With a protest timed to respond to the release of a shocking United Nations report on climate change that had dire warnings for humanity, a coalition of climate activists called Scientist Rebellion engaged in acts of non-violent civil disobedience around the world on Wednesday. Over 1000 scientists in 25 countries assembled in cities around the world. Donning white lab coats emblazoned with the hourglass logo of Extinction Rebellion — a decentralized international movement that calls for non-violent direct action to push world governments to act on climate change — their message was clear: time is running out.
"We have not made the changes necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C, rendering this goal effectively impossible," Dr. Rose Abramoff said via a press release. "We need to both understand the consequences of our inaction as well as limit fossil fuel emissions as much and as quickly as possible. As scientists, we tend to be risk-averse. We don't want to risk our jobs, our reputations, and our time. But it is no longer sufficient to do our research and expect others to read our publications and understand the severity and urgency of the climate crisis."
Specifically, the United Nations climate report concluded that in order to limit global warming to acceptable levels, carbon emissions must peak by 2025 — a mere three years away. Moreover, the report noted that emissions would have to be cut by at least 30% by 2030. In other words, the world has about three years to reach peak emissions and eight years to manage emissions well enough to meet the Paris Agreement target — a tall order for which there is no clear global plan.
"This Monday, there was a release of an IPCC report, the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which regularly puts out reports specifying precisely how f**ked we are at that point in time and then giving a few kind of scenarios in which we could un-f**k ourselves, but we always end up in the worst case scenario," Dr. Tadzio Müller told Salon. "We're always in the darkest timeline or the darkest corner of the multiverse. Basically for years now, climate scientists have been saying it's a climate emergency."
Targeting governmental, scientific, and corporate institutions, the protestors and organizers believe disruption is the only option left.
"1.5ºC is functionally impossible to reach," Abramoff continued. "It would require us to peak emissions by 2025, which is in two and a half years, so we really need to get governments to acknowledge their failure and take action to save as many tenths of a degree as possible because right now we're on track for possibly over three degrees of Celsius warming, which is over double what we would consider a remotely safe level."
As Abramoff, a climate scientist, chained themself to the White House fence they knew they were likely to be arrested. They were not alone, though they did stand out as the resident scientist at that particular protest.
"We want Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and make deep structural changes to limit warming to as close to 1.5ºC as possible." they continued.
Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon's weekly newsletter The Vulgar Scientist.
Around 100 police in riot gear converged on a group of four non-violent protesters who had locked themselves to the doors of a JP Morgan Chase bank in Los Angeles. Among them, Dr. Peter Kalmus, a NASA climate scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a recent addition to Scientist Rebellion, had tears in his eyes as he pleaded for justice for his children and the children of the world who will inherit this climate disaster.
"Essentially we're moving towards our own destruction, and we're not talking in the far future," Müller emphasized. "Life in 10 years on this planet will be significantly negatively impacted everywhere by the climate crisis for everybody, but we're not doing anything about it. We're just ignoring it."
Reactionary politics justified by a myth of limitless economic growth have driven a fundamental problem in sustainable development goals, according to Müller, a political scientist and seasoned environmental activist.
"In spite of all the stories about green growth, about decoupling resource use from economic growth, the one thing that has always remained the same is that there's only one variable that will move the global greenhouse gas emissions dial," he explained. "If the economy grows, then greenhouse gasses will rise. If the economy contracts, greenhouse gas emissions will contract. That's the only fact that's obvious."
Phasing out coal and oil for natural gas and more "clean" fossil fuels only cements a dependence on newly constructed power plants for the next half century. By then it will be far too late to alter course. It is precisely this mindset that perpetuates a current trajectory toward 3.2ºC of warming by the end of the century.
"We're not joking, we're not lying, we're not exaggerating," Kalmus said. "This is so bad that we're willing to take this risk and more and more scientists and more and more people are gonna start joining us."
He was arrested shortly thereafter. As were the three other scientists with him. As Abramoff was arrested along with other activists they called it an example of silencing tactics.
"Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels," António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said in a press briefing on Monday. "Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness."
Scientist Rebellion activists regard the system itself as one of global violence, oppression, and exploitation.
"We need a billion climate activists," insisted Kalmus. "I encourage everyone to consider where we're heading as a species, and to engage in civil disobedience and other actions. The time is now. We've waited far too long. Mobilize, mobilize, and mobilize. Mobilize before we lose everything."
Müller even went so far as to suggest that the climate justice movement should arrogate to itself emergency powers to unlawfully sabotage construction projects in the absence of meaningful climate action.
"The Global North is a cesspool of racist assholery, and that is white supremacy written in an economic structure that destroys the planet, people of color first," he added.
According to many scientists and activists mass movements are necessary to break what Müller described as the perverse cycle of fossil fuel production and avert total climate disaster and preserve the human race.
"There's a rupture beginning to go through the scientific field," he concluded. "People are going to have to pick sides. You don't have to be part of the good guys or the bad guys. You can just be part of those who don't do anything, but history won't judge those kindly either. If there still is history."
Read more on climate change: