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Climate Scientist Peter Kalmus’ Viral Protest Was Just the Beginning—Here’s What’s Next (and How to Get Involved)

Climate science and activism go hand-in-hand. Dr. Peter Kalmus talks civil disobedience, the IPCC report, and the climate justice movement.

Written by
Angelica Pizza
Published
May 4, 2022

There's power in numbers and power in collective action. And that's why climate scientists recently came together to participate in civil disobedience and climate activism—and why they're not backing down.

On April 6, 2022, a group known as Scientist Rebellion held a peaceful protest outside of a JP Morgan Chase building in Los Angeles. The protest is one of the first major acts of climate activism from scientists to become a public spectacle.

Peter Kalmus, PhD, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, was among the group of protesters who urged world leaders to take action to combat climate change. And his passionate speech not only made headlines—but also went viral on TikTok.

https://www.tiktok.com/@moreperfectunion/video/7084279269731454251

In his speech, Kalmus says "scientists are not being listened to." And he says the peaceful protest and the call to action are for younger generations—to ensure we protect our home planet. Speaking on his own behalf, Kalmus joins Brightly's CEO and founder Laura Wittig in this week's episode of Good Together.

During the episode, they discuss climate activism and what leaders and civilians need to be paying attention to in order to make substantial change. Plus, he offers some positive outcomes from the climate movement.

How Peter Kalmus Is Taking Climate Action

Climate science and climate activism aren't the same, but they do go coincide.

In his recent Op-Ed published in The Guardian, Kalmus lists off the actions he's already taken to reduce his carbon footprint—and to get others on board with the climate justice movement. To name a few, Kalmus says he reduced his own carbon emissions by 90%, wrote a book to educate others, and co-founded a popular climate app.

He has also spoken at climate rallies, written countless articles, and done a significant amount of research and outreach to provide people with the facts. However, he says his actions haven't worked—yet.

"I feel like now I've been freaking out for a while, and trying to get people to act through the process of freaking out and realizing that this is scary," Kalmus says. "But looking at it straight ahead, right in the face, and acting. Not going down into despair. But saying, 'Alright, we've got to be adults here, we've got to do this for our kids, we've got to act.'"

Although there has been a "taboo" around scientists speaking out about climate issues, Kalmus says he experienced a turning point. The recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Sixth Assessment Report from Working Group III detailed a level of urgency Kalmus hasn't seen before. And the report's findings are what led him to take action on April 6.

"There's a long tradition of civil disobedience, nonviolent civil disobedience, in social justice movements, from the suffragettes to [the] civil rights movement, to the movement for Indian equality in with Gandhi," Kalmus says. "So, it works. And this was an opportunity to try that with the climate justice movement."

However, despite Kalmus' publicized civil disobedience, he says the media has been slow to take notice. He says mainstream media is starting to listen, but it's been a "slow burn."

"It's been a really hard journey to try to build a platform for the sake of getting the message out because it can look like I'm just trying to get followers," he says. "And I'd really rather not do any of this, but I just felt like I couldn't sit idly by while society just kept heading in this really dangerous direction. So there's been that tension between needing to build a platform but also really centering myself to be a spokesperson for the Earth and realizing that this is bigger than me. Way, way bigger than me."

Getting Involved with Climate Activism

Climate activism and action come in different shapes and sizes. And Kalmus says it's important to build a strong movement through collective action and cultural changes.

He says: "We have to change social norms, and revoke the social license to fossil fuel, and make it really uncool to burn fossil fuel, and hold elected leaders to account in a major way that we haven't been doing. Another way to say that same thing is we need to build a really strong grassroots climate justice movement."

Kalmus believes that instead of limiting our focus to specific areas in our lives that need to change, we should also be focusing on the big picture. And that big picture is how fossil fuels are warming our climate system and changing the planet as we know it. That's why it's so important to find other climate activists who want to make positive change.

"If I had to boil down my advice to one thing, it would be to just find a way to join up with other climate activists or maybe people who are thinking about becoming climate activists," Kalmus says. "And have those discussions, figure out how you want to take your energy and your time and your resources and your particular skills and interests and bring them into the movement, and then be willing to take some risks."

The Takeaway—Including Some Glimmers of Hope

While it's easy to get wrapped up in the perils of climate change and global warming, Kalmus says there are a few "glimmer[s] of hope" we can use as motivation in the movement.

"To bring it back to the IPCC report, global emissions right now are still increasing, so that's depressing," he says. "But the rate of increase is about half of what it was 10 years ago."

In other words, the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are increasing is slowing down. Kalmus also says the cost of solar panels has also decreased over the last 10 years, meaning renewable energy is becoming more accessible. And the people have the power to create a demand for renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuels.

The main point Kalmus leaves us with is collectively we need to use less energy and use our voices to be heard by global leaders.

"If we use less energy overall, as a society, we would get to 0% fossil fuels much, much more quickly because we'd have to build far less renewables to take their place," Kalmus says.

Climate activism is layered, and there are several ways to do your part to better the planet. To learn more about Kalmus' work and the recent IPCC report, listen to this week's episode of Good Together. And to follow him on Twitter, click here.