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Climate Change as Crime Against Humanity


Have you ever found yourself thinking about the fact that climate change is both caused by and benefits a certain class of people, and generally does not benefit – and actually harms – another, far larger, class of people? Have you? And have you ever thought that, just maybe, this is not just a moral or ethical problem but a criminal matter? Something like a reckless or negligent crime against humanity? Have you? Well, maybe you have.

Maybe you’ve even thought, as I do now and then, that there’s no reason to hatch up yet another crime, another law  – since that’s just what reckless or negligent crimes against humanity would be. To be sure, there are already plenty of laws – prohibiting all sorts of horrible, exploitative, harmful things. They’re just not enforced. So what’s the use? What would it accomplish to frame climate change as a crime against humanity? I mean, you’re not going to drag anyone off to the International Criminal Court, are you? Or maybe you’ll set up your own tribunal, right here in the street. Why the hell not? It might feel good. And you can still boycott the fossil fuel industry – you and Desmond Tutu and so many others. Why not? It’s not as though – for all practical purposes – you’re forced to drive a car – forced to drive a car to get to work to pay the rent and pay for food and pick up groceries…

But let me tell you, as long as we’re discussing food, the meat industry, according to that UN report, is an even bigger climate change causer – or, if you prefer, bigger perpetrator of negligent and reckless crimes against humanity – than even the fossil fuel industry. I mean, that’s just a fact – just as the very air we breathe is the world’s leading carcinogen. And it’s only getting worse. I mean, I know that facts are somewhat unfashionable. Remember that old Mr. Gradgrind? Wasn’t that his name?

The point, however, is that if we’re going to meaningfully boycott the fossil fuel industry (which I’m all for, by the way) we shouldn’t stop there. I mean, it makes little sense to boycott one ecocidal industry while perpetuating others. For instance, did you know that the information technology industry is as big a polluter as the airline industry is? Look it up if you don’t believe me. And you’ll see, too, that search engines generate no small degree of CO2. That’s another one of those facts. At any rate, what was my point? Oh yeah, even though climate change is a horrible problem – a crime against humanity, not to mention a crime against so many animals, and forests, and rivers – it’s only an offshoot of a far larger problem. But you knew that, right?

I mean, just imagine what would happen if nuclear fusion were perfected – if an unlimited source of “clean,” “green” energy were available, and climate change were no longer a problem. What do you think all that energy – all that power – would be used to pursue? You’d still have to pay the rent. That wouldn’t change. Not with these laws. It’s not going to wipe out poverty, or malnutrition, or starvation either. That’s all, as a matter of fact, already technically feasible. I mean, you know that tons of food are willfully destroyed every day to keep up prices – exchange value, not use value, makes this world go round, right? Exchange value – a type of religious thought – backed up with guns, and all sorts of crimes against humanity – negligent, reckless, intentional, and otherwise.

In other words, there’s a whole hell of a lot to boycott beyond the fossil fuel industry – this entire coercive, unthinking society. If we can boycott that – I don’t know. Perhaps a non-coercive, thinking society can emerge from the former. One sees little hints of this here and there, from time to time.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to He lives in New York City, and can be reached at, and on twitter @elliot_sperber

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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