Environmental Disobedience


1.         Is breaking the law for environmental goals morally legitimate?

2.         Examples, including recent activities of ELF

3.         Singer’s four cases: Oscar Schindler, ALF and Head Injury Lab, abortion clinic property destruction, Australian non-violent road blockade to stop a dam

4.         Do we have a (moral) duty to obey the law? Is it ever morally permissible to break the law?

5.         Law has absolute moral weight? (Even when unjust?)

6.         Law has no moral force at all; obey your own conscience rather than the law?

            a.          “It is not desirable to cultivate respect for law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think is right” Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

            b.         “There are two types of laws; there are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all’”

                                                Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

7.         Law has some moral weight, even when it is (believed to be) unjust

8.         Laws authority derives from: Duty to promote just institutions (lawbreaking can damage democracy) and consent/fair play (willingness to lose)

9.         Different types of lawbreaking

            a.         Ordinary criminal (self-interest)/law breaking based on conscience

            b.         Civil disobedience and its justification (open, accepts punishment, underlying respect for law)

            c.         Non-civil disobedience and its greater difficulty of justification

                        i.         Coerce the majority (reject majority rule) or appeal to its sense of justice?

            d.         Violence (against property, guilty parties, innocent persons): Is property destruction, violence? “We only destroy property and don’t hurt people.”

                        i.         Prohibition on violence (pacifism) mistakenly relies on act/omission distinction

                        ii.         Are the ELF/ALF activities terrorism?

10.       Must the individual decide when law breaking (and what kind) is permissible? Who else?

            a.         Unabomber, murder of abortion doctors, Lester Maddox

            b.         Whether or not law breaking is morally permissible depends on the substantive moral issues that underlie the lawbreaking

11.       Consequences of env. lawbreaking (bad and good)

12.       Humans only democracy, undermines democratic sanction of law?