Climate Lawsuits Aim to Hold Governments Accountable
Leave it to a bunch of kids.
Twenty-one of them from around the United States filed a “constitutional climate lawsuit” against the U.S. government in 2015. At the time, they ranged in age from 9 to 20. For the most part they were, and still are, people with next-to-zero voice in our formal political system. Even so, they’re out in front of a new offensive in the environmental struggle.
According to Our Children’s Trust, which is championing their cause, the kids’ assertion is that, “…through the government’s affirmative actions in causing climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”
They’re holding us accountable. Other citizens of the planet are beginning to do the same.
There Are Costs
The truth of man-made climate change is no longer a matter of debate among the clear majority of scientists. The use of fossil fuels has released billions of tons of CO2 and other toxic gasses into the atmosphere. They, in turn, have caused Earth to warm at a dangerous, perhaps disastrous, rate.
Despite that, the U.S. president has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement signed by more than 190 countries, including the United States, to limit future emissions. Instead of being a world leader, we’re now in the company of Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations that refuse to participate.
This bolsters the kids’ argument. Once again, we’re shirking responsibility for protecting the only home we have, to the point where clean air, safe water and a livable planet are no longer a given for future generations. Instead, they’ll be dealing with more, and more extreme, weather events that cause billions in damage, including droughts that dry up entire regions and force people to flee.
Think there’s a refugee crisis now? Just wait. As the ol’ saying goes, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Needless to say, President Donald Trump is now listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, litigators around the world are smelling opportunity. There are costs to climate change, and there will be a lot more in the relatively near future. Somebody is going to have to pay. To figure out who will be picking up the tab, they’re headed down paths similar to the one our bunch of kids is hiking.
A recent headline in the Toronto (Canada) Star asked, “Could governments and oil companies get sued for inaction on climate change?” The story references potential litigation in Vancouver over the costs of erecting a storm surge barrier and climate cases already in progress in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
Back To “It”
Here in the States, “it” is the legal battle headed for court in February 2018. “It” also is the mess the kids’ entire generation will need to deal with. Probably their kids and grandkids, too. Finally, “it” is taking responsibility for the causes of climate change and doing something about them.
Unfortunately, “it” for too many individuals, groups, companies, elected officials and governing bodies over the years has been a dangerous game of kick the can. We’ve booted it right on down the road for decades, collectively singing along the way, “It’s not gonna be my problem.”
“Leave it to a bunch of kids” once was reserved for young people who did wrong, like vandalizing buildings or walking away from a mess of beer cans in a pasture. In this case, “it” is still negative, but now it’s generations of adult leaders who have done wrong, either through action or inaction.
As far as the Paris Accord is concerned, I’m no lawyer, but I’m thinking the kids now have another stick they can use to beat the government over the head. A big one.
Speaking of the original environmentalist president, Theodore Roosevelt would have loved their fighting spirit.
Also published on Unheralded.Fish July 7, 2017, inform.com 7/8/17 and in The Forum print edition 7/10/17.