Exclusive interview: Chris Packham on finding more ‘creative’ methods of climate protest

“I have actions planned, my lawyer has called them ‘low risk’”

“It was designed to be a controversial documentary. Controversy means promoting conversation and I think this is a conversation worth having.”

In a Channel 4 documentary released last week naming ‘Is It Time to Break the Law?’, naturalist Chris Packham deliberates the ethics of committing an offence to protest against government climate crisis policies.

The TV presenter embarks on a personal journey, which also challenges the viewer to question their own views on climate activism, in the face of stricter government protest laws and the rollbacks in climate policy.

So, is it time to break the law? Packham talked to LFF about his upcoming plans of action, politics, voting and being chastised by Suella Braverman.

Packham confirmed that his upcoming actions are so far deemed ‘low-risk’, according to his lawyer, before adding, “but let’s see, I can’t predict the future and I can’t predict what other people will do.”

This morning it was announced that the controversial Rosebank oil field has been granted approval for development. It was slammed as ‘the greatest act of environmental vandalism in my lifetime’ by Caroline Lucas and has already seen protests take place today.

“There are going to be a lot of other people this morning like me who are going to be very angry, and there are going to be other people who manifest their anger in a different way to me,” said Packham.

“People are being forced to do things they didn’t think of doing before, that’s what’s scary.”

Packham believes that the recent actions by the current government, including the rollback of net zero policies and granting of 100 oil and gas licenses, are saying loud and clear that politicians are not listening to the warnings from climate campaigners, leaving concerned citizens with few options but to take further action.

His conclusion is, that we listen to the experts and that there is no doubt people will escalate their actions if they’re not listened to.

“There’s just a succession of idiotic, climate damaging moves like Rosebank and we cannot sit back and let them drive us to hell in a handcart. We are going to have to try and stop that.”

As a public figure, he feels duty bound to push for environmental change, in whatever way left in our arsenal. However this had been depleted by the government’s latest draconian laws limiting protest.

“For the foreseeable future, climate protest is something that will be a mandatory fact of life for people like myself, as we try to spread the message.

“I am a conduit between the scientists doing the work, and the public, and when the public come on board we will as ever seek changes in policies and actions.

“That means communicating with them. And one of the ways we do that is through protest. But we’ve got to do that creatively, imaginatively, we’re not using the full repertoire of protest at the moment.”

He laughed off criticism towards him from Suella Braverman who, following his documentary where he interviewed radical environmental activists for their view of protest methods, branding his approach “militant and aggressive”.

“On the day that the prime minster, reigned back on net zero promises, she called me dangerous and irresponsible,” reflected Packham.

“It’s madness really, if there was anything that’s dangerous and irresponsible it would be failing to deal with this crisis. Because we’re plunging the people of the UK, indeed the world, into further danger. That wasn’t down to me.”

Dubbed the future David Attenborough, Packham has however experienced attacks from the press at his sympathy for climate protesters. He’s been branded an eco-zealot and clown, and expressed concern for the medias ‘calculated’ ability to manipulate public sentiment.

“We should never underestimate the danger that the messaging from the right-wing press constitutes because it undermines our progress and message.

“They develop a vernacular which spreads contagiously through people who aren’t interested in the science or listening to the motives and only want to criticise the methods of the climate protest.”

He chooses not to point fingers at individuals in politics but rather at those who are currently responsible for failing to implement policy around climate change, whilst having also felt let down by previous governments.

“My duty is to focus on those people who are currently responsible for implementing policy, and that’s our government,” said Packham.

“When it comes to climate issues, we’ve had a succession of governments which have failed to invest, address and adapt to the forthcoming climate breakdown.

“So of course we focus our attention on the current government but we can’t lay all the blame at their feet. There’s been a succession of poor management.

“From my point of view these issues are environmental, but we need political change to address them. We need politics to help solve them because we can’t do it alone.”

He also said it was ‘critical’ that young people recognise the importance of voting in the next elections, to make sure their voices are heard in determining their future. What he also wants to see is other industries and sectors being more proactive in speaking up about the climate crisis.

“We’re not using any of the other cultural forces in our lives to communicate, art, music. What’s the music industry doing? There’s no protest songs at the moment. There’s a whole group of people who could be doing more.”

He added: “We can’t carry on just blocking roads, we’ve got to think of something new, that doesn’t mean we have to do something illegal we just have to be creative and imaginative.”

On Thursday, Packham will be taking part in a law-abiding biodiversity protest outside Defra calling on the government to restore nature now. Into the new year, he plans to continue campaigning to put pressure on political parties to put environmental policies into their manifestos and, “give people something to vote for”.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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