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This Supreme Court Decision Is the Best News of the Weekend
It was a good weekend for justice in America, which isn't something we get to say very often these days. That's because Friday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court kicked it off with a hopeful decision: The Trump administration can't stop the historic youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States from going to trial.
Our Children's Trust, the organization supporting the young people behind the case, summed up the mood with a tweet featuring a quote from 22-year-old plaintiff Kelsey Juliana: "Stay with us, in hope and in the pursuit of justice."
The lawsuit was first filed back in 2015 on behalf of 21 young people who argue that their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property have been violated by the government's scandalous inaction on climate change. In a year of historic wildfires and hurricanes, it's pretty easy to see where they're coming from. It's also easy to see their argument had first the Obama administration and now the Trump administration spooked. Both administrations tried multiple times to stop the case from going to trial.
"We've been confident throughout this case that we would get to trial, and I believe we will get to trial," Our Children's Trust executive director and attorney in the case Julia Olson told The Washington Post. "We have overcome everything the government has thrown at us. It is not luck. It is the strength of the case and the strength of the evidence and the strength of the legal arguments we are making."
This most recent attempt by the Trump administration to block the case was a nail-biter, though, because the Supreme Court actually delayed the start of the trial, which had been set for Oct. 29, while they considered it.
This was alarming because the Supreme Court had rejected a similar bid by the administration to block the case in July. But between July and October one important thing had changed. Justice Anthony Roberts had retired and Justice Brett Kavanaugh had taken his place.
EcoWatch explained at the time why this was troubling:
Kennedy was a swing voter on environmental issues who sometimes ruled in favor of increased regulations despite his conservative credentials. Kavanaugh's record is much more consistently anti-regulation when it comes to environmental cases. He also lied during the confirmation hearings, presenting his past rulings as more environmentally friendly than others familiar with the cases said they were. After Kennedy announced his retirement, Harvard law professor Richard Lazarus worried a more conservative court might make it harder for private citizens to sue the government over climate change.
But for now it is unknown how Kavanaugh's presence on the court impacted its decision to let the case proceed. Justice Clarence Thomas and Trump's other appointee Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said they would have sided with the administration and blocked the case, but the others kept mum on how they voted.
The Supreme Court isn't necessarily gung-ho about the legal arguments made in Juliana v. United States. It acknowledged that the case was "based on an assortment of unprecedented legal theories," but ultimately ruled that government should seek relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit first.
However, in good news for the young plaintiffs, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the administration's attempt to stop the case on Friday. The plaintiffs immediately filed a request in the District Courts to begin the process of getting the trial back on schedule, and hopefully they will get their day in court soon.
In a full quote from the Our Children's Trust press release, Kelsey Juliana expressed both the frustration and worry caused by the constant delays, as well as the admirable persistence she and the other plaintiffs demonstrate as the fight for a better future for all of us:
Today we move forward. I want to trust that we are truly on track for trial without having further delays, but these defendants are treating this case, our democracy, and the security of mine and future generations like it's a game. I'm tired of playing this game. These petitions for stay and dismissal are exhausting. To everyone who has invested in this case, to those who've followed along our journey for the past three years and counting: stay with us, in hope and in the pursuit of justice.
Fight on, Kelsey! We'll stay with you!
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.