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  • Robert Hinkley

A Change in Tactics

Updated: Jan 16

8 January 2024


Annie, my spouse and partner of nearly 50 years, watched On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsberg biographical film, for the umpteenth time last night. Our favourite part is where, as a young lawyer, RBG turns the tables on opposing counsel who had just warned a three-judge court not to render a decision which would alter the relationship between men and women, something he characterized as radical social change. 


RBG responded. The relationship between men and women (in America) had been evolving for more than 100 years. The change wasn’t radical. It had already occurred. The law needed to catch up. The court found unanimously in favour of RBG’s client.


Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Ideas about right and wrong change over time and, if the law follows when they do, the world becomes more just. 


Usually, the law changes only after a clear majority change their views. Rarely, does it happen in reverse. Once the accepted norm changes, delay in changing the law perpetuates injustice. This can be highly destructive and even cruel when those with an economic interest in preserving the status quo lobby to prevent the law from catching up.


This is where we now find ourselves regarding the environment. For three decades the world has been trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to eliminate the threat of global warming. There have been 28 Conferences of the Parties (COPs) where the world’s scientists, political leaders and activists promised each other to return home and pass laws that would reduce or offset the effects of emissions. Twenty-eight times it’s failed.


But COPs aren’t all that has failed to reduce GHG emissions. The socially responsible business movement has failed. Trillions of dollars invested under socially responsible management has failed. Teaching ESG in business and law schools has failed. Schemes to create carbon offsets and credits have failed. Thousands of environmental non-governmental organizations created to confront the problem have failed.


In fairness, they haven’t totally failed. They’ve built public awareness of the danger and convinced people that something must be done. But they haven’t changed the law.  Emissions and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere have continued to build. The problem has become more pressing. History seems to be careening towards disaster rather than bending towards justice.


It’s time for everyone who wants to stop climate change to change tactics. The law must catch up. For that to happen, two things are necessary. First, we need to fashion a specific law which will require big companies to stop emitting GHGs. Second, we must resolve to all work together to get this new law enacted everywhere substantial amounts of GHGs are now being emitted.


It may seem daunting, but the solution is far easier than it appears. I’ll discuss why next time.

Robert C. Hinkley is a retired corporate lawyer and the author of Time to Change Corporations: Closing the Citizenship Gap.

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