Paper pub. date
April 2021
ISBN 9780870710728 (paperback)
6 x 9, 400 pages. Forewords. Notes. Further Reading. Index.
Available April 2021

Bearing Witness

The Human Rights Case Against Fracking and Climate Change

Thomas A. Kerns and Kathleen Dean Moore

Fracking, the practice of shattering underground rock to release oil and natural gas, is a major driver of climate change. The 300,000 fracking facilities in the US also directly harm the health and livelihoods of people in front-line communities, who are disproportionately poor and people of color. Impacted citizens have for years protested that their rights have been ignored.

On May 14, 2018, a respected international human-rights court, the Rome-based Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, began a week-long hearing on the impacts of fracking and climate change on human and Earth rights. In its advisory opinion, the Tribunal ruled that fracking systematically violates substantive and procedural human rights; that governments are complicit in the rights violations; and that to protect human rights and the climate, the practice of fracking should be banned.

The case makes history. It revokes the social license of extreme-extraction industries by connecting environmental destruction to human-rights violations. It affirms that climate change, and the extraction techniques that fuel it, directly violate deeply and broadly accepted moral norms encoded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bearing Witness maps a promising new direction in the ongoing struggle to protect the planet from climate chaos. It tells the story of this landmark case through carefully curated court materials, including searing eye-witness testimony, groundbreaking legal testimony, and the Tribunal’s advisory opinion. Essays by leading climate writers such as Winona LaDuke, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Sandra Steingraber and legal experts such as John Knox, Mary Wood, and Anna Grear give context to the controversy. Framing essays by the editors, experts on climate ethics and human rights, demonstrate that a human-rights focus is a powerful, transformative new tool to address the climate crisis.

Robin Bronen
Cormac Cullinan
Kirsten Davies
Tim DeChristopher
David James Duncan
Anna Grear
Robin Wall Kimmerer
John Knox
Winona LaDuke
Michelle Maloney
Mari Margil
Debra Marquart
Jacqueline Patterson
Simona Perry
Linda Sheehan
Sandra Steingraber
Kyle Powys Whyte
Mary Wood

About the author

Thomas A. Kerns, emeritus professor of philosophy at North Seattle College, is Director of  Environment and Human Rights Advisory. In 2015, he helped draft the international Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change. Dr. Kerns co-organized the International Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change, which provides the substance of this book.

Read more about this author

Kathleen Dean Moore, PhD, is a moral philosopher, environmental activist, and award-winning author or editor of a dozen books, including Moral Ground and Great Tide Rising. Her growing alarm at the devastation of nature led her to leave her longtime position as Distinguished Professor of Environmental Philosophy at Oregon State University to write and speak about the moral urgency of climate action. She writes from Corvallis, Oregon, and Chichagof Island, Alaska.


Read more about this author

Table of Contents PDF:

Excerpt from the Foreword

by Anna Grear

Nothing could be more urgent in the twenty-first century than finding and creating apertures of resistance and protest exposing the calculated cruelty and indifference of the fossil fuel industry. The planetary violence of this industry finds localized expression, as this book of testimony explains, in toxic violence pressed upon local communities and ecosystems.

The book you hold in your hands is a beautifully rendered testament to what happens when the voices of the afflicted are given a space in which to speak the injustices done to them by a system radically tilted toward corporate plunder and profit. This book demonstrates, in a unique and accessible way, why and how the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal (PPT) is a potent site for the reinvention of the international legal imagination-and a site for the emergence of a much-needed "legality from below."

Beneath the surface of this particular story of resistance are multiple subterranean streams of effort and imagination. The idea for a PPT hearing on human rights, fracking, and climate change was born in the heart of a discussion about reimagining the relationship between human rights and the environment in Oñati, Spain, in 2012. The Onati workshop brought together theorists, lawyers, and a burning sense of urgency about the need to reimagine law's material entanglement with the world. Theory, as bell hooks once famously said, is, at its best, a form of healing-and the theory underlying the PPT was, in the genesis of the project, an imaginative convergence between law, philosophy, and science and a passion for the future of human-nonhuman entanglements on Planet Earth. The theoretical rhizomes of passionate thinking that underlie the PPT process are not always audible in the hearings or in their record-but they emphatically undergirded and shaped the process.

An early partnership emerging from the Onati gathering among the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment, the Environment and Human Rights Advisory, and the Human Rights Consortium first saw the co-production of a Human Rights Impact Assessment of Fracking in the United Kingdom for the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation. This was an early step on the path to the PPT, but more decisively important-by far-was the imaginative work of these partners and a range of other scholars, community activists, and members of faith communities on the Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change.

The Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change-extensively drawn on by the PPT judges-is a key site for the surfacing of some of the deeper theoretical imagination behind the hearings. The Declaration rejects the Eurocentric subject-object thinking underlying environmental law and human rights by embracing and enshrining a new legal focus on lively entanglements between human and nonhuman beings and systems. This focus prefigured what the PPT Advisory Opinion calls "a blended jurisprudence" placing human rights alongside the interests and potential rights of nonhumans.

Humans and nonhumans alike find themselves entangled in the oppressions of the "axis of betrayal," as the PPT calls the dense nexus between extractive neoliberal States and corporate power. The Earth is being systematically plundered. It is no time to be thinking of justice for human beings without thinking of the lively systems they are continuous with.

In a related concern for facilitating new modes of legal hearing and inclusion, this PPT hearing took place entirely online-thanks to the incredible generosity of the Spring Creek Project. This unprecedented development for the PPT enables afflicted communities to speak directly into the judicial process-but it should be noted that digital nonhuman networks played an essential role in this new kind of search for the kind of justice that might inspire a legality from below.

And while those designing the hearing framed the four major legal questions to be put to the judges in terms of "nature's rights" and "human rights," an ethical concern for the nonhuman and an appreciation of nonhuman agency can be wider and more radical than this-and, in reality, a wider human-nonhuman entanglement undergirds this entire PPT process, from its earliest conceptualization to its final, digitally aided, delivery. So too, do longer lines of thought, reflection, and passionate concern. What you hold in your hands is like a song reflecting many other voices and thought-ways of many kinds, enacted by many kinds of actors (human and nonhuman), converging in a platform of resistance to "the axis of betrayal."

This book-precious force of witness as it is-allows many human voices involved in the process to speak, on behalf of themselves, others, and nonhumans not normally heard in the legal process. These voices, as you will soon see, express pain, outrage-yes-but also carry an intelligent sensing of different possible worlds. Just as important to this story, then, are the silent voices: all the material forms and entangled thought-ways that, while not overtly foregrounded or clearly audible, made this process what it was-and is-and could yet be.

I warmly commend this compassionate, humane, enriching book. I look, with growing numbers of others, for a world in which richer forms of agency, more radical forms of ethical attentiveness, and multiple modes of solidarity might emerge. This book, and the unique PPT process it is a testimony to, make an invaluable contribution to the search for such a world.

"This extraordinary compendium is part legal analysis, part testimonial, part poetry. A cri de cœur, it is required reading for anyone seeking to understand the nature of fracking and its multitudinous impacts from a legal and moral perspective, which it then places in the context of climate change. In clear yet analytically rigorous language, it examines these complex and fraught issues from multiple perspectives, blending old and new legal frameworks, to imagine and develop more effective forms of advocacy. With contributions from some of the greatest legal thinkers of our day, it offers a roadmap for the present as we try, against the odds, to preserve the planet for the future."

- Erin Daly, Director, Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment

Sign Up for Our Newsletter