“Like it or not, we are living in the twilight period of democracy itself” – Tariq Ali on the New World Disorder

“If what we’re being told is that change isn’t possible, that the only conceivable system is the present one, we’re going to be in trouble. Ultimately, it won’t be accepted.”

No 1313 Posted by fw, April 18, 2015

Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

“So where should we look for a solution? One of the more creative thinkers today is the German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, who makes it clear that an alternative structure for the European Union is desperately needed and that it will necessitate more democracy at every stage – at a provincial and city level as well as a national and European level. There needs to be a concerted effort to find an alternative to the neoliberal system. We have seen the beginnings of such an attempt in Greece and in Spain, and it could spread.”Tariq Ali

Speaking of Streeck, in 2014 he wrote an article in the New Left Review where he postulates the question of how capitalism might come to an end, discussing several factors that make this likely to happen. Streeck posits that because contemporary capitalism is beset by five disorders — declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of the public sphere, corruption and international anarchy — for which at present no political agency exists to confront them, it will continue to regress and atrophy until at some point it might end. (Source: Wikipedia)

In his survey of the New World Disorder, Ali visits Russia, the American Empire, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Egypt, Europe, Germany, Greece, China, and more. He even draws on third century Sparta for inspiration.

Click on the following linked title to read Ali’s original essay. Alternatively, below is a cross-posted, abridged version with added subheadings in bold italics, inserted as hanging indents, and some text highlighting, which help to bring to the fore the main ideas in this long essay.

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The New World Disorder by Tariq Ali, Information Clearing House, April 17, 2015

With the end of the Cold War many held out hope for a “peace dividend” promised by Bush and Thatcher

Three decades ago, with the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the South American dictatorships, many hoped that the much talked about ‘peace dividend’ promised by Bush senior and Thatcher would actually materialize.

No such luck. Like it or not, we are living in the twilight period of democracy itself

No such luck. Instead, we have experienced continuous wars, upheavals, intolerance and fundamentalisms of every sort – religious, ethnic and imperial. The exposure of the Western world’s surveillance networks has heightened the feeling that democratic institutions aren’t functioning as they should, that, like it or not, we are living in the twilight period of democracy itself.

The twilight began with the implosion of the Soviet Union

The twilight began in the early 1990s with the implosion of the former Soviet Union and the takeover of Russia, Central Asia and much of Eastern Europe by visionless former Communist Party bureaucrats, many of whom rapidly became billionaires. The oligarchs who bought up some of the most expensive property in the world, including in London, may once have been members of the Communist Party, but they were also opportunists with no commitment to anything other than power and lining their own pockets.

Elsewhere, the rise of a global empire of unprecedented power – the United States

The vacuum created by the collapse of the party system has been filled by different things in different parts of the world, among them religion – and not just Islam. The statistics on the growth of religion in the Western world are dramatic – just look at France. And we have also seen the rise of a global empire of unprecedented power. The United States is now unchallengeable militarily and it dominates global politics, even the politics of the countries it treats as its enemies.

What has not changed much in 150 years in the US is the political structure

If you compare the recent demonization of Putin to the way Yeltsin was treated at a time when he was committing many more shocking atrocities – destroying the entire city of Grozny, for example – you see that what is at stake is not principle, but the interests of the world’s predominant power. There hasn’t been such an empire before, and it’s unlikely that there will be one again. The United States is the site of the most remarkable economic development of recent times, the emergence on the West Coast of the IT revolution. Yet despite these advances in capitalist technology, the political structure of the United States has barely changed for a hundred and fifty years. It may be militarily, economically and even culturally in command – its soft power dominates the world – but there is as yet no sign of political change from within. Can this contradiction last?

The debate over the coming decline of the American empire is “wishful thinking”

There is ongoing debate around the world on the question of whether the American empire is in decline. And there is a vast literature of declinism, all arguing that this decline has begun and is irreversible. I see this as wishful thinking. The American empire has had setbacks – which empire doesn’t? It had setbacks in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s: many thought the defeat it suffered in Vietnam in 1975 was definitive. It wasn’t, and the United States hasn’t suffered another setback on that scale since.

The American empire – soft power everywhere, dominant hard power, ideological power in Europe and beyond

But unless we know and understand how this empire functions globally, it’s very difficult to propose any set of strategies to combat or contain it – or, as the realist theorists like the late Chalmers Johnson and John Mearsheimer demand, to make the United States dismantle its bases, get out of the rest of the world, and operate at a global level only if it is actually threatened as a country. Many realists in the United States argue that such a withdrawal is necessary, but they are arguing from a position of weakness in the sense that setbacks which they regard as irreversible aren’t. There are very few reversals from which imperial states can’t recover. Some of the declinist arguments are simplistic – that, for example, all empires have eventually collapsed. This is of course true, but there are contingent reasons for those collapses, and at the present moment the United States remains unassailable: it exerts its soft power all over the world, including in the heartlands of its economic rivals; its hard power is still dominant, enabling it to occupy countries it sees as its enemies; and its ideological power is still overwhelming in Europe and beyond.

Setbacks to US hegemony in South America, Greece, and Spain do not challenge the capitalist system

The US has, however, suffered setbacks on a semi-continental scale in South America. And these setbacks have been political and ideological rather than economic. The chain of electoral victories for left political parties in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia showed that there was a possible alternative within capitalism. None of these governments, though, is challenging the capitalist system, and this is equally true of the radical parties that have recently emerged in Europe. Neither Syriza in Greece nor Podemos in Spain is mounting a systemic challenge; the reforms being proposed are better compared to the policies pushed through by Attlee in Britain after 1945. Like the leftist parties in South America, they have essentially social democratic programmes, combined with mass mobilization.

Those in power manipulate a political structure that tolerates no challenge to its neoliberal economic system

But social democratic reforms have become intolerable for the neoliberal economic system imposed by global capital. If you argue, as those in power do (if not explicitly, implicitly), that it’s necessary to have a political structure in which no challenge to the system is permitted, then we’re living in dangerous times. Elevating terrorism into a threat that is held to be the equivalent of the communist threat of old is bizarre. The use of the very word ‘terrorism’, the bills pushed through Parliament and Congress to stop people speaking up, the vetting of people invited to give talks at universities, the idea that outside speakers have to be asked what they are going to say before they are allowed into the country: all these seem minor things, but they are emblematic of the age in which we live. And the ease with which it’s all accepted is frightening.

In effect, citizens are told that change isn’t possible, there is no alternative to the present system

If what we’re being told is that change isn’t possible, that the only conceivable system is the present one, we’re going to be in trouble. Ultimately, it won’t be accepted. And if you prevent people from speaking or thinking or developing political alternatives, it won’t just be Marx’s work that is relegated to the graveyard. Karl Polanyi, the most gifted of the social democratic theorists, has suffered the same fate.

Governments of the “extreme centre” back austerity measures and surveillance as “absolutely necessary to defeat terrorism?

We have seen the development of a form of government I call the extreme centre, which currently rules over large tracts of Europe and includes left, centre left, centre right and centre parties. A whole swathe of the electorate, young people in particular, feels that voting makes no difference at all, given the political parties we have. The extreme centre wages wars, either on its own account or on behalf of the United States; it backs austerity measures; it defends surveillance as absolutely necessary to defeat terrorism, without ever asking why this terrorism is happening – to question this is almost to be a terrorist oneself. Why do the terrorists do it? Are they unhinged? Is it something that emerges from deep inside their religion? These questions are counterproductive and useless. If you ask whether American imperial policy or British or French foreign policy is in any way responsible, you’re attacked.

~ Iraq – “The occupation of Iraq is one of the most destructive acts in modern history” ~

But of course the intelligence agencies and security services know perfectly well that the reason for people going crazy – and it is a form of craziness – is that they are driven not by religion but by what they see. Hussain Osman, one of the men who failed to bomb the London Underground on 21 July 2005, was arrested in Rome a week later. ‘More than praying we discussed work, politics, the war in Iraq,’ he told the Italian interrogators. ‘We always had new films of the war in Iraq … those in which you could see Iraqi women and children who had been killed by US and UK soldiers.’ Eliza Manningham-Buller, who resigned as head of MI5 in 2007, said: ‘Our involvement in Iraq has radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people.’

Before the 2003 war Iraq, under the authoritarian dictatorship of Saddam and his predecessor, had the highest level of education in the Middle East. When you point this out you’re accused of being a Saddam apologist, but Baghdad University in the 1980s had more female professors than Princeton did in 2009; there were crèches [nurseries] to make it easier for women to teach at schools and universities. In Baghdad and Mosul – currently occupied by Islamic State – there were libraries dating back centuries. The Mosul library was functioning in the eighth century, and had manuscripts from ancient Greece in its vaults. The Baghdad library, as we know, was looted after the occupation, and what’s going on now in the libraries of Mosul is no surprise, with thousands of books and manuscripts destroyed.

Everything that has happened in Iraq is a consequence of that disastrous war, which assumed genocidal proportions. The numbers who died are disputed, because the Coalition of the Willing doesn’t count up the civilian casualties in the country it’s occupying. Why should it bother? But others have estimated that up to a million Iraqis were killed, mainly civilians. The puppet government installed by the Occupation confirmed these figures obliquely in 2006 by officially admitting that there were five million orphans in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq is one of the most destructive acts in modern history….But Iraq was treated as no other country has been treated before. The reason people don’t quite see this is that once the occupation began all the correspondents came back home. You can count the exceptions on the fingers of one hand: Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, one or two others. Iraq’s social infrastructure still isn’t working, years after the occupation ended; it’s been wrecked. The country has been demodernised. The West has destroyed Iraq’s education services and medical services; it handed over power to a group of clerical Shia parties which immediately embarked on bloodbaths of revenge. Several hundred university professors were killed. If this isn’t disorder, what is?

~ Afghanistan – “a crude war of revenge which failed because the occupation strengthened those it sought to destroy”~

In the case of Afghanistan, everyone knows what was actually behind this grand attempt, as the US and Britain put it, to ‘modernize’ the country. Cherie Blair and Laura Bush said it was a war for women’s liberation. If it had been, it would have been the first in history. We now know what it really was: a crude war of revenge which failed because the occupation strengthened those it sought to destroy. The war didn’t just devastate Afghanistan and what infrastructure it had, but destabilised Pakistan too, which has nuclear weapons, and is now also in a very dangerous state.

~ Iraq & Afghanistan created divide of Muslim and Arab world, ending Arab nationalism for a long time to come ~

These two wars haven’t done anyone any good, but they have succeeded in dividing the Muslim and Arab world, whether or not this was intended. The US decision to hand over power to clerical Shia parties deepened the Sunni-Shia divide: there was ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, which used to be a mixed city in a country where intermarriage between Sunni and Shia was common. The Americans acted as if all Sunnis were Saddam supporters, yet many Sunnis suffered arbitrary jail sentences under him. But the creation of this divide has ended Arab nationalism for a long time to come. The battles now are to do with which side the US backs in which conflict. In Iraq, it backs the Shia.

~ Iran – Despite supporting West in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran was thanked with sanctions, further demonization ~

The demonization of Iran is deeply unjust, because without the tacit support of the Iranians the Americans could not have taken Iraq. And the Iraqi resistance against the occupation was only making headway until the Iranians told the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who’d been collaborating with Sunni opponents of the regime, to call it off. He was taken to Tehran and given a ‘holiday’ there for a year. Without Iranian support in both Iraq and Afghanistan it would have been very difficult for the United States to sustain its occupations. Iran was thanked with sanctions, further demonization, double standards – Israel can have nuclear weapons, you can’t.

~ Israel – West’s blind support for Israel is losing resonance with the young ~

As for Israel, the blind support it gets from the US is an old story. And to question it, nowadays, is to be labelled an anti-Semite. The danger with this strategy is that if you say to a generation which had no experience of the Holocaust outside of movies that to attack Israel is anti-Semitic, the reply will be: so what? ‘Call us anti-Semitic if you want,’ young people will say. ‘If that means opposing you, we are.’ So it hasn’t helped anyone. It’s inconceivable that any Israeli government is going to grant the Palestinians a state. As the late Edward Said warned us, the Oslo Accords were a Palestinian Treaty of Versailles. Actually, they are much worse than that.

~ The disintegration of the Middle East continues ~

The Middle East is now in a total mess: the central, most important power is Israel, expanding away; the Palestinians have been defeated and will remain defeated for a very long time to come; all the principal Arab countries are wrecked, first Iraq, now Syria; Egypt, with a brutal military dictatorship in power, is torturing and killing as if the Arab Spring had never happened – and for the military leaders it hasn’t.

So the disintegration of the Middle East that began after the First World War continues. Whether Iraq will be divided into three countries, whether Syria will be divided into two or three countries, we don’t know. But it would hardly be surprising if all the states in the region, barring Egypt, which is too large to dismantle, ended up as bantustans, or principalities, on the model of Qatar and the other Gulf States, funded and kept going by the Saudis, on the one hand, and the Iranians, on the other.

~ Egypt – Collapse of the Arab Spring has demoralized an entire generation through the Middle East ~

All the hopes raised by the Arab Spring went under, and it’s important to understand why. Too many of those who participated didn’t see – for generational reasons, largely – that in order to hit home you have to have some form of political movement. It wasn’t surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood, which had taken part in the protests in Egypt at a late stage, took power: it was the only real political party in Egypt. But then the Brotherhood played straight into the hands of the military by behaving like Mubarak – by offering deals to the security services, offering deals to the Israelis – so people began to wonder what the point was of having them in power. The military was thus able to mobilise support and get rid of the Brotherhood. All this has demoralised an entire generation in the Middle East.

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~ Europe – the EU is under the thumb of the US, a Europe of money, a place without a social vision ~

What is the situation in Europe? The first point to be made is that there isn’t a single country in the European Union that enjoys proper sovereignty. After the end of the Cold War and reunification, Germany has become the strongest and strategically the most important state in Europe but even it doesn’t have total sovereignty: the United States is still dominant on many levels, especially as far as the military is concerned. Britain became a semi-vassal state after the Second World War. The last British prime ministers to act as if Britain was a sovereign state were Harold Wilson, who refused to send British troops to Vietnam, and Edward Heath, who refused to allow British bases to be used to bomb the Middle East. Since then Britain has invariably done the Americans’ bidding even though large parts of the British establishment are against it. There was a great deal of anger in the Foreign Office during the Iraq War because it felt there was no need for Britain to be involved. In 2003, when the war was underway, I was invited to give a lecture in Damascus; I got a phone call from the British embassy there asking me to come to lunch. I thought this was odd. When I arrived I was greeted by the ambassador, who said: ‘Just to reassure you, we won’t just be eating, we’ll be talking politics.’ At the lunch, he said: ‘Now it’s time for questions – I’ll start off. Tariq Ali, I read the piece you wrote in the Guardian arguing that Tony Blair should be charged for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Do you mind explaining why?’ I spent about ten minutes explaining, to the bemusement of the Syrian guests. At the end the ambassador said: ‘Well, I agree totally with that – I don’t know about the rest of you.’ After the guests had left, I said: ‘That was very courageous of you.’ And the MI6 man who was at the lunch said: ‘Yeah, he can do that, because he’s retiring in December.’ But a similar thing happened at the embassy in Vienna, where I gave a press conference attacking the Iraq war in the British ambassador’s living room. These people aren’t fools – they knew exactly what they were doing. And they acted as they did as a result of the humiliation they felt at having a government which, even though the Americans had said they could manage without the UK, insisted on joining in anyway.

The Germans know they don’t have sovereignty, but when you raise it with them they shrug. Many of them don’t want it, because they are over-concerned with their past, with the notion that Germans are almost genetically predisposed to like fighting wars – a ludicrous view, which some people who should know better have expressed again in marking the anniversaries of the First World War. The fact is that – politically and ideologically and militarily, even economically – the European Union is under the thumb of the global imperial power. When the Euro elite was offering a pitiful sum of money to the Greeks, Timothy Geithner, then US secretary of the treasury, had to intervene, and tell the EU to increase its rescue fund to €500 billion. They hummed and hawed, but finally did what the Americans wanted. All the hopes that had been raised, from the time the European idea was first mooted, of a continent independent of the other major powers charting its own way in the world, disappeared once the Cold War ended. Just when you felt it might be able to achieve that goal, Europe instead became a continent devoted to the interests of bankers – a Europe of money, a place without a social vision, leaving the neoliberal order unchallenged.

The Greeks are being punished not so much for the debt as for their failure to make the reforms demanded by the EU. The right-wing government Syriza defeated only managed to push through three of the 14 reforms the EU insisted on. They couldn’t do more because what they did push through helped create a situation in Greece which has some similarities with Iraq: demodernisation; totally unnecessary privatizations, linked to political corruption; the immiseration [impoverishment] of ordinary people. So the Greeks elected a government that offered to change things, and then they were told that it couldn’t. The EU is frightened of a domino effect: if the Greeks are rewarded for electing Syriza other countries might elect similar governments, so Greece must be crushed. The Greeks can’t be kicked out of the European Union – that isn’t permitted by the constitution – or out of the Eurozone, but life can be made so difficult for them that they have to leave the euro and set up a Greek euro, or a euro drachma, so that the country keeps going. But were that to happen conditions would, at least temporarily, get even worse – which is why the Greeks have no choice but to resist it. The danger now is that, in this volatile atmosphere, people could shift very rapidly to the right, to the Golden Dawn, an explicitly fascist party. That is the scale of the problem, and for the Euro elite to behave as it’s doing – as the extreme centre, in other words – is short-sighted and foolish.

~ China – “China isn’t even remotely close to replacing the US. All the figures… show the Chinese are still way behind”

And then there’s the rise of China. There’s no doubt that enormous gains have been made by capitalism in China; the Chinese and American economies are remarkably interdependent. When a veteran of the labour movement in the States recently asked me what had happened to the American working class the answer was plain: the American working class is in China now. But it’s also the case that China isn’t even remotely close to replacing the US. All the figures now produced by economists show that, where it counts, the Chinese are still way behind. If you look at national shares of world millionaire households in 2012: the United States, 42.5 per cent; Japan, 10.6 per cent; China, 9.4 per cent; Britain, 3.7 per cent; Switzerland, 2.9 per cent; Germany, 2.7 per cent; Taiwan, 2.3 per cent; Italy, 2 per cent; France, 1.9 per cent. So in terms of economic strength the United States is still doing well. In many crucial markets – pharmaceuticals, aerospace, computer software, medical equipment – the US is dominant; the Chinese are nowhere. The figures in 2010 showed that three-quarters of China’s top two hundred exporting companies – and these are Chinese statistics – are foreign-owned. There is a great deal of foreign investment in China, often from neighbouring countries like Taiwan. Foxconn, which produces computers for Apple in China, is a Taiwanese company.

The notion that the Chinese are suddenly going to rise to power and replace the United States is baloney. It’s implausible militarily; it’s implausible economically; and politically, ideologically, it’s obvious that it’s not the case.

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~ Where are we going to end up at the end of this century? ~

Europeans learned nothing from the recent recession and failed to act

Where are we going to end up at the end of this century? Where is China going to be? Is Western democracy going to flourish? One thing that has become clear over the last decades is that nothing happens unless people want it to happen; and if people want it to happen, they start moving. You would have thought that the Europeans would have learned some lessons from the crash that created this recent recession, and would have acted, but they didn’t: they just put sticking plaster on the wounds and hoped that the blood would be stemmed.

Will efforts in Greece and Spain to find alternatives to neoliberal system succeed and spread?

So where should we look for a solution? One of the more creative thinkers today is the German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck*, who makes it clear that an alternative structure for the European Union is desperately needed and that it will necessitate more democracy at every stage – at a provincial and city level as well as a national and European level. There needs to be a concerted effort to find an alternative to the neoliberal system. We have seen the beginnings of such an attempt in Greece and in Spain, and it could spread. [*In 2014 Streeck wrote an article in the New Left Review where he postulates the question of how capitalism might come to an end, discussing several factors that make this likely to happen. Streeck posits that because contemporary capitalism is beset by five disorders — declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of the public sphere, corruption and international anarchy — for which at present no political agency exists to confront them, it will continue to regress and atrophy until at some point it might end].

Evidence mounting that neoliberalism, with heavy dose of state surveillance, fails to meet values most citizens prize

Many people in Eastern Europe feel nostalgia for the societies that existed before the fall of the Soviet Union. The communist regimes that governed the Soviet bloc after the arrival of Khrushchev could be described as social dictatorships: essentially weak regimes with an authoritarian political structure, but an economic structure that offered people more or less the same as Swedish or British social democracy. In a poll taken in January, 82 per cent of respondents in the old East Germany said that life was better before unification. When they were asked to give reasons, they said that there was more sense of community, more facilities, money wasn’t the dominant thing, cultural life was better and they weren’t treated, as they are now, like second-class citizens.

The attitude of West Germans to those from the East quickly became a serious problem – so serious that, in the second year after reunification, Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor and not a great radical, told the Social Democratic Party conference that the way East Germans were being treated was completely wrong. He said East German culture should no longer be ignored; if he had to choose the three greatest German writers, he said, he would pick Goethe, Heine and Brecht. The audience gasped when he said Brecht. The prejudice against the East is deeply ingrained. The reason the Germans were so shocked by the Snowden revelations is that it was suddenly clear they were living under permanent surveillance, when one of the big ideological campaigns in West Germany had to do with the evils of the Stasi, who, it was said, spied on everyone all the time. Well, the Stasi didn’t have the technical capacity for ubiquitous spying – on the scale of surveillance, the United States is far ahead of West Germany’s old enemy.

~ Problems don’t change – they just take new forms. The lesson from Sparta ~

It’s a mixed and confused world. But its problems don’t change – they just take new forms. In Sparta in the third century BCE, a fissure developed between the ruling elite and ordinary people following the Peloponnesian Wars, and those who were ruled demanded change because the gap between rich and poor had become so huge it couldn’t be tolerated. A succession of radical monarchs, Agis IV, Cleomenes III and Nabis, created a structure to help revive the state. Nobles were sent into exile; the magistrates’ dictatorship was abolished; slaves were given their freedom; all citizens were allowed to vote; and land confiscated from the rich was distributed to the poor (something the ECB wouldn’t tolerate today). The early Roman Republic, threatened by this example, sent its legions under Titus Quinctius Flamininus to crush Sparta. According to Livy, this was the response from Nabis, the king of Sparta, and when you read these words you feel the cold anger and the dignity:

Do not demand that Sparta conform to your own laws and institutions … You select your cavalry and infantry by their property qualifications and desire that a few should excel in wealth and the common people be subject to them. Our law-giver did not want the state to be in the hands of a few, whom you call the Senate, nor that any one class should have supremacy in the state. He believed that by equality of fortune and dignity there would be many to bear arms for their country.

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Dutch foundation and 900 co-plaintiffs file lawsuit against State for failing to cut emissions to curb climate change

It’s first case in world in which human rights are used as legal basis to protect citizens against climate change

Is it time for Canada’s environmental organizations to take similar legal action against the Harper government?

No 1312 Posted by fw, April 15, 2015

“In a letter to Urgenda the Dutch government acknowledged that its actions are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Urgenda concludes that The Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. In legal terms, that is a wrongful act of the State. The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing dangerous climate change is not only morally and politically the right thing to do, but also that it is a legal obligation that cannot be ignored.”Urgenda Foundation

Almost 5 years ago, on August 5, 2010, I fired off an email to Ecojustice, Canada’s legal champion for a healthy environment:

“As a monthly donor to Ecojustice, and with respect to the Tar Sands’ concerns that Andrew Nikiforuk has documented in his July 15, 2010 article, What Those Who Killed the Tar Sands Report Don’t Want You to Know, I’m interested to know 1) if Ecojustice believes there are grounds for legal action against the federal government? and 2) if there is a case here, is Ecojustice contemplating legal action? I look forward to your timely reply.”

To read the reply from Ecojustice, click on this post that I published on August 5, 2010: I ask Ecojustice — “Are there grounds to take legal action against the feds?”

In light of the Urgenda lawsuit presented below, one wonders if Ecojustice might respond differently to my question today. It’s time for another email.

To read Urgenda’s account of their lawsuit, click on the following linked title. Optionally, a cross-post appears below, including a link to a 17:51-minute video: How EU action could save Earth from climate disaster: Roger Cox at TEDxFlanders.

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The Urgenda climate case against the Dutch government by Urgenda Foundation, [no date]

The Urgenda Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the Dutch Government for not taking sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change. The Urgenda Climate Case is the first case in Europe in which citizens attempt to hold a state responsible for its potentially devastating inaction. It is also the first case in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change.

The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 with a letter to the government asking for action and a call for ‘crowd pleading’ in which Dutch citizens could support the case and join as co-plaintiffs. A year later on 20 November 2013, Urgenda together with 900 co-plaintiffs filed the case against the Dutch government. On 14 April 2015, the district court in The Hague will hear the arguments of the parties.

On 30 March 2015 the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations were launched, formulated by an international group of eminent jurists, including High Court judges, law professors and advocates from countries such as Brazil, China, India, the US and the Netherlands. The Oslo principles hold that regardless of the existence of international agreements, governments already have a legal obligation to avert the harmful effects of climate change, based on existing international human rights law, environmental law and tort law. 

The Oslo group endorses the arguments that Urgenda brings forward in its climate case and also provides support to initiatives in other countries to involve the courts in their efforts to contain climate change.

On April 8, Dutch daily newspaper Trouw published an extensive interview with Jaap Spier, Advocate-General to the Dutch Supreme Court, concerning the Oslo Principles and the Urgenda climate case. According to Spier, ‘Courts can force countries to adopt effective climate policies. Court cases are perhaps the only way to break through the political apathy about climate change.’

From the article: Does a judge need to be an activist in order to make a statement about climate change? “No”, says Spier, “it is just a matter of applying existing law, although undoubtedly not all judges will be open to this. Judges with the courage to give a ruling on this will one day be applauded, whereas those who don’t will eventually be tarred and feathered.” 

An informal translation of the interview can be downloaded here. The Guardian published this piece on the Oslo principles by two legal experts.

Following the Dutch example, a group of well-known Belgians started legal proceedings against their government. For more information on that case, go towww.klimaatzaak.be/en

THE URGENCY OF TAKING ACTION

The recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have once again confirmed that urgent action is required to avert a dangerous warming of our planet. Governments including the Dutch state are taking small steps, but these continue to fall far short of what is necessary. If emissions are not drastically reduced before 2020, the second half of the 21st century will be one of danger, extreme weather events, quickly diminishing ice caps, and shortage of water and food, which in turn can cause social unrest and violence. All this can be prevented if the right actions are taken.

THE LEGAL CASE AGAINST THE DUTCH STATE

In a letter to Urgenda the Dutch government acknowledged that its actions are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Urgenda concludes that The Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. In legal terms, that is a wrongful act of the State. The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing dangerous climate change is not only morally and politically the right thing to do, but also that it is a legal obligation that cannot be ignored.

In the climate case, Urgenda requests the court —

1) To declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide.

2) To declare that the Dutch State is acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to preventing a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

3) To order the Dutch State to drastically reduce Dutch CO2 emissions even before 2020 to the level that has been determined by scientists to be in line with less than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, that is, to reduce Dutch emissions by 40% by 2020 below 1990 levels.

  • The letter to the Dutch government of November 2012 is available here
  • A translation of the summons is available here
  • A legal summary, published in the Utrecht Journal of International and European Law is available here

PROCEDURAL STEPS

  • 2 April 2014 – Dutch State answered the summons of Urgenda by submitting its defence to the court
  • 10 September 2014 – Urgenda submitted its reply to the defence of the Dutch State
  • 19 January 2015 – The Dutch State submitted the rejoinder to the reply of Urgenda
  • 14 April 2015 – Hearing before the district court in The Hague

COURT HEARING 14 APRIL 2015

This climate case is being brought by the Urgenda Foundation and 900 co-plaintiffs. On April 14, more than 200 of these will be present at the hearing in before the district court in the Hague, among them – Joos Ockels, architect Thomas Rau, WakaWaka entrepreneur Maurits Groen, DJ Gregor Salto, representatives of the Young Sustainable top 100, and many parents and children. The climate case is supported by professors Frans Stokman, Wim Hafkamp, and Pier Vellinga, by students, by entrepreneurs including sustainability pioneer Ruud Koornstra, by weatherman Reinier van den Berg, and by professional adventurer and climate journalist Bernice Notenboom. Also attending will be representatives of the Belgian climate case Stijn Meuris and Serge de Gheldere.

PROGRAM

  • 8:30 AM: Brief explanation by Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma and photography session with co-plaintiffs
  • 9:30 AM: Official start of the climate case

REVOLUTION JUSTIFIED

The idea for a Dutch climate case came from the book Revolution Justified of the Dutch lawyer Roger Cox, who is also one of the lawyers representing Urgenda. His call to involve the judiciary in averting the climate crisis was published in the Guardian on 14 November 2012. In March 2014 Roger Cox gave a presentation on the climate case at a TEDx conference; To watch this 17:51-minute video click on the following linked title —

How EU action could save Earth from climate disaster: Roger Cox at TEDxFlanders 17:51

 SEE ALSO

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We Canadians need to pressure the Liberal Party to join the ‘no’ side on C-51, says Elizabeth May

C-51 still needs to be brought back to the House for Third Reading, so there is still time to stop it

No 1311 Posted by fw, April 14, 2015

“We can stop C-51. The Bloc Quebecois had initially supported it. Watching public support for C51 slip away, they now oppose it. That makes the Greens, the NDP and the Bloc voting ‘no.’ We need to pressure the Liberals to join us. The Liberal position is, transparently and unapologetically, unprincipled. Wayne Easter, Liberal MP, was forceful in committee pointing out the bill was unconstitutional and was dangerous without oversight. Yet, Liberal spin-doctors have decreed that to avoid Harper accusing them of being ‘soft on terrorism’ in the election campaign, they will vote for the bill. It’s time for Liberals to oppose it. It is shocking they would even consider voting for such a deeply dangerous piece of legislation. Once the Liberals come to their senses, it will create the opportunity for Conservative MPs to find their back-bone.”Elizabeth May

It may be a long shot, but the feisty Leader of the Green Party of Canada is not about to call it quits in her fight to stop Harper’s so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51. Even if Canadians rose to her challenge, pressured the Liberals to reverse course and vote ‘no’ on C-51, would that embolden Conservative MPs to find their backbone and defy their leader? Not likely. Regardless, in reading below, May’s reflections on the “brutal process” and “abominable treatment of witnesses” appearing at Harper’s Public Safety committee, one can readily understand and respect her resolve to fight to the finish.

Click on the following linked title to read her account. Alternatively, it is reposted below.

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Can we stop C-51? by Elizabeth May, elizabethmaymp.ca, April 14, 2015

The fight to amend C-51, the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, ended after a forced march through the Green Party’s 60 amendments (all defeated), as well as the NDP’s 28 amendments, Liberals’ 13 amendments and ten from the Bloc Quebecois — all defeated.

It was a grueling ten hours (8:45 AM- 12:45 PM and 4 PM til 10 PM – all on Tuesday March 31.)

It was the most anti-democratic treatment of legislation yet under the Harper Conservatives, and that’s saying something. I didn’t think anything could be worse than C-38. At least in other committees, I was allowed to ask questions. Not once in the Public Safety committee was I allowed to ask even one question. And the witnesses were treated abominably. The Globe and Mail editorial got it right when it referred to witnesses not as being able to testify to the committee, but to witnesses “allowed to be abused by the committee.”

The process by which Green MPs submit amendments to committee is one created by PMO to deprive me of my right to‎ present substantive amendments at Report Stage. I had used this right effectively in opposing Bill C-38 in spring 2012, submitting over 400 amendments resulting in 24 hour voting marathon. Since the fall of 2013, due to identical motions passed by Conservatives in every committee, we are required to submit our amendments to committee 48 hours before the committee gets to clause by clause. Since we are not allowed to be members of the committee, even temporarily, Green amendments are deemed to have been moved at committee. Bruce Hyer and I were given roughly one minute per amendment to present the rationale for the change.

Throughout the process, as I presented concerns, the Conservative MPs would often accuse the Green Party of “privileging the rights of terrorists” over those of Canadians. Or allege that we were in favour of terrorists. When I would ask for the floor to rebut, I was denied. It was a pretty brutal process.

The Harper Conservatives did back down on one point. Having pretended for weeks that they did not understand when I pounded away at the problems created by saying the act did not apply to “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression,” it was a Conservative amendment that removed the word “lawful.” This should serve to better protect non-violent civil disobedience. The other government amendments repaired some of the damage complained of by the airline industry in mandating that they be prepared to do “anything” requested by the Minister of Transport to enforce the no fly list. There was also a bizarre Conservative amendment that actually further confuses the role of the CSIS powers to “disrupt” potential threats to the security of Canada. The new amendment says the CSIS agents do not have the power of law enforcement. None of the bill’s critics had ever suggested they had. But the refusal of the PMO to allow any amendments to rule out CSIS having powers to detain confirms that they will have such powers.

As of the evening of March 31, the bill was through the committee and new hearings had started in the Senate. On April 2, 2015, before the Senate Committee, Joe Fogarty, a man with 25 years of security service experience, former security liaison from the UK to Canada, classified experience with both SIRC and UK ISC, testified that C-51 will not make us safer. He outlined the weaknesses in Canada’s current anti-terror efforts and then explained how C-51 cures none of it. In fact, like many witnesses before the House committee, he testified it will increase security risks. Bill C-51 will make us less safe. And, at the same time, it will trample on our rights.

The bill still needs to be brought back to the House for Report Stage and Third Reading. That cannot happen now until after the Easter parliamentary break. We resume on April 20.

We can stop C-51. The Bloc Quebecois had initially supported it. Watching public support for C51 slip away, they now oppose it. That makes the Greens, the NDP and the Bloc voting “”no.” We need to pressure the Liberals to join us. The Liberal position is, transparently and unapologetically, unprincipled. Wayne Easter, Liberal MP, was forceful in committee pointing out the bill was unconstitutional and was dangerous without oversight. Yet, Liberal spin-doctors have decreed that to avoid Harper accusing them of being “soft on terrorism” in the election campaign, they will vote for the bill. It’s time for Liberals to oppose it. It is shocking they would even consider voting for such a deeply dangerous piece of legislation. Once the Liberals come to their senses, it will create the opportunity for Conservative MPs to find their back-bone. With Conservatives like Conrad Black, who said this bill would make Canada “an unrecognizable despotism,” it is not only progressive voices that are rising in opposition. C-51 is now opposed by the editorial boards of the Globe and Mail and the National Post.

Please do whatever you can to pressure the Liberal Party to stand up for the Charter. By far the best outcome is to defeat the bill in the House. If not, we need to pressure both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau to be committed to repealing it if they form government. So far, their positions are remarkably similar versions of “We will fix it later.” It’s not fixable. Stop it. Repeal it.

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