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Climate and Environment

Climate Scientists Chained Themselves To A Downtown Bank's Doors In An Act Of Peaceful Protest. Police In Riot Gear Shut It Down

A man holding a sign that says "I am the Earth I want to live" stands in front of a line of police officers in riot gear.
A climate activist holds a sign as LAPD officers in riot gear line up to arrest four protestors who chained themselves to the JP Morgan Chase building in downtown L.A. on Wednesday, April 6.
(Erin Stone
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On an unseasonably warm day, a couple of days after the United Nations released an alarming report on the state of the global climate emergency, a few scientists and a small group of climate activists gathered in Pershing Square in downtown L.A. to demand faster action to address the crisis.

At half past noon on Wednesday, a climate scientist, physicist, science teacher and engineer, along with a handful of activists, walked briskly to the JP Morgan Chase building, a few blocks away at 7th and Figueroa Streets.

The four men — climate scientist Peter Kalmus, science educator Allan Chornak, physicist Greg Spooner and engineer Eric Gill — donned white lab coats and chained themselves to the bank’s front doors in protest of the bank’s investments in coal, oil and gas projects. They chose JP Morgan Chase because the bank has funded more new fossil fuel projects than any other bank, according to a report by a group of NGOs.

The other climate activists soon joined the scientists, marching and chanting while holding up signs reading “Chase fuels the crisis” and “1.5° is dead! Climate revolution now!”

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By early evening, that small, peaceful protest ended with scores of police officers in riot gear, a crowd of spectators, and four arrests.

Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist with UCLA’s Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science & Engineering, spearheaded the demonstration, part of a global group of scientists called Scientist Rebellion doing acts of civil disobedience to demand the end of the fossil fuel era.

That’s in light of the United Nations’ latest report, which made clear that for a livable future, fossil fuels need to be phased out much more rapidly than the current pace. To achieve a best-case scenario, greenhouse gas emissions need to be halved by 2030, the report said. The first of such reports was published in 1990.

“The scientists of the world have been being ignored and it’s got to stop,” said Kalmus while chained to the bank’s doors. His voice broke and tears came to his eyes as he spoke about the harrowing future his young sons face if planet-heating emissions aren’t significantly curbed within the next eight years.

“We’re gonna lose everything,” he said.

The new United Nations report, compiled by more than 230 of the world’s top climate scientists, says the world is currently on track to hit 3° Celsius of global heating by the end of the century. Scientists says that much of a rise would be catastrophic — most of the world’s coastlines would be submerged by rising seas, deadly heat and fires would become far worse and food insecurity and migration would dramatically increase.

In the last century, the burning of fossil fuels has already caused the earth to heat up by more than 1°C.

What Rising Global Temperatures Will Mean For L.A.
  • Even if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, places like Long Beach and Huntington Beach will still experience significant coastal flooding, likely before the end of the century.

  • If global temperatures end up rising above 2.0 degrees C, we’ll see even bigger and hotter fires across the county, particularly in the San Gabriel Mountains.

  • Places like Lancaster and Santa Clarita could see average summer temperatures, already about 100 degrees F, rise by as much as six degrees.

  • Neighborhoods in central L.A., like Westlake and Crenshaw, will be prone to inland flooding as rainfall becomes even less common but more extreme when it does come.

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“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels,” said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres when the report was released on Monday.

That’s why Kalmus and his colleagues chained themselves to the downtown Chase bank and called for a rapid divestment from fossil fuels.

“We’re not joking, we’re not lying, we’re not exaggerating,” Kalmus said. “This is so bad that we’re willing to take this risk and more and more scientists and more and more people are gonna start joining us.”

After several hours of peaceful protest, the bank decided to close for the rest of the day. They also called the police — Los Angeles Police Department officers gave Kalmus and his three colleagues the opportunity to leave voluntarily instead of being arrested, but they declined.

LAPD taped off 7th Street outside the building and parked two fire trucks and dozens of squad cars to block the road. More than 50 officers with riot gear started gathering.

“I think climate activists, especially those that risk, are doing potentially the most important work in the history of mankind,” Kalmus said as he thanked fellow protestors and awaited arrest.

At about 5 p.m., the officers declared an unlawful assembly by microphone and lined up across 7th Street, holding batons and wearing helmets. Then they slowly marched forward, clearing the small group of protestors as well as media from the scene.

Everyone went without incident as a group of spectators gathered at the caution tape line on Figueroa. Then the officers surrounded the four men, cut their chains with bolt cutters, and led them one-by-one into a police vehicle.

They were arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. They were released from jail early Thursday morning.

We have requested comment from the LAPD on the police response but have yet to receive a response.

Climate Emergency Questions
Fires. Mudslides. Heat waves. What questions do you need answered as you prepare for the effects of the climate emergency?

Updated April 8, 2022 at 9:42 AM PDT
This story was updated to note our request to the Los Angeles Police Department for additional comment.