In the run-up to the climate summit in Egypt, hundreds of protesters occupied an area at Schiphol on Saturday. 25 of them were researchers from the action group Scientist Rebellion, including Radboud microbiologist Marjan Smeulders. ‘One of my group was immediately knocked to the ground by the police.’
It was not the first time that Marjan Smeulders (microbiology department) took part in a protest for the climate, but it was the most exciting. On Saturday, the researcher was one of the five hundred activists who protested at Schiphol. The goal: to ground private jets.
Managed. For hours, the protesters from Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion – for which Smeulders is a spokesperson – managed to occupy the parking lot. Images of cycling activists went around the world. Smeulders himself was eventually removed by the police at 4 p.m.
Why did you join?
‘I became active with Scientist Rebellion (the ‘scientific sister’ of Extinction Rebellion, ed.) because I believe that as a scientist I must take my responsibility to limit climate change. Therefore, we believe that Schiphol must also become smaller. And private flights must disappear completely: the super-rich have already exceeded their CO2 budget many times over. In addition, Schiphol has not yet got its environmental and nature permits under control. And finally, we think that there should finally be a tax on petroleum’.
How many scientists were there?
We participated in the Scientist Rebellion with about 25 scientists. Besides myself, there was another person from Radboud University. And it turned out that there were also three Nijmegen students, they participated from Extinction Rebellion. It’s nice to see that the club is getting bigger.’
‘I think that as a scientist I should take my responsibility’
What made the action so exciting?
‘I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. We didn’t learn we had to block private jets until we got to the gate. When it was cut open, everyone ran as fast as they could to one of the planes. Then I felt the adrenaline. You also feel vulnerable. One of my group was immediately knocked to the ground by the police.’
How far are you willing to go? The activists who clung to the Girl with a pearl earring will go to jail for one or two months.
“I will only participate in civil disobedience actions that do not destroy things. This also fits in with Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion’s code of conduct: protest peacefully. The instruction was clear: “stay away from the planes.” We sat quietly under a plane for hours.’
The gate was cut open.
‘Yes, I was a bit shocked by that. But it was done in such a way that the damage was as minimal as possible. It could therefore also be quickly repaired in the afternoon.’
Eventually the police caught you. Do you now have a note on your criminal record?
‘Most of the activists had no ID with them, including myself. This way you remain anonymous. The police took all these people by bus to Nieuw-Vennep station. We were allowed to go down there again. Other than that, this is an act that I believe is a violation, not a crime. You are in an area where you are not allowed to be’.
‘A fellow activist from another university often receives encouraging text messages from his boss’
What does your boss think about this?
‘I just got a new manager, I still need to talk to her about this. If she finds it problematic that I, as a scientist, participate in climate action, we should look at what is possible. But I think it’s important to be able to keep doing this. A fellow activist from another university often receives encouraging text messages from his boss.’
Can we expect more action from Scientist Rebellion soon?
“I can’t say anything concrete about that. But it will probably not be the last, as long as politics continues to lag behind what is needed for the climate.’
The management: ‘Researchers are allowed to campaign’
As a rule, the main board has nothing against activist researchers, if it is requested this, it informs in a reply. ‘Researchers are also committed citizens and can run campaigns like everyone else. It is the task of science to bring forth scientific knowledge, which can be done through numerous channels.’ However, Radboud researchers must not break the law, says the board. “The law applies to everyone.”
The college also emphasizes that the university is aware that the outside world may take an extra critical look at the research of activist scientists. ‘That’s fine, because science is always open to criticism.’