I wrote this letter to the Magistrate sentencing me for last year’s office occupation of Cygnet Capital. I was a bit nervous about it and my Lawyer recommended I didn’t use it because of its lack of repentance.
The Presiding Magistrate,
Melbourne Magistrates Court
In September this year I chained myself in an act of protest to three other people in the office of the finance company Cygnet Capital. When asked to leave I refused, and was subsequently arrested for trespass.
The reason I undertook this action was to protest and draw attention to the actions of Cygnet Capital, who are underwriting the operations of another company named Mantle Mining, which plans to establish a brown coal export industry in Victoria.
The reason I oppose these companies’ actions is simple: on the authority of the world’s leading scientific authorities, a failure to adequately reduce manmade greenhouse emissions will be very likely to produce dangerous and even catastrophic climate change, leaving the members of both our species (bar perhaps a privileged few) and others to suffer the consequences of ecosystem collapse. I therefore believe that seeking to profit from exporting brown coal from Victoria – home to enough brown coal to single-handedly push the planet past the so-called ‘2° guardrail’ often spoken of by governments as the barrier beyond which climate change becomes ‘dangerous climate change’ – is deeply immoral.
I also believe that the current laws of our society have fallen far out of step with the demands of morality when it comes to climate change. As it stands, our laws hold it perfectly legal for companies such as Cygnet Capital and Mantle Mining to seek profit by knowingly contributing to the foreseeable catastrophic consequences of climate change, and make it illegal for people such as myself to attempt to prevent them doing so. To me, this indicates that our current laws regarding such matters are wrong and in urgent need of regress.
Of course, in a democracy such as ours one can always use legal channels to change the law. In a basic way this is true. But to this basic truth I would attach two important caveats.
First, in the case of climate change the picture is more complicated. Greenhouse pollution diffuses across the globe, so the actions of any democratic society produce consequences that affect more people than just those able to participate in its democracy. Australian adults, for example, are able to campaign to change Australian law, but citizens of other countries cannot realistically do so, nor can members of other species, anyone still too young to have a public voice, or future generations. If the justification for democracy is that people deserves a say over decisions that effect them, then climate change presents us with a case in which this very justification may call for people within a democracy to step outside the bounds of their current law in order to protect the interests of those who cannot affect those laws, but who are nonetheless affected by them.
Second, I have tried legal channels. I have spent countless hours volunteering, campaigning, leafleting, letterboxing and doorknocking to promote responsible action on climate change. In 2009 I even went about as far as one can go via legal forms of political protest, starving myself two thirds (give or take) of the way to death on a 43 day water-only hunger strike outside our Parliament House in Canberra calling for climate action.
All these legal forms of political participation make a difference, and I do not repudiate them. I believe, however, that history shows civil disobedience to have an important and vital role to play in achieving social change.
People with a conscience have been violating what they see as immoral laws for millennia, and I personally believe it is a damn good thing that they have done so, for our civilization would not be where it is today if they had not.
I also believe, in the context of climate change, that it is only by people continuing to stand up for what is morally right, rather than what is simply legal, that our species stands a chance of getting ourselves out of the mess we are creating for ourselves.
But ideology and rhetoric aside, I do recognise that you have a job to do, and I only ask that when sentencing me you keep in mind the nature of my actions – that they were peaceful, that they harmed no one, and that they were born of nothing but compassion and a sense of moral duty to the victims of climate change, present and future.