Dec 2007

Climate Change: A thought-experiment

First up, a cautionary note; this blog post may end up somewhere a wee bit extreme. I’d like to stress that it’s a thought-experiment and I’m certainly not proposing policy here. Thankfully my readership is small and consists almost entirely of members of the choir, so there’s little chance of misinterpretation and/or accusations of apologism for terrorism.

Secondly, let’s state an assumption. If you don’t share this assumption, then the question raised by this thought-experiment isn’t really aimed at you (though you may wish to pay attention to how others respond — not here but in general — over the next few years).

The assumption: Climate Change is a reality. The emission of large quantities of ‘greenhouse gasses’ (primarily, though not exclusively CO2) by human civilisation is resulting in a warming of the atmosphere. This warming is having a whole bunch of both predictable (melting polar ice) and unpredictable (shifting weather patterns) effects. But given just the predictable effects of atmospheric warming, we have good reason to expect significant death and destruction as a direct result.

[Note: for brevity, when capitalised, “Climate Change” specifically refers to ‘anthropogenic climate change’]

Anyway that’s the assumption. If you don’t share it, then could I ask you to perhaps hold off with your objections for a while? I’m writing a piece specifically on the subject of Climate Change Denial and I don’t want to get into it here. For this piece, we’re running with the assumption.

We’re Looking Out For The Whales

Merrick recently drew my attention to news that a Norwegian whaling vessel had been sunk by anti-whaling activists. I firmly believe that most of my readers will whisper a quiet “nice one!” when reading that story. The activists scuttled the ship while nobody was aboard, and did it in such a way that it took four hours to sink, so even if someone had been, the chances of them being in any real danger was negligible. It’s a perfect piece of non-violent direct action and I believe most people who oppose whaling would consider it quite legitimate. If I’m wrong about that then I guess it makes my views more extreme than I imagined, and it also makes the rest of this blog post entirely irrelevant. Sorry about that.

It goes without saying that I’m using a specific definition of “non-violent” action here. Clearly there’s a definition of the word “violent” that includes property damage. But I’m appealing to that a long-established principle within political activism that presumes ‘the tools of tyranny’ to be fair game. And yes, there are those who argue that “the police force” or “the army” or “management” are actually ‘tools of tyranny’, but as I understand it and use it here, non-violent political action includes a clear prohibition on interpersonal violence; “no action aimed at (or that has a significant likelihood of) causing physical harm to people”.

So yeah, assuming I’m not wrong, and most people see the anti-whaling action as legitimate, it raises an awkward question for me. Give it some thought, always bearing in mind the following three items:

  1. the unprecedented death and destruction that will result should we be insufficiently aggressive in tackling the threat of Climate Change;
  2. the outcome of the Ploughshares Legal Case, where peace activists wrecked a military aircraft built by BAe for the Indonesian airforce, but were acquitted in a British court when they successfully argued they were “preventing a greater crime”;
  3. the anti-whaling action mentioned above, where property destruction was achieved without endangering people, and which I contest most readers will feel is legitimate (on whatever “gut level” personal morality works).

The question is actually pretty obvious isn’t it? Context is everything, and by placing next to one another those three mildly controversial points, I pose a highly controversial dilemma. Specifically: are civil airliners, when grounded for maintenance (read, and take seriously, my previous point regarding non-violent direct action), entirely legitimate targets for acts of sabotage? And I’m talking here about legally legitimate as well as ethically. Combine items 1 and 2, above.

The Irish government, for instance, claims to accept the findings of the IPCC. However, the policies being implemented by our new greener government don’t even begin to reflect this. The same can be said of almost every government.

So if I can demonstrate (by the government’s own words) that Climate Change is a massive threat. If I can prove beyond question that current policies do not address the threat. Then if I show up at an aircraft maintenance facility and damage a 737 beyond repair, have I not done something both ethically and legally acceptable? Better yet, what if I and 5000 of my friends show up and wreck the entire facility? How can the destruction of commercial aircraft not be seen as direct action against Climate Change… as an attempt to prevent a greater crime?

Now, my suspicion is that while almost all of you were with me on the whaling ship thing, that I may have lost a few with the mass assault on the assets of the airline industry. It seems strangely less reasonable when it’s something familiar to us, something part of our lives, even though it may objectively be doing more damage. So it’s with some trepidation that I propose my real question…

Why stop with the planes… what about parked cars?

Posted in: Opinion