Eco-Terrorists Facing Armageddon: The Defence of Necessity and Legal Normativity in the Context of Environmental Crisis

By Tremblay, Hugo | McGill Law Journal, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Eco-Terrorists Facing Armageddon: The Defence of Necessity and Legal Normativity in the Context of Environmental Crisis


Tremblay, Hugo, McGill Law Journal


The invocation of necessity as a defence for acts of civil disobedience has raised questions about the rule of law and legal certainty. The rise of radical environmental activism in the context of climate change warrants an inquiry into the scope and limitations of the defence in Canada. This paper argues that the defence of necessity significantly increases legal flexibility in Canadian environmental law. To some extent, the defence may thus enhance the law's resilience to socio-ecological changes. However, the defence could also render the law flexible to such an extent that positive norms might lose their prescriptive value in certain circumstances. In particular, as the link connecting human activity, climate change, and consequent damage to the environment becomes clearer, there is a greater likelihood of environmental activists successfully invoking necessity to defend illegal acts aimed at curbing environmental degradation. In other words, necessity may offer a defence against the enforcement of legal frameworks de facto authorizing catastrophic environmental destruction. The prescriptive value of those legal frameworks could be critically diminished, and the resilience of the law as a normative framework may be threatened.

L'invocation de la necessite comme defense excusant des actes de desobeissance civile souleve des questions portant sur la primaute du droit et la securite juridique. L'emergence de l'activisme environnemental radical dans un contexte de rechauffement planetaire justifie de s'interroger quant a la portee et aux limites de la defense de necessite au Canada. Cet article argumente que la defense accroit significativement la flexibilite du droit canadien en matiere de gestion des ressources naturelles et de protection de l'environnement. La resilience du droit face aux changements socio-ecologiques en esta priori renforcee. Touiefois, la defense peut aussi rendre la loi flexible a un point tel que des regles contraignantes perdent leur valeur normative dans certaines circonstances. Ainsi, la demonstration d'un lien entre l'activite humaine, les changements climatiques et les dommages qui en decoulent peut augmenter les chances d'invoquer la necessite avec succes pour defendre des actes illegaux qui visent a empecher la degradation de Penvironnement. En d'autres termes, la necessite pourrait offrir une defense permettant de contrer l'application de cadres legaux qui autorisent de facto la destruetion catastrophique de l'environnement. Si tel etait le tas, la valeur normative du droit de l'environnement serait fortement reduite, et sa resilience comme cadre normatif serait menacee.

Introduction
I.   Contextualizing Necessity
     A. Philosophical Origins
     B. International Advances
     C. Canadian Lineage
II.  Increasing Legal Flexibility
     A. The Definition of Necessity
     B. The Application of Necessity
III. Dissolving the Law's Normativity
     A. Necessity and Environmental Crisis
     B. Necessity and Environmental Activism
Conclusion

No system of positive law can recognize any principle which would entitle a person to violate the law because on his view the law conflicted with some higher social value. (1)

Civil disobedience has an honourable history, and when the urgency and moral clarity cross a certain threshold, then I think that civil disobedience is quite understandable, and it has a role to play. (2)

Introduction

Consider this: Next year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a new assessment report. The report, reflecting the work of thousands of scientists from all over the world, confirms that humanity causes global warming. It also considers "virtually certain" the probability that business-as-usual trends in anthropogenic greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions over the following two years will increase the average global temperature by at least 6[degrees]C. (3) After two years, abrupt and irreversible changes in the global climate will become unavoidable over the medium or long term. …

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