The Law is a Tool?

Guest Post by: Sharon Michelle, MSc Psychology

I believe in fairness and generally respect the law as I’ve always believed it is there to protect us from harm especially for the most vulnerable among us. In most countries the Law brings justice to offenders who have hurt others. It’s never a perfect system but it’s always being improved for the greater good. Recently my faith in the Justice system is a little shaken as a result of the laws in the UK being tightened to fight against Climate change protesters, when instead we desperately need it’s assistance to enforce widespread change that’s needed to deal with the threat of climate change that the whole planet is at risk of harm of.  

My faith has been severely tested and I feel extremely unsettled by the recent U.S Supreme rulings (against improving gun laws, the shocking abortion turnaround, and environmental agency ruling). I am filled with disbelief that a Supreme court has disregarded women’s rights and is now forcing them into unwanted pregnancies and births with little regard for the impact on either the Mother or child, their futures, or for the ever increasing billions of people already on a planet that is struggling to cope with them.    

The Supreme Court’s decision causing its’ Environmental Protection Agency to lose some of its power in the fight against climate change feels like they are making it harder for action to be taken when more urgency is needed. I am not a US citizen but my heart is heavy because I need to see more of people working together on this issue. These Court results feel like a loss in doing the best for the greater good and a massive setback in taking a collective stand to truly care about people and Nature.    

The only way for me to get my head around and to cope with dealing with climate change is to switch off temporarily when I feel overwhelmed. The Environmental agency ruling tipped me over the edge so I didn’t read any news stories for a while and ranted to anyone who would listen. When ready the only way I can deal with the complicated issues around climate change is to break it down into chunks, pause, then deal with a piece at a time. I need to re-charge then look for what is happening in the bigger picture so I can re-frame how I am feeling in a more positive light.  

Where I am at now is seeing that it’s not just in the U.S. that the law is inadequate to protect the Environment, and ultimately ourselves, it is inadequate all over. But that’s changing…

Although this year there seems to be a growing acceptance of climate change, the lack of urgency needs to be addressed – more urgently! Changing this point of view is very difficult because there are many realities that need to be faced.  

Like us having failed to take care of Nature which has caused me and others so much pain and worry. Every living thing on Earth has a right to be here and live a healthy life without suffering. But until now Nature’s rights have largely been unrecognised and dismissed in order that we feel better about ourselves continuing to exploit so much without consequence. However our time is up and we now need to face those consequences. And we need to actively deal with those who stubbornly continue to refuse do so. 

I recently read about an inspiring group of young people who have taken a case to the European Court of Human Rights declaring that 35 Countries are acting against their Human rights by not taking enough action to combat climate change ( EU HR case ). The story makes the point the way the EU HR Court is rushing this through as a priority case shows how seriously they are considering the issue when we only have a limited time to effectively address the causes of climate change.

I found many more cases being in the courts taking on major climate change offenders.   Action is being taken against the South African Government over them planning to use new coal power stations despite the desperate need to reduce the use of fossil fuels. And the Australian Government have been taken to court for their inaction on Climate change  (climate change litigation update).  

Another article I found ( Climate change litigation Harvard ) describes how court action is being used more and more to hold Countries, Governments, and Businesses to account for Climate change issues such as for “greenwashing”. For example a successful case against Royal Dutch Shell meant they were ordered to reduce their emissions. Cases like this mean businesses are being forced to consider climate change or fear they could be taken to court for not taking enough action, or,  for not being honest enough about their policies.  More good news for the future of the planet.  

Climate change litigation cases are increasing each year and having an increasing positive impact on bringing about changes in Society  (Trends climate change litigation ).

There is also a movement to make “ecocide” a criminal offence ( see Stop Ecocide ) by “Stop Ecocide International”. This really made an impact on how I feel about the future being brighter. This brilliant organisation want the proposal of ecocide written into law to be accepted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has 123 International member States. A panel of 12 independent legal experts produced an accepted definition of ecocide to mean “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.   

There are currently 4 other serious crimes listed by the ICC and Rome Statute of International Criminal Court which are Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression. Hopefully there will be a draft proposal for Ecocide will make it 5 and will be accepted by the ICC in December 2022. If enough members vote in favour (66.66% in favour are needed) within a year it will be enforceable by law in the member states who chose to enforce it. 

Even though not all powerful and rich Countries are members, like the USA, China and Russia it would still have a major impact as these countries Governments and Industries could be prosecuted if they were causing serious harm in a Country where ecocide was a crime. That’s a big win.

Helping to lay the foundation for the possible acceptance of “Ecocide” is an organisation called “AllRise” who in October 2021, have taken Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro to the ICC for “crimes against humanity” on behalf of the Indigenous people of the Amazon. This is due to Brazilian Government’s policies and alarming continuous exploitation of the Rainforests and violence against environmentalists defending this extremely important ecosystem. AllRise are arguing that this conscious destruction goes against the rights of all Humanity due to the result it is having on the planet with climate change (Brazil climate crime filed ).

There are calls for other similar strategies. The behaviour of the richest countries is mainly responsible for climate change but the poorer countries are being the worst affected.  Oxfam want the debt of poorer countries to be wiped clean. Many poor countries have taken out high interest loans in order to deal with the consequences of climate change such as for flooding or excess emissions, yet an Oxfam spokesperson says, “these are the countries that have done least to cause the climate crisis.”  (The Guardian – climate finance driving poor countries into debt ). Could this be another solution? And also to encourage and support these countries to sue the rich countries for redress for causing the most harm to the planet? What an impact this would have on making the situation more fair.

The rich who oppose court action will fight tooth and nail against this strategy to protect their own best interests. And there will be much criticism of how it is implemented, but there always is nowadays.  

Nature is vulnerable and can’t speak for itself. The poor are often left in a powerless positions of circumstance. I feel aggrieved for all of the stress and worry caused by the many who’ve refused accept responsibility for the destruction of so much of what’s most important and valuable.  

But actions are being taken using the law as another tool at our disposal to protect our planet and bring justice to those who are harming it.  And for those who continue to offend it looks like the fight against climate change is more and more likely to come to them and will start to become more and more costly for them.   

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