What I told the court at my Extinction Rebellion trial

On 7 November 2019 I stood trial with another rebel for a public order offence (failure to move when asked from Waterloo Bridge in the early hours of 16 April 2019 during Extinction Rebellion protests). This is my closing defence statement…

It’s ironic that I stand here today as a defendant in the City of London Magistrates Court just across the road from the former Head Office of Midland Bank which I joined as a graduate trainee in 1987. That was the start of a 30-year career in financial services that included:

  • almost 20 years with HSBC in London plus spells in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Bangkok;
  • eight years with Lloyds Bank; and
  • almost three years working in pensions including NEST, the government sponsored workplace scheme with 6.5 million members in the UK.

I graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Mathematics and for most of my City career I have managed risk. I was a derivatives trader managing interest rate risk when the French franc, Italian lira and Spanish peseta still existed. Then emerging market currency risks in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In recent years I was Head of Conduct Risk for Lloyds Bank’s Commercial Banking unit and the Risk and Control Lead at NEST considering new contracts which could conceivably last for the next 20 years.

In January this year, I resigned my career in the City because of the climate emergency.

I provide this context to emphasise that my actions on Waterloo Bridge in the early hours of Tuesday 16 April 2019, that have resulted in my appearance here today, were triggered by an assessment of the risks of climate change.

One key risk — the chances of a 4-degree world this century

I don’t intend to repeat lots of climate science in this statement, but I will highlight one key risk — the chance of a 4-degree world this century.

I am honoured to have been made a trustee of the charitable organisation, Plan B, which uses legal action to hold power to account for climate breakdown. Plan B summarises this risk on a single page of its website.

What would a 4-degree world mean? Allow me to provide some quotes:

  • extreme consequences potentially beyond our ability to adapt…” UK Committee on Climate Change;
  • “incompatible with an organised global community” and “beyond ‘adaptation’” Professor Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre; and
  • “the consequences of a 4C warmer world are so terrifying that most scientists would rather not contemplate them, let alone work out a survival strategy”. “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that,” Professor Jonas Rockstrom, Potsdam Institute.

Do we need reminding that the current global population is 7.7 billion people?

So, what are our chances of hitting 4 degrees?

Odds on say the IPCC in their last full report (2014) “without additional mitigation efforts”.

The UK’s Climate Change Committee said “global policy… should ensure that the probability of crossing the extreme danger threshold of 4°C is reduced to an extremely low level (e.g. less than 1%).”

How long do we have to act?

Let me dismiss the complacency inherent in some media’s representation the IPCC 1.5-degree report as having “12 years to save the planet”. Kate Marvel of the NASA Goddard Institute says “we have no time” and others from the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres to Prince Charles have talked about months to take decisive action. How can any reasonable person not consider the threat imminent?

“The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (who advises Pope Francis, Angela Merkel and the EU).

Governments are taking excessive risks

As a former risk professional in the Square Mile, I have no doubt that if any banks in the City of London took risks this large with its balance sheet or its customers, the Bank of England would close it down and bankers would be going to prison.

But we’re not talking about share prices or people’s jobs or perhaps the stability of the banking system threatened by the actions of a few rogue bankers. We’re talking about something much more important.

In this case it is governments playing fast and loose with its citizens’ futures, particularly young people and future generations not yet born. Only there’s no regulator to step in and hold politicians to account.

What’s at stake?

Bill Shankly once said that football is more important than life or death.

I think that about the climate emergency. Humans will live and, eventually, we will all die but the quality of life on earth (i.e. how we live) is just as important.

Now I’ve had a pretty good life, never worrying about having enough to eat, having shelter and feeling safe. I know that I’m much luckier than many people around the world today for whom climate change has already undermined those basic human rights.

All parents want the best for their children. Twenty years ago, that, for me, meant private schools and foreign holidays. Now I fear for the most basic human rights of my kids — food, shelter, safety.

Forced to act

Successive governments’ failure to act since the IPCC was formed in 1988 now means we in the last chance saloon. Albert Einstein may (or may not) have said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” so I hope the court will forgive me for having little faith in petitions, marches in London on a Saturday or writing to my MP (all of which I’ve done).

Governments who fail to protect their citizens are no long legitimate and the social contract is broken — a government who takes decisions to promote fracking in the UK or expand Heathrow is clearly failing in its obligations. How can it be claimed my actions and the actions of hundreds of others in April are not necessary?

As I sat on Waterloo Bridge last April, I felt I was being asked to stop doing what I thought was the only rational response to the emergency we now face. That doing what I thought was right as a father (and a future grandfather) was somehow secondary to the temporarily inconvenience of a few of my fellow Londoners (for which I apologise).

I don’t want to have to choose between my responsibilities as a father and being a law-abiding citizen. I hope that this court will accept my actions of 16 April were proportional and necessary to risks that are imminent by finding me not guilty.

A few years back I wrote a blog called ‘Stories for my Grandchildren’ inspired by the godfather of climate science, Dr James Hansen’s book “Storms of my Grandchildren”. It was the time I finally realised the damage we were doing to our only home. If I’m ever lucky enough to be a grandfather I want to be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and said I did what I could and what I thought was right.

Thank you.

Former investment banker who decided the climate and ecological disaster demanded he volunteer full-time with Extinction Rebellion.