The trial of three activists from the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion has heard a statement in their support from the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who said that mass protests in central London in April led directly to MPs debating and declaring a formal climate and environment emergency.
McDonnell said he and others were “inspired” by the action taken in April by Extinction Rebellion – when sections of central London were shut down for days – and that the Labour party’s policy programme had developed quickly and substantially afterwards.
“The activists successfully raised the profile of the climate threat and focused the minds of us all on the radical action that is needed,” he said, in a statement which was read out at City of London magistrates court, which is hearing the first group trial of Extinction Rebellion activists who have legal representation.
Patrick Thelwell, 19, from York; Peter Scott, 66, from Devon; and Samuel Elmore, 26, from Hyde End are charged with offences including breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, obstructing a highway and obstructing police.
McDonnell added in his statement that peaceful assemblies were a method of engaging with MPs that was particularly accessible to those who may not be able to participate as effectively in traditional forms of lobbying and was valued by MPs who view it as a form of “grassroots, informal democracy that complements the formal processes of parliament”.
The methods deployed by Extinction Rebellion had ensured that their message could not be ignored by MPs and others, he added.
The court heard from each of the defendants, starting with Peter Scott, a community choir leader and care home entertainer, who told the court that he had started to become aware of climate change, the term used in court, when Margaret Thatcher made a speech about it in the 1990s.
He was initially excited about the progress made through international treaties but then quickly became disillusioned and came to the firm belief that swift action needed to be taken to stave off the danger to his three children and the next generation.
Asked what the danger was, he said that some eco-systems may disappear by the time his seven-year-old daughter reached his age later in the century, were global average temperatures to pass 1.5C compared to pre-industrial times.
“However, if it goes to two degrees, which it is projected to do in 2050, there is a danger of fundamental eco-systems just disappearing, which will cause a huge impact to human beings, to the ecology of the earth and biodiversity,” he added.
Scott told the court how the Arctic had witnessed severe and unprecedented fires this month, and other parts of the globe had been badly affected.
“There has also been bread basket failures. Failures of fundamental crops,” he said.
“We are about 1.1 degrees. When we get to 1.5 and then two, they will be much worse. We are talking food shortages and all the worse. Starvation at some point. At some point mass death.”
“Without disruption I am afraid nobody listens. We can stand with our placards on the side of Waterloo Bridge and watch all the cars go by and watch everybody ignore us. But what was happening was that there was an awful lot of people shouting ‘Emergency!’ We are in danger here and you have to make yourself heard,” Scott added.
He was followed by Patrick Thelwell, a student at the University of York, who stood unsuccessfully earlier this year as a Green party councillor. He told the court that the famines which were going to come were part of the feared sixth mass extinction.
Governments including that of the UK were being “wilfully genocidal,” he told the court.
“The reality is that people are dying today from the effects of climate change. People in the global south are being murdered by the state on the frontline by the extractivist [sic] industries that feed our own economies meat and minerals.”