I have often considered that we need a new term in our ethical lexicon to describe deliberate harm inflicted on future generations by those who promote increasing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. I have used the term “ethically bankrupt” to describe such people, but particularly politicians who lie to the current generation of children about the implications of a warming world. Children are non-consenting and innocent with respect to the adult world of a carbon-intensive economy and lifestyle.
That the English language does not contain a simple concept that can be used to convey moral or ethical outrage or criticism about, for example, the impact of climate change on children is an indictment of the whole approach to development in both Australia and the rest of the world. There are huge gaps in our ethical literacy. The Age of Solastalgia still prevails.
The language of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) as present in Australian law (including the EPBC Act) has within it the principle of ‘intergenerational equity’ and it clearly conveys the need to consider the interests of future generations in all of our deliberations. It also contains the ‘precautionary principle’ which seeks to avoid the imposition of harm on all future generations. However, these concepts have been largely ignored by past and present politicians and have rarely been reflected in case law … until now.
A recent case in the Federal Court of Australia between Anjali Sharma et al and Sister Marie Brigid Arthur Vs the Minister for the Environment (first respondent) and Vickery Coal PTY LTD was the subject of an order by Justice Bromberg on the 8th July 2021. In what is known as the ‘Sharma Case’ the order declares that:
The first respondent has a duty to take reasonable care, in the exercise of her powers under s 130 and s 133 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) in respect of referral EPBC No. 2016/7649, to avoid causing personal injury or death to persons who were under 18 years of age and ordinarily resident in Australia at the time of the commencement of this proceeding arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. https://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/single/2021/2021fca0560?fbclid=IwAR17zXvBrYMYtiigGtqLr58dMBKzW1M6n1XFqJPGnT3_fFzXhaGEhHNtzLU
The Minister will appeal this decision presumably on the grounds that ‘she’ (the Commonwealth of Australia) does not have a “duty of care” towards children under the age of 18 with respect to increasing emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by coal mines or any other form of carbon intensive development that requires EPBC approval. We must await the result of this appeal.
It can be argued that the Minister has both an ethical and a legal duty to protect children under 18 from all forms of harm, but particularly in this context, harm from emergent climate chaos. Failure to exercise a duty of care to children must be a particular form of ethical turpitude and should be reflected in our language of ethical wrongs or ‘sins’ (in the old language). In that vein, I offer; ‘pedolygia’ (pedo: from the Greek paidós, meaning child, lyge, Old English, a lie, ia: a condition).
Pedolygia (ped-o-ly-gia): the unethical act of wilfully lying to children about their future security and safety. Pedolygia has close affinity with legally defined child negligence where adults should exercise reasonable care in their actions, by taking into account the foreseeable harm that they are likely to cause to the life-chances of children. A person who commits the sin of lying to children about the risks of climate change is a pedolygiac and fails to perform their duty of care towards them.