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“I have for a long time been in despair that much too little is being done to save the natural world and to reverse our destruction of the environment. XR’s activities gave me some hope,” he says.

Bullock initially took part in an XR ‘die-in’ (a form of protest where activists lie down and pretend to be dead, disrupting people’s movement). “Meeting up and joining in with XR scientists at the October Rebellion gave me a focus and milieu through which I felt I could use my scientific knowledge to contribute to XR.”

XR protests have divided public opinion. Some in London were criticised as disproportionately disruptive for low-wage workers attempting to get to work, and in early 2020 leaked internal documents from the UK’s counter-terrorism unit listed XR as an extremist group. But Bullock says that criticisms of the group as extremists are “hysterical reactions by certain people in authority” and a threat to nonviolent protest. He believes that freedom of speech is “central to science and its contribution to society”.

Sarah Peters, a medical student at the University of Oxford, believes that the climate crisis “transcends political opinion”. She feels “a duty to ensure people are aware of the facts of climate change, enabling them to act with full comprehension of the current situation”.

Peters came to the attention of The Biologist’s editor, Tom Ireland, on a train travelling to London during Storm Ciara in February. “In the middle of a slow, delayed journey, she just stood up, introduced herself to the whole carriage, and explained how climate change was likely to make big storms and flooding more likely in the UK,” says Ireland. “As Brits we find this kind of thing terribly awkward, but everything she said was all perfectly true and it was probably quite affecting for the people who listened.”

Peters says she felt compelled to take direct action by way of a ‘train talk’ to commuters in a bid to “nudge them to channel their frustration into action”. She thinks that scientists are well placed to join groups such as XR, whose aim to communicate environmental facts to the public aligns with researchers’ efforts to communicate the latest findings from the sciences.

“I cannot in good faith stand by, knowing the current and future effects of the climate crisis, and do nothing”

Sarah Peters

Extinction Rebellion use performance art to try to communicate their urgent message, including visually striking ‘red brigade’ costumes. Should more scientists join these red-robed protesters in future?

Vol 67 No 3 / The Biologist / 19

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