Plaintiffs in Landmark Climate Lawsuit Answer Trump’s Mandamus Petition
Attorneys representing 21 youth plaintiffs in the landmark climate case Juliana v. United States filed an answer to the Trump administration's mandamus petition Monday with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In their answer, attorneys make clear that the U.S. government already admitted that its actions imperil youth plaintiffs with "dangerous, and unacceptable economic, social, and environmental risks," and that "the use of fossil fuels is a major source of [greenhouse gas] emissions, placing our nation on an increasingly costly, insecure and environmentally dangerous path."
Attorneys for the youth plaintiffs also point to their July 20 deposition of Dr. Michael Kuperberg, head of the federal climate research program, who testified that he is "fearful," that "increasing levels of CO2 pose risks to humans and the natural environment," and that he does not "think current federal actions are adequate to safeguard the future."
The Trump administration originally filed the mandamus petition on June 9, arguing the Ninth Circuit's intervention was necessary due to what it characterized as burdensome discovery issues. On July 28 a panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit ordered youth plaintiffs' attorneys to answer the petition. Now, the Trump administration will have 14 days to reply to the youth plaintiffs' answer before the Ninth Circuit panel makes its ruling. Before the Trump administration filed the mandamus petition, the district court had issued an order for trial to begin on Feb. 5, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon, with Judge Ann Aiken presiding.
"We are headed to catastrophic sea level rise a lot faster than we have anticipated. If we act now, we may not be able to save Naples and Miami and other low-lying regions. But if we do not act now, we have no chance to protect plaintiff Levi's barrier island, and we will also be heading towards losing Orlando and many other places presently above any projected sea level rise."
A declaration submitted by Levi Draheim, 10-year-old Florida resident and youth plaintiff in the case reads:
"I'm scared about how climate change impacts and ocean acidification will continue to harm the beaches and streams in Florida and the wildlife that inhabit them. I can already notice the beaches around me getting smaller because of sea level rise. The reason why I care so much is I basically grew up on the beach. It is like another mother, sort of, to me."
Julia Olson, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust, avowed:
"What's clear is the burden of climate change impacts faced by our young plaintiffs far outweigh the federal government's exaggerated burden in participating in pretrial discovery. Even so, we have no interest in drawn out discovery and will work with attorneys from the DOJ to move this case expeditiously to trial in February."
Phil Gregory, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and partner with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, in Burlingame, California, said:
"The Fifth Amendment provides Americans the fundamental rights to personal security, property, life, and family autonomy and security. The federal court has decided that our youth plaintiffs have properly brought a complaint that the U.S. government's actions in causing climate change infringe upon those rights. Right now, the federal government is trying every trick to deny these youth access to a trial that will protect their rights. We are confident the courts will properly protect the youth of America from the growing climate crisis."
The Ninth Circuit invited the District Court of Oregon to answer the petition as well. In response, the District Court filed via a letter on August 25, referring to the issues presented by the youth's case as "vitally important." The letter, signed by federal Judge Ann Aiken and Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, affirmed:
"In short, we do not believe that the government will be irreversibly damaged by proceeding to trial. In our view, any error that we may have committed (or may commit in the future) can be corrected through the normal route of a direct appeal following final judgment. Indeed, we believe that permitting this case to proceed to trial will produce better results on appeal by distilling the legal and factual questions that can only emerge from a fully developed record."
The letter filed by the judges also recognized that the fossil fuel industry's broad denial of all allegations in the complaint was in part responsible for the original scope of the youth plaintiffs' discovery requests. The letter went on to conclude that the withdrawal of three trade association defendants from the case in June should allow the plaintiffs to substantially narrow their discovery requests.
Juliana v. United States was brought by 21 young plaintiffs, and Earth Guardians, who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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