Jakki Phillips, 51, office manager from Westcott - Extinction Rebellion UK

Jakki Phillips, 51, office manager from Westcott

Jakki (pictured right with fellow member of Larks Rising affinity group Jeremy McBurney) was arrested on Saturday, 20th April 2019 on Waterloo Bridge during the 2019 April Rebellion under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. She was tried on 24th January 2020 at City of London Magistrates Court and found not guilty due to a technical issue with her arrest.

She was arrested again on Wednesday 16th October 2019 at Trafalgar Square and charged with Obstruction of the Highway and failure to comply with Section 14 of the Public Order Act. She pleaded not guilty on 3rd November 2019 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and was due to stand trial but the charges were subsequently dropped.

“As a mother, I am called to nurture life – all life. So, I have a responsibility to stand up against a Government that is failing to act and put in place adequate measures to protect life, and ecosystems, that are essential for the future wellbeing for its citizens.

It was not something I was comfortable with doing, I never thought that I would be in the position of breaking the law. I was scared. Yet, given the circumstances, to walk away seemed unthinkable, to put myself on the line felt the right thing to do. I was not alone. I was acting alongside others out of a love of life.”

Jakki’s Court Statement, January 2020

“I took part in the Extinction Rebellion protest in April because I felt mounting pressure and a responsibility to take action due to my knowledge, my Christian faith, the increasingly dire warnings from scientists about the climate and ecological crisis and the lack of action from our government to do something about it.

I have always felt a strong connection to the natural world and try to live in a responsible way. I have been a law-abiding citizen as I understand that this is necessary for the normal effective functioning of society, but we are no longer living in ‘normal’ times, we are facing a planetary emergency. And an emergency requires urgent action.

It is like we are passengers on board a ship and we can see that the ship is being steered towards the rocks but we trust that the captain knows what he is doing. But as the rocks loom closer and the ship is still heading straight towards them we begin to talk with other passengers and say this doesn’t look right what is going on? We start to talk to the staff who reassure us that they’re sure everything is okay. But nothing changes the ship is getting closer and closer to the rocks and it becomes obvious that something must be wrong with the captain – is he drunk? Is he crazy? We don’t know exactly what is wrong, we can just see the rocks looming right in front of us.

Under normal conditions on the boat, we are not meant to go into the captains domain, but there comes a point where it seems absurd to obey those rules. To protect yourself and to prevent harm to your fellow passengers you feel you must do something – to just stand there and watch as the boat is clearly steering into the rocks would be crazy – you feel you need to do something to change the course of the ship. If you enter into the captain’s cabin with the intention of trying to change the direction of travel in order to avoid hitting the rocks head on, are you a criminal?

I have chosen to self-represent. I am not a lawyer and therefore may not be able to explain my defence in technical terms. But I would like to emphasise that my actions are informed by my conscience and I understand that the Right to Freedom of Conscience is a protected right and must be given due weight by the court in determining whether my defence of necessity to act to prevent a greater crime is made out. I am not a criminal – I am a conscientious protector, I believe that damage and destruction to the Earth and its inhabitants is a crime. By far the most serious crime going on is the crime against humanity, and the most fundamental breach of human rights, the destruction of the planet, our life support system.

In 2017, I achieved a BSc First Class Honours degree in Design and Innovation, focusing on the Environment from the Open University. This followed seven years of part-time study during which I learned in detail about the environmental crisis and international environmental policy. This led to me gaining a deep understanding of the issues that face our planet, the barriers to state action and how to affect change.

As a consequence, I have taken part in voluntary local initiatives: helping to initiate the A Rocha Eco Church scheme in our village church; becoming Customer Representative for a new renewable electricity supplier; writing monthly articles for our Village Magazine to engage the community on environmental issues and encourage sustainable living; and working with a group to promote the installation of solar panels (hampered by the sudden drastic reductions and subsequent withdrawal of government subsidies for domestic solar). I have also campaigned on environmental matters, signing petitions, writing emails and letters to, and meeting with, my MP and local councillors.

I have been involved in these initiatives to help raise awareness of the climate and ecological crisis and to promote individual and collective actions at community level to encourage sustainable living, as I believe they are really important, but I also know that these actions on their own are not going to achieve the radical changes our society needs to undertake to avert catastrophic climate change, without action from the government.

The government has a duty to protect its citizens; and it is failing to act to prevent the harm being caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels leading to climate change – the impacts of which are being felt now both globally and in this country.

People are facing unimaginable suffering and dying as a result of the impacts of climate change – which account for around 400,000 deaths per year globally, many due to hunger and disease. Those affected all too often are the poor and vulnerable, living in countries in the global South – those who have done the least to contribute to the causes of climate change – paying the price for the lifestyle of the wealthy minority. This is an issue of huge injustice. In the UK illegal levels of air pollution cause 40,000 early deaths every year, again those in poverty are disproportionately affected. During the heatwave in the UK between June and July 2018, deaths were 663 times higher than the average for the same weeks in the previous five years.

The system within which we live that promotes high consumption lifestyles to drive economic growth is destroying our planet – 60% of wildlife has vanished since the 1970s as a direct result of human activities, including habitat loss and degradation. Plummeting insect numbers threaten the collapse of nature’s ecosystems.

Extreme weather events are affecting food production, with vast areas of Africa suffering from long term droughts. Water scarcity and crop failure lead to migration and conflict, threatening security.

In spite of being aware of its responsibilities, the predicted impacts of global temperature rises and knowing that the cause of climate change is the unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the majority of which are caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas, the UK government continues to support and subsidize the extraction and use of fossil fuels. In spite of having pledged to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies by 2020, the subsidies in the UK amounted to £10.5 billion in 2016, largely in the form of tax breaks. A report in June 2019 found that the UK had given over £2 billion of support to fossil fuel projects abroad during the past year.

Despite the need to move towards the use of clean energy, the UK has over the past few years withdrawn financial incentives for the installation of solar panels and through policy has effectively banned onshore wind – the cheapest form of new energy generation. Instead the government supports oil and gas extraction and airport expansion – approving a third runway at Heathrow that is incompatible with commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

It makes no sense, until you read the reports giving the facts of how much money the fossil fuel industry spends on lobbying, the donations from the airline industry to political parties which coincide with important decisions on aviation, such as the approval for a third runway at Heathrow, and the donations from those with fossil fuel interests given to the Conservative party during the 2019 election campaign. The largest five oil and gas companies spend around £153million a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change. Money pouring in to fund the destruction of our planet.

Over the past few years the warnings have become more urgent and more terrifying. I read the letter of November 2017 published by World Scientists, ‘Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’ in which they said:

“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”

I listened to the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in September 2018 declare that: “We face a direct existential threat. …. If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”

And I watched David Attenborough take the ‘peoples seat’ at COP24 in Poland to say:

“Right now we are facing a manmade disaster……if we don’t take action the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

We can see the rocks looming yet the ship is still heading straight towards them.…widespread misery….catastrophic biodiversity loss….an existential threat…runaway climate change….manmade disaster….collapse of civilizations…

Thinking about this terrifies me.

Just beginning to imagine this future starts leading to despair, yet my Christian faith reminds me to have hope and I want to have hope. I need to have hope. But there is no point in just hoping that the government will start acting in the interests of its citizens, rather than corporate interests. The pursuit of power and money – short term goals for political gain, whatever the human and ecological cost, seem to win out. The way to maintain that hope is through action.

We can clearly see the ship is headed straight towards the rocks we have to act.

As a mother, it is my responsibility to protect my children. As a Christian, I am called to love my neighbour. When governments omit to take the action necessary to protect humanity against climate breakdown, I believe that there is no option but to take action: action motivated by love. Love of my family, love of my fellow humans, love of the natural world.

Over many decades, concerned citizens have tried a variety of awareness raising and campaigning techniques, from marching to letter writing. It has not been working and global emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases continue to rise.

This is not a situation that can wait. This is an emergency. An emergency calls for immediate action. Every day matters, every bit of warming matters. Scientists warn that there are feedback loops and tipping points that, once reached, could cascade us into runaway warming. We do not know when these tipping points will be reached. But Arctic permafrost is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, releasing vast amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas which traps many times more heat than carbon dioxide – into the atmosphere. Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown.

Just last week reports said that the sea is warming far faster than expected, the pace of warming has increased 500% since the late 1980s. One of the study’s authors said, “Unless we do something significant and quickly, it’s really dire news”.

The consequences of accelerated warming are likely to be devastating for my family and yours, for all people and all life in this country and around the world.

I believe there is a great evil being done in the obstruction and prevention of climate action. If I do nothing I will be complicit. Our government is failing to take actions to prevent the harm of its people and thus is complicit. I can see the harm being done and cannot just sit by and watch it happen.

I can recall my huge sense of relief when I read about Extinction Rebellion via a letter in the Guardian, signed by leading academics including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and George Monbiot, and attended the Declaration of Rebellion in October 2018. I believe Extinction Rebellion’s three demands to be what is needed to drive the action that is necessary to protect life on Earth. It is my belief that the wave of peaceful, non-violent direct action that is rising in the UK and elsewhere, is now a reasonable, proportionate and necessary response to the emergency situation we find ourselves in.

When I came up to London in April, I found myself surrounded by the most amazing, kind and caring people each one determined to do what they could to stand up for life on this planet. The overwhelming feeling was of love, compassion and solidarity. Near me on Waterloo Bridge sat a young woman who said that she felt she couldn’t have children in light of the predictions for the future – this is devastating. I have been priviledged to have children but because of the situation we now find ourselves in, caused by the way I have been living, complicit within the system, she now felt that she doesn’t have that right.

At Waterloo Bridge I lay down to block the road in an act of peaceful solidarity with fellow protestors to use our collective power as a force to put pressure on the government to act on the climate emergency – an emergency that is of untold burden on the younger generation.

It was not something I was comfortable with doing, I never thought that I would be in the position of breaking the law, I was scared. Yet, given the circumstances, to walk away seemed unthinkable, to put myself on the line felt the right thing to do. I was not alone. I was acting alongside others out of a love greater than fear.

I took my opportunity to try to change the course of that ship.

The Extinction Rebellion action in April succeeded in setting in motion a change of course. In May, the UK Parliament declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency. Many county and local councils have declared Climate Emergencies. The government has set a net zero carbon target of 2050 – in no way adequate, but a start. Concern about climate change is at an all-time high amongst the British public. Coverage of climate related issues has increased in the UK newspapers with 1470 articles in December 2019, up from 888 articles in December 2018. The BBC has just announced plans for a year-long series of coverage and special programming on climate change.

We are in an emergency. The UK Parliament has said so. World Scientists have said so. The Natural History Museum has said so.

An emergency calls for immediate action.

I and other protestors have come together to take action to use our force, our collective power, to pressurize the government and other institutions into taking action to end the burning of fossil fuels for energy, to reduce carbon emissions and bring about the change needed to prevent a greater harm – a crime against humanity – genocide and the destruction of the planet.

I accept the scientific evidence that we are on the brink of catastrophe and there is an urgent need to act now. I cannot ignore this or delay until it is too late. I acted out of love to protect the life of my children, my family and yours, and all life on earth. If the court considers me a criminal for taking this action then so be it. My conscience tells me it would be criminal to do nothing. I stand with Extinction Rebellion to protect life, not to destroy it.

Your worships, I would imagine that you undertook to become magistrates because you value justice. The same system that promotes the destruction of the natural world through over consumption of resources in the pursuit of economic growth, though its rules and precedents may compel you to find me guilty. If you find me not guilty the system begins to change. And that is what is needed to ensure that truth and justice prevail.”

Photo credit: Helena Smith

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