Environment Media release

Press release: Climate crisis “wrong kind of emergency”

February 15th, 2021

Contact: Patrick Yancey


KJIPUKTUK/HALIFAX – “For both political decision-makers and the legal system, it seems the climate crisis is the wrong kind of emergency to act on,” concludes Patrick Yancey, one of three defendants sentenced on Tuesday, February 9 in Halifax to a $237 fine for the Extinction Rebellion BridgeOut action in October of 2019.

Charged with “refusing to leave private property [the MacDonald bridge] when instructed to do so,” the defendants argued that their actions were justified to avert a greater emergency – the climate crisis. Taking the stand in turns, they spoke to the scientific consensus on humanity’s current course: unprecedented and catastrophic mega-storms, wildfires, floods, droughts, famines, and quite possibly societal collapse, resulting in millions or billions of deaths. This kind of legal defense, known as the “necessity defense”, is normally available in cases of emergencies. However, the court found that the climate crisis does not qualify as an emergency for the purposes of the necessity defense.

“They said [the necessity defence] is for an emergency in the ‘here and now’, like ‘I have to get someone to the hospital in ten minutes or they will die,’” Yancey remarked. “We pleaded that nothing could be more ‘here and now’ than the climate crisis. People are already dying all over the world. Millions or billions more will die if we don’t act. Do we really want to explain to those people that their emergency wasn’t the right kind to act on? Unfortunately, that’s largely the message we’ve been getting from politicians – and now from the legal system.”

One defendant who chose to remain unnamed expressed surprise at one question from the court. “The judge asked if we intended to get arrested because we remained after police warnings to vacate. But there was a third option: the city and Province could have agreed to XR’s demands and enacted major action to fight the climate crisis. It seems that wasn’t even considered. Demonstrations, shutdowns and marches are not just to ‘make a point’ or ‘raise awareness’. We want action, not platitudes. Awareness, declarations, and good intentions will not prevent the continued loss of life, land, animals, and livelihoods. It’s about being on the right side of history.”

Musing over what political decision-makers consider emergencies, Yancey contrasted the response to the climate crisis with the pandemic. “To deal with COVID, we upended society, shut down industries, supported regular folks, and had experts brief the public daily, flanked by our political leaders instructing people to listen. The pandemic, it seems, is the right kind of emergency to act on: one where the wealthy, well-connected decision-makers face immediate fallout, and cannot foist the consequences of inaction onto the future. When a crisis affects them, clearly they can act on it.” 

Asked about climate promises from newly minted Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin, Yancey replied “MLA Iain Rankin dutifully supported the largely lost years of climate action under Stephen McNeil, but leadership candidate Iain Rankin started talking the talk, with fairly specific and ambitious climate targets. The real question is: will Premier Iain Rankin walk the walk? He takes office in a few weeks. Will he immediately launch a plan for a rapid and just transition? Will he cancel major fossil projects like Alton Gas and Bear Head LNG, implement the provincial components of UNDRIP, protect Owls Head park, finally implement the Lahey report, and enforce the Endangered Species Act? I hope so. I hope he makes future XR actions unnecessary in Nova Scotia.”

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