By Soorin Kim
Civil disobedience regarding climate change has been on the rise. Last week, NASA scientist Peter Kalmus and his associates chained themselves to the entrance of the JP Morgan Chase building in Los Angeles in a quest to end climate change.
The group of researchers, known as Scientist Rebellion, was specifically protesting the investment bank’s massive funding of fossil fuels, the use of which threatens to destroy Earth.
Last Wednesday the scientists made impassioned speeches, appealing to a sense of common decency, then were quickly carted away. The image of bespectacled, lab coat-clad scientists being dragged away by men in tactical gear struck a chord with the media and soon went viral.
Perhaps this juxtaposition was a message that the time to act is now.
We often stereotype academics as being solely theorists and not engaged in the gritty reality of so-called protest culture; however, as these scientists are now expressing through newsworthy demonstrations, it is not enough to watch data trends from behind a desk anymore.
A strong reaction to our planet’s use of fossil fuels is required now. Not in the next century. Not in the next decade. Right this moment.
Kalmus and Scientist Rebellion deliberately chose to stage their demonstration two days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group Three report was released. The report delineates the amount of time we have to take action as the Earth overheats.
According to the IPCC, the number of fossil fuels we are currently using is double the amount necessary to heat the Earth 1.5°C, a deadly temperature that will inevitably cause massive environmental disasters. Emissions will need to peak in just four short years and then steeply decline if we want to cool the planet by the end of the century.
It’s terrifying to think about, and it should be.
The idea of life as we know it being destroyed by the effects of a capitalistic disregard for the environment is frustrating and depressing. That’s precisely the reason why we avoid the subject; it is why we pacify ourselves with the thought that we have all the time in the world and with pleasant observations of nature returning during a pandemic, evidencing this as the Earth healing.
This type of thinking is extremely dangerous. The deadlines climate scientists have set are not as far off as you might imagine. They’re also becoming less accurate as corporations and governments funnel millions into fossil fuel infrastructure, ramping up the rate at which we are decimating the planet.
Kalmus’ protest, along with the efforts of thousands of others, aimed to make the public acutely aware of how urgent the situation is. In the speech given on the steps outside of Chase bank, Kalmus pleaded with the audience tuning in to the live-streamed event to consider the mounting pile of data that clearly dictates we are heading into a climate disaster.
Our overconsumption of fossil fuels will only warm our planet further, leading to raging forest fires, devastating floods and a death toll the likes of which we are not prepared for. The tragedy of the Australian bushfires of 2020 or the recurrent Californian infernos will be commonplace in the future that Kalmus is predicting.
It is no longer a matter of some distant inhabitants of Earth centuries into the future having to clean up our messes. It is not even a matter of the Earth your children will inherit after you’re gone. It is happening now, and it is happening to you. The cognitive dissonance that has us in a stronghold refuses to acknowledge our own mortality.
Perhaps that’s because on the individual level there is little we can do. Yes, you can ride your bike to work and recycle your cans, but the problem lies with the massive capitalistic schemes that are spending trillions of dollars on fossil fuels. While the smaller actions certainly don’t hurt, they do frustratingly little to cool the Earth.
We need to turn public opinion against the mammoth fuel industry, which is no easy feat.
It involves a collective shunning of the many conveniences that fossil fuels offer in our everyday lives, a total condemnation of this industry as immoral, irresponsible and frankly insane.
This is not a social issue like many others where two sides of a heated debate may offer points that appeal to the subject of their attempted persuasions.
There is no other side.
Hesitating for even a moment in this fight will end in catastrophe.
Maybe it was a good thing that Kalmus and company were dragged away from their protest in handcuffs. Just as proponents of civil disobedience before them had strategized, the strong and negative reaction of authority was the most effective element of the demonstration. The public finally saw the lengths these desperate scientists were willing to go to show the public the overwhelming facts. If getting pushed into a squad car means a stern and viral warning about potential doom before it’s too late, it was worth it.