Climate activist on ‘indefinite’ hunger strike at Parliament gets support of dozens of top scientists

Exclusive: An open letter signed by Sir David King, a former government chief scientific advisor, and scientists across British academia, was shared with The Independent

Saphora Smith
Climate Correspondent
Saturday 09 April 2022 20:48 BST
'I'm prepared to die if demand is not met': Angus Rose continues climate hunger strike

More than 75 leading scientists, including a former government chief scientific advisor, have signed an open letter in support of a climate activist on “indefinite” hunger strike outside the Houses of Parliament.

Angus Rose, 52, has spent the last 27 days demanding minister for energy, clean growth and climate change Greg Hands organise a briefing for MPs and the cabinet so that they can better understand the science behind the climate emergency. He has said he wants the briefing to be televised for the public so that everyone has an understanding of the climate crisis and the risks it poses.

Now, dozens of scientists have signed an open letter to Mr Hands saying they are “convinced” a “briefing on the climate and ecological crises would help our leaders to enact the right policies to decarbonise our society at the required pace, while also preserving biodiversity.”

“It seems to me that it’s a minor thing to ask, and here is a man putting his life on the line and I just feel: Please do it,” Sir David King, a former government chief scientific advisor and special envoy on climate change, told The Independent, when asked why he felt compelled to sign the open letter. “What problems will it cause if this is done?”

The news comes after Mr Rose told The Independent that he has lost more than two stone since he began his hunger strike on 14 March and accused Mr Hands of “shirking” his responsibility. Mr Rose, a software engineer from London, said he met Mr Hands for fifteen minutes on Thursday, during which time the minister urged him to reconsider his hunger strike and said it was not in his power to organise a briefing.

Greg Hands advised Mr Rose to end his hunger strike (PA)

Instead, Mr Hands told him to contact Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, and Greg Clark, chair of the science and technology select committee, who have the authority to arrange a briefing, Mr Rose said. Mr Hands said he would also speak to both men, according to Mr Rose.

“It’s shirking responsibility,” said Mr Rose, who says it’s crucial that lawmakers be briefed on climate change so that they can make more informed decisions to help protect the future of children around the world, including his own five nephews and niece.

The signatories of the open letter said they were “deeply concerned” about Mr Rose whom they described as being on “indefinite” hunger strike. The letter says that while they are not all in agreement with the tactic of public hunger strike, they could “unanimously” support the idea of the policy makers receiving the latest scientific evidence on the climate and ecological crises and its solutions.

“Most climate scientists are now anxious about the future and expect to see catastrophic changes in their lifetimes,” the open letter reads.

Faced with a similar demand recently, the Swiss Federal Assembly agreed to receive a briefing from scientists about the climate and ecological crisis, it added.

Mr Rose says he wants lawmakers to receive the same briefing that Boris Johnson received on the climate emergency, which reportedly helped the prime minister re-examine his beliefs on climate change.

The presentation in question was published earlier this year by Carbon Brief website, which obtained the slides through a Freedom of Information request.

“There’s no reason on god’s earth why they haven’t had a briefing yet by the chief scientific advisor,” Mr Rose told The Independent. “All I’m asking for is an improved understanding on this crucial issue.”

Angus Rose on Day 24 of his hunger strike (Hannah Woodhouse)

The United Nations warned this week that global emissions must peak in the next three years to avert a “catastrophic” temperature rise.

Days after the UN report, Mr Johnson announced plans to build more nuclear power plants, boost renewable energy and extract more oil and gas from the North Sea to help the country reduce its need for Russian fossil fuels following the invasion of Ukraine.

Green groups and climate campaigners criticised the plan, saying it should not have included the extraction of more fossil fuels in the UK, should have done more to build on the country’s onshore wind power and to increase energy efficiency and cut demand.

Critics also said it did little to ease the cost-of-living crisis in Britain as many of the plans for greater energy supply would take years to get up and running.

Mr Johnson said the plan would “scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy made in Britain, for Britain – from new nuclear to offshore wind – in the decade ahead.”

Mr Rose said reports from the UN and the UK’s Independent Climate Change Committee could easily just sit on desks across government, with lawmakers engaging to varying degrees.

But in a briefing organised by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, the important facts could be distilled down into a relatively short presentation, he said.

“Just leaving politicians to their own devices to try and make sense of it in their own time, no that’s not good enough,” he added. “Many of them lack understanding you can see that in the decisions they make.”

Scientists supporting Mr Rose said the climate and ecological crisis was evolving at a” rapid pace” and that it is “increasingly difficult for politicians to understand the significance of the latest science that they do not have time to read and digest.”

Mr Rose said he was concerned that it could take days, if not weeks, for Sir Hoyle and Mr Clark to respond to his request for a briefing to be held.

Meanwhile, his supporters are increasingly concerned about his health, as he says he is determined to carry on with his hunger strike until his demands are met.

Mr Rose told The Independent he is increasingly feeling light-headed, and was finding it hard to get up in the mornings. But he said he is determined to carry on.

“This is vitally important for my nephews and niece, as it is for other parents and their children and grandchildren,” he said. “This has to happen, there’s no excuse.”

So far more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition asking Mr Hands to organise a climate briefing.

A spokesperson for the the department for business, energy and industrial strategy said Mr Hands visited Mr Rose to explain, as he has in his earlier letters, that the information is already public and to ask him to reconsider his “drastic” actions for his own wellbeing.

“The Minister enquired after Mr Rose’s health and personally reassured him about the seriousness with which the government took climate change and its commitment to tackling the issue,” the spokesperson added.

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