An international court to prevent climate change. Now that is a good idea.

Stephen Hockman QC—which, if you read Rumpole, you know means queer customer—is a European (I can’t say Englishman, because an Englishman would not voluntarily cede his country’s sovereignty to a foreign body) who is proposing to create an International Court of Environmental Justice, whose purpose will be to “punish states that fail to protect wildlife and prevent climate change.”

Isn’t that nice?

Besides providing make-work employment for obscure politicians, “[T]he court would also fine countries or companies that fail to protect endangered species or degrade the natural environment and enforce the ‘right to a healthy environment’.”

It would first create this new “right to a healthy environment and provide a higher body for individuals or non-governmental organisations to protest against an environmental injustice.”

Both Gordon Brown and Judi Dench have come out in favor of this new governing body, so we can guess it’s only a matter of time before it is started.

You might suppose that I, being a self-named climate inactivist and advocate of limited government, would be against this development, but except for one caveat, I am not. Here’s why.

First the caveat. It is true that part of the motivation behind Hockman’s storm-of-the-brain is the child-like idea that anything bad that happens is some humans’ or group of humans’ fault, and that this group should be caught and punished or fined, preferably fined, especially if they are rich.

So, for example, if you had planned an outing expecting sunshine and instead found rain, this rain must be due to evil forces. It is, after all, your right to a healthy environment, and what could be more unhealthy than to be caught out in the rain? Who, therefore, is to blame? Perhaps a corporation does business nearby. Thus, the foul weather must be its fault, because corporations have money, and with money comes temptation and wrongful deeds. Quat erat demonstrandum.

This line of “reasoning” should not come as a shock because we expect nothing less than exactly this form of simple greed from our lawyers, and experience has taught us that its effects can be mitigated or countered by arraying a different set of lawyers against the first, the second group’s greed being sated with fat salaries. The result is something like an equilibrium.

Plus, the feeling that a corporate—or perhaps incorporate—body is responsible for our ills has always been with humanity, so it should come as no surprise that lawyers and politicians are as susceptible to this superstition as ordinary civilians. The rule then, the rule now, the rule will always be somebody must be blamed! We just have to deal with this.

Keeping this caveat in mind, this is why I like creating the new court. In order to punish a group for creating an “unhealthy environment”, a healthy environment must be defined. And in order to “prevent” climate change, climate itself must finally be explicitly defined. The idea of what it means to “change” must also be fully specified right down to the dotted “i”s and crossed “t”s so beloved of bureaucrats.

Isn’t that wonderful? Don’t you see the beauty of this?

Think of it. Right now, believe it or not, there is no legal definition of climate. There isn’t even a “scientific” one. That is, there is no consensus on exactly what climate is. Nobody—and I mean no body—has ever sat down and spelled out exactly, precisely what climate is, what it means for a climate to change, and what an ideal, healthy climate specifically entails.

Oh, sure, there are some vague notions and rules of thumb. For example, climatologists gather data and average it and call the result climate. But what data? From whence is it gathered? What limits? Hourly observations? Daily, monthly, yearly? For how long? What variables should be tracked? Just temperature? Precipitation? Vorticity? Everybody already knows that the idea of a “global mean temperature” is silly and next to useless. Nobody, for example, lives in a “global”. People live in places which have actual hour-by-hour temperatures. Who cares what a “global mean” is, anyway? People deal with actual values not global means.

And what exactly is a “healthy environment”? If you were mad about olives and believed that people should eat little else, then it would be rational to plant more olive trees. Warmer temperatures in some locales where there are now no olive groves, say Michigan, would make it more likely for those trees to grow and flourish, therefore guaranteeing a healthy citizenry and a thicker wallet for you. However, the farmers who grow cherry trees there now would not welcome warmer weather. We have conflict!

I do better in hot, humid weather (I look good in and prefer to wear linen). You might like to and thrive by shoveling snow. We cannot live together, and what is healthy for you is not for me. Nor are all types of weather equally good for all people, or plants, or animals.

If one year sees slightly less rainfall than average (and what is average?), who is to blame? And what is “slightly less”? Because this year has seen slightly less rainfall, has the climate officially changed? My neighbor has seen slightly higher rainfall. Has the climate changed for both of us? Exactly how long does the change have to last for it to become an official change?

Finally, everybody agrees that some change is “natural” and some due to those with money. But how much from each source? I mean, precisely how much. Are Chinese factories causing the sun to shine on Christmas day? Is German manufacturing causing an increase in potato production in Poland by increasing warmth and the nutrient CO2? That would be bad, because more potatoes on the market lower their price, making the production of vodka cheaper, thus increasing drunkenness, liver disease and pancreatic cancer rates.

Legally defining all of these terms to the satisfaction of politicians, actresses, activists, rich people, and citizens will eliminate an enormous amount of useless bickering and debate about climate change that now floods over us. It will also be a next to impossible task, and so it will allow busybodies to be busy bodies for only a small price to the rest of us. This will allow us to forget about “climate change” because we can trust that this new expert body is dealing with it.

It is true that this International Court’s will, in effect, create new forms of taxation, and that it will spend most or all of its time spending the money it has coerced on “studies” and lunches and on creating employment for more creatures like themselves. But like I said above, occasional manias seem to be the natural course of human events from time to time, and we just have to deal with them in the best way we can. And many of the larger excesses of this group will be able to be mitigated by the traditional means. Plus there is some utility in gathering all of the kind of people who go for this kind of activity in one place, where they may more easily be watched and, if finally necessary, dealt with.

Update: see Monday, 8 December’s post on this topic, too.


  1. LeChat

    That this plan is even being given serious consideration is a measure of how far we have fallen as a civilization.

  2. Bernie

    Your caveat is a really big one and appears replete with an optimism as to the victory of logic over fanaticism or wishfulness. I suspect that these laws will be like the Geneva Convention – guidelines for good conduct, largely ignored except where victors or politicians decide that a point needs to be made. Extending the law into fuzzy areas is neither good for the law nor good for those subject to the law.
    You are right about this guy not being a true Englishman. Where is Rumpole when you really need him to knock some sense into the blighters.

  3. Ari

    I thank you, good people:- there shall be no endangered species; all shall eat and drink on Gaia’s organic score; and we will apparel them all in hemp livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship Gaia their goddess.

    The first thing we do, let’s hire all the lawyers.

  4. Luis Dias

    Mr Briggs, there will be a body that will define climate. It will not consider any of your doubts and philosophic questions about it. This latter body will also advise the former body of what constitutes a “change”, and what is the responsibility of any given institution of that change. Then, the former body will judge such institutions accordingly.

    Perhaps when they judge China as guilty as mr. Satan himself, will Gordon Brown finally engage in a war against China and end all this idiotic story once and for all.

    Remember that in medieval times, they didn’t dwell much in the question of “what constitutes a witch?”. They just invented a criteria (witches float) and went on to hunt them down. Thus, I wouldn’t be as optimistic as that.

  5. Joy

    Great post, especially like the last line.
    The court may be able to fine businesses or states but it’s main role will be in making declaratory rulings that influence and embarrass countries into upholding the law… (or words to that effect)
    So, toothless then.
    The answer for English people, closely followed by Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish is to vote Tory next year when they get the chance. They missed the chance with William Hague, in my opinion the greatest conservative for years, because he was not as handsome as Tony Blair although he ran rings round the man in debates.
    Now they have a reasonable replacement in Cameron, who speaks very well and particularly passionately about the NHS and it’s callus bureaucratic ways.
    The Tories are pledging to make changes to the European human rights bill as they are unhappy with the level of control handed, by Labour, to the Europeans. The court as described will go the same way if it is not to our pleasing.
    My initial hope is that the expert witnesses are up to scratch. My expectation, however, is that it is not the science that will be fought but the rules, laid down off the back of the IPCC; the science being considered a forgone conclusion.
    I also remain quite confident that the green bubble has met its demise with the financial depression.
    Shell’s latest high quality advert is telling and heartening in its choice of language.
    Could the courts be a way of again handing over responsibility and hence blame for the folly of the green movement. I do not believe, at this stage, that the like of Gordon Brown is not entirely in the picture about the true state of the climate, i.e. unremarkable.

  6. Noblesse Oblige

    “Considering the current climate, the Salem Witch trials now seem to be within the norm of judicial proposals and decisions.” — A McIntyre

    Alan is on the right track. Want a preview of the outcome you can expect? Check out the whacko record of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th District (San Francisco).

    The last thing sanity will be served by is a small group of ideologues with the opportunity to rule without technical basis or oversight. The record of domestic courts over the last few decades should warn against empowering unrestrained judges to exercise their bias without resort to precedent or common law tradition.


  7. People have not given full consideration to the concept of cage matches. A cage match is one in which the dueling opponents are locked in a cage and fight to death of one or the other or both.

    Many people, and I am one of them, will pay to watch Stephen Hockman QC fight to death with Triple H, or The Undertaker, or a kangaroo, or anything that’s deadly. I would pay and NOT watch, satisfied that the match took place and the cage was locked for good and/or welded shut.

    We are far too gentle with our lawyers and barristers. Judges are too forgiving and merciful, not to criminals but to criminal advocates.

    I say let’s have the International Court, in a cage, on pay-per-view, with no holds barred, and no weapons but tooth and claw. A court, after all, is only as powerful as the fools that abide in the decisions, and if all decisions are fatal to the participants, then I can abide that much. As long as I don’t have to get in the cage with those animals.

  8. Ray

    “create an International Court of Environmental Justice”

    You always know when the title contains words like “justice”, “democracy” or “fair”, it really means the opposite. It sounds good, but this court will have nothing to do with justice.

  9. Mr Lynn

    With a world “International Court of Environmental Justice” you will have planted the seed for a new Inquisition.

    It will not be kind to heretics.

    /Mr Lynn

  10. JH

    Maybe U.S. could find reasons to sue China for violations of the standards (to be established by the Court) and propose a settlement of waiving our trillion-dollar debt to China. We should be able to do that considering US has the most lawyers per ca pita in the world. But then, as usual, lawyers are always the winners no matter what the verdict is. Though I doubt China would give it a damn.

  11. Bernie

    I just checked and found that the US has 1,143,358 (2007) lawyers according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia also revealed that we had approximately half of that number of people in the Army (538,128)!! Your suggestion to mobilize regiments of lawyers sounds about right. Lets send them all over to China as an unarmed invasion force. The good news is that they will dramatically slow China’s rate of economic growth. The bad news is that they will probably significantly delay the clean up of China’s environment by retarding economic growth. But life here might benefit significantly.

  12. Roger

    If ever proof is needed to show that Euripides was right when he wrote “Those whom God wish to deatroy He first makes mad”, this international court is all that is required.

  13. A truly brilliant piece, herr Doctor!

    This proposal by QC was stolen, I think, from Kim Stanley Robinson`s Blue Mars (or was it Green); at any rate, they had just such an environmental court.

    Your idea to kill them with their own shortcomings is nothing short of brilliant, in my opinion!

  14. What I find so worrying, as an English barrister and observer of greenie lunacy, is that anyone still believes the catastrophe scenario as expounded by Saint Al or Gore and those who add voluntarily and generously to his multi-million dollar personal fortune.

    It’s not just that we have gone from being rather warm in 1998 to bloody cold now, it is that every strand of science on which St Al and the Very Reverend Dr Hansen base their colossal pension funds currently sits around their ankles, like cheap undergarments made with even cheaper elastic. (You know the type, they go grey after two runs through the laundry and become unfit to be hung on the washing line in public view.)

    Poor hapless Gordon Brown, a Prime Minister well past his prime and not at all ministerial, might turn out to be useful for once. It is noticeable that he does not speak out on this topic. Anything else in which there might be votes or acclaim are grist to his mill, but this one he leaves alone. Perhaps he doesn’t understand anything about it, but that has never stopped him on any other subject. Perhaps he has looked into it and is as unconvinced as many of the rest of us. He needs to find hundreds of billions of pounds to cushion the public purse against the result of his decade in charge of the Exchequer. Abandon greenie nonsense and he can find a fair chunk of that.

    There might yet be hope.

  15. Joy

    Mr. FB
    Yes, Gordon will need fluffy underwear now,
    But, “Not just any underwear…
    M&S underwear.”

  16. LPD

    The whole matter of Climate Change has nothing to do with Justice, only the Power of Suggestion. And Suggestion to weak minds can prove in a court of lawyers anything, – even – Gullible Warming.
    Lawyers take both side, – that means it is either too hot now or too cold later and whatever, each makes for a convenient and profitable lawsuit.

  17. Araucan

    I’m sorry, but it is a very bad idea. It isn’t the rôle of court to say what science is. It will not reduce excess from Green people because, you will have very strange conclusions of the court (I could give some very strange conclusions of the European Justice Court). But you hope perhaps that the cases stays a very long time unresolved in order to exhaust claimers ?
    Ther are already today too much so-called experts on climate change : don’t add the lawers please !

  18. Gerrit van der Lingen

    Some people seem to think that it is a good idea to get the science of man-made global warming argued in a court of law. They seem to think that this will bring out the truth. That is the argument sometimes used to support the idea to sue Al Gore. The same reasoning might be used in favour of an International Environment Court.
    However, my experience may change that thinking. Earlier this year I was involved in a global warming debate with an academic believer in the pages of the Christchurch glossy lifestyle magazine AVENUES. The editor had asked a just-retired New Zealand High Court Judge to adjudicate on this debate. The judge had obviously swallowed the IPCC propaganda and declared my opponent the winner. I have now collated this debate, including the Judge’s adjudication. I have also added some further comments and criticisms of the adjudication. This debate is now on the website of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition:

    Gerrit van der Lingen

  19. Alan Bates

    There is always one picky idiot lurking out there …

    Q.E.D. is Quod erat demonstrandum “which was to be proved (or demonstrated)”


    Quat …

    (I took Latin at school and would have been given the slipper or worse for such a mistake.)

    My father was a pharmacist (druggist?) for over 50 years and in his time dog Latin was widely used. Quat was a more or less universal abbreviation for “four times” and often used in the abbreviation Q.d. quater die, four times a day.

    You had to be knowledgable in dog Latin abbreviations as well as an Eastern Mystic to decipher the doctor’s handwriting.

    (Now, the next question is: why did I waste a few minutes of my life to tell you this?)

    best wishes

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