Reflecting on the Recent Climate Change Protests

Illustrated by Diane Kim

Aisha Saeed, Contributing Writer

On April 6, climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was arrested for chaining himself to the entrance of a JP Morgan Chase building in Los Angeles, California. JP Morgan Chase is one of the largest financiers of the fossil fuel industry in America, and Kalmus is one of many climate scientists sounding the alarm against human-induced climate change. 

Kalmus’ protests came after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) working group three report, which comprises one third of the IPCC sixth assessment. The report, which focuses on mitigating the effects of climate change, found that greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise at an alarming rate as a result of human-induced activity, drawing toward the 1.5 degree Celsius danger line.

Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and a member of a loosely organized climate action group named the Scientists Rebellion. He also participates in grassroots organizing and strikes on the community level. During his protest on April 6, Kalmus passionately spoke about the hypocrisy of the fossil fuel industry and his anxiety over his children’s futures. 

 “I’m here because scientists are not being listened to [and] I’m willing to take a risk for this gorgeous planet,” Kalmus told the crowd. “This is for all of the kids in the world, all the young people, all of the future people — this is so much bigger than any of us!”

After watching Kalmus defend himself against the police, who arrested him shortly after the end of his speech, I wondered why we were not doing more. 

My search for the answer led to a conversation with Dr. Raymond Clémençon, a professor in the department of global studies at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Dr. Clémençon specializes in international climate and comparative environmental politics. Prior to his time at UCSB, Dr. Clémençon taught at UC San Diego’s Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and in the Political Science Department. His work extends beyond the parameters of academia, having also served as a section head at the Swiss Environment Agency during the early days of climate negotiations and as a consultant for the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank.

In an interview with Dr. Clémençon, I asked about America’s current standing on environmental politics. The growing antipathy between liberals and conservatives in American politics are making it ever so more difficult to see eye-to-eye, especially on issues like climate change. The left often paints a rosy image of mitigating climate change, like proposing to transfer to 100 percent renewable energy, while the right regularly refuses to acknowledge climate change as a reality in Americans’ lives

Dr. Clémençon said that he believes that “American democracy is in danger.” 

At a rate exacerbated by Donald Trump’s presidency from 2016 to 2020, American politics is growing increasingly divided. According to a study published by the Pew Research Center just last year, “90 percent [of Americans] say there are conflicts between people who support different political parties.” 

Donald Trump is notorious for his unfounded stances on various topics, such as climate change. Trump, who admittedly stated his skepticism about climate change, rolled back on key international treaties like the Paris Agreement, a joint agreement by almost all the world’s nations for setting climate goals and providing financial backing for developing nations to combat climate change. As a result, the right continues to harbor the same bizarre notions once carried by our former president, impacting the debate on climate change. 

Despite the growing rift between the right and left in American politics, states like California, Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska are adopting pro-climate policy goals. California is currently adopting a plan that would require “35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be powered by batteries or hydrogen.” Areas long dominated by oil and gas, like its southern counterparts, have also become sites of America’s largest wind farms

For Dr. Clémençon, the best approach is a combination of activism and political participation that leads to the necessary government regulation of carbon emitters.

According to Dr. Clémençon, the vast majority of Americans believe that climate change is real and want renewable energy, but are also uninformed. Though people want change, the vast majority of Americans are unaware about the ways in which they could create it.

On the overall state of the climate crisis, Dr. Clémençon shared, ”The question is not to stop [climate change], but rather to understand what’s coming and to slow change to what is manageable by the world and the most vulnerable segments of society.”

When asked if the sentiments echoed by climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, are justified, Dr. Clémençon said that Kalmus’ actions were admirable, good, and should be praised. It is commendable that individuals like Kalmus are willing to put themselves in vulnerable situations to generate awareness for climate change and the social drivers of it.

The science is clear. Beginning in the 1850s, Irish scientist John Tydall made the observation that carbon dioxide traps heat. By 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, discovered that burning fossil fuels could be harmful to Earth’s atmosphere. Later on, Canadian scientist Guy Callendar would confirm that Earth’s temperatures were indeed rising.

It was only until the 1960s that scientists in the United States began to warn political leaders to do something about the warming of our planet. Since then, the fight to slow climate change has been challenging.

Real change, Dr. Clémençon explained, occurs when political leaders begin to implement goals that reflect the alarm raised by climate scientists according to their most recent research.

In the meantime, Dr. Clémençon encourages young people like myself to “think about what you can do and vote in every election up and down the ballot for people that share your concern about the climate crisis.”

If you are looking for ways to get involved in the climate change movement and make a difference in your community, consider joining the following on-campus and student run organizations: The Associated Students Environmental Affairs Board, California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) at UCSB, Surfrider Foundation Isla Vista Chapter, and Greeks Go Green. 

For a full list of environmental organizations visit: