The leader of the Green Party of Canada has warned other politicians that they could face legal consequences in their lifetimes if they fail to take the climate crisis seriously.
"The bar here for caring about the climate isn't to have policies better than the Conservatives," Elizabeth May told the Georgia Straight before today's Vancouver Pride parade. "The bar has to be: have you set a course and do you have a plan to hold to 1.5 degrees Celsius global average temperature increase [since the start of the Industrial Revolution] and not go above that?
"And if you don't have that plan in place, then you are as culpable as much as the oil executives and the deniers," May continued. "Because as [350.org cofounder] Bill McKibben says, incremental steps—baby steps—are just another way of losing, but losing more slowly. It doesn't mean you're a climate leader and it doesn't mean you've taken the responsible action that any responsible leader should take."
May's comments came in the wake of a talked-about tweet by former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell.
Campbell, also a former justice minister, claimed over the social-media platform that oil companies have committed "crimes against humanity" by knowingly concealing the impact of their products on the climate.
May, a former lawyer, acknowledged that it's "extremely hypothetical" to talk about criminal sanctions against politicians for their climate policies. But she hasn't ruled out the possibility of that occurring in the future.
"I would say that anybody right now who has the ability to set the target for 1.5 [degrees Celsius] and doesn’t do so, knowing what we know, could indeed [face criminal liability]," May said. "I mean, how do we cope with being in a climate emergency with 12 billion tons of ice lost from Greenland in one day, 197 billion tons of ice in the month of July, and not say everything we know about politics has to change?"
Meanwhile, a journal article published in Carbon & Climate Law Review suggested that "some harmful acts which contribute to climate change and are relatively easy to monitor and prosecute are likely to be subject to criminal sanctions".
In the paper, New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office Northern Rivers education officer Mark Byrne stated that nations that see themselves as victims of climate change "may also use the allegation of climate crime to seek redress from those they hold responsible".
"It is unlikely that exceeding emission targets or failing to assist victim states with adaptation efforts will be criminalises, although they may be subject to stronger or new civil sanctions in international law," he wrote.
In the book Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival, B.C. authors Peter Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth laid out how fossil-fuel executives, politicians, and even the media could eventually find themselves in legal jeopardy for their role in contributing to a growing number of climate-change-related deaths.
In Unprecedented Crime, they outlined what constitutes crimes against humanity, which include "the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of a part of a population".
The authors also cited a DARA International report, which found that there are approximately 400,000 deaths per year worldwide directly attributable to climate change. And this is expected to reach 600,000 annually by 2030.
"Big Carbon could never have been able to continue its polluting ways—long after the scientific community had reached consensus about the connection between fossil-fuel emissions, global warming, and climate change—without the assistance of the media," Carter and Woodworth maintained.
The Straight then asked May what letter grade she would give the Canadian media for its coverage of the climate crisis over the past decade.
Without hesitation, the Green leader replied "F".
Then she was asked if it's been really that bad.
"Oh yeah," May said.