We need a Magna Carta for climate justice for the future of our world

Carbon busters like me know it’s not easy to discuss a neighbour or friend’s responsibility to restrict their personal carbon emissions.

Carbon busters like me know it’s not easy to discuss a neighbour or friend’s responsibility to restrict their personal carbon emissions. Without pissing them off. After all, don’t people have rights?

Many feel, strongly, their right to burn fossil fuels, especially when travelling for pleasure.

In my municipality of North Cowichan on Vancouver Island, vehicles cause over 70 per cent of all carbon emissions; a huge number that excludes vast emissions from holiday flyers, cruise ship vacationers and three-day gamblers burning fuel to get to an already over-heated Las Vegas.

But climate change threatens to destroy our climate and society, so do we have the individual right to burn fossil fuels? What about our collective right to a safe environment?

During my low-carbon trip in Europe, I was in Holland when the Dutch court ordered its own prime minister to act responsibly, and more forcefully, on climate change; saying society has the right to be protected from carbon emissions — a right to climate justice.

In England I saw a sheep’s parchment in beautiful Salisbury Cathedral — the Magna Carta. This 800-year-old document constrained an individual King’s right to absolute rule, and so advanced democracy; climate justice would likewise constrain our right to burn fossil fuels, and so heal our planet. Both good ideas.

Fast forwarding in history, smokers once felt a right to burn cigarettes in public spaces. Like the king, they were stopped; this time by government funded anti-smoking campaigns, public pressure and legislation.

And now in this present time, some people still feel entitled to high-carbon travelling; even knowing the destructive impacts of carbon emissions on a finite atmosphere.

Now, I apologize for comparing some citizens with an unjust king, or inconsiderate smokers; but the right to burn fossil fuels must be restricted for the good of society. The Magna Carta gave medieval society political justice to counter a repressive king; now society needs climate justice to counter devastating climate change-related storms.

But just talking about our entitlement to high-carbon travelling is tough for most politicians. Even my municipality’s Climate Action and Energy Plan excludes discussion of carbon pollution caused by vacation travellers. It’s too politically dangerous.

But climate change is real, and more important than any politician’s career. So let’s suck up our guilt, anger and entitlement; face the truth, and our responsibility, about the consequences of climate change to our society.

Chariots had none; but cars now have seat belts. So a restriction of individual rights is sometimes necessary, and beneficial, for society’s collective well-being.

And sure, we all share this fossil fuel addiction to some degree. Like drug addicts, we need to help each other get treatment.

Government doctors need to treat that fossil fuel burning sensation in our gut with clean renewable energy medicine. Maybe to ease any future fossil fuel withdrawal pains, they could prescribe electric cars?

And if we stay clean after rehab; instead of digging in our entitled heels like King John, we would support a Magna Carta for climate justice.


Peter Nix,

Cowichan Carbon Buster