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Older activists win climate ruling

Baby boomer human rights protesters swap the streets for the courts – and win.

  • News
  • Read Time: 4 mins

The 1960s and 70s were decades of global political activism when a generation of baby boomers took to the streets demanding widespread social change and declaring the supremacy of what was the then new paradigm of human rights.

Human rights are also at the centre of the current generation’s protests – and ageing boomers are out there on the streets with them in substantial numbers.

Whether you agree with their causes and methods or not, activist boomers have certainly taught the kids a thing or two about protests and climate change is one issue that has incentivised them.

As one senior protester explained, “We’re the ones who caused the problem. If someone has to sit down on the tracks of the coal train and get arrested, it should be the grandparents who have been pouring carbon into the atmosphere for half a century.”

In The Last Best Chance for the Boomers, American environmentalist, Bill McKibben, writes, “… the greatest moments in the lives of the baby boomers were precisely the times when they raised their voices, when they declared their selfless devotion to peace or civil rights.

“For too many, the decades that followed have made a quiet mockery of that earlier idealism. It turns out that we’ve excelled, most of all, at consuming. Now is the boomers’ chance to reclaim their better natures and to end their run as they began.” 

Court ruling

Rather than protest, break the law, and end up in court, a group of older climate change activists took their protest straight to the European Court of Human Rights in the Hague.

The Swiss women sued their government, alleging “woefully inadequate” efforts to fight climate change. And the court agreed.

It said the Swiss Government had violated the human right to a private and family life by failing to put in place sufficient domestic policies to tackle climate change. The women said climate change put them at risk of dying during heatwaves.

The court’s decision cannot be appealed and could compel Switzerland's government to take greater action on reducing emissions.

The impact of the women’s action could be more widespread – setting an international precedent for how courts deal with climate litigation argued on the basis of human rights infringements.

Court president Siofra O’Leary said the Swiss Government had failed “to quantify, through a carbon budget or otherwise, national greenhouse gas emissions limitations”.

She also noted the Swiss government failed to meet its past greenhouse gas emission reduction targets because it did not put in place measures to ensure the goals were achieved.

Related reading: Elder Activist, ABC, The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life

Image: Katrin Bolovtsova


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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