It isn’t nice to block the courtroom…

A bit of news from the home front here at Small Farm Future, and a few reflections based around it. Today, my wife received a suspended prison sentence for disrupting a court as an act of protest against government inaction on climate change. Here is a short video she made explaining her behaviour and making the case for radical action beyond business as usual, with her own vision focused around small-scale farming. Please share it with your networks if you’re minded to – pebbles, ripples and all that.

At an earlier court appearance, she was troubled to be told by a magistrate that her right to protest climate policy had to be balanced against the right of people such as car drivers to go about their business. In her view, this encapsulated the distorted priorities of our decisionmakers in effectively trading off present niceties with the very stability of Earth systems that enable human and other lives.

Here’s an excerpt from the livestream of the court disruption, and here she is talking outside the court after her sentence with Shel, her partner in non-crime, with some good points well made by both of them, in my opinion.

I don’t know if her course of action today was the right one. She and I have discussed many times the choices to be made in the face of the world’s present looming crises and the limited powers of individuals, including the individuals in government, to effect change. I don’t think there can ever be clear answers to the question of what is to be done. But I’m pretty sure that we do need to do something orders of magnitude faster and deeper than current climate policies if we’re to meet the challenge. So why not glue yourself to a courtroom? It’s not as if anything else is working much better.

And it’s not just climate change. Globally, we face a whole series of intersecting crises that include climate change, energy descent, biodiversity loss, water stress, soil stress, economic stagnation, political fracturing, social inequality, violence and refugeeism – as copiously discussed on this blog over the years, and also in my book. It’s possible to dream up various responses to these issues, but I haven’t yet seen any plausible suggestions as to how to solve the whole caboodle in real time without the most wrenching social change, and probably not even then.

But wrenching social change is barely on the table in current public discussions. I guess I’m singing to the choir on this blog, where often enough I’m chided for my overly sunny presentiments for the future – but in the wider world it’s rare to find people thinking seriously about the unhappy collision of biophysical and social problems that’s upon us. Even among climate scientists, such as some of those who comment on Ken Rice’s excellent …and Then There’s Physics blog, I find a sometimes troubling degree of scorn for the ‘doomers’ who allegedly overstate the climate impacts to come. No doubt some folks do over-dramatize the negative impacts (while far too many others surely under-dramatize them), but I’m not sure that climate scientists always appreciate how fragile the web of connections is between stable climate, abundant energy, stable politics, renewable soil, renewable water, growing prosperity and non-destructive social inequality in our present world.

To be honest, I don’t think social scientists necessarily appreciate it either. The physicist Robert Davies made the nice point to me that while physics is a ‘hard science’, sociology is a ‘harder science’, because understanding the behaviour of matter is as nothing compared to understanding the behaviour of human beings. Nobody can possibly say how these complex intersecting crises will pan out. For sure, nobody can say that they’re certain to pan out well.

So, what is to be done? As a sociologist-farmer I potter along with a doomer optimist webinar here, a gene editing one there, a spot of small-scale farming along the way, and a few little bits of politicking, policy-ing and writing. Who knows if these are the right things to do? Maybe I should glue myself to a courtroom instead?

In the short-run, the right thing for me to do is try to step up into the very large hole in the work of my household and my farm that my wife’s absence has created. Happily, since she wasn’t actually jailed as we’d anticipated, this will be less onerous than I’d been preparing myself for – so more blog posts are imminent.

It just remains for me to salute my wife’s fighting spirit. And caring spirit. Cordelia Rowlatt, you are a force of nature. My only complaint is that I’ve had the jingle of that darned song in my head for days now, with no sign of respite …Oh, it isn’t nice to block the courtroom (fade)

24 thoughts on “It isn’t nice to block the courtroom…

  1. My father taught me a hippie motto—

    If what you are doing doesn’t work, try anything else.

    Gratitude to Cordelia. And as a teacher once said, “Let’s remember the people who made it possible for us to be here.” So thanks to you for holding down the home front so she could go to the front lines.

  2. Even among climate scientists, such as some of those who comment on Ken Rice’s excellent …and Then There’s Physics blog, I find a sometimes troubling degree of scorn for the ‘doomers’ who allegedly overstate the climate impacts to come.

    Yes, I do worry a little about this myself. We are clearly perturbing a very important, but complex, system and even if we do understand how the climate will respond, the impact of these changes may well be much more severe than is expected.

    However, I do think that if people are going to invoke scientific evidence to support their arguments, then I do think they should try to be consistent with our best understanding.

    The other issue (and I may express this poorly) is that the impact of climate change on our societies isn’t as deterministic as, for example, the impact of our emissions on the climate. So, not only can influence the magnitude of the impacts through reducing our emissions, we can also influence how the climate impacts us through good governance, planning for these eventualities, and actively trying to help those who are likely to be most severely impacted.

    So, I guess I do worry that some of what might be called the “doomer” narrative is too pessimistic, even if there is reason to be very concerned. However, I also take your point that there are also some who may be dismissing outcomes that are not as unlikely as maybe we would like.

    • Personally I would have more faith in good governance, planning for the future, and actively trying to help the worst off if I had seen more of it over the last few decades.

      • Indeed. I wasn’t suggesting that I have faith that we will implement good governance and plan appropriately for the future. I was mostly suggesting that it can influence how we respond to these kind of challenges and, hence, that the outcome isn’t pre-determined.

        • That’s fair!

          I’m just a frustrated X-ennial who has never known anything but varying degrees of neoliberalism. It’s difficult not to get a bit fatalistic about it sometimes.

  3. Congrats to such a brave and talented life companion! Did she write the song as well?

    I certainly agree with that “climate scientists [don’t] always appreciate how fragile the web of connections is between stable climate, abundant energy, stable politics, renewable soil, renewable water, growing prosperity and non-destructive social inequality in our present world.” Why would they, after all they are climate scientists….

    In general I am concerned about “climate science” taking over a lot of policy space, especially as the IPCC bases all its scenarios on BAU economics, i..e with high discount rates and no scenario with degrowth or zero growth. As long as this is the case, CCS, nuclear etc will be the obvious responses and all the other planetary boundaries as well as social boundaries will be neglected.

    I am also concerned with a lot of other scientists, including sociologists, being presented as “climate researchers” despite the fact that they know nothing more about the climate than any other normally educated person. Some of them use product lca analysis to make bold claims about the food system without proper understanding of neither the real climate impact of food production (beyond standard emission factors) and the dynamics in the food system. Those guys can dream up “vegetarian” food systems where people drink milk, but no one will eat the meat of the calf or the cow or vegan systems where people consume canola and soy oil and the oil seed cake is not used, but still maintain the emissions per liter of oil the same as in the situation where the seed cake is used for animal feed. Not to speak about the lack of analysis of what will happen to any spared land and what will the emissions now be from them.

    Some applied “climate” research is just utterly weird. Such as this example comparing the climate effect per square meter between pv and a pig farm in Amsterdam,
    The pig farm won…..

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  5. Well the government vs of the world will stop The protests , they have already texted the method and it works , LOCKDOWN ,
    climate lockdown , absolutely no
    un necessary travel , motorways , roads , trains and all air travel restricted or stopped , you want to protest in London , walk , you want to sell your produce , buy a donkey , go to work ? Only if you live within walking distance , go on holiday forget it .
    Some scientists want to alter human DNA to breed a population of dwarves , !
    Draconian ? Would you believe that countries could be closed down for over a year to something as simple as flu ? scare tactics work and sheep need a sheepdog , welcome to the great reset , where you will own nothing and be happy .

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Sensible comments from Ken as usual in terms of the social wriggle room. All the same, I think over-hasty dismissal of so-called doomism can prevent us fully embracing that wriggle room. My friends the ‘doomer optimists’ at the Stoa get it about right, I think…

    Thanks Gunnar – indeed I’m lucky to have Cordelia around to push my boundaries 🙂 No, the song is a repurposed older one that she sang with a local musician friend. Agree with your remarks about BAU assumptions and strange LCAs.

    And thanks Ruben. Having consciously tried to set aside masculine complacency and step up more into domestic responsibilities in recent years, I’ve noticed how unnoticed so much of it is. So I think I should accept your gratitude for holding down the home front and then send it on to the countless women who do so much of that. Kind of relates to my argument for modest and gender-neutral householding in my book, even if the latter did get mangled by a pair of marxist bros as supposed patriarchy (sigh…)

  7. What seems to be missing is the anti oil protesters have won , no major oil company is replacing its reserves , Russia is the only country drilling , U.S. Fracking has stopped , western oil companies have environmentalists on their board of directors , Exxon has stated it’s laying off ten thousand oil workers over the next decade , what has not happened is what’s going to replace it ? California is all ready asking people not to recharge their electric cars in the evening, their grid can’t cope with only 2% of CA cars electrified , what happens in the future ? World oil production is all ready falling gas production is stable but falling in the US as fracked wells quit , New York closed Indian point nuke station and replaced it with four gas stations NY CO2 year on year is up 25% because of it , Texas smart meter smart thermostat owners found out that TX grid controls their air conditioning turning it up to 82 degrees f overnight ( 28 deg centigrade , try sleeping in that England ) and China is building one coal station for every coal station closed in the rest of the world they all ready turn out 30% more CO2 than the USA ( though where they will sell their junk when everyone else is very limited power beats me ) .
    The fight in The West is over , China is the demon now .

  8. Diversity of tactics is good. We need people who glue themselves to courtrooms and we need people who plant trees and we need people who run farms and households.

    I took on an allotment primarily because I enjoy growing and eating vegetables and fruit, but it’s interesting how much of it feels like “household work” to me — to the point that I can get quite upset if I feel others in the household are not contributing enough to balance out the work I do. That’s a hard balance to find when living with other people with or without horticulture, but the degree to which it feels like an extension of “kitchen work” is striking to me.

  9. I am reminded of Paul Hawken’s “Blessed Unrest”, where he survey’s the large number of organizations and movements that are emerging in response to the planet’s despoiling.

    In other words, do SOMETHING. We’ve been shocked or confused observers for too long, and protesting, politicking, advocacy, changing lifestyle, growing local food and community are ALL needed. Some things will work, and some will not. If you are not cut out for one, do another.

    I like to think of it as some sort of Gaian immune response to ecological disruption. We are part of the response, but the species as a whole is the infection. Gaia will still be around after a new equilibrium is established, our fight is to try to see if we can be part of that.

  10. It isn’t climate doomer-ism, but a realistic view of how the world works.

    The economic system has to change to fix many of the problems we are facing. There has to be a cost for generating waste and designing products that can’t be repaired or recycled. Resources have to be valued at their replacement value rather than the production cost. All the externalities have to be accounted and paid for. None of these are good for profits and are unlikely to happen.

    The affluent, living air conditioned lives, don’t care about climate change, energy descent, Apparently they have a god given right to ignore the repercussions of their actions as long as they are not inconvenienced.

    It is great that your wife has the courage to publicly take an unpopular stance and is willing to bear the consequences of her actions. Thanks and congratulations to Cordelia.

      The economics of energy production is about to fall apart and without coal, oil and gas the rest of the economy is toast , there is a great economic reset on the horizon , figure 1 in the above link shows oil production falling and without cheap energy economic growth stops , the elephant In the room is all the debt run up can never be repaid without growth , thrashing about for more revenue the UK government is looking to increase taxes on private pensions to pay the countries debts .the country has hit peak taxes , as has the rest of the west

      • Cheap fossil energy does keep the wheels turning. Not to be disagreeable but I’d say the elephant in the room is the idea that you can have continuous growth on a finite planet.

        Have you read Credo by Brian Davey ? You can download it for free. It is a critique of current economics.

        • Yep oil ” oils the wheels ” it also pays a great deal of taxes ( I have heard the oil subsidy ) but governments don’t tax things that don’t he’ll fill the treasury .
          Link to Brian Davey please , all I get is a Californian dentist ! Lol
          And you politicos believe in mana from heaven to keep their status / power .

  11. Wonderful to read about your wife’s brave actions Chris, thanks to her and to Shel. It’s inspiring to see people so committed to changing things, whether disrupting a courtroom or writing a book, and that commitment is infectious. We can’t know which spark will light the fire, but we must all try striking the light!

  12. Thanks for the further comments and support – much appreciated in this household. Work to be done!

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