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« Diary dates, tree rings edition | Main | Wam, bam »

Academic: let's try violence

It goes without saying that huge numbers of academics are a waste of time, space and money, but on a purely selfish level I'd hate anyone to actually deal with the problem. Where else are you going to get an endless stream of people willing to make fools of themselves in public? Without them I'd have nothing to write about.

There I was this morning struggling for something to write about, when Dr Tara Smith came to my rescue. Dr Smith is a legal scholar (allegedly) at Bangor University in Wales, although she is a native of Ireland. In The Conversation, she has set out her view on why environmentalists should be able to break the law with impunity. This was prompted by a US court deciding to throw out an argument by a bunch of hippies that their blocking oil trains was justified by "necessity" and therefore not criminal. 

While necessity is difficult to assert in climate activism trials, the Delta 5 and Greenpeace cases raise a big question: should activists be allowed to take matters into their own hands to prevent global warming and climate change? Given underwhelming results in combating this at the international level to date, arguably they should.

This is such a breathtakingly stupid argument that it's hard to know where to begin. It seems fairly clear that Dr King Smith hasn't thought this through at all. As Geoff Chambers points out in the comments, if the idea of necessity can be extended to climate change it can certainly be extended to necessities like fossil fuels for heating, or powering hospitals and the like. An excuse of necessity, drawn so wide, could easily direct action on people who block oil trains or even, dare we say it, on academics who argue that hippies should be able to do so with impunity. You can see where this would end. Dr Smith is making the case for "might is right"; for thuggery, for violence and - whisper it - for fascism.

One other point of interest. Here's an excerpt from Dr Smith's webpage.

Dr. Smith was a member of the Irish Delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Doha in 2012 and Warsaw in 2013 as well as a member of the EU Expert Group on Adaptation, developing EU policy on climate change adaptation for the international climate negotiations.

And here's her disclosure statement from the pages of the Conversation:

Tara Smith does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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Reader Comments (86)

Is it Smith or King?

Jan 19, 2016 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterOld Grumpy

She really hasn't thought this through. (Or maybe she has.) Allowing green activists to break the law with impunity means they can bring the modern energy system to a halt. They can't be stopped walking into power stations and turning them off, for example.

Jan 19, 2016 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterCal

Old Grumpy +1

Conversation and her webpage says "Smith"

[BH adds - Blah! Fixed. Thanks]

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet


Jan 19, 2016 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Borodin

Thankfully the doctor's thoughts are still a long way from the mainstream. The authorities could never agree with her, cold they? If they did it would lead to anarchy and no one wants that, do they? Wouldn't the rent-a-mob crowd love it!

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek

Dr. Smith was a member of the Irish Delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Doha in 2012 and Warsaw in 2013
So she is a colleague and supporter, no doubt, of the execrable Figueres who, let us recall, at a news conference a few weeks ago in Brussels admitted that the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism.said this about how climate change was an 'opportunity':
"This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,"
Referring to a new international treaty environmentalists hope will be adopted at the Paris climate change conference later this year, she added:
"This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history."

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:12 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

They must be giving away PhD's in crisp packets these days. Has she learned to think yet?

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

BTW: I'd have a lot more time for her if it had been Tara King At least her ankles came all the way up to her hips - unlike some greenies, whose hips go all the way down to their ankles!.

PS: I also notice she is very keen on Human Rights - but obviously not the universal kind.

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:19 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

This has to go a bit Godwin because that's what she's arguing in favour of. I expect this to be snipped as OTT.

Her whole argument is irrelevant because she ignores the judge's ruling.

The judge in Seattle, however, ruled that the defendants had failed to show that there was no reasonable legal alternative to their actions.

That's the point. They had the recourse to try and win the debate and change the law.
But they couldn't do that.
So they decided that their opinions were more important than everyone else's.

Here's the Godwin bit: Adolf Hitler decided that the "Jewish Problem" needed a Final Solution. But he couldn't win the argument so he tried a Beer Hall Putsch instead. And went to jail for that, quite rightly.

Intriguingly this shows the way forward for the Greens. They should follow the example of the violent extremist and accept their sentence. In jail they should then right their tracts carefully and subsequently try to win the election. Hitler actually did that.

Of course, this policy advice does assume that Greens think their policies are at least as reasonable and acceptable as Hitler's. Something which Dr Smith seems uncertain of.

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:30 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Borodin, come on man. 'Academic' means something that is not practical, or, useless, by definition. Look up the Latin or Greek root. The problem is not bizarre thinking from academia but eager opportunism by its players, and hollowed politics, that look to translate these ideas into practice with no filter or mediation.

It is literally the job of academia to come up with crazy ideas. What academy needs is their democracy shunts to be closed down. No direct access, no activism, no expert panels ...

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:31 AM | Registered Commentershub

This reminds me of James Hansen's 'Democracy isn't working', when he didn't get his own way.

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

Sorry to bang on but in the words of the great man, my blood gets mightily angrified when I hear of this level of stupid. If Smith took her logic of 'necessity defence' further she would probably join the call for the army's sniper to be prosecuted for not warning the guy with the RPG that he was about to shoot - even though the terrorist felt the 'necessity' to fire his rocket..

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:39 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

What is terrifying is that Dr Smith teaches young people about the law!

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:41 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Tara King was a character in the Avengers!:

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:50 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Once you use this "necessity" defence for one cause, why could it not be used for causes that others may similarly consider to be of overwhelming importance? Could the BNP, for example, use the "necessity" argument to justify their actions against immigrants? Both groups could argue that here is something that is seriously damaging the country and that it is necessary to take action.

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterEnglish Pensioner

[Response to snipped comment]

Jan 19, 2016 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered Commenter...and Then There's Physics

There's nothing new in Dr Smith's views - they echo those of the influential, new left, American jurist Ronald Dworkin that the law should be interpreted and enforced in the context of some sort of "political morality" - and you can guess what sort of "political"! Many younger lawyers will have been trained in Dworkin's approach - he's highly popular. See Roger Scruton's book "Fools, Frauds and Firebrands - Thinkers of the New Left".

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Hird

Do we have to read ATTP's trolling?

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSara Chan

M Courtney
I don't think actually won the election despite all his efforts, but became head of a coalition and then manipulated it so he was elected dictator within months banning all other parties, including those who supported his elevation to dictator. The rest is history and a lesson to us all.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sara Chan,
...and Then There's Physics is quite right to protest about threats of violence against anyone. Even against worthless, parasitic academics.

I quite agree with him. It is intimidating and undemocratic.

Although I don't take up the cudgel myself as I have no personal interest in this case.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:10 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

The Nazis won by the rules of that democratic society. And then they changed the rules.

The rules were foolish and First Past the Post would have stopped their tactic.
But if Germany had had different rules they may have tried different tactics.

They won by the rules of the day.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:13 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

ATTP is a good example of an academic.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:14 PM | Registered Commentershub

As illogical as having a debate in parliament about whether to ban someone because he said he wanted to ban others.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The " Necessity defence" in both British and US Law relates to "emergency" that is immediate circumstance and implies a comparator of outcome between acting and not acting. Since the putative serious consequences of global warming are well in the future the outcome of the lawbreaking had no discernible preventative effect. That is why the US judge refused the plea to go to the jury.
This is the literal meaning of the concept of the end justifying the means. That is the outcome or consequence of an action stands in judgement of that action. Thus, however well intentioned or noble a cause, if the actions you take have an evil outcome, they are themselves evil and can only be "justified" if preventing a worse evil. If your action fails then your moral position is the same as any terrorist.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenese2

the rules of democracy have become very unfair..

First, there is an UNelected UNaccountable power in the country called the Bolshevik Brainwashing Circus.
they might contend they get elected and are accountable but so saddam and PolPot said that as well.

Then, we have a governnment that in name has EXECUTIVE power only, but mainly use their idle time to shove new laws into parliament,the more the better, where a whole army of career politician shyster morons are waiting for just that. Most laws of the past 100years should never have come into existence as they were voted by a mere majority and added to change society and values where sizeable minorities absolutely did not and still do not agree with that.

Then we have a blood lineage monarchy with powers and voice where this has, I believe , been scientifically been
reputed thousands of years ago. No: they do NOT deserve these entitlements, they are undemocratic parodies.

More specifically a MAJORITY, does not want "change" ..only the usual elite scumbags want that, as they live well from the grit that falls of the turning cogs to make those laws.

democracies brought indeed hitler to power and democracies their failings should be well understood but lefties make it
their call in life to hide that. Independent institutes and the voice of many over the voice of the few is what is important.
in an open society. Not obsession with destroying people, by means of "majority" rulings quickly called "laws".

a new law should only come into existence with massive majorities AND with accommodations to those that do not
agree with it. Institutes should be INDEPENDENT not parking lots for "dave" to park buddies in (see the FSA after the credit crunch for example).

It is time to clean the laws cabinet with the 1000s of laws made by imbeciles++ over the years ,that are completely futile and distorting.
And then start anew with a few laws most can agree with, not just millionaire pommaded cnts in the BBC and its many spinoffs (eg parliament, and numerous "charities")

a democracy where archbishops call for sharia law in Oxford (like Rowan Atkinson did) isnt a democracy really.
If thats a democracy , Ill start my SHOGUN party/"community service" tomorrow and clean the streets of these progressive shysters that keep littering the street with their "protests".

A Trump i sneeded in Europe, to do just that.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusCold

Its a typical reaction of Irish leftists to run into the arms of the UN and the Jesuits behind that organisation. (Mary Robinson style)

But the deeper (now sadly rare)Irish gut reaction of the State and its laws as a alien body happens to be true.

Economic activity in Ireland has nothing much to do with people in Ireland.
Its stuff that sort of happens around us.
Generally one must get a corporate or state job to access purchasing power.
So one must tow the party line fascist style.

In the end many of the local people protesting against Corrib gas for example will be vindicated.
These are all merely corporate conduit schemes.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

would necessity support trespass to put out a fire on someone else's property?

Shub: "Hollowed politics" ?

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterjferguson

No need to go back in history further than the various Marxist terrorist gangs of the 70's,

or Pol Pots Sartre-inspired 'agrarian utopia experiment'

Of course academics would have to be careful not to be first ones on the chopping block.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

As I have posited before, someone is going to be killed by greenies & they will get away with it on the grounds that they were saving Gaia, it's almost too awful to contemplate! This woman is a lunatic in the wings, bordering upon "Hate-speech", it's so overtly political!

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Why does KR use...and Then There's Physics as his other AKA ?

The only other poster that has a similar need to use 'Physics' in his posting name is Doug Cotton.

It could be insecurity and the need to insist to the rest of the world that they have some extra authority.
Maybe they think that other posters not take them seriously and so will not show them the extra deference they feel entitled to.

Perhaps Professor Lewandowsky could do a psychological investigation into this unusual tendency

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

There are more recent precedents........
"Chaïm a Swiss former activist, perpetrator of the rocket attack of 18 January 1982 on the Superphénix nuclear plant, and Green politician...........In 1985, Nissim was elected to a MP office at the cantonal parliament of Geneva, under the aegis of the Green Party of Switzerland. He held the position until 2001..........Nissim currently supports the Noé 21 group, a thinktank on energy policies"

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The article is an opinion piece. Not even a good analysis of the state of the law. The threat has not been proved to exist, let alone be immediate.


To be honest, I regret giving the Conversation an extra click.

Jan 19, 2016 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

VenusCold @ 12.32; I heard the sermon you refer too but cannot find the

Jan 19, 2016 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenese2

Re-reading it I think she is advocating noble cause corruption or the ends justify he means. Not the necessity defense.

The necessity event stuff was just a bit of bandwagon jumping.

Jan 19, 2016 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

'Remember, the people doing this aren’t good people overcome with well-meaning zeal. They’re awful people, who are engaging in bullying and totalitarianism. They should be treated accordingly.'

Glenn Reynolds, at Instapundit today on a different manifestation of the same phenomenon - creeping totalitarianism on campus. He leaves up in the air what his idea of 'treated accordingly' is, but I think he is a civil and civilised man, and is merely suggesting that we be wary of such people and their methods. In other words, it would be foolish to take them at their own valuations of themselves and thereby possibly overlook some of the dangers they present to decent society.

Jan 19, 2016 at 1:10 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Well OK then.

If the greens should not have to follow the laws concerning attacking someone else's property, then the people attacked should not have to follow any laws concerning defending their property or seeking revenge. That would perhaps lead to the demise of some of the greens. I wonder if they have thought this through.

Jan 19, 2016 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Stoval

The worrying thing from this is not that some idiot academic is wondering if direct action is ok but that UK jurors have already found activists not guilty. I am annoyed to have to say this but the greens do have public support for the trouble they cause.

I blame the energy companies specifically and businesses in general. The companies reasoned that people need energy (or products) so if they could avoid the press long enough it would all blow over and things would carry on before. In keeping their heads down, they allowed the greens to make this a fight between little green protestors and dirty great lucrative companies. No mention of us, the customer in the equation. With no opposition is it any wonder the public believe the green propaganda?

Successive governments have had sympathy for green ideas and only now and then remember that prosperity (and ironically a better environment) is built on energy and goods, not rainbows and unicorn poop.

Jan 19, 2016 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

'Where else are you going to get an endless stream of people willing to make fools of themselves in public?'

Parliament! (oh - and the BBC)

Jan 19, 2016 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

"US court deciding to throw out an argument by a bunch of hippies that their blocking oil trains was justified by "necessity" and therefore not criminal."
This is good news. A court showing some common sense and abiding by the rule of Law.

Dr Tara Smith , however, is not good news, for common sense and abiding by the rule of Law.

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

Do the Green Blob have a definition of what they believe they are entitled to do, and receive immunity from prosecution for, if they have decided they are right?

What would be legal position for the poor in India, if they took action to counter the activities of the Green Blob in denying them access to electricity, clean water etc? Would it be legal in the UK to obstruct the Green Blob raising money in the UK for 'saving Polar Panda Bears', if it was being used to preserve low life expectancy elsewhere?

This law expert could redefine international responsibility for stupid and selfish people, but not necessarily in her favour.

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

History shows us that the idea of a 'Just cause ' aligns with the words 'for the good of the people ' has being seen often before something which is not good , not for the people and certainly not related to justice.

Perhaps Smith should ask themselves why the figure of justice is depicted blindfolded.

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Well, she might be careful of this opinion, at least in the US, where one can use a great deal of physical force to stop a physical threat to oneself, one's home, or one's business.

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

If everyone takes a step back for a second, you will realise that these people are the establishment. Otherwise they would be in jail.

James Hansen endorsed this extreme eco fascist book by Keith Farnish.

Farnish writes

"The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization"


Unloading essentially means the removal of an existing burden: for
instance, removing grazing domesticated animals, razing cities to
the ground, blowing up dams and switching off the greenhouse gas
emissions machine. The process of ecological unloading is an
accumulation of many of the things I have already explained in
this chapter, along with an (almost certainly necessary) element
of sabotage.

Hansen wrote


Keith Farnish has it right: time has practically run out, and the 'system' is the
problem. Governments are under the thumb of fossil fuel special
interests - they will not look after our and the planet's
well-being until we force them to do so, and that is going to
require enormous effort. -

-Professor James Hansen, GISS, NASA

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Wannabee terrorist George Monbiot endorsed the actions of protesters who sabotaged Scottish mine equipment and encouraged future similar action. In a national newspaper, The Guardian.

"But while the government undermines its own targets, some people in Scotland are putting its climate change policy into effect. The Scottish camp for climate action has declared war on opencast coal mining. Yesterday people associated with it did what the government should have done years ago, and cut the conveyor belt used to carry coal from the Glentaggart pit in Lanarkshire to the local rail terminal.

Now they propose to take on other pits, as well as Scotland's biggest coal-burning power stations. They have chosen the right targets. Coal is the dirty word that threatens to destroy attempts at Copenhagen in December to prevent climate breakdown. If governments won't take it on, we must.

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Americans are quite familiar with this political gambit. The U.S. Congress won't give Obama much of what he wants (though giving him way too much).

So Obama steps up to the microphone, and declares that, since Congress failed to act, he MUST act. So, with his "pen and phone," he creates law. Grossly unconstitutional. Grandly fascist (strong, autocratic central control).

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

"...should activists be allowed to take matters into their own hands to prevent global warming and climate change?"


Additionally, they should be able to hang, shoot, sue or otherwise professionally destroy anybody they think might have the wrong opinion.

After all, they are saving the planet for the children.

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Restin

Mike Restin, fortunately at this point they are only interested in getting in the way of companies whose hands are tied by law. Greenpeace tried it with Russia and has no doubt ruled out doing it again. They will eventually only bother the UK because we wouldn't even go as far as give them a slap on the wrist.

Jan 19, 2016 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Remember Bến Tre

'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it'.

Jan 19, 2016 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

The phrase For your comfort and safety sends a chill down my spine. The last thing it's for is my comfort and safety whatever it is, it'll either be for revenue raising purposes or to keep me in "my place".

Jan 19, 2016 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

While this rationale is not yet a valid legal defense, what is more terrifying is its close cousin, i.e. failure to prosecute. I only have to mention our old friend Dr Peter Gleik who not only got away with his self confessed criminal act, but was lauded as a hero.

Jan 19, 2016 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered Commentergeorge daddis

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