Wildlife conservation specialist and biologist Laura Kehoe is leaving behind a dream research position on a post-doc at Oxford University and the Nature Conservancy on the Livestock Environment and People project to work full-time for the climate.
The financial hit does not faze her.
“I have some savings anyway. Money can come and go. It is the flourishing of life on Earth that I care about,” Kehoe said over a Zoom call from her home in Dublin, Ireland.
She stresses the “moral duty” of scientists like herself to sound the alarm.
“We know more than most what is coming down the line. It is already happening,” she said.
Kehoe has been busy developing strategies to protect the Earth’s life support systems, “grounded in spatial ecology and conservation decision science.”
Also, she is helping to plant trees in deforested natural areas where farmers struggle to grow crops.
All of this work in communities has taken her around the globe. It includes a two-year stint in Canada with two universities, University of British Columbia and University of Victoria.
Now, the hour is getting late and various scientists like Kehoe are stepping outside the comfort zone of their research labs.
“I would ask any scientist …why are they in science in the first place. Is it for the sake of humanity’s well being, if so, we need to stand up and speak out,” she said.
Meanwhile, meet the world’s most famous scientist-s*** disturber.
A NASA climate scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab, Peter Kalmus was among the arrested last April after locking himself into the entrance of the JP Morgan Chase in downtown Los Angeles.
“We chose JP Morgan Chase because out of all the investment banks in the world, JP Morgan Chase funds the (newest) fossil fuel projects,” he told The Guardian
Kalmus is on a tear. In the fall he was part of a nation-wide campaign in the US to oppose the flying of private jets, a major source of greenhouse gases. He and another climate scientist were charged with trespassing after chaining themselves to the entryway at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s private jet terminal.
I left some questions on the web site of Peter Kalmus but so far, he has not gotten back to me.
Kalmus laments in a tweet that most scientists are not following in his chosen path.
“If thousands of scientists started stepping up into civil disobedience instead of just dozens it would be truly game changing for saving Earth,” he tweeted.
The global temperatures are currently at 1.2 per cent above pre-industrial levels. Scientists are telling us that climate change is worsening at an unprecedented speed. The breaching of the 1.5 C threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement is expected soon.
To avoid that scenario, scientists are pleading that countries quickly transition to a non-carbon world. Meaning, stop the production and burning of fossil fuels which emit carbon that is then baked into the atmosphere and ratches up a heating planet.
Yes, there are investments in electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
But the transition by governments is remarkably too slow to stave off the terrifying consequences down the road. Much of that is attributed to the power and clout of the fossil fuel companies and the financiers of their current exploration projects.
At the just completed United Nations climate conference (COP 27) in Egypt, national governments failed to reach a consensus on reducing oil and gas.
Laura Kehoe says that even were the pledges for action by the past 27 annual climate gatherings implemented, the global temperatures would still overshoot beyond two degrees Celsius.
“What over two degrees means is that our means capacity to feed ourselves, supply water and have basic security are gone,” says Kehoe.
She says a serious disconnect exists between scientists with front row seats on the technical data of climate change and species disappearance and political leaders, plus members of the public who are in denial or not coming to terms with science behind the impending climate chaos.
Kalmus and Kehoe are members of a loose international network of scientists, Science Rebellion focused on an aggressive protest that can include non-violent civil disobedience.
Kehoe is fed up with the polite rallies and marches in her native Ireland protesting climate inaction but not accomplishing much. What she describes may have resonance here in Canada.
Her preferred model is the in-your-face style of climate protest in the UK.
“If you look through history, that is generally how (change) happens. We have to be a lot more abrasive and a lot more courageous,” says Kehoe.
Visit the Science Rebellion web site and you will find a host of signatures from scientists from around the world. Some high-profile names such as Katharine Hayhoe and Michael Mann are not there.
Not all scientists support the radicalism professed by Science Rebellion, says Lynne Quarmby, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Simon Fraser University and a past federal Green party candidate.
“I have no data to support this, but my guess is that scientists are not joiners. First, there is not the time to properly vet everything that crosses our desks and scientists are not likely to join without properly vetting. Second, the SR letter has a radical ring that will not resonate with many scientists (in other words, yes, I suspect political differences). In my case, you do not find my name for reason #1, ” she said.
Quarmby was no slouch when it came to protesting the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline going past her university.
In 2012, she was for instance. one of 13 people arrested in White Rock for blocking coal trains.
“We were taken to jail but we were processed immediately and released,” said Quarmby
Quarmby also stresses that there is still time to mitigate and adapt climate change without experiencing as much of the predicted damage if no action is taken.
“I don’t know any credible scientist that would say we are hopelessly doomed. Civilization is in very serious trouble. There is going to be a lot of social upheaval, there are going to be issues with food production, transportation and all sorts of things, that is not the same thing as extinction, ” she added.
There is a history of scientists speaking out from their vantage point of their research and knowledge, ranging from the dangers of nuclear weapons to the pandemic.
Ottawa based and award-winning journalist Stephen Leahy has encountered many scientists during the years he has covered international climate conferences.
“In my experience scientists are very conservative and taught to qualify what they say and not express personal opinions. Let the science speak for itself is what they are taught and have told me many times,” he said.“That seems to be changing for some in recent years. There have long been calls from activists for scientists to speak out because of their respected status in society.”“So many of my interviews with scientists end up concluding: ‘We know what to do and how to do it. All that is missing is political will,’” added Leahy.
This article first appeared on Rabble.ca.