Disruptive disobedience is 'our only hope'

Members of XR protesting in London, 23 August 2021.

Extinction Rebellion member Sarah was found guilty following the "uprising" in London last summer. Here, we publish her statement to the court.

An environmental campaigner and member of Extinction Rebellion named here as Sarah was found guilty in court last week of offences under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

This came as a result of Sarah's arrest during XR’s rebellion in August last year, during which activists blocked a road junction in London with a big pink table, with an open invitation for all to “come to the table” for crisis talks on action to prevent climate breakdown.

This article first appeared at People and Nature.


This is the mitigating statement she read out in court:

In the statement of my arresting officer there is a hysterical-sounding quote from me about not wanting the world to burn. At the time of my arrest, there were huge wildfires burning out of control in Algeria, France, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Canada.

In the US there were over 100 fires burning simultaneously, including the Dixie fire – the second largest ever recorded in the notoriously fire-prone state of California. Firefighters and park rangers were battling to save giant redwoods that had stood for more than 2,000 years. The most extensive fires on record were sweeping across Siberia.

The images of these fires were all I could think about, as the police walked alongst the protestors telling us we’d “made our point” and were being “too disruptive”.

People all over the world were losing their livelihoods, homes and lives. Wildlife was decimating. Ecosystems were being destroyed. In central London, a few hundred protestors were blocking a junction to call on our government to take action to tackle climate breakdown – and this is the disruption we can’t accept.

I didn’t want to be arrested. I don’t want a criminal record. I’m worried about the my job, which is extremely important to me. I’ve worked in safeguarding for the last 16 years, trying to protect children at risk of harm in order to ensure take they have a future to look forward to.


But that will all be for nothing, because none of our children will have a future if we as a species don’t do something to change the trajectory we’re on. There has never been a bigger safeguarding risk than climate breakdown.

I joined XR because I was terrified of the projections from leading climate scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, that I now know to be conservative estimates of what we are facing.

Over the last three years I’ve watched our government not only fail to take action to make things better, but actively continue to make things worse. Instead of focussing resources on preventing run away climate change and facilitating a transition to green energy and jobs, our government are continuing to subsidise fossil fuels and even support new oil, gas and coal extraction projects.

Meanwhile those scary IPCC projections are becoming reality at a dizzying pace.

Nobody in this courtroom can have missed the successive storms over the last couple of weeks which have left behind severe flooding, thousands of homes without power and several grieving families.


In other parts of the world it is much worse: hurricanes flattening low lying island nations, huge parts of Bangladesh under water, while drought and famine lay siege to Ethiopia and surrounding countries. The Amazon disappears in chunks the size of football fields every day. Ice caps melt, glaciers recede, crops fail and countless species slide towards extinction.

The scientific evidence is falling on deaf ears and meaningless lip service is paid at each Conference of the Parties (COP). The UK and other rich countries set targets that aren’t nearly ambitious enough to avert disaster, and then fail to meet them.

For at least 40 years we have known beyond any reasonable doubt that our carbon emissions need to fall rapidly in order for us to avoid by the worst impact of global heating.

Instead, they are still rising. Instead of legislating to prevent companies from polluting rivers and oceans, destroying ecosystems and emitting increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, our government is legislating to silence peaceful protest and lock away environmental activists.

Climate breakdown will hit everyone, everywhere, but it won’t hit us all equally.


As famine and flooding make areas of the planet uninhabitable the poor will die be in their thousands and the rich will flee to the parts of the world that can still sustain life, where the rich will build walls and hoard resources and the rest will fight for the means to survive. It sounds dramatic and apocalyptic – because it is.

I really don’t want to be standing here, but I can not sit by and do nothing while we cause our climate to collapse around us. Our governments are letting us down. Our legal system is letting us down.

Disruptive mass civil disobedience has achieved societal change before when it seemed impossible, and is, as far as I can see, our only hope of achieving the change that we need.

That’s why on August 23rd last year I stood in a junction with other climate protestors, and I didn’t move when a police officer asked me to. And until we see things changing, I’m going to keep doing it.

This Article

This article first appeared at People and Nature. It is based on Sarah's mitigating speech during a hearing that concluded on Wednesday, 2 March 2022. It has been reproduced with Sarah's permission.

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