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Climate change activism and the law discussed


Steve Spinks
26 May 2014
Southern Cross University will host a public symposium on Climate Change Activism and the Law at its Lismore campus on Tuesday, May 27.

The symposium, being run jointly by the University’s School of Law and Justice and the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, will focus on the role of civil disobedience in the climate change movement and the impact of climate change activism on public understandings of lawfulness and justice.

As part of the symposium, the documentary ‘Bidder 70’ will be shown. This movie tells the story of Tim DeChristopher who in 2008 presented himself as an authentic bidder for oil and gas leases in the United States and successfully secured 22,000 hectares of land. He made a last minute decision to attend a Bureau of Land Management auction in Utah for oil and gas leases, and subsequently placed bids of almost $1.8 million.

While he may have saved 22,000 hectares of pristine wilderness from mining, he was nevertheless convicted of two offences and sentenced to two years prison in 2011.

This growing trend of civil disobedience to protest against climate change and the role of government and business will be discussed by the panel which will consist of: The Hon John Dowd AO QC, the Chancellor of SCU and president of the International Commission of Jurists Australia; Sue Higginson, principal solicitor for the Environmental Defenders Office in NSW; and Aidan Ricketts and Dr Nicole Rogers, SCU School of Law and Justice. The symposium will be held at the Whitebrook Theatre, from 5pm and will be chaired by Professor Bee Chen Goh of SCU and Professor Brendan Mackey, the director of Griffith Climate Change Response Program.

Dr Rogers is interested in the notion that lawfulness itself becomes a contested norm when activists are prepared to break the law in order to change the law.

“In DeChristopher's view, and the view of other climate change activists, lawfulness loses its moral authority when the government and legal system support the activities of major greenhouse gas emitters and fail to take effective steps to protect the community and the environment,” Dr Rogers said.

“Climate change activists like DeChristopher are compelling the courts and the public to consider what is meant by lawfulness and highlighting the contradictions and anomalies in the ways in which our current legal system supports the behaviour of those who contribute the most to climate change and criminalises the behaviour of those who seek to curb such activities.”

Photo: Bidder 70 poster.