Scientist prepared to risk arrest

By Bryan Walker 19/08/2011

Climatologist Jason Box, interviewed earlier this year by Gareth on The Climate Show #7 (interview begins 21 minutes in), is preparing to take part in an act of civil disobedience in coming days. The purpose is to try to convince President Obama that approving the extension of a controversial oil sands pipeline – the proposed $7 billion, 1,702-mile Keystone XL from Alberta to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma and further to the Gulf Coast– would be the equivalent of what is described as lighting a fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.  Box is among the 2000 so far signed up to line the fences of the White House, where peaceful arrests are not uncommon.  They’ll begin gathering on Saturday and rotate through in waves of 75 to 100 daily for two weeks.  Box is booked for a three-day stint at the tail end.

Earlier this month, Box joined 19 other prominent U.S. scientists in writing a letter to the President, adding their voices to those urging him to reject plans to construct the pipeline.

’The tar sands are a huge pool of carbon, but one that does not make sense to exploit…Adding this on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control.

’When other huge oil fields or coal mines were opened in the past, we knew much less about the damage that the carbon they contained would do to the Earth’s climate system and to its oceans. Now that we do know, it’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy–and that we leave the tar sands in the ground.’

The step from letter writing to civil disobedience is a big one, and Box has thought about it seriously, as is explained in a good article in SolveClimate News:

’OK, so what’s next is what I keep asking myself,” Box said about his evolution as a scientist. “I’ve achieved what I set out to do with climatology. Am I just going to just keep studying the melting ice in Greenland? Then I’d just be treading water instead of swimming.”

By participating in the protest, he might liberate other climate scientists to take a stand, he said. If Hansen, who has fashioned a distinguished career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, can lead such a charge among the older guard, Box figures he might be an inspiration for mid-career scientists with potentially more to lose.

Still, Box struggles with that longtime inner voice that tells scientists not to take sides, utter opinions or wave around signs with pithy messages as activists do at rallies.

Yes, he admits to being a bit apprehensive about being confronted by climate deniers who might accuse him of being part of a vast Al Gore conspiracy. But he’s not worried enough to cancel his September flight.

In his own words:

“If our elected leaders aren’t acting, then we’re going to have to get more involved with our democracy. This is about motivating decision-makers to do their job. I’d like to think that scientists engaging skilfully with words and reason could start to change this problem … This is a moral movement and a moral issue. It’s unethical for us to stand by while the greed of others results in the destruction of our biosphere.

“I feel I’m on the high ground defending this position and that I have reason on my side. The question is, will anybody listen?”

Heaven knows what the answer to that question will finally be. And heaven knows whether reason has any power to influence human activity in the fevered world of American politics. But we applaud Box and the other 2000 demonstrators for their willingness to ensure that the warning of the consequences of continuing to burn fossil fuels is sounded loud and clear.