NASA’s James Hansen is a hero. He has put his liberty and his reputation on the line to stop big coal. He got himself arrested on June 23, in a protest against mountaintop-removal mining. There were some other well-known people there, but Hansen is perhaps the best known and most widely respected climate scientist in the world – and if this case goes to court then the bigger argument will immediately become, is coal a clear and present danger to America and to you. This case could be the environmental Roe vs. Wade.
Hansen thinks the danger from climate change is so urgent that he was willing to risk his career, his liberty, and his reputation to make a point. A point demonstrated 150 years ago by another great American patriot, Thoreau who literally wrote the book on civil disobedience, or by Martin Luther King Junior, who wrote his brilliant and uplifiting speech “I have a dream” while imprisoned for doing what was right.
This may have been not only heroic and patriotic, it also might win. Hansen and company have various defences, but surely many of them boil down, at their root, to the right of self-defence: Everyone has the right to defend him or herself from life-threatening attack.
The court would then be obliged to permit the arrested people, including the lead climate scientist in the world, to attempt to show how the coal mining presented this threat- which of course, is due to climate change. We would now have, in a public court of law, essentially Big Coal and Real Climate going head-to-head over the reality and threat posed by climate change.
There is no honest way Big Coal can win. Hansen and team can call virtually any prominent scientist in the field, including countless Nobel winners, members of National Science Academies – even John Holdren, renowned climate scientist in his own right and now President Obama’s science advisor. Big Coal has nothing and nobody compared to that, and they must know this. No sane court will accept the word of the bloggers and ‘think tanks’ over scientists. Even if they did, the public certainly won’t when all the evidence is laid out, including the credibility, or more commonly the general lack thereof, of the deniers.
All the science will have to be laid out in layman’s terms, so the judge can understand. When an English judge recently considered the scientific legitimacy of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, he concluded that the film was substantially accurate. The evidence has become still more solid since the time of that film, with climate change itself become more-and-more obvious and happening faster, like the likely possibility of the Arctic being ice free in the summers much sooner than expected, not a century as recently thought. The only conclusion is that Hansen and the scientists are the only reliable source of information, and they are right, there is a severe and urgent threat, akin to an imminent invasion.
Big Coal can try and claim some sort of global scientific conspiracy, but the evidence again clearly shows there isn’t. Every denier point they bring up in court will be publicly and legally discredited. They must know this, and will also be aware of the recent case in England, where coal protesters claimed much the same thing – and won.
I can’t see Big Coal really wanting this day in court. If they were smart, they would man-up and admit it, ask the government to mandate no more coal – and for money to create jobs building wind turbines for displaced workers as coal ramps down.
Not only that, but it places severe pressure on all governments to “Do something!” A precedent has been set, and they can now be sued for not protecting the people; certain companies can be sued for actively harming the people. But much more than a civil suit for mere money, these politicians and companies can be charged as criminals, the former for dereliction of duty and corruption, the latter for such gross pollution that they are endangering our lives and our children’s lives.
One could even argue that our glorious leaders are betraying the country, that they are traitors. If climate change is shown to be an imminent threat on the scale of an invasion – and unfortunately it is at least that bad – then our leaders are derelict in their duties at best, treasonous at worst for not acting appropriately to protect the country. This last has particularly deep implications, because you can’t very well claim at that point that the economy is more important than the fact that your country is about to be destroyed unless you take action.
No, in that case the emphasis changes to doing whatever is needed to fight off the threat, and if the economy has to change, c’est la guerre.
There’s a potentially darker side to this, too; once coal companies and other contributors to climate change – the paid deniers – have been legally declared a clear and present danger to the people of the United States of America, they’re fair game. Unless the government moves quickly and decisively to neuter these dangers, well, the well-armed U.S. citizens are permitted to defend themselves.
However, the biggest obstacle to fighting the climate crisis today is the United States government, which is in influenced by corporations that want things to stay exactly the same. Corporations are soulless entities whose goal is the pursuit of money; that is what they do, and climate change is neither here-nor-there to them. If they can make a buck from renewable energy, they will. If they can make billions from lying and denying, they’ll do that, too.
But this court case could change all that, because every greenhouse-gas-emitting corporation becomes a literal enemy of the people overnight, and the people are permitted to defend themselves. The paid deniers and the executives who authorised them could be found criminally liable; that might be the safest outcome for them as more and more Americans do become aware of the way these greedy fools sold out everyone.
Dr. James Hansen and the other folks with him are patriots and heroes, like Thoreau or Martin Luther King Jr. They have taken brave action to confront the people who are selling out the American people, who are literally destroying America and her children – and the rest of the planet – for a few more years of profit. The reason Hansen is willing to be arrested now is that the best science we have says that we have only a few more years to stop polluting or the damage will be severe. Our future will be bleak. True patriots, real leaders, cannot stand by and let this happen, nor can they obey laws that will destroy their country and themselves.
I salute the Hansen group, and look forward to their day in court.
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