December 9th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan
The U.S. is the largest obstacle to climate change action by most accounts. Both internally and in international affairs, numerous U.S. political leaders have been opposed to strong progress on the matter for decades. It is no surprise that we are probably the most uninformed nation when it comes to climate science. One can surely claim that our lack of understanding contributes to our lack of action, but I think the opposite is also true — we are uninformed partly because of our lack of action and our unwillingness to look at the damage we are prepping for future generations.
Back in May, I wrote about a group of kids, led by Alec Loorz, who are suing the U.S. government for its inaction (1 lawsuit is against the federal government, while the remaining 9 are against individual states). A recent post on Grist reminded me of this action, in the midst of the international climate negotiations in Durban, and included a few drops of information I was not aware of.
What is the lawsuit based on?
First, what is this lawsuit based on (well, aside from climate science showing us that we’re murdering and torturing future generations,.. and perhaps even ourselves)? From University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood, who has developed the Atmospheric Trust Doctrine theory, writes:
“Such litigation rests on the premise that all governments hold natural resources in trust for their citizens and bear the fiduciary obligation to protect such resources for future generations. While atmospheric trust litigation bears the risk of any untested strategy, it is perhaps the only macro approach that can empower courts to effectuate the reductions in emissions within the limited time frame afforded to us before critical climate thresholds are exceeded.”
This is a beautiful quote from 13-year-old Glori Dei Filippone of Des Moines, Iowa, one of the plaintiffs in the case:
“The generations before us … just kind of thought of the world as limitless…. My generation and the one after it are going to have to work hard to fix this mess.”
And here’s a nice analogy that might help to move it forward, via Claire Thompson of Grist:
“Julia Olson, of Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit group supporting the lawsuit, likened this obligation to the duty parents have to protect money in a kid’s college trust fund. If the trustees of that fund went and squandered the money, the child could sue them. So these kids are expanding that idea and suing the government for squandering their future.”
What’s the news since May?
Basically, the news is, despite many states looking to dismiss the lawsuit, a federal judge is planning to take it up. Arguments for a preliminary injunction were to be held in San Francisco on December 15, but this has been moved to Washington, D.C. due to its national significance.
Congress (in particular, Republicans in Congress) have severely let us down; presidents Bill Clinton and especially George W. Bush, as well. Obama spoke at length about how sea levels were going to stop rising from the day he took office, but has essentially turned his back on the issue. He has made some monumental progress in clean energy and energy efficiency policy, but his record on the matter is FAR from perfect and, I would contend, nearly criminal.
This is what we need. We need lawsuits. We need action. We need direct action. And we probably need political reform. Otherwise, well, it’s not something anyone who knows the science really wants to think about.
Youth climate activists via Kids vs. Global Warming
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