The dutch state has been sued in court by the Urgenda Foundation and supporters for putting its citizen in harm’s way by not adopting more agressive emissions targets. We are waiting for the verdict which (in the best possible world) will take the form of a minimum mandatory emissions trajectory. Greencheck also looked into the legal options regarding the climate threat around 2010. We first looked into suing the state but didn’t consider a human rights or international justice approach easy to execute. We also investigated another option, which is self defence (against extinction).
To that end we where able to talk to a lawyer at a established law firm located in The Hague, for free. The question we asked was : “Is there a way to justify direct action against pollutors based on defending yourself against the ultimate effects of that pollution.” The ultimate effects of the current pollution (be it with CO2 or otherwise) of our environment is that humanity goes extinct. This is a scientific certainty if we do not act more responsibly and a big risk by now even if we do.
Holland has self defence laws that allow you to destroy property and even kill if you do it in defence of your own life. If you are woken up by a burglar and he confronts you on the stairs and you kick him down it, causing serious injury, the judge will rule that you did this because you feared for your life, not because you had an intent to harm. This defence wouldn’t work normally because the pollutors, take for example internal combustion cars, are not a direct threat to our lives and safety (at least most of the time). We can simply avoid them.
Civil disobedience may be the best direct action for now
The discussion with the lawyer came to a case where a girl killed her father after years of abuse (these things get extreme, of course killing anything is not under discussion here). There wasn’t a real cause at the moment she acted, but she had been fed up with the accumulation of abuse. The judge accepted that she experienced a temporary madness in which she killed her father brought on by many small (or bigger) abuses over a longer timeperiod. She was not punsished for her behaviour.
Long periods of abuse can cause moments of madness
Analogous one could say (in principle) that any individual that has to confront polluting cars on a daily basis, or read about species going extinct, environmental damage and moves by companies and individuals to further destroy and pollute the world we live in, could build up a rage against this which could express itself in a brief episode of madness and rage, directed at for instance a car or property of the ones doing the polluting. The damage done in such a moment of madness could be dismissed by a judge, because we are allowed to defend ourselves to real threats.
A climate-mad individual would not know where to start
Of course it is not a clear cut defence, because causality and reasons to feel abused have to be made understandable. The person in question has to be sensitive to the pollution. Any such act can not somehow follow from understanding this self defence option, because that would not constitute an act of madness anymore. But if a person knows that his/her surroundings he/she are what supports their lives, and identifies pollutors as directly harming the integrity of this support, then that person could after fighting the urge to disrespect the property of the pollutor for a long time, fail to subdue him/her self one time, and go mad, damaging whatever embodyment of that pollutor presents itself during that fit of rage.
Inhibition can fail
This type of reasoning shows an interesting aspect of justice, namely that scientific causality is not really respected or seen as an adequate motivator per se. Consider that using scientific methods that are agreed upon by the majority of scientist, and a judge that also believes in these methods (and the subsequent reliability of causal chains considered highly likely as a result), it should be easy to justify damage to CO2 pollutors as they threaten our lives indirectly and sometimes even directly.
Dead oceans are certain if we don’t act, and dead oceans produce gasses that kill oxygen breathing organisms on land, plants and animals. This happened before.
For instance the acidification and deoxygenation of our oceans will bring about the production of toxic gasses in them that will most likely kill all large land mammals and plants. It has done so before and all the conditions for a repeat are met. So you know this and you find it unacceptable and you damage a car or something that is part of the cause. Court respects expert opinions, so such acts of self defence (or indeed protection of fellow citizens) should be considered just. Will it?
If an enemy has many seemingly harmless embodiments, can we say we fight that enemy if we disable the embodiments?
Many people today know about the prospects of humanity in the next decades and the effect activities around us every day influence those prospects. As the damage becomes more real in the form of floods and droughts more people will see that you can rely on scientific predictions. Even the dutch state believes that by 2100 hunderds of thousands more will die because of climate change in Holland. It seems there is ample reason for more people to go crazy and judges (at least in Holland) to accept that. Especially because there is are many ways for society to avoid this calamity, and all involve stopping the current pollutors.