The Courier wrote:Climate crimes must be brought to justice
Climate denial has increased the risk of catastrophic global change. Should international criminal law be used against those who promote this dangerous trend? Economic and political leaders can no longer pretend it is business as usual. Whether they actively induce environmental harm or just ignore the existential threat against the survival of the human species, states and corporations must be held accountable for their actions or inaction regarding climate change.
have proposed that international criminal law should be expanded to include a new criminal offence that I call postericide(link is external). It is committed by intentional or reckless conduct fit to bring about the extinction of humanity. Postericide is committed when humanity is put at risk of extinction by conduct performed either with the intention of making humanity go extinct, or with the knowledge that the conduct is fit to have this effect. When a person knows that their conduct will impose an impermissible risk on another and acts anyway, they are reckless. It is in the domain of reckless conduct, making climate change worse, that we should look for postericidal conduct.
No one person’s emissions are fit to bring about human extinction as a result of climate impacts – the many private jets and oil wells they own can do so, however. But individual people in their roles as political and corporate leaders can exert extensive control over how much worse climate change becomes as a result of their executive action. A country’s president can withdraw an entire state from a global agreement on mitigation; a Chief Executive Officer can authorize the withholding of information about the progress and impacts of climate change because it threatens the corporation’s bottom line.
Individuals often have control over conduct they do not perform themselves – for example, by giving direct orders to subordinates, or by virtue of the special relationship in which they stand to others whose conduct causes harm. This means that we can assign vicarious liability to individuals of power, authority and influence within groups that, as collectives, worsen climate change in ways fit to make humanity go extinct. Just as international criminal law holds military leaders to account for genocide committed by their troops, it should hold political and economic leaders to account for postericide committed under their authority. These leaders should go to trial at the ICC and be held to account at the bar of the human community’s fundamental shared values.
Who should be prosecuted for postericide? We could start by examining the established international network of well-funded organizations devoted to organized climate denial(link is external) (For more on this subject, read "Text-mining the signals of climate change doubt", in the journal Global Environmental Change, Volume 36, January 2016). The epicentre of this activity is in the United States. A set of Conservative think-tanks has deliberately deceived the public and policymakers about the realities of climate change. Their ideologically-driven climate denial has been heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry; which include, for example, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. This climate denial has had a significant impact on public opinion and has impeded legislation to tackle climate change.
Vicarious criminal liability
Should Rex Tillerson [the former CEO of ExxonMobil, who also served as US Secretary of State from February 2017 to March 2018] Charles Koch and David Koch [the owners of Koch Industries] be tried for the crime of postericide at the ICC? Their vicarious criminal liability would be generated by their authorization of multiple acts of climate denial by others, without which early aggressive political action on climate change would have been more likely.
Climate denial has seriously impeded aggressive mitigation efforts that could have averted our present climate emergency. It has magnified the risk that humanity locks in to catastrophic global climate change. The people in positions of authority in states, or industrial groups whose lies have put us and our descendants in peril, should be held accountable. The damage that climate deniers do is heinous, and they have no excuses. The time has come to prosecute them for postericide.
Professor of Political Theory at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, Catriona McKinnon has published numerous articles and books on climate justice, and on toleration and liberal political ideals. She is currently completing a monograph defending postericide (Endangering Humanity: An International Crime), writing an introductory book on climate justice, and researching the ethical questions raised by geoengineering.
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