Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law? a new documentary aired on Channel 4 last night (20th September) and it was one of the most thought-provoking, honest programmes I have watched in such a long time.
It’s not that often I feel compelled to review something I’ve seen on TV, the last time was Extinction: The Facts by David Attenborough. After watching Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law? I have to add my take.
Packham tries to make sense of the lack of urgency regarding the climate crisis from our government and wrestles with the dilemma of whether it’s ethically acceptable to break the law. Potentially, putting his own safety on the line.
TV presenter and nature lover Chris Packham believes the science; reports from The Climate Change Committee (CCC) and , The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have all printed the science facts behind climate change and what fossil fuels and it’s clear; it’s getting worse and we have to work together and put steps in place to avoid complete catastrophe. Despite these reports and the lack of any meaningful government policies, we are still pumping for oil, cutting down rainforests, and polluting our oceans seemingly without any regard for the future of the planet. All this despite the obvious effects as we’re seeing such as weather patterns becoming more extreme and are heading towards climate apocalypse.
Chris Packham has “completely lost trust in the government and judiciary”
He asks himself – how far does he have to go? how far can he go? Is civil disobedience really an ethically responsible thing to do?
Chris Packham: Is It Time to Break the Law?
For years, Chris Packham has been a peaceful democratic activist; joining marches, taking part in peaceful protest, writing posters but none of it, in his eyes, has worked.
He explores why protesters would risk their lives, knowing they could also be arrested and potentially imprisoned for protesting about climate change? What drives them? What makes ordinary people do this knowing it could lead to a jail sentence?
A young activist climbed up on the gantry on the M25 and stopped traffic. An incredible and dangerous act that could have resulted in losing her own life. Aired on social media, Heartbreakingly, she says “I’m here because I don’t have a future” with fear in her eyes and desperation in her voice.
From a young age, schools ‘mould’ us to follow rules; don’t hit each other, put your hand up when you want to use the toilet, don’t jump the dinner queue. This continues into adulthood when following the rule of law and in everyday lives. Society only works when we follow rules; whether we agree with them or not. Although, there are some who break these rules, most of us are law-abiding.
I’m currently studying towards a BSc Environmental Science and I know human activity is accelerating climate change; I see it in the data and reports and it’s not something that should be ignored. Global temperatures are rising. It’s happening. We can’t go back into the past and change it but we can do something about what happens next. I wonder if direct action is needed and political opinions need to be put to one side to tackle global warming.
What Are People in Power Saying?
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said “current policies are taking the world to a 2.8 degree temperature rise by the end of the century. We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open. It’s time to wake up”.
Packham speaks to Lord Deben, who is a Tory Peer, who chaired the Government’s Climate Change Committee in which the report that was published was “ruthlessly critical of the Government’s plans”. In Lord Deben’s opinion, the Government doesn’t have a proper plan to deliver the changes desperately needed.
Lord Deben continues “A whole generation of people are waking up to the fact that we have destroyed their future and either we recover it or they will have no future”.
Police have now been given powers to intervene in any peaceful marches/protests that are disruptive to others. Surely, the whole idea of a protest is to be disruptive?
Despite requests to speak to cabinet members, no-one wanted to speak to Packham. He did end up speaking to Lord Peter Lilley, who sits on the House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee and he feels the climate change issue has been overblown. It was incredibly disheartening to watch.
Who Are The Rule Breakers?
I remember seeing a placard that read ‘Every disaster movie starts with the government ignoring a scientist’. Day After Tomorrow is a prime example.
When those in power seem to ignore the science, it’s not difficult to understand why organisations like Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion, and Insulate Britain have formed. It’s the lack of urgency and any meaningful action by those in power which is truly terrifying. Despite the threat of arrests, imprisonment from law enforcement, and verbal, sometimes physical abuse, from those being inconvenienced, the activists continue.
There were two Just Stop Oil protesters who climbed up the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, in Dartford, in October 2022 and Packham asks how history will judge them?
Packham travels to speak to Andreas Malm, author and activist, about how peaceful protests aren’t working anymore which is leading to more radical measures arguing that ‘historically, social progress has frequently required a radical wing’.
Packham touches on the subject of rule breakers in the past who are now cemented in history; a group called the Suffragettes, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, who believed in “deeds, not words”
The Suffragettes smashed windows, assaulted police officers, and committed arson. Pankhurst was arrested, as well as many other Suffragettes, and imprisoned many times. Let’s not even mention what happened to them in prison. He says “An enemy of the state at the time and yet now celebrated by it” by having her own statue in Westminster.
I know there are many who find the actions of the suffragettes inexcusable, to me, they were heroes.
Packham speaks to Roger Hallam, co-founder of Just Stop Oil, and feels the actions of Just Stop Oil activists MAY be effective. It’s difficult to tell immediately if something is working or not, time will tell. Hallam explains that from history, there have been trigger events which spark massive change. He prefers non-violent peaceful uprising from people who have had enough, referring to Gandhi’s salt march.
Many around the world will be aware of Greta Thunberg. An environmental campaigner, she started her activism by missing school to sit outside her country’s parliament with a sign that stated “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (School Strike for Climate) and she has no sign of stopping until there is meaningful change to stop climate breakdown. She’s been arrested and it hasn’t deterred her from still protesting. She’s spoken passionately on the world stage about how much we need change, and that we’re tired of lip-service.
Chris Packham battles with his conscience about doing what is potentially illegal and putting himself at great risk but wanting to be on the “right side of history”. Knowing that breaking the law is an imprisonable offence and includes a criminal record .
He’s not asking people to break the law, he outlines a number of lawful ways to get your voice heard. It’s about the actions HE is looking to take for HIMSELF.
We’ve seen ourself that the lack of policy change from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s UK government isn’t forthcoming.
Could I break the law? I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not brave enough to do this myself. However, I need to do more. At this stage, I don’t know what that looks like.
Packham’s personal journey has put into words, passionately, what many environmentalists are feeling and have been feeling for a long time. As one of the UK’s highest profile nature presenters, we will have to see what he does next.