I remember the Oxford philosopher and ethicist Henry Shue once suggesting in passing that the level of risk associated with allowing climate change to proceed unchecked could potentially justify the use of force against those who refuse to curb their emissions.
Of course, there is a massive gulf between something being potentially justified and it being a good idea. In particular, I think it is absolutely foolish for people to consider using violence to try and encourage climate change mitigation or political change. Doing so would further brand the environmental movement as a bunch of dangerous radicals – rather than the only group within society that is taking the right of future generations to live in a stable and hospitable climate seriously.
For those without power, non-violence resistance seems enormously more likely to succeed. By all means, consider chaining yourself to the railroad tracks that run to a coal-fired power plant, painting slogans on smoke stacks, or engaging in other acts of civil disobedience. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that things like kidnapping or arson can possibly help the cause. Don’t develop a ‘Che Guevara complex‘.
Eventually, I do think the threat or use of violence will be involved in climate change mitigation, but it will not be a case of the weak pressing the strong to change their behaviour. At some point, things will get bad enough that climate change denial will be obviously incorrect from the perspective of almost everyone. There will also be some point at which the worldâ€™s most powerful states recognize that their own prosperity – indeed their own survival – requires stopping catastrophic or runaway climate change. At that point, states like the United States and China will be saying: “Climate change is terrifying, so we have decarbonized our economies. Get on board, Qatar and Alberta, or we will bomb you to hell.”