Kingsnorth Trial Day 3: World’s Leading Climate Scientist Gives Evidence

Here is an update on the situation with Greenpeace UK activists. I can’t
stress how important this case is. Beyond taking care of our activists
who are facing serious repercussions – this case could set ground
breaking precedent for the climate change struggle. If the court sides
with GP – that the crimes committed in the course of this action were
warranted due to the greater crime of  climate destruction – this has
MAJOR implications internationally (both legally, as well as
politically). The fact that  people like James Hansen (top NASA climate
scientist), Zac Goldsmith (former editor of Ecologist Mag – and adviser
to the Tory Party on environment) and more scientists all are testifying
on behalf of Greenpeace is very telling!


Kingsnorth trial day three: world’s leading climate scientist gives


Posted by bex on 3 September 2008.

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This is a difficult blog to write – mostly because I’m not sure what to
leave out. Today, at the Kingsnorth trial
<>, the world’s leading
climate scientist told the court that emissions from Kingsnorth led to
damage to property worldwide, as well as the extinction of species and
the creation of climate change refugees. Gordon Brown, he said, should
announce a moratorium on all new coal plants without carbon capture and
storage (CCS).

Another witness – an authority on climate change impacts in the UK –
said all citizens and governments needed to “act with urgency”. And two
of the defendants
Emily and Kevin, gave impressive testimonies about why they took the
action they did. And there’s nowhere near enough space to write about it

The talk over the morning tea and toast though was all about Jim Hansen.
To give you a sense of what his appearance as a defence witness means to
the defendants, I should explain that Hansen is a bit of a hero to
climate campaigners. This is the man who introduced much of the world to
the idea of climate change 20 years ago, when he famously stood up in
front of Congress and warned them about it. He’s spent much of his time
since warning a succession of US Vice Presidents, including Al Gore,
about the same thing. Like I said, a bit of a hero – and he didn’t
disappoint today.

More on that in a bit. First up was Dr Geoffrey Meaden, an eloquent
defence witness with so many letters after his name that I lost track
after BSc, BEd, MSc and Phd. In the course of his evidence (via video
link from Brazil), he confirmed that the examples of climate change
impacts given by the defendants are ‘true circumstances’.

“It is overwhelmingly perceived,” he said, “by the defendants, the
scientific community and myself” that the causes of climate change are
caused by humans. There’s an increasing urgency, he said, for all
citizens and governments to take action.

Within five years, said Dr Meaden, there could be no summer ice left in
the Arctic. Ironically, he said, Kingsnorth will be ‘extremely
vulnerable’ to flooding due to climate change.

“The situation is so urgent that unless we act immediately to rapidly
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by the next century we may have to
abandon up to 20 per cent of Kent to the sea… It behoves us to act
with urgency.”

A lot of the evidence today – from both Dr Meaden and Professor Hansen –
was quite technical, looking at the parts per million of carbon dioxide
concentrations in the atmosphere, tipping points and feedback
mechanisms. After explaining tipping points in a scientific context, Dr
Meaden told the jury that some have suggested that “the most urgent
tipping point is a change in human behaviours and actions.”

Then Emily took the stand, and introduced herself and how she’d come to
be involved with Greenpeace. Emily explained that whatever emissions are
in the atmosphere now will have impacts for years to come. When asked
why she climbed down the chimney, she said, “I felt very strongly that I
wanted to do that”. And when the pictures of her hanging off the top of
Kingsnorth’s smokestack were handed out, I noticed at least a couple of
jurors drawing breath.

Kevin was next and introduced himself as a rope access worker from
Wiltshire who’d become concerned about climate change back in the ’80s.
Kevin’s questions focused mostly on the safety aspects of the direct action.

Just after 2pm, it was Professor James Hansen’s turn. The public gallery
and press area were packed, and news crews were waiting outside. I’d had
the slightly surreal experience of walking down Maidstone High Street
with Hansen on the way to the trial and, while he seemed gentle and
self-effacing in person, on the stand he had a lot of gravitas. Not
surprising, I suppose, for someone who’s testified multiple times to the
US Senate and House of Representatives.

Hansen has been studying the climatology of various planets for over 30
years, and has spent the last 20 specialising in the Earth’s climate. He
managed to say such a huge amount worth repeating in his hour and a half
on the stand that I’m going to resort to putting his main points in a
list, in the hope you’ll read them:

* Out of every country on earth, the UK bears the most
responsibility for historical CO2 emissions in the atmosphere per
person (followed by the US, then Germany).
* We’ve already passed a safe proportion of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere and we need to roll it back. It can still be done but
only if we get coal out of the system as quickly as possible – by
putting a moratorium on all new plants without carbon capture and
storage and phasing out old ones.
* If we carry on with business as usual, we’ll cause the extinction
of one million ?species. Proportionately, several hundred of these
species extinctions?could be associated directly with Kingsnorth
power station.
* He agreed with Al Gore’s statement: “I can’t understand why there
aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing
them from constructing coal-fired power stations”.
* Somebody – the leader of the UK, Germany or the US – needs to
“step up”, take leadership and announce a moratorium on new coal
* The atmosphere currently contains around 385 parts per million
(ppm) of CO2, rising by 2ppm per year. Most targets to stop
climate change suggest a target of 450ppm, and a two degree rise
in temperature as safe upper limits. To meet those targets will
require our world to change dramatically.
* But the safe level is no more than 350ppm – and may be less. And a
rise of two degrees is “a recipe for global disaster and not
salvation”. The last time the earth was more than two degrees
warmer than it is now, there was a 25 metre sea level rise.
* “The simple but shocking truth is we have gone too far. We place
our planetary system, inhabitants and future generations in grave
peril… If we are to preserve the planet that civilisation has
grown on, we have to go back.”
* “Humans are now in charge of atmospheric CO2 and the global
climate… It’s up to those of us alive today to take the bold
steps needed.”
* If we carry on as we are at the moment, the Greenland ice sheets
will melt, leading to a sea level rise of at least two metres this
century. Hundreds of millions of people will be come refugees.
There will be mass species extinction and ecosystem collapse.
* If the ice in the (vulnerable) Western Arctic* West Antarctic ice
sheet melts, the sea levels would rise by around six metres.
* The complete loss of Arctic sea ice in the summer is now
inevitable. The impacts on China, Kent, Bangladesh and the polar
regions are enormous.

(* Sorry, my error in typing up my notes.)

It was at this point that I started to feel really sorry for the jury.
They’re getting, essentially, a crash course in climate change and its
impacts from some of the most knowledgeable minds on the subject (Hansen
and Meaden) in the world, and some of the most passionate (the
defendants). I’d imagine, to some of the jurors, the evidence must seem
pretty terrifying. It is terrifying.

Thankfully though, Hansen went on to talk about what could still be
done. He was invited to go on stage with Al Gore at Live Earth, he said,
and took his grandchildren along. How many species do we need to save,
he asked them. “All of them,” said his grand-daughter. (“Me too,” said
his grand-son.)

We can’t save all of them but we can still save most, he said. If we
continue with business-as-usual our descendants will be “left with a
much more desolate planet and much less biodiversity”. But, although
“there’s just barely still time”, we need an immediate moratorium on the
construction of all new coal fired power plants (without CCS) and the
phasing out of existing coal plants to get back to 350ppm. And somebody
– whether it’s the UK, US or Germany – needs “to stand up”.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously pretty interested, so I’ll
tell you that I had the good fortune to interview Hansen today – and
that interview will be featuring in our next podcast
<>. I’ll also tell you that
tomorrow, our last two defendants, Huw and Will, will be taking the
stand, along with Conservative advisor and former Ecologist editor Zac

For now, I’m off to raise a glass to Meaden, Hansen, the defendants and
everyone else who is (ahem) taking a stand.

Matt Leonard
Logistics | Greenpeace US
SKYPE / AIM / gTalk – losinghand
75 Arkansas St
San Francisco CA 94107
(w) 415-255-9221 x355 |(c) 619-246-0325


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