Scientists on trial for warning of ecological crisis

Scientists in Rebellion & Extinction Rebellion – 26 September 2023

On the morning of 5 October 2023, 7 scientists and activists will go on trial before the Paris Police Court following an action they took in April 2022 to warn of the consequences of the government’s climate inaction. The defendants are contesting the 5th class fines imposed on them in an initial ruling for staying after closing time at the Muséum National d’histoire naturelle in Paris.

The trial will be an opportunity for the defendants to defend the legitimacy of their actions in view of the climate emergency and the prospect of the sixth mass extinction. In their defense, they will invoke the state of necessity due to the current and imminent danger to life as demonstrated in particular by the work of the IPCC and the IPBES. Leading scientists will testify at the hearing in support of the defendants: Pierre-Henri Gouyon (biologist, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle), Christophe Bonneuil (historian of science, CNRS) and Fabrice Flipo (philosopher of science, Institut Mines Telecom). A support rally and speeches by scientists will be held before the trial begins.

On the evening of 9-10 April 2022, in the midst of the presidential election campaign, around thirty scientists occupied the paleontology gallery at the Muséum National d’histoire Naturelle. Surrounded by fossils in an allegory of the existential risks facing our species and all living things, scientists from a variety of specialties (oceanography, ecology, agronomy, biology, infectiology, computer science and history) gave a dozen presentations illustrating the urgent, radical and necessary measures that need to be taken to limit the consequences of the current and future climate and ecological crises.

This was the first action organised in France by the Scientifiques en rébellion, collective, which grew out of the call by 1,000 scientists for civil disobedience published in the newspaper  Le Monde in February 2020. It was organised jointly by Extinction Rebellion and Scientifiques en rébellion, as part of an international campaign by Scientist Rebellion. The action also heralded the XR campaign that was to follow, including the occupation of part of the occupation of the Grands Boulevards over the weekend of 16 April 2022. The participants left the site calmly at the end of the scientific presentations, without having caused any material damage to this symbolic site. However, they are now being taken to court. While the French State has been condemned by the Council of State for climate inaction and the government is still not taking the measures demanded by the courts, it is the scientists who are being harassed for having played their role as whistleblowers! History will record that in the midst of a “climate breakdown” (in the words of the UN Secretary-General), France was busier prosecuting scientists than taking measures commensurate with the urgency of the situation.

Les activistes de #ExtinctionRebellion @ScientistRebel1 @SciRebFr @ScientistsX sont toujours en live au @Le_Museum #Paris :

Rejoignez le live & partagez le donc

— Extinction Rebellion France (@xrFrance) April 9, 2022

This is not the first time that French scientists have faced judicial repression for actions of civil disobedience. In November 2022, 16 scientists (4 of them French) were imprisoned for a week in Germany for sticking their hands to luxury cars in a BMW showroom in Munich, as part of an international Scientist Rebellion campaign. A supporting call on France TV Info was signed by 1,300 scientists. In October 2021, an astrophysicist was prosecuted along with six other activists for trespassing to the tarmac at Roissy airport to denounce the climate-damaging nature of the extension of terminal 4, an action in which other members of Scientist Rebellion were taking part. A call published in Reporterre attracted almost 300 supporters.

The repression of the scientists is just one illustration of the government’s strategy of criminalizing social movements, particularly environmental movements, which affects both civil disobedience actions and demonstrations. In the first fortnight of October alone, Extinction Rebellion activists are already facing three different trials.

Extinction Rebellion