sea ice has disappeared and what remains has become 85% thinner…Because there is now dark-coloured open water during the summer rather than highly reflective snow and ice, solar heat absorption has increased fivefold since the 1980s in the once-frozen seas of Alaska and Canada, introducing vast quantities of energy into the Arctic system. …While bright white snow-covered ice reflects 80% of the sun’s heat that falls on it, the darker open ocean can absorb up to 95% of incoming solar radiation. Once the ice begins to melt the process quickly becomes self-reinforcing, more ocean surface is revealed, absorbing solar heat and making it more difficult for the ice to re-form next winter.” 

“In the summer of 2019, the Arctic began to burn. In June more than 100 wildfires were burning above the Arctic circle, across Alaska, Siberia and Canada. Even Greenland saw wildfires erupting on fenlands scorched by unusual summer heat…the wildfires were not just burning trees. They were smouldering in dried-out peat, much of it formerly immobilised in permafrost. By the end of July, it was estimated that the blazes had released 120 million tonnes of CO2-an all-time record…All this extra carbon can only do one thing: accumulate in the atmosphere and cause more warming. These weren’t just wildfires, they were positive feedbacks showing that the heating of the Arctic is threatening to run out of control.”

With feedback loops already happening we must be perilously close to the hothouse earth scenario. Whatever the outcome of COP26, we must redouble our efforts to hold Governments and Corporations to account and ensure that emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced as quickly as possible. I don’t want to hear about targets for 2030, 2050 or 2060. I want to know what is being done now to reduce emissions.  

The early announcements from COP26 have been weak. Sheffield Peer Natalie Bennett explained why the plan to halt deforestation by 2030 was nothing to get excited about. She commented “The now infamous and much-misused REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) scheme emerged from the 2009 COP. A further agreement was reached in New York in 2014 to stop deforestation, yet 2016 witnessed a record 30 million hectares of forest disappearing – an area the size of Italy. Last year in Brazil alone, one million hectares fell before the chainsaws.” The plan seems to be little more than a target, with no means of enforcement.  Similarly, the agreement to cut methane by 30% by 2030 is too little too late and lacks any teeth to enforce it. 

We must persuade world leaders to do better than this, our future depends on it. 

Hazel’s questions on COP26

A guest blog by Extinction Rebellion activist Hazel Bober.

I’m a teacher and mum of two young children and I’m heading to Glasgow this weekend (Nov 5th) to join protesters demanding that world leaders commit to climate action at COP26. Here are some of the questions and comments I’ve had from friends and family members about COP26 and climate activism, and my responses.

What is COP26?

COP is the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This conference, in which world leaders gather to discuss and plan their response to the climate emergency, takes place every year but was postponed last year due to COVID. This year will be the 26th annual summit, hence the name COP26, and will be held in Glasgow from 31 October until 12 November.

Can you tell me a bit about the climate emergency?

We are currently not on track to meet the emissions targets set out in the Paris agreement in 2015. The aim of these targets is to limit global warming to an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees celsius. This figure is important because climate scientists agree that beyond an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius there will be dangerous and devastating consequences for humanity. As the planet warms we can expect more extreme weather – such as flooding cyclones and droughts. We will see rising sea levels as glaciers melt and in turn mass involuntary migration. Ultimately our food and water supply systems will be stressed and could collapse globally, increasing conflict and war as resources become more scarce. It is important to note that many people are already experiencing these effects of climate breakdown and that the most vulnerable are the people causing the least emissions. In summary, right now, we are not on track for a climate-safe future, but we still have a choice about how bad things get.

Hazel and her son with a placard which reads "The seas are rising and so must we".
Hazel Bober and her son

Why will you be going to COP26?

I’ll be joining thousands of people on the streets of Glasgow in protest at the lack of action being taken by world leaders to drastically curb C02 emissions. To put it simply, I’m terrified for my children and for future generations, whose future is unsafe. We really have such a limited time to turn things around, and our world leaders are not committing to the drastic measures we need. We know that we absolutely must keep fossil fuels in the ground to try to limit future harm, and yet the UK government is considering expanding our fossil fuel industry by authorising a new deep coal mine in Cumbria and a huge new oil field, in Cambo off the coast of Scotland. If these projects go ahead, they will commit the UK to reliance on fossil fuels for many years to come, at a time when we urgently need to invest in and transition to renewable energy sources.

I agree with the cause but I don’t like the tactics – I don’t approve of things like blocking roads…

That’s fair enough, but I think it’s important to consider the context – we are at an absolutely pivotal point in human history where it is a make or break for humanity, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s also worth considering that many rights have been won historically through non-violent direct action – this was a key tactic of the Civil Rights movement and of the Suffragettes, but many people disagreed with their tactics at the time. It’s also important to note that you can still be part of the climate movement without engaging in this type of action. I joined Extinction Rebellion in August and was surprised to learn how many different interest groups there are within my local Sheffield groups, such as an art group that make banners and signs, a samba band, a rebel gardeners group who do outreach through seed giveaways and a group for young families. Being part of the climate movement, and in Extinction Rebellion, makes me feel like I’m part of a community that is engaged in the fight for climate justice and for a safer future for children and families.

Isn’t it too late already?

My brother and I discussed this when we met in London in August to join Extinction Rebellion’s Impossible Rebellion. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had just released a report making it clear: climate breakdown is ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activity. The report sets out different future warming scenarios according to how much emissions are cut now. I’m not a climate scientist but it’s clear to me that if global temperatures exceed the 1.5C threshold, an average temperature increase of 2 degrees is far preferable to 3 or 4 degrees, in terms of what this means for our planet’s ecosystems and for humanity’s chance of survival. In addition, because the poorest and vulnerable will be hardest hit by climate collapse, we need to keep fighting for what’s right and for climate justice, even if we believe climate breakdown can no longer be completely halted.  As my brother and I talked, we saw a large banner with the words “Act now because it’s too late”, which I think is a really powerful message and an answer to this question. Human activity has already made things bad. But if ‘business as usual’ continues it can make things much, much worse. It means now is the time to act, not put hopes in future targets and pledges.

I want to take climate action but I feel a bit hypocritical as I drive a car and use a tumble dryer…

Many people are doing, or aware of things that we can do, in daily life to care for the planet, but at this stage, we really need to focus on system change rather than individual actions. The individual actions we take are defined and limited by the system we live in – an example of this from my own life is that I prefer not to have a car, and when I lived in Singapore, which has reliable, cheap and efficient public transport, it was very easy to do this. As a family we now own a car, as living without one in Sheffield is much harder, especially with young children. In summary, please don’t focus on your individual “environmental sins” or on judging the environmental actions of others-  we need your time and energy in the environmental movement instead so that together we can create the systemic changes that make it easier to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. An example of this would be improved public transport services in Sheffield.

I want to get involved. What can I do?

A great way is to join an environmental group and there are lots of inspiring ones in Sheffield. I would highly recommend Extinction Rebellion Sheffield, but there’s also Sheffield Climate Campaign Umbrella Group and Sheffield Friends of the Earth to name but a few. There may be environmental groups within your local community – Greener Greenhill is one that is local to me. Also, talk to your friends and family about the climate crisis so that caring for our planet and creating a safe future for our children becomes part of our daily conversations. Now is a great time to get involved; with COP26 there will be lots of events in Sheffield in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the climate crisis, including a protest in the city on November 6th as part of a global day of action. Change becomes more likely a greater number of people show their support for a cause by taking part in such action. See you on the streets!

For more information on Extinction Rebellion Sheffield visit www.xrsheffield.org

The Sheffield COP26 Climate Justice Protest is on Saturday 6 November at 12 noon at Devonshire Green.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Sheffield Star on 2nd November 2021