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The Political Revenge of Gaia.

GEO 2442: The Politics of Climate Change and Energy.

Why can’t we just make climate change Illegal? The tragedy of the commons.

With climate change fronting itself as our generation’s enigma, a simple solution to say is ‘just make climate change illegal’. However, the process of ‘top-down’ measures set to combat climate change can be extensive, too time-consuming, and slowly implemented. Why is this the case? If laws for the COVID-19 pandemic can be passed and introduced sometimes on a weekly basis, why can’t climate laws have the same focal point?

Laws create consequences in the occurrence of their violation, but that doesn’t completely prevent them from being violated. Murder is illegal yet 600 homicides were recorded in England and Wales in 2020/2021. There are repercussions, but the act has still taken place. This analogy embodies the climate tragedy we’re facing, there are laws to adhere by and fines if not adhered to however pollution is still being generated and species are still becoming extinct as a result of anthropogenic activities.

Climate change laws around the world. Legislative laws are passed by parliaments, whereas executive laws or policies are enacted by governments.

Despite the number of laws remarkably increasing over the past few decades, a significant issue is that of the tragedy of the commons. This idea, made popular by American ecologist Garrett Hardin, illustrates that individuals act in their own interest on a shared resource. International law defines five traditional global commons: high seas, the deep-sea bed, the atmosphere, Antarctica and Outer Space: all of which aren’t owned by a single country nor person.

“The Polluter should bear the expenses of carrying out… the cost of these measures should be reflected in the cost of the goods and services which cause pollution in production and/or consumption.”

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Recommendation of the Council on the Implementation of the Polluter Pays Principle, C(74)223). (Bell and McGillivray, 2015, p56)

Because no individual owns the commons, it proves difficulties with pointing the finger of causation. A specific country cannot be blamed for the melting of the Arctic’s icecaps because you can’t pin point which emissions have come from which country. We can adopt principles such as the polluter pays principle but causation is difficult to prove in relation to environmental crime.

This means all are responsible for the repercussions of humanity’s activities. For there to be justice, the offender has to be known.


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