James Thomas

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Stretches in prison

About James Thomas

James gave the following statement on the day of his sentencing:

I accept that I breached the terms of the injunction. I am not qualified to speak to the validity or otherwise of the injunction I broke, as judged against the letter of the law, so I won’t waste our time trying to. But I don’t accept the morality of the injunction. It is not just, in the context of the crisis we are in.

Our government would rather imprison pensioners than insulate their homes.

So I stand by my actions. They were proportional and absolutely necessary.

Fire alarms are not gentle. The pain signal in your body is not comfortable. People do not enjoy being woken up.

I studied hard at school. I got straight As. I went to university to study architecture, where the culture is to work 20-hour-days on student projects, sleeping in the studio. I worked for 20 years as an architect where the culture is the same - and overtime pay does not exist.

When I was a kid, one day in class they sat us down in front of a Horizon documentary. It must have been 1984 or ‘85, so I was 10. The documentary was about something called the “greenhouse effect”. I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. Even at that age the magnitude of the problem was apparent to me… it was apparent also, that one way or another, everything would have to change.

I carried around that lightning-struck feeling for the next 30 years… as the news got worse and worse. But I was a fix-it-from-within guy. I was a strong-institutions guy. I was a progressive capitalist; I read The Economist from cover to cover every week. So when I finally snapped, it wasn’t to grow dreadlocks and climb a tree, it was to go back to university aged 40 and do an undergraduate degree in Economics and then a masters in Environmental Economics and Climate Change at the LSE - just across the road there - while working full-time.

Any architect… and any economist… will tell you that if a government was serious about tackling climate change, retrofitting its homes is the first step it would take. If you rank all actions that could be taken to mitigate climate change, from the cheapest to the most expensive, retrofitting homes is the very first. So much cheaper is it than all the others, that its cost is negative.

My masters dissertation was on the economics of home retrofits. I studied the Cameron government’s failed Green New Deal policy, which was a student-loan-style scheme to encourage people to retrofit their homes, which you probably haven’t heard of because the uptake of the scheme was so low that it was quietly withdrawn. My dissertation involved original quantitative research, which only proved what should have been obvious to policymakers: in spite of long-term benefits, and even with assistance programmes, people aren’t going to retrofit their homes off their own bats in significant numbers.

That is why we are asking for a fully-funded, state-operated national retrofit service a bit like the NHS. When the NHS was first mooted, in the 1940s, it was considered pie in the sky. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s pie in the sky now. A friendly person in a smart uniform, with a clipboard, and a hard hat knocks on your door and says “Hi, we’re here to retrofit your house for free”.

Some of those who have spoken have said they are not afraid, and I admire that. I am afraid. I’m afraid you’ll take away my home. I’m afraid that you’ll take me away from my friends, family, and partner. Most of all, I’m afraid my relationship with her will not survive a long prison sentence. So if you sentence me to prison, I hope you don’t send me away for long.

But I’m more afraid of inaction on the wave of climate and ecological catastrophe that is bearing down on all of us very fast now. And has already begun to crash on some of us. So I stand by the actions that brought me before this court. And if that means prison, so be it.

I’m afraid that the judiciary will not look up from the letter of the law to see the bigger picture. The UK judiciary has always been proud of its independence from the government of the day and its ability to take a long view, a non-political view … and I have always been proud of our judiciary for that very reason. Your honours, you have an opportunity to look up from the letter of the law and take a non-political long-term view now. Please do so.

Will the government, the judiciary, and all the pillars of our democracy make the commitment to Insulate Britain?