Phil’s defence statement

Phil’s defence, that he gave at Hammersmith Magistrate’s court on 31st May, 2016, based primarily upon Lawful Excuse, Section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.

Phil prayingI am before this court charged with criminal damage. I stand here first of all as a grandparent. Since the birth of my eldest grandchild 16 years ago, I have studied the causes of climate change and other aspects of the destruction of the Earth. I am deeply disturbed by what the vast majority of scientists are predicting with regard to the Earth which will be inherited by my grandchildren’s generation and the generations which follow them. Not to do all that I can to prevent what is currently predicted would be to participate in great harm to them. I think it reasonable to regard the harm being done as criminal damage at a worldwide level.

I also come here as a Roman Catholic Christian. There are three aspects of the destruction caused by climate change which I regard as integral to my faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. a) The first is the depletion and extinction of life-forms. The current geological era is witnessing the largest extinction of life since the time of the dinosaurs. This extinction is human-made and is exacerbated by climate change. I believe that all life-forms are God’s creation and therefore to be regarded with care and respect. b) The second is that the people most affected by climate change are those who are poor, who do not receive a fair share of what God has given for everyone. A central aspect of Catholic Social Teaching is that they are especially close to God’s heart. The extremes of weather which are being experienced are taking more and more of their lives. There is a likelihood that these lost lives become statistics rather than persons, especially when they occur in parts of the world which are distant from us. For this reason I would like to show the court two photographs.

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Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan take part in a religious procession in Tolosa, on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte, 18 November 2013. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP. The Guardian.

The first is of a funeral procession for a person killed when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. Shock and grief are etched on their faces. The second is of a woman holding a placard after the damage done by Hurricane Katrina in the United States. The placard says ‘Honouring those still missing’. There is a beautiful aspect of these photographs, namely the human act of honouring our dead. There is also something deeply poignant because it is possible that these deaths could have been prevented if we all had acted more determinedly and sooner. I find it very painful to acknowledge my own part in not doing that. c) The third aspect concerns our descendants and those who follow them. They too are regarded as close to God’s heart because they are the most powerless of all. Their well-being depends upon what we do to leave them a sustainable Earth.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/culturesubculture/

These three aspects of injustice are regularly referred to by Pope Francis. I believe that I am called to respond to each of them. My implementation of this calling has many inadequacies, ones which I continually seek God’s grace to overcome.

For all of the reasons which I have referred to, I regard it as essential that we do what we can to keep fossil-fuels in the ground.

In the 5 months before our action at DECC, the Secretary of State made many statements of concern about climate change. At the same time she and her colleagues rescinded a large number of policy decisions which previously had been reducing CO2 emissions. I will mention 3 of them:

  • 18th June, she excluded new onshore wind farms from a subsidy scheme a year earlier than had been planned.
  • 8th July, budget changes reduced the incentive to buy low-emission vehicles.
  • 10th July, the plan for new homes to be zero-carbon was ended.

I felt disturbed by the discrepancy between the words and deeds of Government Ministers. I also experienced despair in relation to the pending Paris conference where the UK’s leadership role seemed to be losing credibility. The promises made by governments before the Paris Climate Change talks still left the Earth on a trajectory towards an increase in temperature of at least 2.7 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Please note that this figure is three times the current increase. The levels of suffering which are predicted have been spelled out by a World Bank report called ‘Turn down the Heat: Why we must avoid a 4 degree C rise in temperature’. The contents hardly bear thinking about, but think we must. This opening few days of the Paris conference were for me a crucial time for hope to be regained by a real commitment to keep fossil-fuels in the ground.

My experience is that it is very difficult to obtain an honest discussion with politicians about climate change and other aspects of the destruction of the Earth; and particularly so if I seek to relate these issues to the workings of the economy. A recurring question to myself is ‘what do I do when I am not represented in the way in which I expect a citizen to be represented?’ I have come to the conclusion that direct action is necessary, both to contribute to life and to retain a semblance of integrity. I am also aware that many of the great developments in human rights have come about partly because of actions outside the power structures of the time. Within most religions, there is an honourable and long-standing tradition of acting upon conscience rather than upon law, and if necessary practising civil disobedience. Whilst breaking the law should never be done lightly, if it seems the only way left to me of avoiding injustice or danger for others, I am willing to do it. I regard the situation with regard to the seriousness and urgency of climate change as having similarities with those of slavery, apartheid, the US Civil Rights Campaign and the dictatorship of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, in all of which Christians played a part in helping valuable changes to occur.

What did I hope to achieve by this action?

This action was taken in the first days of the Paris conference within which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were to contribute. The urgency for action was immediate because the extremes of weather associated with climate change are already taking the lives of people and other life forms, and are seriously affecting the property and livelyhoods of many people. I wanted to point to DECC and the Government as causing danger instead of avoiding it. My hope was that this public act would make clear that a much greater commitment by our Government within the Paris talks towards keeping fossil fuels in the ground and replacing them with renewable energy was essential; and that they still had the opportunity to do that.

Doing our best to prevent unnecessary deaths is, I believe, an integral aspect of our humanity.

I regard my actions as reasonable and proportionate because other ways of trying to influence Government policy which I had tried had clearly not resulted in the policies which are necessary to prevent death and damage to property and loss of livelyhoods. Our behaviour towards others who we met during this action was, I believe, respectful and peaceful. We tidied up the area after taking our action, made no attempt to avoid arrest and cooperated with the police when they arrived.

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There is no stopping them! Phil, Westley and Martin holding banners to the road in the pouring rain moments before their trial.

Much of my 35 years campaigning has been with the Catholic overseas aid agency, CAFOD. Many of the campaigns which CAFOD initiates relate to injustices arising from the activities of corporations or international trade and economic organisations (such as the International Monetary Fund in relation to the debts of the poorer countries). During the earlier years of my campaigning with CAFOD, there were substantial differences between political parties and their policies. In that sense, I experienced support from opposition parties. In general, those differences have been steadily eroded by a positioning of all major parties around the centre right. The opposition to the Government of the day has increasingly become vested in a plethora of NGOs which, while vitally important, need the support of politicians if their aims are to be achieved. Many of us who are involved in campaigning are disturbed by this increasing absence of representation. Corporate power has steadily developed a hold over political institutions during this time. This process pervades policy-making in relation to climate change where fossil-fuel companies (and financial corporations which invest in these), hold considerable power in relation to political institutions. This power, taken together with the reduction of meaningful representation, has led to a Democratic Deficit in countries across the world. Thus whilst a basic principle of democratic political systems is that they enable widespread participation in power by citizens, in practice the lobbying power of corporations increasingly subverts this principle. Pope Francis often notes how economic power subverts democracy. Meeting with members of the US Congress last December he said ‘If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.’ In addition to this structural democratic deficit, I experience a personal one in philrelation to my own MP. This arises because he does not accept the science of the human causation of climate change and at the same time is either not able or not willing to give me the evidence upon which he bases his position. (I had written to my MP 2 weeks before the trial to ask if he would be willing to confirm that what I saying was true. He replied, but did not refer to this request. I had copies available of this correspondence but the judge did not ask to see them).

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