Authors Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr Peter Carter see climate change in terms of a planetary emergency needing global mobilization.
WHILE MANY OF US were cooling our feet at the beach this summer, much of the world was burning. Sometimes literally. Heat records were broken around the world, wildfires grew so big they created their own weather systems, and drought areas were visible from space.
So how far would you go to protect your child’s or grandchild’s life and future? How far should we all go to protect the lives of children we’ve never met or who won’t be born for generations, who share not our blood but our right to life on a healthy planet?
For world-renowned climate scientist and activist Dr James E. Hansen, it’s all the way to federal court. Hansen has been warning the world about climate change since the 1980s and is now one of the co-plaintiffs in the landmark Juliana v. United States lawsuit, alongside his granddaughter and 20 other young people. They’re suing the US government for knowingly promoting a climate- and future-damaging fossil fuel industry, thereby violating constitutional and public trust rights.
Hansen has also thrown his support behind a new book by two local researchers inspired in part by the groundbreaking legal case.
In Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival (Clarity Press), in which Hansen writes the foreword, Victoria-based writer Elizabeth Woodworth and Pender Island’s Dr Peter Carter refocus the way we look at climate change. As concerned citizens, we might follow news of international conferences producing mostly unimplemented promises, and we might even take our own eager steps in response to calls for individual action and technical innovation. But for these two longtime climate activists, the alarm still needs to sound louder, wider.
Seeing climate change in terms of a planetary emergency needing global mobilization, they also look at the various kinds of government and industry action and inaction in terms of prosecutable crime: state-corporate crime, bank crime, even crimes against humanity. “Climate change,” they write, “is a crisis of systems—ecosystems and social systems.”
Woodworth and Carter have each been working to raise awareness about climate change danger for years. A writer, researcher and former BC Ministry of Health librarian, Woodworth co-authored Unprecedented Climate Mobilization: A Handbook for Citizens and their Governments and was one of the producers of the Paris COP21 video A Climate Revolution for All. Carter, a retired medical doctor, has been following the NASA and NOAA climate stats for decades, which he publishes on the website stateofourclimate.com. Founder of the Climate Emergency Institute, he served as an expert reviewer for the IPCC’s 2014 climate assessment, and he has presented nationally and internationally on topics including environmental health policy, air pollution, sustainable development, and food security. He’s also one of the founders of CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment) and, back in the days of the nuclear scare, was part of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Yet he wants to do more.
On a sunny day at Clover Point, Woodworth tells me about finally meeting and starting to work with Carter, whose work she has long admired. “At one point I said to him: ‘Peter, when you stopped being a medical doctor, it’s almost as if you expanded your doctoring to include the world.’ He said that was about right. He sees the whole world as a kind of patient that needs solutions.”
It turns out Woodworth also worked in the anti-nuke arena, writing the book What Can I Do? Citizen Strategies for Nuclear Disarmament in the late 1980s. That shared background speaks to what’s at the heart of this new collaborative volume: their mutual deep concern for the health of humanity and our planet and a belief that it’s still possible to make the changes we need to protect the future for those too young (or not yet alive) to take a stand for themselves.
What these two also share, and another part of what drives the book, is a certain amount of anger. “I would never have imagined, in my wildest nightmares, that we wouldn’t have solved this many, many years ago,” Carter tells me by phone. Because we’ve known. Governments have seen the science, as signatories to the IPCC’s summary reports, since 1990, and yet they “allow the global climate catastrophe to unfold…But worst of all they have failed to protect their citizens—now and for future generations. This,” they write, “is the crime of all time.”
The book’s first half, “Crimes Against Life and Humanity,” details just some of last year’s extreme weather—a catalogue of floods, fires, hurricanes, heatwaves, and the lives displaced or lost. “The images of what climate change looks like no longer belong to the future.”
They then look back to the beginnings of global climate warnings, including the way those warnings have been ignored or manipulated. Most eye-opening, though, is their analysis of the various international regulations and legal mechanisms under which GHGs should be controlled and polluters punished. Chapters on corporate media and the role of independent sources, the history and importance of the public trust doctrine, and patterns of information denial, suppression and deliberate misinformation mirror what the world went through in the fight against deep-pocketed Big Tobacco.
If Woodworth and Carter share anger, they also share hope. “It’s exciting, actually,” Carter explains. “People say it’s negative and depressing, but the work is the most positive work” for it allows him to focus on ways to spur the kinds of big cultural shifts that are painstaking but possible.
So while the book’s first half is a chronicle of dangers and criminality, the second half is solution-oriented, running the gamut from energy subsidies and tax reform to environmental law and current court challenges, civil disobedience, the power of investors, and some of the technical innovations already underway. We’re pointed to companies and organizations around the world—in Ireland, Morocco, Spain, Australia, Germany, Italy, India, Uruguay, Iceland and more—and I spent many subsequent hours exploring online, discovering surprising initiatives, whether it’s options for renewable energy powerful enough to meet the needs of heavy industry (a big missing piece right now), single companies turning waste methane into bioplastic, NASA’s development of electrical propulsion for aircraft, or larger social plans like the Solutions Project, proposing how we can transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
It’s easy to be cynical about government commitment to addressing climate change when they invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a new pipeline without consultation or, down south, put a climate change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. But in Unprecedented Crime, Woodworth and Carter remind us that action is happening and that new avenues of legal pressure can be pursued—another arena that’s heating up for the better. Indeed, after months of failed government attempts to delay and dismiss, Juliana v. United States has finally been rescheduled for trial on October 29. It’s being billed as the “trial of the century,” and I know I’ll be watching.
Writer and editor Amy Reiswig continues to ride her bike and her clunky 10-year-old electric scooter but knows it’s not enough.