“The civil disobedience of scientists is ethically and pragmatically justified”

Lhe image has shaken more than one: on April 6, the American climatologist Peter Kalmus, chained to the door of a JP Morgan bank (leading investor in fossil fuels), burst into tears during a speech explaining the motivations for his action. Feeling that scientific warnings were being ignored, he decided to take action in civil disobedience. In the days that followed, more than twelve hundred scientists had taken part in such actions in twenty-six countries.

In recent years, civil disobedience has become a mode of action in which more and more scientists are participating, both in France and elsewhere. To the point that it has become the subject of a growing number of academic works that have questioned its legitimacy, its ethical foundations, but also its effectiveness.

In 2019, a magazine article Lancet he had questioned the ethical criteria according to which civil disobedience actions by scientists could be legitimate.

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Based on the theory of justice of John Rawls (1921-2002), its authors consider that this tactic is justified when it denounces an unjust situation, if it is used as a last resort, if it is effective and if it represents the least harmful form of action given. the threat.

Successful fights more often

The question of the injustice of climate change is easy to decide, since we know that these are those least responsible for the problem who will suffer the worst consequences. The notion of last resort is also little discussed, since the classic forms of mobilization seem so exhausted: scientific reports that pile up, climate marches that follow one another without political translation, lobbying with decision-makers that have very little weight in the face of the colossal hallway media…

The third criterion mentioned in the article questions the effectiveness of civil disobedience. On this point, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underlined that direct confrontational forms of participation (boycotts, demonstrations, civil disobedience) were increasingly common, and helped shape climate policies.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers “To abuse the notion of civil disobedience is to expose it to all recoveries”

Recent work has reported that struggles against fossil projects were more successful when based on civil disobedience (Ecological Economics 195, 2022). In this type of action, scientists have a specific role to play: this was recently stated by a team of researchers in the journal Nature Climate Change (2022).

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