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Monmouth University professor leads webinar on Anthropocene accountability

Monmouth University professor Randall S. Abate presented a new approach to the fight for climate justice in a webinar hosted by The McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law (MJSDL) on Oct. 2. The central focus of Abate’s presentation was on holding “common enemies”— the animal agriculture industry and the fossil fuel industry—accountable for their environmentally destructive practices. 

Abate argued that the United States federal government has allowed these industries to subvert fossil fuel emissions regulations, which is a significant contributor to climate change.

“[Climate change] needs to be considered one of the most glaring examples of the perils of unrestrained capitalism,” Abate said. “Litigation is an important tool to hold governments and the private sector accountable for climate change impacts, raise awareness of pressing challenges, and goad legislative responses.”

Litigation is crucial for protecting the environment when governments fail to make it a priority. Emma Sitland, 2L Law and executive editor of the MJSDL, emphasizes its importance in regulating polluting companies and the governments that enable them.

“These kinds of litigations are such an important mechanism for accountability,” Sitland said. “How are we going to get governments to account for climate change? […] How are we going to hold corporations accountable?”

During his talk, Abate proposed a new approach to Anthropocene accountability: The unification of environmental and animal rights movements. Given that both industries contribute substantially to pollution, Abate suggests that collaboration between the two movements would significantly benefit the quest for climate justice. In the work to regulate animal agriculture industries, animal welfare efforts in particular would benefit from adopting tactics used in successful environmental lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. 

“My work generally seek[s] to convey […] the importance of collaboration between the environmental and animal law movements in addressing problems of interest to both, […] such as the need for more ambitious regulation of the animal agriculture industry and their significant climate change impacts,” Abate said.

Although his legal approach targeted American institutions, Abate highlighted how the same methods could be applied in a Canadian context. 

“[The U.S. and Canada] have a long way to go from here,” Abate said. “For many decades, our energy systems have been powered by fossil fuels, and our food systems have been dominated by animal agriculture. Old habits are hard to break.”

Arsalan Ahmed, 3L Law and editor-in-chief of the MJSDL, believes that introducing perspectives like Abate’s provides new dimensions to discussions around larger issues that impact Canadians. 

“[MJSDL speaker events are] about giving you ideas, challenging current assumptions,” Ahmed said. “When we look at the Canadian context [of environmental accountability], I don’t think it’s very clear, [and] it’s not particularly well publicized.”

Abate’s presentation also addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has unexpectedly helped the fight for climate justice. 

“When [the pandemic] started, […] I never imagined that [it] would be such an integral part in my environmental scholarship and teaching as it has become,” Abate said.

Abate argued that the pandemic presented significant financial setbacks for polluting industries. Demand for oil hit record lows, and the animal agriculture industry faced huge losses while sales of plant-based meat alternatives rose by 200 per cent.  Abate hopes that COVID-19 could be a turning point away from the status quo, and for the better.  

“I hear all too often this year, ‘I can’t wait to get back to normal,’” Abate said. “Well, I’m not eager to get back to normal [….] Normal is exactly what we need to get away from.”

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