Friday, July 19

Rail protesters on side of rule of law

My friend Rosemary is in Arohata Prison. She will remain there till 11 September.

To the best of my knowledge, she is the first person in Aotearoa’s history to be denied bail for a peaceful protest demanding government action on climate change. She glued herself to the road in Wellington and held up a banner which read “Restore Passenger Rail – Protect Climate. Save Lives”. She was charged with Endangering Traffic, and she was also in breach of bail.

Rosemary knew the risk she was taking and consciously chose to escalate her commitment to put pressure on the government to reduce emissions now. Before her arrest, Rosemary spoke to me about how she was prepared for the worst. She knew she might end up in remand, and she felt so strongly about the need for urgent action, that it was worth it.

That’s right this 64-year-old grandmother and retired Hospital Laboratory Scientist, who loves her grandchildren, knowingly and willingly took action that would quite possibly land her in prison. While at the same time, our leaders are knowingly and willingly taking us to the edge of human survival on Earth.

Restore Passenger Rail protesters are demanding that governments comply with the legal principle of “Duty Of Care”. For over 30 years our governments have failed to take meaningful action on climate change. In doing so they are neglecting their duty to protect the lives and well-being of their citizens.

Inaction on climate change represents a grave form of negligence. The scientific consensus is clear: climate change poses a severe and escalating threat to our planet, including extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and the displacement of communities.

Governments possess the knowledge, resources, and authority to implement policies that could mitigate these effects, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transition to a sustainable future.

By failing to act decisively in the face of this existential crisis, governments not only undermine their moral and ethical responsibilities but also risk eroding the trust and legitimacy upon which their governance depends.

Our legal system is imperfect, and our corrections facilities are failing to rehabilitate inmates. Our democracy and our society are not in great shape but despite these failures, I respect the rule of law. Without this, the vulnerable are at the mercy of the powerful. I want to see democracy continue along with the rights and freedoms that it has afforded us.

However, a government without legitimacy cannot uphold itself and lawyers from around the world have warned that climate change may undermine the rule of law.

Protesters take peaceful disobedient civil resistance actions not to undermine but to uphold the law. They do not enjoy disrupting the lives of fellow citizens, but such disruption is the only way to give this existential issue the attention it requires. We are mammals who must strive for survival in the face of neglect and death. We must stand up for our rights no matter how the state treats us.