Historic Victory: 4 Teenagers Win in Massachusetts Climate Change Lawsuit
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found in favor of four youth plaintiffs, the Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Energy Consumers Alliance Tuesday in the critical climate change case, Kain et al. v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The court found that the DEP was not complying with its legal obligation to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions and ordered the agency to “promulgate regulations that address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released ... and set limits that decline on an annual basis."
“This is an historic victory for young generations advocating for changes to be made by government. The global climate change crisis is a threat to the well being of humanity, and to my generation, that has been ignored for too long," youth plaintiff Shamus Miller, age 17, said.
“Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has recognized the scope and urgency of that threat and acknowledges the need for immediate action to help slow the progression of climate change. There is much more to be done both nationally and internationally but this victory is a step in the right direction and I hope that future efforts have similar success."
In 2012, hundreds of youth petitioned the DEP asking the agency to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and adopt rules reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions, but that petition was denied. As a result of DEP's reluctance to comply with the GWSA, youth filed this case arguing that the DEP failed to promulgate the regulations required by Section 3(d) of the GWSA establishing declining annual levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Massachusetts is not on track to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goal of 25 percent below 1990 levels—a fact that is directly related to DEP's failure to issue the required regulations. The plaintiffs are working to ensure that Massachusetts is complying with the law and doing everything necessary to protect their constitutional and public trust rights to clean air, a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate system.
“In agreeing with the youth plaintiffs in this case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court joins growing global judicial recognition of youth's rights to demand that their governments act in accordance with the urgency of the climate change crisis," Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children's Trust, said.
“Youth around the country and internationally are bringing their governments to court to secure their rights to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court called Massachusetts to task and underscored the need to take significant action now, so youth are not unfairly consigned to a disproportionately bleak future should we fail to address the most important and time sensitive issue of our time."
Watch Eshe Sherley explain why she was involved in this lawsuit:
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When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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