Climate Disobedience

50 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2019

See all articles by Maxine Burkett

Maxine Burkett

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law

Date Written: 2016


In sharp contrast to the flurry of legal and policy-oriented efforts of years past, climate activists today employ protest and nonviolent civil disobedience to advance their agenda for rapid and ambitious mitigation and adaptation. In so doing, activists make explicit references to the storied past of defining social movements in American history — notably the anti-slavery movements of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 20th — and draw direct comparison to the moral failure igniting the relevant social movements. This article examines a topic largely ignored by the legal academy, the emerging climate movement, to assess the usefulness of its persistent reference to prior movements. Comparing this recent mobilization with earlier struggles, this article explores the following questions: First, what are the characteristics of the climate movement and what tactics and narratives does it employ? Second, how are the moral questions and legal and policy goals of the climate movement similar to, or distinct from, the social movements that many climate activists invoke? Third, given the distinct moral and legal questions posed by climate change, what lessons could the climate movement glean from other similarly poised social movements? The preliminary conclusions note that extra-legal actions and non-violent civil disobedience were ostensibly indispensable in the past and appear relevant today. Further, points of overlap and departure in the framing and narrative of prior movements may be instructive for the contemporary climate movement.

Suggested Citation

Burkett, Maxine, Climate Disobedience (2016). Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, 2016, University of Hawai’i Richardson School of Law Research Paper No. 3303699, Available at SSRN:

Maxine Burkett (Contact Author)

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

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