No serious scientist denies the climate crisis. According to a 2021 review, more than 99.9% of scientific studies conclude climate change is caused mainly by human activity. In 2017, 15,000 scientists from 184 countries released a letter warning of the escalating dangers of climate change. Oil companies like Exxon Mobil have known for years that climate change was real and predominantly caused by burning fossil fuels.
Glaciers are shrinking. Europe saw the hottest summer on record in 2022. Extreme weather events are now common.
The UNCHR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, reports that 21.5 million people have been displaced by extreme weather-related events since 2008. The International Institute for Economics and Peace predicts there could be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050.
Small wonder, then, that worldwide there is growing concern about our planet’s future. In September 2019, more than 4 million people worldwide took part in climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg. Given the slow or empty responses of governments to the crisis, activists have increasingly taken direct action to highlight the danger our world is in.
Among them is grandmother Giovanna Lewis, a well-regarded and dedicated Labour Portland town councillor.
Giovanna, along with Amy Pritchard from Walthamstow, and Paul Sheeky from Cheshire, blocked a highway in Bishopgate, London, in 2021. They are members of ‘Insulate Britain’ – and like eight in 10 Britons according to Ipsos polling in 2022 – they are ‘very concerned’ about climate change.
They were charged with ‘causing a public nuisance’, a common law offence. Appearing before Judge Reid in the Inner London Crown Court, they were forbidden to tell the jury the reasons for their actions – they were told they could not talk about the climate crisis, fuel poverty or insulation.
Giovanna and Amy could not remain silent. Giovanna said: “Every year, thousands of UK citizens die of fuel poverty and thousands die in the world of climate change. In the future this will be millions.” Amy said: “The climate crisis and fuel poverty are killing people now. I will not be prevented from saying this to a jury.”
The judge asked the jury to leave as soon as Giovanna and Amy started explaining their reasons for taking action. The public gallery was cleared. Giovanna and Amy were told they would be charged with contempt of court.
The jury failed to reach a majority verdict, and was dismissed. However, the Crown Prosecution Service has said it will seek a retrial.
On Friday, March 3, Giovanna and Amy were sentenced by Judge Reid to seven weeks imprisonment for contempt of court.
Asked if she wanted to say anything before sentencing, Giovanna told the judge she had to speak ‘from the heart’ – she could not do otherwise. Amy said her responsibility lay not with the court, but with future generations – the ‘world was staring total eco-collapse in the face’.
The judge said Giovanna and Amy were setting themselves ‘above the law’. I would say they were speaking for all of us, and for our children and grandchildren.
Chair, Swanage & Rural Purbeck Labour Party