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Judicial Killings: The Environment on Death Row

Moses Seenarine
(Printed on OpEdNews, October 31, 2015)


The next time you look at nature, you are looking at a dead planet walking. Life on Earth has been given a death sentence by patriarchal capitalism, and juristic systems are skillfully deployed to carry out a global punishment known as the 6th mass extinction. The primary agents of destruction are law-makers, who serve as legal shock troops for the economic elite's usurpation of public lands, normalizing of extinction as development, and ongoing denial of climate reality.

Even after 30 consecutive years of above average temperatures, many politicians still openly question whether climate change is real or man-made. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term 20th Century average, so that is 360 consecutive months of direct evidence of climate change that is audaciously being refuted.

In October, 2015, US lawmakers issued subpoenas to NOAA demanding scientific correspondence concerning a climate study that showed a purported global warming slowdown never happened. Also, in October, 2015, Congress put intense pressure on White House to ignore a nutritional panel's recommendation to include sustainability in dietary guidelines.

Men's thousand-year war against nature is short-sighted, and more people are waking up to the reality of increasing environmental adversity, a calamity knowingly caused by the fossil fuellivestock, transportation and other industries. However, lawyers, judges and legal clerks represent a formidable intellectual army against common sense in environmental conservation. Like the statues of Easter Island, the justice system watches over massive marine, land and air pollution and ecosystem devastation, stoically placating the gods of capital.

Local communities who resist men's onslaught against nature face the collective powers of local, regional and national economic and political forces, in alignment with functionaries of the law. Male-dominated regional and national courts represent an impenetrable wall against legal challenges to indiscriminate destruction. Moreover, world trade agreements like GATT, WTO, NAFTA, TPP and others, can over-ride state environmental laws. And, with promises of a few, temporary jobs, even workers and their unions often align themselves with the short-sighted business elite against unprotected nature.

How did we get here? The history of legalized theft of the commons is a long one. Ancient Mesopotamian laws established land and animals as property, and ownership of public lands by the king. The Spanish Requirement of 1513 and similar laws, granted European rulers possession of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and the right to subjugate and kill the native inhabitants. Even the supposedly progressive American Constitution legalized land theft, genocide and enslavement.

In the 1980s, the US Congress and the White House both started to roll back decades of environmental regulations, and the courts followed suit. While protests and scientists have helped to stem the tide of deregulation, the policy continued during Republican and Democratic administrations unabated. Despite mounting evidence of global warming, US lawmakers have opened new areas for energy exploitation and provided millions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel, livestock and transportation industries. Even minor attempts at reform are routinely legally blocked.

For example, in September 2015, a US district court judge, blocked an Obama administration rule putting stricter standards on hydraulic fracturing on federal land. The rules would require public disclosure of chemicals used during fracking and better containment of waste fluids. There concerns about environmental and health effects like earthquakes and drinking water contamination. Federal land produces 11% of the natural gas and 5% of the oil consumed in the US, but the judge decided that the Interior Department did not have the legal authority to issue the rule.

In October 2015, Congress introduced resolutions to kill the Obama's Clean Power Plan, a critical component of US climate action that play a huge role in meeting its carbon reduction pledge. The Clean Power Plan (CCP), authorized under the Clean Air Act, will limit the amount of carbon pollution from power plants and reduce US emissions. Coal generates nearly 40 percent of the nation's power and is a big contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG).

States have broad flexibility to develop plans by 2030 that will reduce emissions while maintaining reliability, but lawmakers threatened to codify or strike CPP from the books. To stop the CPP, Congress may also delay, defund, or write an amendment to the Clean Air Act, responsible for reducing pollution from six common pollutants by nearly 70% since 1970. In addition, more than 20 states and other organizations are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the CPP.

Also in October 2015, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked an EPA regulation to put 3% more US waterways under federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act that protects drinking water for 33% of Americans. There are exemptions for industry, and farming activities are excluded, but it was still blocked. This 6th Circuit decision follows two Supreme Court rulings, in 2001 and 2006, that questioned whether and to what extent 60% of US waterways should fall under federal jurisdiction.

After a string of record hot years, 2015 is set to be the hottest year on record by far. Yet, the ruling elite and their jural functionaries remain steadfast in the face of mounting evidence. Each year, the oil, gas and coal industries contribute millions into election campaigns, and the condemnation of nature will continue as long as there is a capitalist, politician or judge left.

But death by the judiciary does not have to be the way it ends. The people were once in charge of the commons and can once again reclaim ownership. We can break the chains of greed that imprisons nature, and free life from death row. But first, we must reconnect with the land, air and waters, and realize just how fragile and essential they are.

We have to understand that over-consumption is a fatal mirage that destroys life, and we must begin to hold ourselves responsible for ecosystem pollution and destruction. Only after owning up to our own responsibility will we have the courage to demand that the powerful be held accountable. And each one of us have to take action. Waiting for elected officials or the legal system to act is not a solution to climate change!


Dr. Moses Seenarine is a plant-based father and activist, founder of Climate Change 911, and the author of Voices from the Subaltern (2004), Meat Climate Change (2016), and "Who's (h)eating earth?" (Forthcoming).