I do something that I know or ought to know is probably injurious to others. You are consequently injured by my act. You're entitled to compensation, to be made whole. I'm obliged to pay. It then comes down to an assessment of damages.
I do something that I know or ought to know is probably injurious to others. You are one of those others. You are entitled to an order that I stop doing what is injuring you. It's called an injunction. It restrains me from doing what is foreseeably injurious to you. I don't get to empty my manure spreader into your backyard pool even if I am willing to write cheques.
Those, very loosely stated, are the principles on which major emitters of greenhouse gases may face court action. They don't own the atmosphere. It's a shared resource. Yet they contaminate it for everyone and it just happens that the contamination they create wreaks proper havoc - everything from dislocation to death on a massive scale - in other places, to other peoples.
Isn't it curious that if an industry discharges toxic waste, the really bad stuff, into one of our own rivers, we won't have it - we sue them. They're required to clean up their mess, compensate those they've harmed and we often slap them with a fine for good measure - at least in theory.
When it comes to distant lands, we've been trying to avoid seeing their claims wind up in some international tribunal by agreeing to fund compensation schemes. However, like all schemes, they've been long on promises and very, very short on funding which was never set to be all that generous to begin with. We just don't want to pay. Those people who are dying, either from climate change impacts (heatwaves, drought, floods) or from trying to escape them, simply don't understand that we're in austerity mode. We're in no mood to give out money. What's their problem, why can't they get it? Sheesh.
An article in The Globe and Mail discusses how the Canadian government and major Canadian corporations (can you say "Big Fossil"?) may soon find themselves dragged before our courts only this time the plaintiffs will matter. They'll be us.
Canada could one day face a lawsuit such as the one that saw a court in The Hague order the Netherlands government to slash greenhouse gases, the lawyer who spearheaded the groundbreaking legal action says.
In that decision, the court ordered the Netherlands to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020, citing the government’s international obligations and its “duty of care” to protect its citizens from the harm that would come with failing to stop climate change. The Dutch government is appealing.
Imagine that, a government having a duty of care to stop harming its own citizens. What a radical concept! That sounds like the handiwork of anarchists, doesn't it?
As for Big Fossil, they could find themselves in Big Tobacco's shoes which, on reflection, would probably do more than anything else to transition the developed nations to clean, alternative energy. For years their stock prices have been buoyed by a lie - that the trillions of dollars of proven fossil fuel reserves they have logged on their books are real, that is to say they will be extracted, they will be sold and they will be burned. They say this even though we know that what they're depicting for the future would be the end of civilization and most life on Earth.
So, yeah, let's sue the bastards - the federal and provincial governments and their Big Fossil allies. The sooner, the better.