In part one of this blog post the new order by the courts in India regarding rights for nature was discussed. In their fundamental, operative parts the Court declared legal standing for the natural entities within these orders. As a result, lawsuits can be brought in the name of these entities and the Advocate General is to be their designated legal representative. This post will discuss whether or not the new orders contribute anything to the existing landscape of environmental law in India. It would be observed that the contribution, if any, is very limited.
Rights for Nature in Indian Law
These orders are a reminder of Christopher D. Stone’s seminal essay ‘Should trees have standing?’  and Former American Supreme Court Justice Douglas’s dissent in Sierra Club v Morton , arguing in favour of giving standing rights to nature.  The concept that once seemed like an ambitious, even bizarre, thought experiment rejected by the US Courts, has been incorporated by the Indian judiciary. In Sierra Club the US Supreme Court rejected the idea that the Sierra Club could sue as an organisation committed to the protection and preservation of the environment. If the club were to be given standing it would be possible only where it represented individual users of the national forest land, to protect their aesthetic and recreational use of the area in question, which in this case was National Forest land soon to be used as the location for a resort.  Justice Douglas in his dissent observed that to simplify the question of standing, nature itself should be granted standing rights and those who are ‘beneficiaries of a wholesome environment’ and have a ‘meaningful relationship to… it,’ as distinguished from the busybodies, be allowed to represent the entities in question. 
In contrast, the Uttarakhand Court did not identify what it would mean for the entities to have standing, apart from having legal representation and the claim being brought in their name. One possibility that can be drawn from Stone and Douglas is the elimination of any further requirement to show corresponding negative impacts on human beings as to the impacts on the rivers themselves for the purpose of establishing standing.  Therefore, whether or not there is an associated negative impact on human beings should not be an additional hurdle for an environmental harm to be eligible for legal redress.
In cases of claims brought for river pollution for instance, the courts in India have noted the impact of river pollution on public health or negative impact on access to clean drinking water.  However, negative impact on human beings has not been a necessary legal requirement for petitions arising in cases of environmental degradation in India. The Uttarakhand Court orders are not the first time that an Indian Court has recognised the inherent value of the environment as separate from its relevance for human use.  For instance in the Calcutta Taj Hotel Case  the construction of a hotel was challenged on grounds that it interfered with the flight path of migratory birds. No specific negative impact on human beings was alleged. The petitioners in the case as the Court identified them, were a group of “lovers of wildlife,” lifetime members of the zoo, local residents, and a trade unionist.  Therefore, the creation of a specific standing right is not a new concept in the legal philosophy of Indian courts in so far as it means recognising the inherent value of nature as separate from its value for human beings.
The case for standing rights for nature by Stone and Douglas is made in the context of a very restrictive Constitutional standing rule of standing in America which excluded the possibility of such claims as the Indian courts like in the cases above, have accepted.  If the Sierra Club were to bring its claim in a Court of India, it is more than likely that it would have been awarded standing. If the rules of standing in the US Supreme Court were more accommodative, it is difficult to see the development of environmentalism in its practical legal form, as it developed in Stone’s essay and Justice Douglas’s defence. Therefore, it is not entirely indefensible to say that when standing is very liberal, as it is in India, it provides for a recognition of the value of nature as it is and not with an accompanying human impact. This is not to suggest that anthropocentrism is not at the nucleus of many legal developments that have taken place.
Anthropocentrism vs Environmentalism
The public trust doctrine is a good example of anthropocentric ethos, and within the doctrine the state is recognized as the trustee of all natural resources that are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. The public at large is considered a beneficiary of the environment and its various resources. The state as a trustee is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources, for the public. The public trust doctrine was recognised as part of Indian environment law in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath & Ors.  The case concerned a lease given for commercial purposes for a hotel along the banks of river Beas. The government of the State of Himachal Pradesh was found in breach of the public trust doctrine in giving ecologically sensitive land up for commercial purposes. In contrast to the public trust doctrine where the exploitation of nature is a considered a violation to the rights of the public, the orders of the Uttarakhand Court hold that the banks of river Beas be protected for its inherent ecological value, as opposed to in public trust, with the natural entity itself acting as the holder of rights. Even where land does fall into the hands of public trust, it does not necessarily mean that human interest is always against the values of what has been referred to as environmentalism or the interests of nature as it is.  For example, the Court in Kamal Nath and some other public trust doctrine cases did not create a property right for the public under the trust, but instead ordered the restoration of the area. 
According to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Right to Life entails that: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”  The right has shown considerable elasticity and the courts in India have recognised that the right to life includes the right to a healthy environment. It has been argued that this Article has evolved with respect to an anthropocentric approach.  However, this is a narrow reading of the article. The interpretation of what constitutes such a ‘healthy environment’ has varied from a narrow to a broad interpretation.  In its narrow form, the right refers to an environmental threat to human life. For instance in the Shriram Gas Leak Case  where the leaking of gas caused injury, the claim brought entailed a direct human injury. Similarly in Subhash Kumar v. Bihar  where the right was interpreted as protection from anything that ‘endangers or impairs the quality of life.’  Yet another conception of the right is as guarantee to an environment that is pollution free. Therefore, in Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India  the Supreme Court observed that the right to a healthy environment means a right to pollution free air and water.  In Intellectual Forum, Tirupathi v. State of AP,  the preservation of nature was extended to a consideration for future generations (this is of anthropocentric significance as well, but as can be seen this is only one way of the interpretation of the right). In an even broader sense, the right has been interpreted as the right to not just a pollution-free environment but the protection of ecological balance. Therefore in Virendra Gaur v State of Haryana  the Supreme Court observed that: “Enjoyment of life … including the right to live with human dignity encompasses within its ambit, the protection and preservation of the environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water, sanitation, without which life cannot be enjoyed.”  Similarly, maintaining of ecological balance was emphasised in T. Damodar Rao v. Municipal Corp. of Hyderabad.  Michael Anderson has argued that ‘the recognition of the importance of ecological balance offers a path towards an anthropocentric approach as it realises the protection and preservation of the natural environment as an end in itself’.  The recognition of the rights for nature now prove Anderson’s observation to be correct.
The right of standing in nature, in so far as it means that harm to nature is a legal injury, can be used to fill gaps of legislation. In the Kamal Nath case the court made the observation that where no legislation can be found, administrative agencies can take this as guiding principle. It was observed that:
“If there is a law made by Parliament or the State Legislatures the courts can serve as an instrument of determining legislative intent in the exercise of its powers of judicial review under the Constitution. But in the absence of any legislation, the executive acting under the doctrine of public trust cannot abdicate the natural resources and convert them into private ownership or for commercial use. The aesthetic use and the pristine glory of the natural resources, the environment and the eco-systems of our country cannot be permitted to be eroded for private, commercial or any other use unless the courts find it necessary, in good faith, for the public goods and in public interest to encroach upon the said resources.” 
Despite the extensive legislations  that are now a part of India’s environmental law, inevitably there will be some gaps. For instance, in a case a petitioner was accused of the inappropriate removal of ordinary earth from a plot of land in a remote village.  There was no law prohibiting removal of ordinary earth and it did not come under the definition of minor minerals, which were to be protected. In the case the Court noted that there had been a large-scale removal of ordinary earth, and stated that: “no one can have unfettered freedom to degrade and excavate land owned by them where this has a negative impact on the environment and the local residents…..the environment imposes constraints on our freedoms.”  The Court ordered all excavations by this individual to be filled and reclaimed. In coming to this conclusion, the Court emphasized the Right to a Healthy Environment and the need for sustainable development, even on privately owned lands. It can therefore be argued that in cases where no direct human impact can be established, the rights of nature would be of greater assistance for the administrative agencies to fill legislative gaps and for the public to bring claims to enforce the rights of nature.
Furthermore, as Stone observes in his essay, “Judges who could unabashedly refer to the ‘legal rights of the environment’ would be encouraged to develop a viable body of law – in part simply through the availability and the force of expression…such a manner of speaking by courts would contribute to popular notions and a society that spoke of the legal rights of the ‘environment’ would be inclined to legislate more environment-protecting rules by formal enactment.”  Therefore the new (Fundamental) Right can assist in filling legislative gaps for administrative agencies in the exercise of their power, by the common law in deciphering legislative intent and by the legislature in further pro-environment legislation.
Value of the Rights for Nature
Finally, as Redgewell argues, a rights based approach contributes to a more ‘profound agenda’ in regards to protection of nature. “A strong rights based approach is just not concerned solely with the attribution of rights to animals and natural objects for the purposes of environmental protection but with the elevation of animals, plants, mountains, and other natural objects to a level of moral and legal considerability commensurate with that of humans.”  It can be observed that although the Court noted the importance of these resources for human beings, it has recognised them as legal entities with their own rights. Therefore, to a significant extent realising “the moral and legal considerability” that Redgewell considers.
The legal implications of the declaration of rights for nature in these orders needs to be further clarified. Notwithstanding the gaps in the order, it is possible to detect the courts in India adjudicating with the particular needs of the environment even when such a right for nature did not exist. The courts have extended, in the cases discussed above, the human right, the Right to a Healthy Environment to the needs of nature. However, the declaration of a separate right can be utilised for filling legislative gaps. Finally, concerns about negative impact on public participation do not arise in environmental litigation, with continued access to broad standing requirements under PIL and the existing Right to a Healthy environment.
Sugandha is a resident of the Indian capital of New Delhi and a student of law at Durham University. Her love for the environment began when she came to this small northern English city, and was exposed to air she could finally breathe.
References found below.
In a recent order by the High Court of the North-Indian state of Uttarakhand, rivers Ganga and Yamuna  and all their tributaries were recognised as legal entities. They are now entitled to the same human rights as guaranteed under Articles 48-A and 51 A(g) of the Constitution of India.  The order came under an ongoing case on the inaction of the responsible government agencies regarding the cleaning of river Ganga, one of the largest rivers in the country and also one of the most polluted in the world. 
The Court emphasised the religious and ecological significance of these rivers to reach its conclusion. It was observed that just as a company, or Hindu idols have been recognised as legal entities and are capable of having property and paying tax returns.  Similarly, these rivers can and must be recognised as legal entities capable of holding rights.  The Court stated that both rivers are worshipped by Hindus and carry deep spiritual and religious significance for Hindus, they support many communities and hold vast natural resources.  Their protection, the Court said, is of utmost importance. As a result, it accorded two government officials and the Advocate General of the State as persons in loco parentis or the human face to protect, conserve and preserve the rivers. The Advocate General shall represent the rivers at all legal proceedings to protect their interests. 
Not only these two rivers, but ‘glaciers, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests, wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls’ were also declared as legal entities with fundamental rights.  The Court decided thus in a case which followed the first order in the case above. The Court reiterated the religious and mythological relevance of some of these natural entities, and quoted principles of international environmental law, like those identified in the Rio Declaration.  As in the first order, government officials and the Advocate General of the State were declared persons in loco parentis, in addition to noted advocates and academics.
With these orders India is now in company with New Zealand and Ecuador to have declared a natural entity a legal person with equivalent rights to a human being.  While noting his reservations with the order of the Court, Professor Visvanathan has observed that the decision marks an important “shift in Indian legal philosophy.”  “It’s the inauguration of a new way of seeing.” 
However, the larger legal implications of the orders are still not clear. The legal reasoning of the Court is limited, accompanied with religious and Hindu mythological narratives that give little direction as to the general legal implications and the impact on participation by the public in the protection of these natural entities.
Additionally, there are jurisdictional concerns. Ganga and Yamuna are not contained within the state of Uttarakhand and cover vast territory in more than one state, where the High Court of Uttarakhand does not have jurisdiction, causing complications to this ruling.  In the second order, which recognised the wide list of natural entities as legal entities, the same jurisdictional concerns remain.
Furthermore, the Court in either case does not explain the rights that have been extended to these entities. The first order observes that the rivers concerned have rights under Articles 41-A and 51 A(g).  Article 48-A is under ‘Directive Principles of State of Policy’(DPSPs) under the Constitution of India which identify principles to be adhered to in the policies of the state with respect to conservation of the environment.  DPSPs are not enforceable by a court of law and are merely guiding principles.  It is unclear therefore, what the Court means by rights. Article 51 A(g) falls under the Fundamental Duties of citizens of India, which are not meant to be enforceable. 51A(g) in particular concerns the general duty of citizens to protect the environment.  It may be inferred that, since the state and citizens have a duty to protect the environment, the environment has a corresponding right to be protected. However, this does not assist in understanding the content or scope of these rights.
The second order, by a marginal contrast, observes that the concerned entities are entitled to all Fundamental Rights. Fundamental Rights under the Indian Constitution include human rights like the right to equality, freedom, religion, freedom from exploitation, and freedom for cultural and educational rights,  a violation of these is subject to judicial redress under Articles 32 and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.  But, which articles out of these are applicable to natural entities is not identified by the Court, nor the implications thereof. For instance, River Ganga, whose religious importance the orders remind us of, remains exploited by inconsiderate human use. It is continuously polluted as a cremation site, or for other religious rituals.  Protection of the river would necessitate the restriction on the use of the river for religious practices. However, protection of the rights of the river in this way will conflict with fundamental rights of freedom of culture and religion to practice these rituals. Which rights take precedence? How does one know when the rights of a river are violated? Where is the line drawn between acceptable human use of the river and a violation of its right of equality, freedom and its exploitation? Will the construction of dams be affected by the judgement or are such development projects excluded from the scope of this right? 
Many such questions remain unanswered.
Continue reading about this issue in a post to be released next week!
Sugandha is a resident of the Indian capital of New Delhi and a student of law at Durham University. Her love for the environment began when she came to this small northern English city, and was exposed to air she could finally breathe.
References found below.
On June 3rd, 2017, a group of Durham University students put on an event entitled 'Changes in the Arctic' in conjunction with LDSB, discussed previously on this blog and its corresponding social media outlets. The day provided much information on different climate-related issues in the arctic, sharing the complex responses of physical, biological, political and social environments to a changing climate. Earlier in the day we had volunteers engaging the public in conversation about different case studies presented on posters in the Department of Geography lobby, and an ongoing presentation of Arctic and climate-related documentaries offered in a nearby lecture theatre.
The day culminated in a panel discussion between five Arctic experts representing different aspects of the Arctic. Thank you to speakers Terry Callaghan, Rachel Carr, Simone Abram, Chris Stokes and Phil Steinberg for the time and information that was shared. More information on each of their areas of expertise can be found on the Changes in the Arctic webpage. A recording of the panel discussion can still be found here; it is well worth a watch! Live updates from the event can also be found on the Changes in the Arctic Twitter. Photos from the event can also be found here.
A huge thank you goes out to each and every volunteer who helped with everything from project development, to contacting people, to creating and editing posters, to event set-up, making food for people on the day, ordering wine and food supplies, creating a budget and keeping track of funds, viewing, editing and creating the documentary playlist, coordinating volunteers, volunteering on the day and the list goes on! Thanks also for the immense support provided by the Durham Geography Department, Durham County Council, the County Council Partnership; without whom this event would not have been possible.
If you have any questions about the event, or any future events, please send us a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible. If you would like further information on the changes occurring in the Arctic, please keep an eye on this website and our social media outlets as we will be posting more information in the future.
We really hope you enjoyed the event (and if not yet - will watch the livestream) and will take what you learned with you into the future. Staying engaged with such subjects enables us to live as engaged global citizens, whilst making informed decisions that minimize our impact on sensitive environments such as the Arctic.
Mariama lives in the UK whilst studying ice and other earthy things. She enjoys running through wild places, going on adventures and learning stuff.
This Saturday, the 3rd of June 2017, a group of students from the Durham University geography department and Let's Do Something BIG. are hosting an event entitled 'Changes in the Arctic' communicating the effects of climate change on Arctic environments. The event is to be held at the Durham University Geography Department, Durham, United Kingdom. Educational posters and videos will be available for viewing by the public from 1.30pm-3.30pm in room W007.
These issues created as a result of a changing Arctic climate will later be approached from multiple perspectives in a discussion panel to take place from 4pm-5.30pm in room W309; FREE tickets for the discussion panel can be obtained here. Make sure to book your place, as seating for the discussion is limited. Nibbles and refreshments (including tea, coffee and wine) will be provided to discussion panel attendees, so if that isn't incentive I don't know what is. If you are unable to make it to Durham to attend the panel discussion, have no fear! The event will be live-streamed. Keep an eye out for live-streaming details on the event webpage and Facebook page so that you don't miss out!
The discussion panel speakers have now all been announced, and short bios for each can be found on the 'Changes in the Arctic' event webpage. To keep up-to-date on Arctic happenings and announcements about the event, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
At a time when the governments of the world have a heightened interest in the future of the Arctic, both through climate change and political wrangling, we believe that this event will help inform and prompt discourse on the topic throughout surrounding the region.
Hope to see you on Saturday!
Although we have taken a brief break from blogging updates, we have been active as ever in our No-Plastic-April campaign! As mentioned last month, we challenged a group of over 30 ambassadors from different places around the world to cut out/minimize their plastic consumption for the month of April, and share what they are learning along the way. This post includes some of those very useful tips and tricks shared by our ambassadors!
To see the different ways in which you can reduce the use of plastic, repurpose and reuse plastic already in your life and unexpected challenges that will be faced through saying no to plastic--check out our Instagram.
Here is a round-up of some handy tips/tricks shared over the course of April:
Thanks so much to everyone who participated with the campaign throughout April, and remember that all of these tips and tricks can be applied to daily, everyday life in order to keep our oceans clean and our planet healthy!
Additional resources for reducing plastic consumption are bountiful! Check out this list from By the Ocean We Unite for a list of individual actions that make a huge difference to marine life and the overall health of the oceans. Watch this space for a more comprehensive list of resources to read, tricks to implement and videos to watch regarding WHY it matters to cut out plastic and WHAT we can do about it.
Stay aware, live by your values and remember that together we can do something big.
Mariama lives in the UK whilst studying ice and other earthy things. She enjoys running through wild places, going on adventures and learning stuff.
Non profit organisations, civil society groups and individual citizens, who are motivated by the public interest, have played a decisive role in law and politics. They have democratised the process of decision making, by voicing their disagreements and alternatives on issues ranging from child rights and female genital mutilation to prisoner’s rights and right to education. Their role is not only important; but essential for the pursuit of a better regulation of law in society. International law has increasingly come to recognise this and therefore organisations like Amnesty International now have advisory status in the United Nations.
Unlike International law, the domestic law in many countries has been slow to embrace NGOs and citizens in comparison to the welcoming gestures of international law. The relevance of such entities was realised in India, however, in the early 1980s through the S.P.Gupta Case. The Court in the S.P.Gupta Case liberalised the requirements for locus standi/standing (laws regulating who can bring a legal dispute to the Court). It recognised the socio-economic challenges that faced India: the widespread poverty, illiteracy and the inaccessibility of the legal system. With this case the Supreme Court flagged off what is now called ‘Social-Action Litigation’, more commonly known as Public Interest Litigation. As a result of this judgement anyone, citizen or organisation, can bring a claim to the Indian Supreme Court for legal redress. What does all this mean for the environment? A lot.
One of the primary hurdles for environmental litigation in any legal system are restrictive standing rules. To put it simply, when you bring a problem to the court, it must involve the violation of a legally recognised right as a result of a legally recognised injury. However, unlike a stolen car, pollution of the air is not a violation of anyone’s personal right. Why? Simply because unlike the car, the air belongs to no one. As Late Supreme Court Justice Scalia would have said: What’s it to you? Therefore, in the early days of the Indian Republic, environment cases were brought only if there was some particular injury to an individual, as in cases of nuisance or tort. But why is that a problem? It is a problem because the law viewed a citizen’s interests from the perspective of private law. Therefore, if ‘it’ (in this case—air) does not belong to you, how can it bother you? These standing rules did not recognise that the abuse of the natural environment cannot be legally addressed from the view of private law.
The air does not belong to anyone, because it belongs to everyone. And, therefore, anyone and everyone should be able to bring a claim to the Court to protect and preserve the environment. As a result of this law, NGOs and public spirited citizens in India have worked towards the closing of limestone quarries, installation of environmental safeguards and closure of pollution tanneries on the river Ganges. In what was the most well known decision by the Court in India, an entire fleet of diesel-powered buses in Delhi were converted to compressed-natural gas.
But does this mean India’s environment is any better? Yes and no. While judicial decisions have been result-oriented in the Court, the conversion of diesel buses to CNG led to the significant reduction of pollution levels in India’s capital. These gains made, however, were neutralised by the rising needs of a growing economy and later Delhi pollution only became worse. Judicial intervention is crucial, but its impact is limited if other organs of state machinery are not responsive. The environmental judicial activism of the Indian Supreme Court was one such result of unresponsiveness.
The Indian Supreme Court has created an efficient avenue for addressing environmental wrongs. However, in so far as the agenda of environmental protection is preservation is concerned, the judiciary is but one participant. Without a committed government and administration these efforts will not be enough to promote sustained environmental improvements. The advantage that India has as a result of being an activist judiciary will be lost without such a collaboration The judiciary of India, however, is not waiting. It continues to prioritise environmental concerns. Just yesterday, for instance, the Court banned BS-III compliant vehicles, raising emission standards to check toxic emissions from heavy diesel vehicles. A united effort incorporating both the government and administration must utilise the increasing public support of such pro-environment decisions and contribute towards creating a better country for India, and a better planet for everyone.
Sugandha is a resident of the Indian capital of New Delhi, and a student of law at Durham University. Her love for the environment began when she came to this Northern English town, after being exposed to air she could finally breathe.
 See the role played by NGOs in human rights jurisprudence in Europe and on environmental obligations.
 The United Kingdom for instance in R. v Secretary of State for the Environment Ex p. Rose Theatre Trust Co (No.2)  1 Q.B. 504 (QBD). This does not represent the current state of the law, which has been more welcoming to citizens and organizations. See: Walton v Scottish Ministers  UKSC 44,  PTSR 51, R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2013] UKSC 25,  3 CMLR 29. However, not only has this change been drastically slow, it comes with its own uncertainties. Unlike in India, the NGOs and citizens in the UK are not guaranteed the right to judicial redress, entrenched by the Right to a healthy environment under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, there have legislative proposals in UK which would neutralize all the progress in this regard.
 Here is a reliable summary of the case.
 While this looks like a simple explanation, the courts in the United Kingdom effectively accepted this concept only very recently in AXA and Walton
 Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v State of Uttar Pradesh (Dehradun Quarrying Case) AIR 1985 SC 652.
 M.C.Mehta v Union of India (Shriram Gas Leak Case) AIR 1987 SC 965.
 M.C.Mehta v Union of India (Ganga Pollution (Tanneries) Case) AIR 1988 SC 1037.
 Which has had dubious infamy for being the most polluted city in the world.
 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1998) (No. 13029/1985).
 J.Mijin Cha (2005) 'A critical examination of the environmental jurisprudence of the courts of India', Albany Law Environmental Outlook Journal, p. 202.
 Rosencranz & Divan, Environment Law and Policy in India (2nd edn OUP 2002)
 See this article.
As someone who is passionate about environmental issues, reading the news the past several months has been particularly discouraging. The newly appointed Trump administration has been making it very clear to the world that combatting climate change is not at all a priority or even a part of the political agenda of the United States. Furthermore, the administration’s actions and appointments has offered strong indications that we are going to see a rollback of environmental protection policies. The newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, recently said that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor global warming. This statement contradicts the consensus among many scientific international organizations and agencies, including the agency that Pruitt has been appointed to run. Pruitt’s statement, besides being demonstrably false, reflects the sentiment in the Trump administration that we can expect to see very little being done to combat climate change by the executive branch of government. In the first budget draft put out by the White House, the EPA’s budget was reduced by more a quarter, which would severely limit the funds with which the agency can carry out its valuable work.
One of Trump’s campaign promises was to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015. This agreement, signed by most of the world’s nations at COP 21 in 2015, is a pledge to combat climate change. One of its main goals is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and in striving to do so implies that human contributions to carbon dioxide must be cut drastically. The agreement went into effect after the 55 countries that produce 55% of global greenhouse emissions signed the pledge, the United States included. It has now been signed by 134 countries. Having a coordinated and collaborative effort from most of the world’s countries towards reducing environmental impacts is essential in combatting climate change and its effects, as no single country can do it on its own. If the U.S. withdraws from the agreement, the plan loses a main source of legitimacy and influence from a country that contributes to a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. And if the U.S. does so, other countries may likely withdraw from it as well. However, it is not certain that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, as there are fears of potential diplomatic conflicts with members of the Paris Agreement.
Although it often seems discouraging and at times can feel like a helpless situation, it’s not! Because the federal government is choosing to ignore the very real and imminent threat posed by climate change, it falls upon individuals and communities to do something about it. Luckily, the administration’s denial of man-made climate change is not a view held by worldwide, by both the scientific and non-scientific communities alike. There are so many things that we as individuals and communities can do to make a difference!
Even though I am often discouraged by the current challenges posed to environmental policies by the U.S. federal government, I know that local change and coordinated efforts by groups of people can make huge differences. We cannot afford to wait around for a new administration, or for a change in policies to take action—we must do something now. The future truly is in our hands, so let’s get out there and make a difference!
Nathan was born in Colorado but grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria from ages 6-18. He is now studying at University of Northern Colorado and hopes to live overseas once again, whilst teaching at international schools around the world.
The existence of refugees goes back almost as far as humanity itself. Our history is full of displaced people, escaping persecution and conflict. The European refugee crisis conjures up images of war, bombs, boats, lives, deaths, hardship and suffering. It has destroyed and divided countries, cities, families and friendships around the world. It has been in the headlines almost non-stop since 2015, and Europe has subsequently experienced the greatest mass movement of people since WWII. The result of events both within and outside of Europe, the refugee crisis seems overwhelmingly complicated. Today, it is estimated that nearly 60 million (the highest number on record and by some estimates 1 in every 122 humans on the planet) of the global population are currently displaced due to conflict, individual or collective persecution, environmental disaster, and denial of their human rights.
Many refugees undertake long and deeply, perilous journeys in order to reach safety, covertly crossing conflict zones, deserts, seas and multiple countries in various states of (non)governance, often on foot with scarce resources. Of those who make it safely to Europe, many are forced to wait to be accommodated for food, healthcare, and most importantly for their asylum applications to be processed by systems overwhelmed by demand. Refugees who stay in neighbouring countries to their own, which are many times already experiencing economic and political challenges, often suffer local persecution, limited rights and economic challenges. Compounded globally by widespread misinformation, prejudice to the point of racism, and apathy, the harmonious and safe resettlement of refugees becomes even more difficult.
I, along with many others, have followed the refugee crisis from my computer and television screens for the last couple of years, finding information in news reports, charity websites and on-the-ground reports. I’ve often wondered about the human beings being affected by policies made in London, Brussels and Washington, and wondered if I would ever be able to make any sort of contribution to the solution to this ongoing challenge. My interest was sparked further during my year abroad, where I spent time in a French asylum seekers’ centre and met a number of asylum seekers.
It was with this in mind that in January 2017 I decided to volunteer with an organisation running a newly established refugee camp in Paris (following the demolition of ‘the jungle’ in Calais). The organisation’s main work in the camp was to do with receiving, cleaning, organising and distributing clothing donations, as well as regulating the queue outside the camp, where we distributed tea, food, blankets and offered any support we could. The camp functions as a holding centre for up to 400 male refugees and migrants, women are taken to private accommodation on their arrival, paid for by the charities supporting the camp, and children are taken into separate accommodation managed by the Red Cross. Each day, a coach-load of people departed from the camp to be transported to an asylum-seekers centre in another part of France, freeing up more places inside the Paris camp. Once they arrive at their designated centre, the refugees and migrants are supposed to be provided with food and accommodation. However, these resources are often woefully scarce; one young man walked to the Paris camp from Dijon after being told there was no space to accommodate him. Due to the Paris camp’s limited capacity there was a constant queue of at least 100 men waiting to enter; they slept in line, on the freezing ground, many for up to a week and some for longer, before they could even hope to reach the front. Bearing in mind that most of these men had already journeyed for months from their countries, and many had simply walked from the point at which they first reached Europe. So one can imagine the psychological, and not to mention physical impact of being forced to sleep in the streets of Paris in sub-zero temperatures with no guarantee of admission to the camp, nor of being granted asylum. Every morning at 7am the gates of the camp were opened to admit a small number, inevitably forcing scenes of conflict and occasionally violence.
I arrived for my first evening shift with some trepidation, and was immediately thrown into action making and distributing milky, sugary tea to those waiting in the queue. I was immediately approached by a man asking for knife; he explained that he intended to use it to harm himself as he ‘didn’t want to live anymore.’ I had never encountered such a situation, and though my first response were tears pricking at my eyes, I forced them back, offered him tea and food and talked with him for as long as I could. It was a meagre and insufficient response; though I didn’t know what else to do.
Over the next few days I worked both inside and outside the camp, meeting men from a huge variety of countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Iran, Guinea, North and South Sudan, Libya, Syria, Algeria… Tackling familiar and less-familiar challenges: how to ask a person’s trouser size in Arabic, how to offer new underpants to men from conservative societies without embarrassing them, how to communicate with volunteers from a variety of European countries, how to mass-make sandwiches at triple-speed, how to try to answer as to why the French police were removing people sleeping in the streets around the camp, and how to explain that sorry, there just aren’t enough shoes for everyone to have a new pair. I also spent a considerable amount of time accompanying individuals to the hospital for medical attention in order to translate between English, French and Arabic, through which I was able to find out some more about those whom I accompanied. Farwan from Afghanistan ran out of fingers when I asked how many countries he had come through to get to Paris. Mohamed paid to travel in the back of a lorry to arrive here, but was unable to elaborate much between bouts of asthmatic wheezing. And 16 year old Assadiq from Sudan told me about his journey, which had begun three months prior, during which he travelled through Chad, Libya, across the Mediterranean ‘river’ (as he said the traffickers called it) to Sicily, where he was briefly detained before crossing to Italy and walking to Paris. There he slept rough for 10 days under a bridge near the camp before being taken to the Red Cross, encouraged to do so by his brothers in the UK who had made the journey before him.
The opportunity to get to know Farwan, Mohamed and Assadiq also provided some of the most challenging moments; I accompanied Farwan and Mohamed back to the camp at the end of the day knowing that they had not gained admission to the camp would be sleeping outside whilst I travelled back to my warm, safe accommodation on the other side of Paris. Finding somewhere for them to stay served little purpose as they would consequently lose their places in the queue to enter the camp and would have to start the process all over again. From what I have heard from Assadiq since I left the camp, he is still sleeping on a camp bed in a school gymnasium managed by the Red Cross, and has not yet gotten even close to submitting an asylum application or transfer to join his brothers in the UK.
In light of these brief but impressionable experiences, I was devastated at the decision of the UK government to close down the Dubs’ amendment scheme, through which just a few hundred child refugees were able to join members of their families in the UK. Other events in the world, borne of prejudice and fearmongering, make a quotation by German pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) come to mind:
‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’
We may no longer commonly speak of the persecution of socialists and trade unionists, but Niemöller’s sentiment remains pertinent to this day. Our individual humanity is bound to each other’s, and we can only progress as far as we all reach together. There can be no sustainable peace within the walls we have built to keep people out, if those walls have been built on unjust and uncompassionate grounds. Today, in this life, we are on this side of the wall. Tomorrow, who knows? If I ever find myself on the other side, I hope there is justice, compassion and kindness there to receive me.
I am a 4th year student of French & Arabic at Durham University, hoping to soon be pursuing an MA in Conflict Development. Since returning to Durham I have been involved with local refugee work in the County Durham and Middlesbrough areas through Durham for Refugee and Durham City of Sanctuary. I hope to return to Paris to volunteer this summer. Many thanks to Mariama for the opportunity to share my experiences.
 Many of whom have not yet submitted asylum applications – therefore their refugee/migrant status is undetermined.
ANNOUNCEMENT: We here at LDSB are excited to announce the 'No-Plastic-April Challenge'! In honor of Earth Day, we are challenging our readers to say no to plastic this April. During the month we will share tips, updates and photos related to how to cut down plastic from the people who pledge to do so, as well as blog posts from these people too!
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When I was 16, I left Alaska for the first time. I traveled completely across the United States to attend a college-prep program with one of my classmates. We were the only two students from Alaska. This experience is the one that really jump-started the development of my ability to share my experiences and advocate for my land and culture. In the years since then, I’ve continued to share my story as it’s become more relevant to others.
The truth is, and anyone from Alaska will tell you this, the land around us is changing rapidly and changing our everyday lives. Within the past 6 years, our seasons have also changed pretty dramatically, as our winters are getting somewhat shorter and less consistent. Our permafrost is also melting, shifting the land, and messing with some valuable infrastructure. As glacier melt continues to accelerate, the sea levels continue to rise and more coasts are being threatened. Ocean acidification and the impact of rising ocean temperatures is also posing a huge threat to our ecosystems and food sources.
All these things have a massive impact on life here in Alaska. Many rural Alaskans live off of the land for food. It’s vital, considering the lack of job availability in many communities and high grocery costs. It also has a big impact on our culture, as subsistence hunting is such a big part of it and many values are taught to young people through hunting and gathering resources from the land.
Currently, the United States holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a body made up of international governments to address issues regarding the Arctic. I think that most people in the US often forget that we are an Arctic country and don’t know much, if anything, about Alaska or the Arctic. Throughout the past two years, the government has made a lot of effort in creating awareness about Arctic issues, a topic that’s becoming more popular among politicians. The Arctic Youth Ambassadors program was created to give young Alaskans a voice in all these discussions and to educate non-Arctic citizens about our experiences and challenges.
Despite all the attention and politics, there is still not enough effort going into finding solutions for the situation we are facing. Rural Arctic communities still receive little to no funding for infrastructure and little support when it comes to climate issues. Currently, there are a few small villages, like Shishmaref, that are being drastically threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Within the next few decades, Shishmaref will be washed away and the Inupiaq residents will be forced to relocate, leaving their homes and many traditional aspects of our culture behind.
I think the thing that most people don’t realize is that what is happening with Shishmaref will soon be happening everywhere else as well. With the Arctic warming at twice the rate of any other region in the world, what happens here sets a major precedent to what happens elsewhere. And what is happening is the rate of change in these areas is accelerating. These changes will happen more rapidly, and within the next century, other coastal cities in the rest of the United States will start facing similar threats.
Even though it’s still appears to be a big controversy, a majority of scientists have agreed that humans have contributed to the warming planet. How much man-made carbon emissions have contributed to that change is another debate. Either way, with the state of the planet currently, we cannot afford to continue to add fuel to this fire. We need to continue moving towards renewable energy sources by investing in them and divesting from the oil and gas industries. It’s also imperative that we reduce our waste in order to save our safe, natural food resources that will continue to be threatened as ocean acidification becomes a larger problem.
I will always talk about my home and I will always do what I can to protect it. Unfortunately, I cannot do this all by myself, nor solely with the twenty-one other Arctic Youth Ambassadors. It’s going to take a major global effort amongst individuals everywhere to create a change that will make a difference. So as an individual, I will continue to advocate for such sustainable changes with my knowledge and experiences to educate a broader audience and hope that they will be inspired enough to do their part. Let’s do something big, together.
Macy is a US Arctic Youth Ambassador and university student. She is from Kotzebue, Alaska, and has spent a large portion of her 20 years at her family camp in Sisualik, AK where she has grown in her culture, as well as in her love of the outdoors and the ocean.