Simmering tensions between police and communities came to a head with tragic consequence in the US this year. Around the world, the dynamic between people and those appointed to keep the peace is often uneasy. Five experts suggest ways forward for better relations between police and the public
Gunshots tore into the calm evening air in Dallas on 7 July as Micah Johnson, an African American man, began shooting white police officers at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. By sunrise the next day, five officers lay dead. The tragedy stunned America and sparked soul-searching among both police and protestors.
The murders provoked particular shock because, after notorious shootings by police in the 1970s and 1980s, the Dallas Police Department had more recently been considered a model of police reform. Under the leadership of African American police chief David Brown, better training and more rigorous accountability has yielded impressive results.
Complaints about officers using excessive force dropped by two-thirds between 2009 and 2014. And, even as police shootings of African American youths in Ferguson and Chicago triggered outrage and protests, community relations in Dallas remained cordial. Before gunfire broke out on 7 July, marchers hugged, snapped selfies and exchanged high fives with officers.
But across America, tensions between police departments and African American communities remain high. And this difficulty is echoed closer to home. The London riots of five years ago unfolded in part due to the death of Mark Duggan, a black man from Tottenham in Haringey, who was shot dead by police. This corner of north London had already witnessed the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot in which a police officer died, and levels of antagonism between local people and officers remained high.
Too often, say residents and activists, police leaders are unwilling to drive wholehearted cultural change. But a growing number of departments appear to be seriously considering the question: how can we truly serve our communities?
The results can be dramatic. After struggling with corruption and racial tension for much of the 1990s, Cincinnati’s police force overhauled its operations, with police ‘use of force’ incidents falling by 70 per cent between 1999 and 2014. Violent crime dropped too: from 4,317 in the year following the 2001 riots to 2,352 in 2014.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were triggered when four police officers were acquitted for the use of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. Afterwards, the LA Police Department began two decades of reforms that led to the once primarily white police force becoming ‘majority minority’, with more Hispanic officers than white. However, relations with the community remain less than peaceful; shootings by the force spiked by 50 per cent last year, with black people five times more likely to be shot than white, according to an LAPD report.
Meanwhile in New York, police leaders have curtailed controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ programmes. Rates of violent crime in the city are now at an all-time low. Shootings are down by 20 per cent, and in the first half of this year, there were fewer shootings than in the first six months of any recorded year.
Reforms are not confined to the US. In the UK, elected commissioners can now set priorities and hire and fire constables – a move intended to promote accountability.
Liberia, a country of 4.6 million on the west African coast, saw a ninefold increase in the number of female police officers between 2003 and 2013, as leaders sought a more sensitive handling of gender-based violence.
And in Georgia, policing has come a long way since the Soviet era, when police bribes were a daily norm. When Mikheil Saakashvili became president in 2004, he sacked large numbers of police officers and rebuilt the force from the ground up. Now, more than 80 per cent of Georgians say they trust the police.
Such sweeping reforms aren’t always possible. Many believe that the restoration of trust relies on incremental change, driven by leaders willing to listen to community concerns.
Positive News asked five experts: how can policing be improved?
Additional reporting by Emily Braham and Lucy Purdy
Graphics by Studio Blackburn
“Valuing, diversity and empathy became the new core values of the New Zealand Police in 2014, and this led directly to new ways of working.
Our ‘Do you care enough to be a cop?’ campaign seeks to recruit people motivated to make a positive difference in their communities. Treating others with courtesy, showing compassion towards victims and being sensitive to the needs of different cultures helps to ensure that people are safe and that they feel safe too.
Diversity is really important to us – it has to be. New Zealand is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world. Fifteen per cent of New Zealanders are Maori and a further 25 per cent were born overseas – a proportion that rises to 40 per cent in Auckland, our biggest city.
Reflecting that diversity is an operational necessity. If we are able to provide the highest level of service to all of our communities, we need to genuinely engage with them. Our latest recruitment campaign specifically reaches out to 18 to 29-year-olds who are Maori, Pacific, Chinese, Indian, Latin American, African and Middle Eastern.
New Zealand Police’s Do you care enough to be a cop? recruitment campaign features videos filmed in real streets in which members of the public come to the aid of clearly distressed individuals. A subtitle reads: “She cared enough. Would you?”
In 2001, Cincinnati had a massive uprising after years of police violence and killings of black people. The Department of Justice intervened, but what made Cincinnati’s response unique was that the interests of the community were represented. The legacy of the city’s Collaborative Agreement is not that tensions have ceased to exist between police and community, but that law enforcement and residents have tools to solve these problems.
Too often decisions are made about police practices with only high level government officials in the room. The agreement’s model for community problem-oriented policing put law enforcement back into neighbourhoods. The police worked with residents to adopt proactive programmes. For instance, if residents complained about an abandoned house that was a crime magnet, police worked with neighbourhood leaders to repurpose the house and help those living there to rebuild their lives.
The road to reform was not an easy one – there were many times when tension was high and I thought change might never happen. But many years later, there is a strong review board and policing practices that mean officers are held accountable.”
Christine Link has been the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio for more than 25 years
“In America, policing isn’t a learning profession – we just keep making the same mistakes over and over. We’ve been writing reports on improving police behaviour since the 1960s, and they all say the same thing: treat citizens with dignity and respect; more training; community engagement; hold officers accountable. These reports were paid for with blood through the mistakes we’ve made in Oakland, in Baltimore, in Ferguson. They form a roadmap for success, but shockingly 99 per cent of police officers haven’t even read them.
We need to start hiring police chiefs who are critical thinkers and lifelong learners, who’ll use these reports as checklists for improving their departments. If we don’t, we could still be talking about these same issues in 50 or 100 years.
The Black Lives Matter movement is about communities showing their disappointment. As a black man in America, I get that – even after becoming a police officer, I’ve been pulled over at traffic stops and disrespected. Black police officers are caught in a strange twilight zone, empathising with communities of colour, but also wearing the uniform. That means many black police officers take a back seat. We need them to speak up and start taking leadership roles.”
Roy Alston is a patrol watch commander with the Dallas Police Department, Texas. He is the author of several books on leadership and facilitates police leadership programmes.
“The officers I work with have open and inquisitive minds, are compassionate, approachable and enthusiastic about keeping people safe. There is a perception within some of London’s minority communities, both black and white, that all police officers are racist. This is such an inaccurate and unfair position that it makes some officers nervous in their interactions with people from minority groups. A genuine mistake can be misinterpreted as a discriminatory act.
The history of community relations between the police in London and the black community is littered with examples of where things have gone disastrously wrong. But I have no doubt that the Met is totally committed to improving race relations. I haven’t met any officer who would want to damage police and community relations.
We need to train and encourage officers to understand that each encounter may require something slightly different. This requires courage at times because individuals and communities can be quick to criticise. When I took over in Haringey the relationship between police and the community was fragile. So it was reassuring to find that the vast majority of the community wanted to build good, strong working relationships with us. If the people in Haringey can be that ready to build positive relationships with their local police, the people of London can do that with the Met.”
Ch Supt Victor Olisa is a former Haringey borough commander and the Met’s most senior black officer.
“For decades in Liberia the police acted in the interest of the regime rather than the security of the people. Efforts for improved accountability following the civil war have been slow. But an oversight body established in 2013 allows for complaints to be made against police officers or judges. These are passed on to the Ministry of Justice for review. Though more needs to be done to raise awareness of this process, and the review would be better undertaken by a neutral body, it is a step in the right direction.
More importantly a new police act was finally ratified in 2016, which makes the Liberia National Police a semi-autonomous body, in an effort to counteract political appointments.
Corruption can also stem from police not having the materials they need to carry out their job or to adequately feed their families, so I would advocate a focus on better pay.
Reforms needs to happen incrementally, with real oversight and transparency. In Liberia, too many interested parties including the UN, aid agencies, donor countries and government, have tried to do too many different things at the same time.
The key to any reform process is to see it as continuous, rather than something that ends when boxes are ticked. Post-conflict societies are complex and re-establishing security comes with many challenges. Having said that, the Liberian police have made great strides.”
Franzisca Zanker studies the microdynamics of peacebuilding and carries out fieldwork in Liberia.
Source: Positive News
Notes on 9-11, twenty years later.
This is the anniversary of a dark day in our country’s history. It has also been totally eclipsed by the utterly horrifying death toll from a preventable virus. So much so, that after this year I doubt anybody will be putting much emphasis on 9/11 anymore. Too many folks are mourning their current lost loved ones to spend heaps of time on those of a generation ago.
I wanted to start this essay with “I told you so.” It sure would have felt good, too; 20 years after warning y’all about the mistake of going to war to avenge a violent terror attack. Who the hell would read that article though? Nobody.
Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, least of all ‘Muricans.
We don’t. We blew it on Viet Nam. But then we spent the next two decades fellating ourselves with Rambo movies and Reagan and other such exciting fictions. So when 9/11 occured, we were 100% ready and willing and able to make the same mistake again. Then – – our short-attention span made it so that we turned away from the Afghan rebuilding project to double down and invade Iraq. (I decried that invason too, to no avail).
We then whipped up some fancy ‘mission accomplished’ banners and photo ops, and… spent the next 19 years waiting to be greeted as liberators. August of 2021 may have finally put that delusion to bed. Somehow, I don’t think so.
I hate being Cassandra. I do. Nobody wants to hear the unvarnished truth, that much is clear. But why? How is it we would rather keep suffering, and keep on making other nations suffer; instead of doing the simple, basic work to fix the problems once and for all? *This* question has become my life’s work.
There are solutions, by the way. Never ever let anyone tell you these problems cannot be fixed. Those folks are selling you something; and are not to be trusted. We could never have built civilization in the first place, if we did not have solutions available for getting people to co-exist, within community.
So forget all about ‘I told you so’, and forget about who’s fault it is that we are in such a mess. Focus your precious time on learning about solutions. I have close to 20 essays up on mobilized.news now, and plenty of others have stuff posted here too. That’s one possible place to start learning if you need resources. For the busier or more skeptical among us, here (below) are some short takes that may be of use.
I am sorry that we’re still suffering. Maybe I haven’t done enough to help relieve that suffering. Maybe I can do more. But it’s not about me, and it’s not about you. It’s about the future. It really can be as bright as we want it to be. Our biggest hurdle to overcome is simply inertia – – and that’s a choice we make every day.
Simply change your mind, decide to find a new model to live within. Better days lie ahead.
Daniel Quinn shared this insight with us: Most folks would say that “the world was made for Man, and Man was made to conquer it.” But of course that is just mythology, nothing about it is true. It’s far more accurate to say that “the world is a sacred place and a sacred process – – and we are part of it.” Our fundamental mis-understanding of how the world works is the key to knowing why we keep going on foolish crusades overseas, why we keep destroying the climate even though we know better, and so many other maladies. It’s time to change those habits.
I often recommend this book, and do so again today because it’s more relevant NOW than ever before. “Beyond Civilization” by Daniel Quinn. See also: “Providence”, and the 3 “Ishmael” novels… which would make one hell of a great miniseries, if there are any TeeVee producers reading this post.
Speaking of ‘more relevant than ever’, Bucky Fuller’s classic book-length essay Grunch of Giants came out in 1970 for crying out loud; it’s too bad we’ve never taken his wise advice.
Here let us read in their own words, some post-war thoughts from a selection of unindicted war criminals. They only barely register any remorse, and sure are twisting themselves in knots to justify their murderous idiocy. NOTABLY ABSENT IN THESE INTERVIEWS: THE POINT OF VIEW OF ANYBODY AT ALL WHO WARNED AGAINST THE INVASIONS BEFORE HAND. Such as Barbara Lee, Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein, Medea Benjamin, or any of the Gold Star Mothers. Funny how the media is falling over themselves to ask the guilty how they feel about being guilty. It’s too damn bad the media doesn’t truly want to prevent future mistakes since that would be bad for their ratings. Le sigh.
For a more rational change of pace, this journalist ignored the fatuous glad-handers who lied us into war and instead talked to the soldiers on the ground. If you’re in a hurry, skip the last entry and just read this one.
Here I offer a hat tip to my friend Alice Shikina, who has pointed me towards a far better means of conflict resolution – guided mediation & arbitration. Groups such as SEEDS exist here in the Bay Area and similar ones are in most any big city near you. We don’t have to spend our precious time being angry, or blaming the ‘other guy’. We can instead work on listening and finding common ground. There WAS common ground to be had with the Afghan people, for example, but we never once tried to find it. We simply imposed a top-down model on them and then, were puzzled why they despised it. What a huge missed opportunity. Don’t you make that same mistake. Check out the better options that are available and cost almost nothing to implement.
Allan Savory: A holistic management shift is required
Mr. Savory we know historically that the deterioration of food production systems in past civilizations and their inability to cognize encroaching complexity of population growth and governance in a holistic context leads to unbroken chain of civilizations’ collapsing. Do you think we still have time to avoid this on a global level now? Is there a way to create a new hope and new vision?
We we do not know, but Britain did not know if they could survive after the fall of France and most of Europe – but with good leadership, pushing aside egos and personal gain and acting on a war-footing they more than survived. Never has human civilization faced a graver danger than now with global finance and ecological illiteracy of our institutions driving the massive environmental degradation destroying our only habitat. Ordinary people know that all species, including humans cannot survive without suitable habitat. If world leaders (heads of governments and UN) put the massive environmental degradation that culminates in global desertification and the climate emergency on a war-footing and lead we have great hope for future generations.
Can you elaborate on the different impacts that ‘policy’ vs. ‘practice’ has on this impending problem of reforming agricultural systems worldwide?
Yes. Without agriculture there is no city, church, university, army, business or government – no civilization. Without a new regenerative form of agriculture (not crop production, but the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters) global civilization will fail. This is because all forms of agriculture historically have led to the failure of civilizations in all regions of the world and now the same threat is global. Few things in my life have taught society more clearly how interlinked our survival is than the present pandemic. Armies change civilizations. Farmers, foresters, fishermen, pastoralists destroy civilizations. So, we face the situation in which mainstream institutional, industrial agriculture led by our universities, governments and corporations supported by global finance, is the most destructive and extractive industry ever in history. And all forms of organic, sustainable, permaculture, grass production of livestock ever known led to failure of many civilizations in all regions long before chemicals and machinery.
So, if we keep discussing different practices and people keep vying for validity and funding for their favoured practice we know we will fail. What world leaders on a global war-footing need to do is to address agriculture at the policy level by focusing on the cause of agriculture, throughout history, being so environmentally, socially and economically destructive (while feeding ever growing numbers of people).
By governments and all large institutions addressing at policy level the cause of the ever-growing environmental destruction reflected in global desertification and climate change all nations will rapidly develop the required new regenerative agriculture. Very little new knowledge, not already available amongst the world’s farmers, fishermen, foresters, wildlife and livestock managers, universities and environmental organizations, is required. We do not lack detailed knowledge, we lack the ability to manage the social, cultural, environmental and economic complexity. That ability we only gained in 1984.
“If the Greta Thunberg generation are to have any hope I am again going to use my statement “We have no option but the unthinkable. By every means possible we have get enough public demand to force quicker change by insisting institutions develop policies to address problems in a holistic context.”
We know most of the organized structures of our modern world can be represented as silo’s, inhabited by true believers (Eric Hoffer author), and authoritarian demagogues. Do you believe that Holistic Management training will become widely acceptable at upper levels of organizations or will occur because of collapsing regional agricultural ecosystems at the level of farming being our next crises?
I don’t know. All we do know, from good research and history, is that when counter-intuitive or paradigm-shifting change is involved, it is impossible for democratic leaders or any organization (institution) to lead. No change is possible until public opinion shifts and demands that change. And this holds no matter how serious, no matter how many million lives are lost or what the economic cost. Institutions, including elected leaders of such, take on a life of their own as complex systems. Institutions reflect the prevailing beliefs of society and lead the way with such thinking. However, when truly new knowledge emerges (which has happened very few times in history – Coppernicus, Galilleo, Semmelwiess are examples) institutions lead the ridicule and rejection until public opinion shifts. I cannot find any case in history of any institution accepting paradigm-shifting change ahead of its public.
Addressing the cause of all that ails us involves two paradigm-shifting concepts – known and developed by thousands of people over sixty years, including thousands employed in institutions but acting independently of their institutions – the Holistic Management framework has been blocked from rapidly gaining public awareness by the world’s institutions that became aware of it – environmental and agricultural organizations, universities, governments and international agencies. Only time will tell if programs such as this interview, social networking and the efforts of many people mainly engaged in developing regenerative agriculture will prevail over institutional aggression and inertia.
How is the lack of validation affecting positive change in local communities to holistic principles?
Firstly, there is really only one holistic principle. Intuitively known by all earlier people who in most cultures recognized humanity’s inseparable tie to our habitat. And the principle was brought into Western thought in 1926 by Jan Smuts who wrote Holism and Evolution. That principle is that nature works in wholes and patterns – not as mechanistic world-view and science believed. Knowing all they did, including Native Americans thinking seven generations ahead before taking any action, did not help them. Wherever humans were we still damaged our environment and least so in regions of perennial humidity. This was brought about by two things. First human decision making has always been to meet our needs, desires or to address problems basically. Reducing the unavoidable web of social, cultural, environmental and economic complexity to such things as the reason or context for management and policy is “reductionist” in a holistic world. What we finally discovered in 1984 after decades of work, was how to address the cause of past and present failures – by going to where the rubber hits the road.
That point is where actual decisions are made in any policy or management practice. Here, two points become important for the survival of civilization. One- all management and policy needs to be in a holistic context. Second -it is simply not possible, as tool-using animals, for humans to prevent or address global desertification and thus climate change using the only tools institutional scientists who advise world leaders accept or recognize. Those tools available to institutional scientists (and world leaders can only act through institutions) are technology in its many forms, fire, or conservation (resting our environment to recover). Three tools. That is why in a 2013 TED Talk I said “we have no option, but the unthinkable, and that is to use livestock as a tool to address global desertification.”
So, yes, none of this can come about until we have a better-informed public insisting that our governments and large environmental organizations in particular develop policies in a holistic context. It cannot be done until there is public insistence is what we learn from both research and history. So this we need to focus on.
After so many years of educating farmers has a training model emerged that can be web based and integrated into real time data collection to establish the validity of rethinking management in agriculture?
We do have a great deal of training material from simple self-help to more sophisticated coaching and mentoring in collaborating groups of people and organizations that are beginning to change. That can and will keep growing. However, that is the normal process of incremental change against institutional blocking and according to research we can expect to take about 200 years. Just to get the Royal Navy to accept lime juice would end scurvy cost over a million sailors lives and took 200 years – and nothing has changed in institutions since.
If the Greta Thunberg generation are to have any hope I am again going to use my statement “We have no option but the unthinkable. By every means possible we have get enough public demand to force quicker change by insisting institutions develop policies to address problems in a holistic context.”
The downside of public demand for this is Zero – there is absolutely no risk whatsoever and the only blockage is professional and institutional egos. Over now sixty years of development there has never yet been any financial vested interest oppose or ridicule the idea of managing or developing policy holistically. The upside is that we might just address global human habitat destruction in time to save civilization as we know it.
One of your key observations that attracted me years ago to your work was the “herd effect” and grasslands regeneration. Has that observation become an empirically established fact at this time?
When I consider this question, I ponder whether it is an empirically established fact that water flows downhill? Science is fundamentally a process of observation, interpretation, deduction and experimentation to gain knowledge of nature. That enabled us thousands of years ago to accept water flows downhill and later the theory of gravity, and experimentation there gave explanation as to why water flows downhill.
By this “scientific” process over thousands of years before academic scientists people developed all the domestic varieties of plants and animals making civilization possible. Since the recent dominance in management by academic scientists we are losing species, losing languages, losing cultures and accelerating human habitat destruction.
It was a simple observation by me over twenty years of tracking people and animals that where people, or animals, crowded in one another’s body space or were hungry, lost or wounded the effect on the soil and vegetation was different – more soil surface disruption, more course plants trampled more dead plant material laid horizontally on the soil ( slowing water flow, slowing rate of application of water from rainfall to the soil surface, increasing water penetration,..) more seedlings, closer plant spacing holding litter – all of this dramatically affecting the ease or otherwise of tracking. How much easier tracking was where fewer herds, more fire, more bare soil, more erosion and so on. And it was simply observation that any large herbivores (buffalo, bison, elk or whatever) when not apprehensive and defensive against pack-hunting predators spread, walked gently, did not tramp on course plants, did not lay much litter, etc. etc. And from there we simply recognized if we are to use animals as tools we have to do so largely through behaviour and their feet not mouths, and not mere presence. I have frankly not wasted my time worrying about empirically proving any of this that can be observed at any time – just like water flowing downhill. That academics sitting in offices relying entirely on peer-reviewed publications have a problem with this I have no doubt. Thank goodness the pioneers like Leopold, Smuts, Bennet, Howard and others engaged in science mostly in the field as did my own mentors.
Where you aware of the fact that research based on NASA satellite sequential space photos of the Great Plains area in the United State, a major bread basket of the world, is showing a significant destabilization of grass cover? Desertification is a major issue isn’t it.
I was not aware, but am not surprised. The desertification of the United States is terrible and is a major contributor to climate change as well as the increasing droughts, floods, poverty, collapse of the Western Culture (which will eventually be kept alive only by rodeo athletes and cowboy poets). I have always been saddened by the extreme opposition to my work from cattlemen’s organizations and environmental organizations in the US. But again, people are not being bad and are not to be blamed – that is what institutions do -ridicule and oppose any truly new insights.
Could you explain what sustainability means in a holistically managed paradigm, and what that would look like in greening the planet?
Let me try. First I must say it will not be Holistic Management because that is not agriculture but is purely a way to manage complexity in anyone’s life or business. It will be a new agriculture (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and wildlife management) that regenerates the world’s living soils and biodiversity on the land and in our waters including oceans. Regenerating societies, cultures, towns and economies based, as they need to be, on the photosynthetic process – not paper wealth or wealth based on extractive industry. This new agriculture will be made up largely of many of the practices we see today in organic, sustainable, permaculture, pastoralism, wildlife, fisheries and forestry management. It will include some new practices (like the Holistic Planned Grazing process or holistic policy development) to reverse desertification that only became known and possible with the development of the Holistic Management framework. The practices that will “float to the top” as it were will be those that are socially, environmentally and economically sound both short and long-term all determined by policy developed in a holistic context reflecting what all humans want. Regenerative agriculture is what it will be. Management and policy developed in a global holistic context is how it will come about.
How can farmers best usher in a post industrial ecologically balanced food system?
They can do their best to learn how to manage holistically ensuring those practices that improve their own immediate environment, society and economy as many are doing today. However, this will not succeed because, as the corona pandemic has highlighted, we are a global community. Most of our population lives in cities and the economic and political power has shifted to cities totally disengaged from ecological literacy and ability to connect the dots. Corporate, shareholder, political game playing, celebrity desire for popular appeal, institutional and professional egos will persist in supporting veganism, vilifying meat, investing in manufactured meat, factory production of animals, university/corporate led crop production based on chemistry and marketing of technology (not on biological science) and of course planting billions of trees. All of which is leading to climate change and none of which addresses the cause. And the UN will continue to promote its 17 Sustainable Development Goals that almost all address the symptoms of desertification and not the cause and so are doomed once more to failure.
With such facts the best we can strive for is to use social media to educate the public in cities as well as rural environments to the fact that agriculture has to be regenerative and can really only be brought about in time by demanding policies be developed in a global holistic context – soaring above politics, stock markets, national power aspirations – to what all humans want and need for civilization to survive.
In addressing a world audience what would you say is the most important take away from your many years of astute observations of regeneration of natural systems?
My view is coloured by my years of struggle to first understand, and then find solutions to why humans so consistently destroyed their own environment or habitat. A struggle that led to me from being a government research officer to being an independent scientist, a farmer, rancher, game rancher, international consultant, soldier, member of parliament, president of a political party, exile while throughout collaborating with thousands of concerned individuals in all walks of life. From that broad perspective enjoyed by few if any scientists the two most important thoughts I would love to convey would be:
That we have to work at scale through governments and that all forms of governance -communism, socialism, capitalism, dictatorships, populism – have failed us. Our best hope lies in democracies but only when democracies ban all political parties that make it impossible for democracy to function. In this view I was preceded by George Washington (with some parallels in our lives) some 200 years ago.
Secondly governments need to form all policies in a national holistic context to ensure that all people feel well governed and secure, without which no one is.
If these come about I can see the human spirit fly as never before. If we continue supporting political parties and reductionist management and policy the future will be grim beyond imagination and the greatest suffering will be in cities.
Polish people take their government to court as climate impacts hit home
Polish people are taking their government to court over its failure to protect them from worsening climate impacts. The cases are the first to expose the emerging effects of climate change on people living in Poland and ask the courts to find that the country’s inadequate climate policies violate individual rights.
The country is already seeing droughts, wildfires, severe flooding and crop failures due to changing weather patterns and these impacts will worsen with further global heating.
Five individual cases – three of which were filed today, with a further two to be filed later this month – are being brought before regional courts, seeking to take the national government to task over its ‘regressive’ climate stance and failure to slash emissions.
The claimants include a farm owner, a plant wholesaler, an ecotourism business owner, parents and a youth climate campaigner, all impacted directly by the intensifying weather events the country is seeing as climate change worsens.
The claimants are supported by environmental law charity ClientEarth and leading Polish law firm Gessel.
The claimants will ask the court to find that the Polish Government must commit to a 61% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (on 1990 levels) by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2043.
Piotr Romanowski, one of the claimants, is a farmer, father and 40-year resident of the Warmia region of Poland. Last year, he lost revenue after the land became too dry for part of his nursery stock of shrubs and bushes to survive.
He said: “I can see climate change, and feel it on my own skin and the skin of my farm. Among other things, I am losing water. There are three ponds on my farm – all three are practically dry already.
“I fear for the future, the future of my sons and my farm. I am filing this lawsuit because the Polish Government is doing nothing to prevent this situation, to prevent climate change.”
The Polish Government is notable internationally for its outdated stance on climate action. Poland still produces 70% of its electricity from coal, the most climate-damaging fossil fuel worldwide, and subsidises it heavily – PLN 8bn (€1.75bn) from the public purse is set to go to fossil fuels in 2021. The country is home to one of the world’s biggest coal power plants, Bełchatów, which emits approximately as much carbon dioxide each year as Slovakia.
The Polish Government foresees coal mining continuing until 2049, 20 years after the date scientists have set as the absolute deadline for coal-burning in Europe. Its reliance on fossil fuels is a sticking point in EU policymaking – and it has recently positioned itself on opposition to an EU court decision demanding a halt to the operation of the Turów mine.
Małgorzata Górska, from the Podlaskie voivodeship, runs an ecotourism venture with her husband. It is being affected by flash flooding, which has damaged her home and property and polluted their water supply.
She said: “I decided to take this lawsuit because the time for talking and thinking is over and the time for action has come. I believe that Polish politicians have been passive for too long – they have not taken action to protect us, the citizens, from climate change. I believe that this is currently the greatest challenge facing politicians and the greatest threat to humanity.”
The claimants are aiming to prove an infringement of their fundamental rights due to the Polish government’s conspicuous lack of action to protect the climate by reducing emissions. They are among the first in the world to ask a court to find that climate inaction violates their right to a healthy environment, which the claimants argue includes the right to live in a safe and stable climate.
The cases will hinge on Polish civil law but also make reference to ECHR human rights provisions.
The cases aim to force ambitious policy by the Polish Government and make clear that the legal right to live in a stable climate exists, and can be upheld in court.
ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac said: “Climate change is having tangible impacts on people in Poland, today, and will only worsen in future. The government must take responsibility and reduce Polish emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement to protect the claimants from the severe effects of climate change.
“These lawsuits make it very difficult for leaders in Poland to ignore the serious effects of climate change in their country. The Polish Government must guarantee people the right to a healthy environment and the right to live in a safe and stable climate – it has a legal duty under its civil code and under human rights law to do so.”
The Polish government has long been labelled a climate laggard, and its outdated position has left it the only EU Member State not to commit to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.
The rate of emissions reduction in Poland has lagged far behind other EU Member States, putting it near the bottom of international rankings on climate effort.
Ilona Jędrasik, ClientEarth energy lead in Warsaw, said: “The Polish Government is setting regressive policy that is seemingly blind to the dramatically shrinking carbon budget, and Poland’s significant contribution to global emissions.
“Our government can take three steps to show it is serious about climate change: commit to a date when the country will stop using coal for electricity, rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% by 2030, and get to net zero emissions by 2043 to ensure that the goals of the Paris Agreement are met.
“Even some energy companies in Poland are acting faster than the government, investing in developing renewables. Our leaders’ position is directly at odds with reality, and with the needs of the people – this is why we’re turning to the courts.”
The formal defendant is the State Treasury represented by: Minister for Climate and Environment, Minister for State Assets, Minister for Development, Labour and Technology, Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Minister for Funds and Regional Policy.
ClientEarth, a not-for-profit legal group, is able to represent the claimants under an article of Polish civil law that allows individuals to delegate legal action to an NGO for the purposes of environmental protection.
Three cases have been filed today (Monika Stasiak, Małgorzata Górska and Piotr Nowakowski) with the other two (Piotr Romanowski, Maya Ozbayoglu) to follow imminently.
Sophie Marjanac is an Australian-qualified lawyer.
Małgorzata Górska, ecotourism business owner, Podlaskie Voivodeship
Małgorzata has been living near the border of the Biebrza National Park for 15 years. Together with her husband, she runs an ecotourism business on their farm. They were the first tourist facility in the Podlaskie Voivodeship to be awarded the Polish Ecotourism Certificate.
But increasingly heavy rainfall is threatening her home and livelihood. The rain now creates a temporary river knee-deep and several metres wide. This started happening around eight years ago and is becoming more frequent – last year it happened twice in one summer, waterlogging the terrace of some of the tourist dwellings, flooding her basement and polluting her water supply. As well as these dangerous flash floods, drought conditions in the region are on the rise, increasing the risk of wildfires in the nearby Bierbrza Valley peatlands.
Piotr Romanowski, plant nursery owner and farmer, Warmia
Piotr Romanowski lives in a region which was once lush, fertile and dotted with ponds. On his farm, he runs a nursery selling shrubs and trees. Now, water levels in the region are down. Last year, he lost stock because his land dried out. The increasingly unstable and unpredictable climate is affecting neighbouring farms too – adapting crops to climate change can be difficult and uncertain. Piotr worries about his sons and the difficult future they face.
Piotr Nowakowski, grandfather, Greater Poland
Piotr Nowakowski lives in a forest in the Greater Poland region. Stronger storms and forest fires are an ever-increasing threat to him and his home. The same drier conditions making forest fires more frequent mean he has had to dig a deeper well for water. Piotr says the Polish Government is failing him, his children and grandchildren, so he is taking them to court.
Maya Ozbayoglu, youth climate activist, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship
Maya doesn’t know what her future holds. She often wonders if there is any point in studying. She believes the Polish Government is condemning her and other young people to an unstable and frightening future with more fires, floods, unstable weather, rising food prices and a wave of refugees fleeing the climate crisis. She began attending climate protests when she was 15 – she believes the lack of decisive government action is a threat to health and life.
Monika Stasiak, mother, Łódź Voivodeship
Over the past years, Monika has been suffering with her community through intensive droughts and reduced water levels in the Pilica River. Low river levels have meant local ferries were unable to run, and neighbouring farms have suffered crop failures from increasing drought. The continued degradation of the local environment has meant Monika and her husband have had to abandon their plans for a tourism business. The river, a kayaking hotspot, is no longer consistently deep enough for the boats. Monika fears the future her son will grow up in. She worries that if we don’t stop climate change, people will be forced to struggle for survival as water and food availability become an issue.
ClientEarth is an environmental law charity that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.
The Interconnected structure of reality
Your front-row seat to the change you wish to create in the world
The Mobilized Exchange: Community Power: Are We finally ready?
Environmentalists, Scientists and Policymakers Converge at Environmental Media Summit Sept. 30
A GPS for Humanity’s Next Adventure
Manifesto and Principles
The World Unites for World Ecologic Forum on December 10
Action Plan for Re-Thinking Humanity
Communities unite for World Ecologic December 10th
Idjitz Stoopidshitz and-Dumfux
Decentralized Production Hub for Humanity’s Next adventure
Rethinking Climate Change Solutions
Dive in to the Ecosystem of Opportunity
It’s what you want, the way You want It
We bring the world to You
The Mobilized Exchange
Communities Take a Stand for The Rights of Nature
Excuse Me, But What is in that “Food” I’m Eating?
Healthy Soil for Healthy, Nutritious Food and Healthy Climate
A Paradigm Change Starting with Your Lawns
Communities Fight Against Polluters and Miners
Cooperatives as a Better Community Service
Truth or Consequences
Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope
Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy finds that existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets.
COMMUNITY MEDIA EVENTS
See the opportunity to return to the sacred
Climate Change and Earth Overshoot: Is there a better “Green New Deal?”
Why Overfishing is killing our oceans and what we can do about it
Danny Schechter Inspired millions (including the founders of this network)
Rich nations “must consign coal power to history” – UK COP26 president
Time To Flip the Ocean Script — From Victim to Solution
Allan Savory: A holistic management shift is required
New Report by National Academy of Sciences (USA): Social Media is Hazardous to Your Health
Listen to the Science: The Impacts of Climate on the Health of People and Planet
Ecocide must be listed alongside genocide as an international crime
A Controversial Nuclear Waste Cleanup Could Put a critical Legal Question Before the U.S. Supreme Court
How is The Gates Foundation is driving the world’s food system in the wrong direction.
New report details Big Polluters’ next Big Con
The ACCESS ACT Takes a Step Towards a More Interoperable Future
Right to Repair Bill Introduced in Congress
The Earth is Alive! Here’s how to regenerate the soil
Can re-thinking our lawns solve Climate Change?
Stop ripping up our future (Mining in Brasil)
Learning how Everything Connects is Vital to our Survival
Featured4 weeks ago
A web of Life for ALL Life3 weeks ago
An Empowered World3 days ago
A GPS for Humanity’s Next Adventure
Chuck W.3 weeks ago
Truth or Consequences
Featured4 weeks ago
COMMUNITY MEDIA EVENTS
An Empowered World2 weeks ago
It’s what you want, the way You want It
A web of Life for ALL Life4 weeks ago
See the opportunity to return to the sacred
A web of Life for ALL Life3 weeks ago
Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy finds that existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets.