Global warming power struggle

Global warming is an imbalance of power where corporate interests are putting the poorest individuals at the greatest risk, said Amy Sinden, speaker at the Stegner Center lecture.

Sinden’s presentation addressed the controversy surrounding global warming in terms of the human right to not only a clean environment but to a fair balance of power.

Sinden’s address on Wednesday was part of the S.J. Quinney College of Law and Wallace Stegner Center’s second annual young scholar lecture.

Sinden is an associate professor of law at Temple University in Philadelphia and has published several papers on the legal issues surrounding global warming.

“Global warming is the defining moral issue of the 21st century,” Sinden said, “and it will require a profound response from the law.”

In her address, Sinden said the effects of global warming are dramatic and require a solution now.

“Average temperatures are up and the ecosystem that we live in is rapidly and irreversibly changing,” Sinden said.

If things don’t change, a quarter of all species will be extinct and millions of people displaced by the mid-21st century, she said.

The United States accounts for more greenhouse emissions than nearly any other country, yet makes up only 5 percent of the world’s population, Sinden said.

The poorest countries in some of the low-lying areas are at the greatest risk for sea-level rise, she said, and it is also these countries that are the least capable of dealing with such a calamity.

“It is because of this imbalance that it will be the poorest individuals who will suffer most,” she said.

The weak are exploited by the powerful, both politically and environmentally, Sinden said.

“The basis of human rights is to correct the imbalance of power,” she said, “and the power of corporations against global warming regulations and the interest of the public is an enormous power imbalance.”

To address such a profound moral crisis, Sinden said the law must respond with the equally profound ideas of human rights and the political right to a clean environment.

She described two lawsuits that have been filed in the last two years alleging that individuals have the right to be secure from climate change and its effects. One such case, in the Niger Delta, successfully won an injunction against oil companies that engage in unnecessary gas flaring procedures.

“Global warming is an issue that we are all in together, but the crisis still divides us because we all have different culpabilities and vulnerabilities,” Sinden said.

Few people ever look at global warming through the lens of human rights and how the law can help, said Megan Anderson, a first-year law student. Both human rights and global warming are major concerns today, and using one might help solve the other, she said.

“Currently, the approach to climate change and the environment isn’t working,” Sinden said. “And the use of the law and human rights seems like it could be a more feasible solution to the problem.”