Kids Sue Trump Over Climate Rollbacks and Reliance on 'Junk Science'
Two Philadelphia-area children are suing President Donald Trump and two of his climate skeptic cabinet members, Energy Sec. Rick Perry and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, to try to stop them from rolling back existing environmental protections including the Clean Power Plan.
The plaintiffs, ages 7 and 11, are backed by the Clean Air Council, Philadelphia's oldest environmental non-profit. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Monday.
The complaint alleges that the Trump administration's reliance on "junk science" to undo climate regulations are a threat to the young plaintiffs and other U.S. citizens. It states:
"In recent years, the United States has experienced a steady increase in extreme weather events that have destroyed American homes and businesses, displaced millions of United States citizens, and caused the tragic loss of lives. The United States Government's current acts to roll back regulations and practices previously directed at addressing and minimizing the United States contribution to climate change will increase the frequency and severity of these extreme weather events and the dangers to Plaintiffs' lives and a life-sustaining environment.
Through these acts, the Government is relying on junk science to wage a war on facts, data, and reliable principles and methods arising out of scientific, technical, and specialized knowledge. In doing so, Defendants have acted with reckless and deliberate indifference to the established clear and present dangers of climate change, knowingly increasing its resulting damages, death, and destruction."
The children are only identified by their first and last initials in the court papers. Seven-year-old plaintiff "S.B." claims to be suffering from medical issues, including severe seasonal allergies that cause recurrent nosebleeds and vomiting, that are "directly impacted by the climate" and "as a result of Defendants' affirmative acts in causing increased climate."
Eleven-year-old plaintiff "B.B." claims to be suffering from asthma that is exacerbated by climate change. Before moving to Philadelphia, he lived in New York and experienced the impacts of Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Irene. He similarly alleges he is experiencing harm from "the Defendants' affirmative acts in causing increased climate change."
"B.B. is passionate about protecting the environment, and experiences anxiety about the potentially irreversible impact of climate change on the planet and future generations, including his own children and grandchildren," the court papers state.
Incidentally, the lawsuit comes after the White House's released a sweeping report on Friday concluding that climate change is real and poses as a major threat to the U.S. and humans are "extremely likely" to be responsible. The 477-page National Climate Assessment conflicted with Trump's notorious stance on global warming as a "hoax" and defied his continued efforts to dismantle environmental regulations on both the national and international scale.
Why Did #Trump Release a Report Confirming #ClimateChange Is Real? https://t.co/fgKNaFGmRT @greenpeaceusa @foe_us @COP23 @UNFCCC @SierraClub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1509979462.0
"We will not stand idly by while President Trump and his agencies raze crucial environmental protections, ignore climate science, dispute well-documented facts and force future generations of Americans to suffer the consequences of this administration's reckless choices and ignorant policies," Clean Air Council Executive Director and Chief Counsel Joseph Minott told The Hill.
"We must hold the federal government accountable for the long-term environmental harm that is propagating under its direction. It's time to fight back," he said.
As Reuters reported, by including the children, the Clean Air Council appears to be modeling its case after Juliana v. U.S., a pending federal lawsuit 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 Clean Air Council case is taking the legal theories pioneered in Juliana and applying them to a narrow set of facts related to specific rollbacks of the Trump administration," explained Meg Ward, a spokeswoman for Our Children's Trust, a group leading the Juliana suit.
The Trump administration has not issued a comment on the lawsuit.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
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Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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