By Andrea Germanos
Lawyer and visionary thinker Polly Higgins, who campaigned for ecocide to be internationally recognized as a crime on par with genocide and war crimes, died Sunday at the age of 50.
She had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer last month and given just weeks to live.
Author and climate activist Naomi Klein praised Higgins's work as well.
"She devoted her life to changing broken laws that have failed so miserably to protect the natural systems upon which we all depend. Her work will live on," Klein wrote.
So sad to hear of the loss of Polly Higgins. She devoted her life to changing broken laws that have failed so miser… https://t.co/K8WtL8cG2G— Naomi Klein (@Naomi Klein)1555930510.0
Such accolades wouldn't be pouring in if not for the pivotal moment when Higgins chose to her leave her legal practice to focus on a singular client: planet Earth.
"I was standing in court one day," she told the Scotsman in 2012. "It was three years on in a long case, the last day in the Court of Appeal, and we were waiting for the judges to come back. I'd been giving voice to my client, who had been injured and harmed in the workplace, and I looked out the window and thought, 'The Earth is being injured and harmed as well and nothing is being done about it.'"
"I actually thought, 'The Earth is in need of a good lawyer.' That thought would not leave me alone. It changed my life," said Higgins.
Guardian columnist George Monbiot paid tribute to her work last month, and outlined some of her achievements:
Until 1996, drafts of the Rome statute, which lists international crimes against humanity, included the crime of ecocide. But it was dropped at a late stage at the behest of three states: the UK, France and the Netherlands. Ecocide looked like a lost cause until Higgins took it up 10 years ago.
She gave up her job and sold her house to finance this campaign on behalf of all of us. She has drafted model laws to show what the crime of ecocide would look like, published two books on the subject and, often against furious opposition, presented her proposals at international meetings. The Earth Protectors group she founded seeks to crowdfund the campaign. Recently she has been working with the Republic of Vanuatu with a view to tabling an amendment to the Rome statute, introducing the missing law.
Higgins's visionary work to make ecocide a crime, Monbiot wrote, "could, with our support, do for all life on Earth what the criminalization of genocide has done for vulnerable minorities: provide protection where none existed before. Let it become her legacy."
To hear Higgins in her own words, watch her TEDxExeter talk from 2012, "Ecocide, the 5th Crime Against Peace."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Six months since Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico, the island is the site of a pitched battle between wealthy investors—particularly from the technology industry—and everyday Puerto Ricans fighting for a place in their island's future.
The Puerto Rican government has pushed for a series of privatization schemes, including privatizing PREPA, one of the largest public power providers in the U.S., and increasing the number of privately run charter schools and private school vouchers.
For more, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her latest piece for The Intercept, where she is a senior correspondent, is The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Democracy Now!.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Naomi Klein: 'New York City Is Taking a Game-Changing First Step in Turning the World Right Side Up'
The following is a speech given by Naomi Klein in New York City on Jan. 10.
I want to thank Mayor de Blasio for this historic announcement that New York is divesting from fossil fuels and suing five oil majors.
What's happening here is not only about changing the economics of energy, speeding the transition from dirty to clean. It's also about justice.
And it represents a collective victory for the amazing climate justice movement around the world and in this city.
Groups like Uprose, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and New York Renews, some of which are here today, as well as global groups like 350.org, which helped kick off the fossil fuel divestment movement about five years ago.
For a very long time, our movements have been insisting that principles of justice need to be at the center of the response to the climate crisis—a crisis that plays out in the most perversely unjust ways right now.
Justice means that people who did the least to create this crisis but are bearing the heaviest risks and most toxic burdens need to be first to benefit from green economic development and job creation.
Justice also means that workers in polluting industries are not sacrificed or left behind. And justice means something else too, something most politicians are loath to talk about because the wealth and power of fossil fuel companies is so vast.
It means that the corporate interests that did the most to get us into this mess—with their pollution and with their campaigns of willful misinformation—are going to have to pay their true share of the tremendous costs of climate disruption, and of delayed transition. Because right now we have it upside down and backwards.
As it stands, the costs of sea level rise and ferocious and unprecedented weather events are offloaded on to the public, with taxpayers stiffed with the ballooning bills. And as governments absorb these costs, there is less money for schools, for affordable transit and housing, for health care. And, in yet another bitter irony, this hurts the people who are already impacted by climate change the most.
This city saw all this in dramatic fashion during Sandy, when it was the people in public housing who were left for weeks in the cold and dark.
Meanwhile, the extravagant profits from destabilizing our planet's life support system, earned from ignoring and suppressing the scientific consensus—well, those are systematically privatized.
In short, the status quo means the poor are paying again and again for the polluters to get even richer. It's a world upside down. But that starts to change today.
By suing these five oil majors who knowingly deepened the climate crisis, and simultaneously beginning the process of divesting $5-billion from fossil fuel companies, New York City is taking a game changing first step in turning the world right side up. And not to overstate the case, but I actually think this could change the world.
There have been lawsuits before that have tried to sue the fossil fuel giants for climate damages. The tiny Arctic community of Kivalina, population 383, which attempted to recover the costs of having to relocate. Some citizens of the low-lying Pacific Island of Vanuatu—population 300,000—that began a similar suit. A lone Peruvian farmer, suing a German coal giant for the risks to his home. A small group of Gulf Coast Mississippi homeowners, with the help of a scrappy lawyer, who tried to sue the fossil fuel companies after Hurricane Katrina.
These have been valiant attempts, but in every case, the industry has relied on the relative weakness and poverty of its accusers, sometime managing to quash suits before they were filed.
And that is why today's news is so historic. Because bullying isn't going to work here the way it has in the past. This lawsuit is coming from the largest city in the most powerful country on the planet, a city which also happens to be the financial capital of world.
And now that New York City has thrown down in such a big way—on divestment, on polluter pays—it's going to embolden all kinds of other actors to step up as well. Other cities around the world. Universities. Foundations. Other states. Even entire nation states.
As of today, everyone needs to up their ambition. Be bolder. Move faster. It's what our planet requires. And it's what justice demands. No politician on the planet is doing enough. But there can be no doubt that the bar for what it takes to call yourself a climate leader has just been dramatically raised.
A few years ago, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay $19-billion in damages for an oil disaster known as the "Rainforest Chernobyl." A spokesperson for the company responded by pledging that it would "fight this until hell freezes over. And then we'll fight it on the ice."
Well, New Yorkers know how to fight. They even know how to fight on the ice, as the New York Rangers occasionally show. I want to thank all the fighters in this room for reminding us of that.
By Naomi Klein
LET'S REWIND A BIT, to the week Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. At that moment, I was reeling from witnessing not one catastrophe but two. And I don't think we can understand the true danger of the Trump disaster unless we grapple with both of them.
I was in Australia for work, but I was also very conscious that, because of the carbon involved in that kind of travel, I might not be able to return for a long time. So I decided to visit, for the first time in my life, the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, a World Heritage Site and Earth's largest natural structure made up of living creatures. It was simultaneously the most beautiful and the most frightening thing I had ever seen.
As my Australia trip was approaching, I realized that my feelings about seeing the reef were tied up in my being the mother of a four-year-old boy, Toma. As parents, we can sometimes make the mistake of exposing kids too early to all the threats and dangers facing the natural world. The first book about nature that a lot of children read is Dr. Seuss's The Lorax, which is all about pollution and beautiful places being turned into garbage and all the animals dying and disappearing and choking. It's really scary. I read it to Toma when he was two and watched the terror cross his face. And I thought, "No, this is completely wrong." Now we read stories about fast-talking squirrels and books that celebrate nature's beauty and wonder. Even if I know these books are about species that are on the brink of extinction, Toma doesn't need to worry about that yet. I figure that my job is to try to create as many positive experiences as possible that will attach him to the natural world. You need to love something first before you can protect and defend it.
I also wanted to go to the reef in my role as a journalist. Over the previous two years, something unprecedented in recorded history had happened. Because of record-breaking temperatures, more than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef had been impacted by what's known as a "mass bleaching event." It's hard to stress just how cataclysmic the bleaching has been. When coral is bleached, those beautiful, intensely colored creatures—an ecosystem as rich and teeming as the Amazon rainforest—turn ghostly and bone-white. Bleached coral can recover if temperatures quickly go back down to normal levels. This time, they hadn't gone back down—so almost a quarter of the reef has died. Unlike many other climate change-related events, this wasn't some dramatic storm or wildfire—just silent, watery death.
We went out on the reef with a team of extraordinarily dedicated marine biologists (all of whom were emotionally shattered by what they had been documenting) and a film crew from the Guardian. We started filming in the parts of the reef that are still alive, and we managed to get Toma to put on a snorkel. The scientists were incredibly patient with him, and there were about five solid minutes when he really was able to have a flash of true wonder—he "saw Nemo"; he saw a sea cucumber. I think he even saw a sea turtle. These parts of the reef, the ones that are neither bleached nor dead, are only a fraction of the whole, but they are still glorious—a riot of life, of electric-colored coral and fish, sea turtles and sharks swimming by.
We didn't take Toma on the boat when we filmed the dead and bleached parts of the reef. And it was a graveyard. It was as if a cosmic switch had been flipped and suddenly one of the most beautiful places on Earth had been turned into one of the ugliest. The coral bones were covered in a goo of decaying life—a brown goo. You just wanted to get away from there. Our wetsuits stank of death.
One of the most unjust aspects of climate disruption (and there are many) is that our actions as adults today will have their most severe impact on the lives of generations yet to come, as well as kids alive today who are too young to impact policy—kids like Toma and his friends and their generation the world over. These children have done nothing to create the crisis, but they are the ones who will deal with the most extreme weather—the storms and droughts and fires and rising seas—and all the social and economic stresses that will flow as a result. They are the ones growing up amid a mass extinction, robbed of so much beauty and so much of the companionship that comes from being surrounded by other life-forms.
By the end of the day, we were all completely wiped out. We had seen so much death, so much loss, but my son had also had this special experience. That night, tucking him into bed in our motel room, I said, "Toma, today is the day when you discovered there is a secret world under the sea." And he just looked up at me with an expression of pure bliss and said, "I saw it." I burst into tears, some mixture of joy and heartbreak at the knowledge that just as he is becoming aware of this beauty in the world, all this magic, it is being drained away.
THE STAKES IN THE 2016 ELECTION were enormously high for a great many reasons, from the millions who stood to lose their health insurance to those targeted by racist attacks as Trump fanned the flames of rising white nationalism; from the families that stood to be torn apart by cruel immigration policies to the prospect of women losing the right to decide whether or not to become mothers, to the reality of sexual assault being normalized and trivialized at the highest reaches of power. With so many lives on the line, there is nothing to be gained by ranking issues by urgency and playing "my crisis is bigger than your crisis." If it's happening to you, if it's your family being torn apart or you who are being singled out for police harassment, or your grandmother who cannot afford a life-saving treatment, or your drinking water that's laced with lead—it's all a five-alarm fire.
Climate change isn't more important than any of these other issues, but it does have a different relationship to time. When the politics of climate change go wrong—and they are very, very wrong right now—we don't get to try again in four years. Because in four years, Earth will have been radically changed by all the gases emitted in the interim, and our chances of averting an irreversible catastrophe will have shrunk.
This may sound alarmist, but I have interviewed the leading scientists in the world on this question, and their research shows that it's simply a neutral description of reality. The window during which there is time to lower emissions sufficiently to avoid truly catastrophic warming is closing rapidly. Lots of social movements have adopted Samuel Beckett's famous line "Try again. Fail again. Fail better" as a lighthearted motto. I've always liked the attitude; we can't be perfect, we won't always win, but we should strive to improve. The trouble is, Beckett's dictum doesn't work for climate—not at this stage in the game. If we keep failing to lower emissions, if we keep failing to kick-start the transition in earnest away from fossil fuels and to an economy based on renewables, if we keep dodging the question of wasteful consumption and the quest for more and more and bigger and bigger, there won't be more opportunities to fail better. Nearly everything is moving faster than the climate change modeling projected, including Arctic sea-ice loss, ice sheet collapse, ocean warming, sea level rise, and coral bleaching. The next time voters in countries around the world go to the polls, more sea ice will have melted, more coastal land will have been lost, more species will have disappeared for good. The chance for us to keep temperatures below what it would take for island nations such as, say, Tuvalu or the Maldives to be saved from drowning becomes that much slimmer. These are irreversible changes—we don't get a do-over on a drowned country.
The latest peer-reviewed science tells us that if we want a good shot at protecting coastal cities in my son's lifetime—including metropolises like New York City and Mumbai—then we need to get off fossil fuels with superhuman speed. A paper from Oxford University that came out during the U.S. presidential campaign, published in the Applied Energy journal, concluded that for humanity to have a fifty-fifty chance of meeting the temperature targets set in the climate accord negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015, every new power plant would have to be zero-carbon starting in 2018. That's the second year of the Trump presidency.
For most of us—including me—this is very hard information to wrap our heads around, because we are used to narratives that reassure us about the inevitability of eventual progress. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." It's a powerful idea that sadly doesn't work for the climate crisis. The wealthy governments of the world have procrastinated for so long, and made the problem so much worse in the meantime, that the arc has to bend very, very fast now—or the shot at justice is gone for good. We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.
MANY HAVE HOPED THAT the existential urgency of the climate crisis—and early shocks like superstorms and reef die-offs—would serve as a collective wake-up call, becoming the catalyst for humanity to change to a cleaner and fairer economic model in a hurry. That kind of rapid democratic transformation would be the inverse of what I have called "the shock doctrine"—the use of crisis by the powerful to push through regressive, pro-corporate reforms.
And there is precedent for great shocks serving this kind of progressive function. Indeed, up until the '80s—before shock doctrine tactics became the norm—crises that were obviously born of financial greed and corporate malfeasance often provoked some of the most momentous progressive victories in modern history.
In the United States, after the carnage of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, blacks and their radical allies pushed for economic justice and greater social rights. They won major victories, including free public education for all children—although it would take another century before schools were desegregated. The horrific 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City, which took the lives of 146 young immigrant garment workers, catalyzed hundreds of thousands of workers into militancy—eventually leading to an overhaul of the state labor code, caps on overtime, new rules for child labor, and breakthroughs in health and fire safety regulations.
Most significantly, it was only thanks to the collective response from below to the Great Crash of 1929 that the New Deal became possible. The strike wave of the mid-1930s—the Teamsters' rebellion and the Minneapolis general strike, the 83-day shutdown of the West Coast by longshore workers, and the Flint sit-down strikes in the auto plants—established the power of industrial unions and forced owners to share a great deal more wealth with their workers. In this same period, as a response to the suffering brought on by the Great Depression, mass movements demanded sweeping social programs such as Social Security and unemployment insurance (programs from which the majority of African American and many women workers were notably excluded). In the same period, tough new rules regulating the financial sector were introduced, at real cost to unfettered profit making. Across the industrialized world, pressure from social movements created the conditions for programs like the New Deal, featuring ambitious investments in public infrastructure—utilities, transportation systems, housing, and more—on a scale comparable to what the climate crisis calls for today. (Just as the wreckage of the Second World War provided another such catalyst.)
In 1969, there was an oil spill in Santa Barbara, which coated California's beautiful beaches, and it was something like a Great Crash for the environment—a shock millions responded to by demanding fundamental change. Many of North America's toughest laws protecting air, water, and endangered species can trace their roots back to the popular anger that exploded in response to that disaster.
In all these cases, a painful crisis served as a wake-up call, ushering in meaningful legislation that created a fairer and safer society—thanks in no small part to the hard work of organizers who had been preparing the ground for years before the shocks hit. These were far from perfect reforms, not full-scale transformations, and yet they were directly responsible for winning much of the modern social safety net as well as the regulatory structures that protect so many workers and public health.
So why did those crises produce such visionary change, while more recent ones—Hurricane Katrina, the subprime mortgage debacle, BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster—have left so little progressive public policy behind?
Here is one theory: The interplay between lofty dreams and earthly victories has always been at the heart of moments of deep transformation. The breakthroughs won for workers and their families after the Civil War and during the Great Depression, as well as for civil rights and the environment in the '60s and early '70s, were not just responses to crises. They were responses to crises that unfolded in times when people dared to dream big, out loud, in public—explosions of utopian imagination.
Our moment of crisis today could catalyze similar transformations—but first we need to reclaim the utopian tradition that animated so many transcendent social movements in the past. It means having the courage to paint a picture of a different world, one which, even if it exists only in our minds, can fuel us as we engage in winnable battles. Because, as Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891, "a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail."
Part of that voyage is not just talking and writing about the future we want—but building it as we go. It's a principle I saw in action (and prayer, and song) in Standing Rock.
I WENT TO NORTH DAKOTA less than a month after Trump was elected. The forecast called for an epic snowstorm, and it was already starting to come down as we arrived, the low hills and heavy sky a monochromatic white.
Days earlier, the governor had announced plans to clear the camps of the thousands of "water protectors" who had gathered on the outskirts of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to try to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. A company called Energy Transfer Partners was determined to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, the sole source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as under another section of the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for 17 million people. If the pipeline ruptured, the tribal leaders argued, their people would have no safe water and their sacred sites would be desecrated. The movement's Lakota-language slogan, heard around the world, was Mni Wiconi—"water is life."
After months of confrontations with private security and highly militarized police, it seemed the governor now felt, with Trump on the way to the White House, that the coast was clear to crush the movement with force. The blows had been coming for months—about 750 people would be arrested by the time the camps were cleared—and when I arrived, Standing Rock had already become the site of the most violent state repression in recent U.S. history. With the issuing of the eviction order, many were calling December 5, 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux's "last stand," and I along with many others had traveled there to stand with them.
One of my first conversations at Standing Rock was with legendary Lakota elder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who in many ways had got all this resistance going when she opened the first camp on her land, the Sacred Stone Camp. That was in April 2016. Eight months later, here she was, eyes still sparkling, betraying not a bit of fatigue despite playing den mother to thousands of people who had come from across the world to be part of this historic movement.
Brave Bull Allard told me she had come to understand that, although stopping the pipeline was crucial, there was something greater at work in this convergence. She said the camps were now a place where indigenous and nonindigenous people alike were learning to live in relationship and community with the land. This moment was also about exposing visitors to the traditions and ceremonies that had been kept alive despite hundreds of years of genocidal attacks on indigenous people and culture. This, she told me, is why the traditions survived the onslaught. "We knew this day was coming—the unification of all the tribes. . . . We are here to protect the earth and the water. This is why we are still alive. To do this very thing we are doing. To help humanity answer its most pressing question: How do we live with the earth again, not against it?"
At Standing Rock, I found myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a protector. Leaders of the movement there had insisted from day one that they were not "protesters" out to make trouble, but "water protectors" determined to stop a whole other order of trouble. I thought about my own duty to be a protector—of my son and his friends and the kids yet to come, in the face of the rocky future we've locked in for all of them.
Amid the tears and the sage smoke, we felt the touch of history. Since the election, I had been longing for some kind of gathering of progressive thinkers and organizers—to strategize, unite, and find a way through the next four years of Trump's daily barrage. I pictured it happening at a university, in big halls. I didn't expect to find that space at Standing Rock. But that is indeed where I discovered it, in the camps' combination of reaction and contemplation, and in the constant learning-by-doing modeled by Brave Bull Allard and so many other leaders there.
At Standing Rock, they did not, in the end, manage to stop the pipeline—at least not yet. In a flagrant betrayal of treaty and land rights, Trump immediately reversed Obama's decision and allowed the company—flanked by layers of militarized police—to ram the pipe under Lake Oahe, without the consent of the Standing Rock Sioux. As I write, oil is flowing beneath the community's drinking water reservoir, and the pipe could burst at any time. That outrage is being challenged in the courts, and extensive pressure is being put on the banks that financed the project. Roughly $80 million (and counting) has been pulled from the banks that have invested in the pipeline.
But the oil still flows.
I WILL NEVER FORGET the experience of being at the main camp when the news arrived, after the months of resistance, that the Obama administration had finally denied the pipeline permit. I happened to be standing with Tokata Iron Eyes, a fiercely grounded yet playful 13-year-old from Standing Rock who had helped kick-start the movement against the pipeline. I turned on my phone video and asked her how she felt about the breaking news. "Like I have my future back," she replied, and then she burst into tears. I did, too.
Thanks to Trump, Tokata has again lost that sense of safety. And yet his action cannot and does not erase the profound learning that took place during all those months on the land. The modeling of a form of resistance that, with one hand, said no to an imminent threat and, with the other, worked tirelessly to build the yes that is the world we want and need.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Steve Horn
Geoengineering, hailed in some circles as a potential techno-fix to the climate change crisis, has taken a step closer to going mainstream.
The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a rare joint subcommittee hearing on Nov. 8, only the second ever congressional hearing of its kind on the topic (the first was held in 2009). The committee invited expert witnesses to discuss the status of geoengineering research and development. Geoengineering is a broad term encompassing sophisticated scientific techniques meant to reverse the impacts of climate change or pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
Ironically, the Committee on Science, Space and Technology is chaired by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith—a climate science denier who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from ExxonMobil throughout his political career. In fact, Smith actually mentioned "climate change" in his opening remarks for the hearing, in discussing his interest in geoengineering.
"As the climate continues to change, geoengineering could become a tool to curb resulting impacts," said Smith, who recently announced he will not run for relection in 2018. "Instead of forcing unworkable and costly government mandates on the American people, we should look to technology and innovation to lead the way to address climate change. Geoengineering should be considered when discussing technological advances to protect the environment."
In the past, Smith has denied climate change in stark terms, referring to those who believe in climate science as "alarmists" in a 2015 op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal.
"Climate alarmists have failed to explain the lack of global warming over the past 15 years," Smith said at the time. "They simply keep adjusting their malfunctioning climate models to push the supposedly looming disaster further into the future."
Smith has since pivoted to less skepticism about the science, saying at a March 2017 congressional hearing that "climate is changing and humans play a role" and that it's now just a question of the "extent" to which human activity is the culprit (it is).
So perhaps geoengineering, labeled by its critics for years now as a false solution to the climate crisis, will be a "pivot" of sorts for converted deniers and their bankrollers?
Climate Change Talk Off the Table
U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment for the House Science Committee, explicitly took climate change debate off the table at the November 8 hearing, stating that conversation should only center around the future of geoengineering research.
"The purpose of this hearing is to discuss the viability of geoengineering and any early-stage research associated with this approach," said Biggs. "The hearing is not a platform to further the debate about climate change. Instead, its aim is to explore approaches and technologies that have been discussed in the scientific community and to assess the basic research needed to better understand the merits of these ideas."
Those testifying followed suit, with a consensus reached that a governance framework must be created to regulate geoengineering research and potential future deployment. The presenters all pushed the idea of geoengineering techniques such as solar radiation management, cloud seeding and marine cloud brightening.
Geoengineering, according to its critics, is a distraction from the actual challenge of halting dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions and subsequent runaway climate change. Critics also say the approach is a potential danger in and of itself because its techniques are a literal re-engineering of the atmospheric system, with unpredictable side effects.
"Geoengineering offers the tantalizing promise of a climate change fix that would allow us to continue our resource-exhausting way of life, indefinitely," wrote Klein in 2012 in The New York Times. "And then there is the fear. Every week seems to bring more terrifying climate news, from reports of ice sheets melting ahead of schedule to oceans acidifying far faster than expected."
DeSmog has also covered a proposed version of geoengineering called biochar in a multi-part investigative series, noting that much of the research on the topic so far has been funded by companies such as ConocoPhillips, Cenovus, ExxonMobil and others. Exxon, in fact, studied geoengineering at its research campus in Annandale, New Jersey, in the 1990s while also funding climate change denial.
"Not a Silver Bullet"
For now, even geoengineering proponents have become spooked over the interest climate science deniers have started showing in geoengineering. On the same day as the House Science Committee hearing, 24 researchers delivered a letter expressing concern about the premise of the congressional hearing and what could arise from it moving forward.
"Geoengineering is not a silver bullet, and treating it as one could greatly increase already severe climate change risks," they wrote to the committee. "While further research could help address questions about the proposed technologies' efficacy, risks and cost-effectiveness, we already know that geoengineering, including solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal approaches, can at best be a supplement to reducing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and increasing our ability to cope with the effects of climate change."
Included among the 24 scientists is Harvard's pioneering geoengineering researcher David Keith, who has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of geoengineering within academia. Speaking as an individual, Keith also recently communicated his apprehension about the Trump administration potentially taking an unscrupulous interest in pushing geoengineering.
"In some ways the thing we fear the most is a tweet from Trump saying 'Solar geoengineering solves everything—it's great! We don't need to bother to cut emissions,'" Keith said at a Nov. 7 forum. "That would just really make it hard to proceed in a sensible way."
In fact, those close to the Trump administration, which is rife with climate science deniers, have shown some interest in geoengineering to a degree not seen in the Obama administration. Yet whether President Donald Trump is willing to finance geoengineering research to the tune of $5-10 million per year, as proposed by one hearing witness, remains to be seen.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
All past U.S. rainfall records have been shattered, and the devastating storm is expected to bring even more rainfall to Louisiana and Texas in the coming days.
And yet, the corporate networks have avoided linking the record-breaking storm to climate change. We examine storm coverage with Naomi Klein, best-selling author of several books, including This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Democracy Now!.
By Celisa Calacal
Shocking. Abnormal. Unprecedented. And, in the end, horror. These are just some of the words used to describe the Trump presidency since he took office. And with each passing day in the Trump administration, each new statement, tweet or piece of legislation, many people feel that these Trump-ian antics are unlike anything seen before.
But author and award-winning journalist Naomi Klein disagrees: We have seen this before.
Speaking to a crowded hall on June 12 at the Cooper Union in New York City, Klein discussed the events contributing to Trump's rise, the future of the progressive movement and the "shocks" that are lying in the wake of Trump's policies. The event was also held to promote Klein's new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.
Much of Klein's talk centered around the theory she presents in her 2008 book The Shock Doctrine, but she also differentiated Trump's policies as a different form of shock. And while most media coverage of the White House portrays his administration as a chaotic mess, Klein argued that the media ends up missing the more diabolical policy movements behind the curtain that are "shock-creation machines"—such as the removal of Dodd-Frank and the pulling out from the Paris climate agreement.
"This narrative has emerged that he's this bumbling idiot, that it's all chaos," she said. "And meanwhile, behind the scenes, getting very little media attention is a methodical, very organized redistribution of wealth from lower and middle incomes to the one percent of the one percent."
The Rebranding of Trump—How We Got Here
In an analysis that has largely been missing in mainstream media to describe the rise of Trump, Klein connected much of Trump's success to the way he brands himself. Drawing from common marketing practices, she discussed how Trump's new business model involves the selling and leasing of his name to almost every product imaginable—a corporate model she calls the "hollow brand." Klein's analysis of hollow brand marketing builds upon her writing in her 1999 book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Klein pointed out, companies began to shift away from their traditional model of creating products and establishing a brand around those products. The new trend in the marketing industry was instead to sell an idea.
"The product is the marketing tool. Branding is a very colonial process," she said. "And essentially what they're selling is group identity."
Trump, Klein argued, capitalizes on this marketing technique, as he built a brand centered on his name while quietly outsourcing the production of his products to Third World countries. Klein also took a moment to call out similar practices by Canadian president Justin Trudeau, who has branded himself as a "progressive climate leader" despite his anti-environmental policies in supporting tar sands pipelines.
"I'm a dual Canadian and American citizen, so I feel it's my responsibility to tell you that Justin Trudeau is a hollow brand," she said, to loud cheers from the audience.
The danger in this practice, however, lies in the facade that companies are actually fulfilling consumers' needs.
"They're not selling anything that meets the need," Klein said. "They're selling the promise of meeting the need, which is fantastic for capitalism."
And while hollow branding inevitably upholds the capitalist system, Klein said marketing practice does reveal a human desire to be part of a larger movement. She cited Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party's success following the recent UK election as evidence of a political movement employing marketing to build a base and generate excitement.
"People really like the idea of revolution," she said. "Let's give them the real thing."
Bringing Together Social Movements—Where Do We Go From Here
While Klein's prescient analysis of Trump may create the picture of a bleak future, she rounded out her talk with a call to action for more people to recognize the intersectionality between social movements as well as a revival of the anti-war movement.
"We live in a time where we cannot separate climate activism from anti-war activism," Klein said. "We live in a time which really encourages us to sort of see these as separate issues, and I think our task is to explode all that and try to tell coherent stories about how all of our movements are interconnected."
She said this intersectionality can be accomplished in a way that still recognizes the autonomy of these social issues in a spirit of solidarity.
"We're stronger when we do this," Klein said, referencing the droves of people who attended the People's Climate March this spring and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The primary obstacle in the way of achieving this connectedness, however, is neoliberalism. She said there is need for institutions, such as left-wing universities, to provide an infrastructure for social movements.
"We don't have a lot of spaces in which to come together," Klein said.
Klein also emphasized the importance of not relying on "liberal billionaires" to save the people and provide all the solutions, and that people should not "wait to be led." Instead, the rise of people's platforms, such as the platform created by the Movement for Black Lives, places power in the hands of the people. Klein herself has participated in the formation of a people's platform in Canada, where she helped create a people's platform through theleap.org in the midst of a federal election.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken issued an order Thursday denying motions filed by the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry that sought to appeal her Nov. 10, 2016 order in Juliana v. United States to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The order follows the Trump administration's remarkable Tuesday night filing of a notice giving Judge Aiken a deadline of June 9 to issue her order.
In that notice, the Department of Justice threatened, "In the absence of such resolution by this Court, the United States will seek … review and relief in the Court of Appeals." The Trump administration is alluding to an intention to seek a writ of mandamus, an extraordinary remedy that is rarely granted, from the higher court.
"We are on our way to trial!" said Julia Olson, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust. "With industry walking away from the case and the Trump administration's effort at procedural delay firmly rejected, we can focus on the merits of these youths' constitutional claims."
"Defendants' threat to run directly to the Ninth Circuit if this Court does not abide by a unilaterally imposed 'deadline' is another matter … belief that it is legally entitled to an immediate ruling on a motion it submitted three months ago is rather ironic given that it waited four months to file the request for interlocutory certification in the first place."
Judge Aiken's order was an adoption of the May 1 findings and recommendation issued by Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, who is overseeing the pretrial and discovery portion of the case. Judge Coffin has ruled that an interlocutory appeal "would put the cart before the horse, and thus fail to satisfy the standards for interlocutory appeal."
"The more evidence we gather for our case, the more I realize how decisively we can win at trial," said 20-year-old Alex Loznak of Roseburg, Oregon, one of 21 youth plaintiffs. "It's no wonder the Trump administration wants to avoid the trial by seeking an unwarranted, premature appeal. Today's ruling brings us one step closer to trial and to winning our lawsuit."
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, has explained that mandamus is a "drastic and extraordinary remedy" reserved for "only exceptional circumstances." Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367, 380 (2004).
Last month, motions were filed by three fossil fuel industry intervenor-defendants: the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Fuel & and Petrochemical Manufacturers, requesting the court's permission to withdraw from the litigation. For any defendant to leave the litigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin must grant permission. That matter is still pending.
Fossil Fuel Associations Scramble to Quit Kids Climate Lawsuit Before Discovery Deadline https://t.co/orBLBLnaZy @YaleClimateComm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1495935907.0
Juliana v. United States was brought by 21 young plaintiffs 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 Paul Brown
The food industry and big agricultural concerns are driving climate change and at the same time threatening to undermine efforts to feed the world's growing population, according to GRAIN, an organization that supports small farmers.
Particularly singled out for criticism are the large chemical fertilizer producers that have gained access to the United Nations talks on climate change. GRAIN accuses them of behaving like the fossil fuel companies did in the 1990s, pushing false information in the hope of delaying real action on climate change.
The evidence is detailed in a book, The Great Climate Robbery: How the food system drives climate change and what we can do about it, published by GRAIN. It is a comprehensive account of the unrelenting and largely successful campaign by big companies to take over the world's food supply and exploit it for profit.
The writers say small farms have been squeezed into less than one quarter of the world's agricultural lands, but they continue to produce most of the world's food.
Unless small farmers are protected and more land is returned to the kind of sustainable practice employed by small farmers, then there is no hope of feeding the world's population in the future, they say.
On climate change, the book details how the march of industrial agriculture has created a food chain that is now a heavy emitter of greenhouse gases. The rise of palm oil plantations for processed food, the overuse of fertilizers and the long distances produce travels to reach our plates altogether produce about 50 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions.
This is a bold claim, but not without a remarkable body of evidence. Every chapter has a long list of footnotes citing scientific papers and UN reports.
The book is endorsed by some high-profile campaigners, including Naomi Klein, who said, "It explains why the fight to stop the industrial food juggernaut is the same as the fight for a habitable, just planet."
Another campaigner for small farmers, Dr. Vandana Shiva, said the book shows "that industrial corporate agriculture is a major part of the climate crisis, and small-scale ecological farming is a significant solution. It also alerts us to the false solutions of those who created the problem—the Exxons of agriculture."
Although industrial farming methods produce only 11 to 15 percent of emissions, the book examines the entire food business—from deforestation to convert land to farmland, to transport, food-processing factories, the freezing and retail industries and discarded food waste.
Over the past 50 years, 140 million hectares, the size of almost all the farms in India, has been taken over by four crops grown on large industrial plantations. These are soybean, palm oil, rapeseed and sugar cane.
According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, small farmers produce 80 percent of food in non-industrial countries. Their great advantage, apart from producing more food from a smaller area, is that they supply local markets with fresh rather than processed products, and less is wasted.
The book describes how the expansion of unsustainable agricultural practices over the past century has led to vast quantities of organic matter being lost from soils. This loss is responsible for between 25 percent and 40 percent of the current carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
By restoring small farmers' sustainable practices, this organic matter could be put back into the soil, offsetting up to 30 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, the authors say.
Instead, in order to counter the loss of this carbon from soils, more and more chemical fertilizer is used. Insecticides and herbicides are poured on the land, impoverishing biodiversity.
Cutting food miles and concentrating on fresh produce at local markets, rather than processing food and providing it frozen to supermarkets, would also directly cut emissions.
The book is a call to wrest control from the industrial agricultural giant whose job it is to make profits for shareholders—not to feed the world—and to hand the land back to farmers.
The authors complain that there has been zero political will to challenge the dominant model of industrial food production and distribution. Peasants are getting the blame for cutting down trees when in fact deforestation is being driven by big companies growing industrial crops, they say.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
By Andrea Germanos
For those burning questions, a forthcoming book described as "the toolkit for shock resistance" could well be an indispensable resource.
Authored by award-winning author and investigative journalist Naomi Klein, the book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, will publish in the U.S. on June 13.
"Trump is extreme, but he's not a Martian," wrote Klein. "On the contrary, he is the logical conclusion to many of the most dangerous trends of the past half century. He is the personification of the merger of humans and corporations—a one-man megabrand, with wife and children as spin-off brands."
A website for No Is Not Enough says the book:
Reveals, among other things, how Trump's election was not a peaceful transition, but a corporate takeover, one using deliberate shock tactics to generate wave after wave of crises and force through radical policies that will destroy people, the environment, the economy and national security. This book is the toolkit for shock resistance, showing all of us how we can break Trump's spell and win the world we need.
In the wake of Trump's election, Klein, while accepting the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize, also offered her thoughts on the factors that paved the way for the real estate mogul's rise to power and the strategies needed for a movement to rise against Trump (as well as other Trump-esque figures).
"If there is a single overarching lesson in the Trump victory, perhaps it is this: Never, ever underestimate the power of hate, of direct appeals to power over the 'other' ... especially during times of economic hardship," she said.
Another takeaway, she continued, is that "four decades of corporate, neoliberal policies and privatization, deregulation, free trade and austerity" have ensured ongoing economic pain and in turn, enabled the rise of faux-populists like Trump.
An additional lesson is that "only a bold and genuinely re-distributive agenda has a hope of speaking to that pain and directing it where it belongs—the politician-purchasing elites who benefited so extravagantly from the auctioning off of public wealth, the looting of our land, water and air and the deregulation of our financial system."
"If we want to defend against the likes of Donald Trump—and every country has their own Trump—we must urgently confront and battle racism and misogyny in our culture, in our movements and in ourselves. This cannot be an afterthought, it cannot be an add-on. It is central to how someone like Trump can rise to power."
Klein, whose other works include No Logo, This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine, also recently joined The Intercept as a senior correspondent. There, she is tasked with monitoring the "shocks of the Trump era." Days after Trump's inauguration, she wrote that his administration:
Can be counted on to generate a tsunami of crises and shocks: economic shocks, as market bubbles burst; security shocks, as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home; weather shocks, as our climate is further destabilized; and industrial shocks, as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse, which they tend to do, especially when enjoying light-touch regulation.
All this is dangerous enough. What's even worse is the way the Trump administration can be counted on to exploit these shocks politically and economically.
This is the first time one of Klein's books will be published by the independent, Chicago-based Haymarket Books, which has delivered works by esteemed authors including Noam Chomksy, Howard Zinn, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Winona LaDuke.
Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, tweeted of the pairing of Klein and Haymarket: "A match made in radical heaven."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Lawyers representing fossil fuel defendants in a youth climate lawsuit filed a motion Friday with a U.S. District Court seeking an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a Nov. 10, 2016 order in Juliana v. United States. As reported by The Washington Post, the Trump Administration filed a similar motion requesting appeal on Tuesday. Fossil fuel defendants support the Trump Administration's motion.
Fossil fuel defendants claim Judge Ann Aiken erred when ruling that "the political question doctrine is not a barrier to plaintiffs' claims." The fossil fuel defendants argue the executive and legislative branches of government, and not the judiciary, should resolve the issues presented by plaintiffs in this case.
#Trump Files Motion to Delay Kids' Historic #Climate Lawsuit https://t.co/bC5JuMuIy8 @billmckibben @NaomiAKlein @greenpeaceusa @350 @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1489068257.0
Attorneys with Sidley Austin represent the fossil fuel defendants, who are members of trade associations API (formerly directed by now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson), AFPM and NAM. From their motion filed on Friday:
"If the case proceeds to expert discovery, that phase will certainly be complicated and protracted, given the complex scientific debate that swirls around the issues raised by the plaintiffs' lawsuit. The resources required to engage in fact and expert discovery will be enormous, and those resources will be preserved if the intervenor-defendants prevail on interlocutory appeal."
Judge Aiken, informed by Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin's recommendation, holds the power to decide whether or not to certify the questions for appeal sought with defendants' motions.
But Judge Aiken has already made her position clear on the political question issue. From her Nov. 10 order that the government and fossil fuel defendants are seeking to appeal, Judge Aiken wrote:
"However, the scope of the political question doctrine should not be overstated. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, [t]here is hardly any political question in the United States that sooner or later does not turn into a judicial question." Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 440 (Liberty Fund 2012)."
In fact, more than 11 pages of Judge Aiken's order thoughtfully and judicially analyzed and concluded on the political question issue. Her order walked through all six "Baker factors" from the Supreme Court's 1962 opinion in Baker v. Carr, a case recently featured in a 2016 podcast produced as part of the RadioLab Series "More Perfect." Following her analysis, Judge Aiken included a section entitled "Summary: This Case Does Not Raise a Nonjusticiable Political Question." From that section, the order reads:
"There is no need to step outside the core role of the judiciary to decide this case. At its heart, this lawsuit asks this Court to determine whether defendants have violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights. That question is squarely within the purview of the judiciary.
"This case shares some key features with Baker itself. In Baker, a group of voters challenged a statute governing the apportionment of state legislative districts. 369 U.S. at 188-95. Sixty years of population growth without legislative reapportionment had led to legislative districts had led to some votes carrying much more weight than others. Id. at 192-93. Here, the majority of youth plaintiffs are minors who cannot vote and must depend on others to protect their political interests. Thus, as amicus the League of Women Voters persuasively argues, the youth plaintiffs' claims are similar to the Baker claims because they are 'rooted in a 'debasement of their votes' and an accompanying diminishment of their voice in representational government." Br. for the League of Women Voters in the United States et al. as Amici Curiae at 19-20 (doc 79-1).
"In Baker, the Court acknowledged that the plaintiffs' claims had political dimensions and ramifications - but nonetheless concluded none of the Baker factors was inextricable from the case. 369 U.S. at 209. Similarly as discussed in detail above, this case raises political questions yet is not barred by the political question doctrine."
"The political question argument is a last ditch effort to avoid judicial review," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "When our political branches deny our plaintiffs their fundamental rights, it is absolutely the court's job to step in. This is well-settled and this defense is dead."
Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 by 21 young plaintiffs who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. Judge Ann Aiken's November order denied motions to dismiss brought by both the Obama administration and fossil fuel industry defendants.
Juliana v. United States 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.
At a time when humanity must reverse course before plunging over a climate cliff, the American public has elected a president who seems to have both feet on the fossil fuel accelerator. If there is a mechanism to force the Trump Administration to put the brakes on dirty energy policy, a lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the Obama administration may hold the key.
Two days after the presidential election, on Nov. 10, a federal district court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth—indeed, all citizens—hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system.
Victory for America's Youth: Federal Judge Rules Climate Lawsuit Can Proceed https://t.co/iXxiZvf5Nf @climatecouncil @energyaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478913606.0
The youth, aged nine to 20 years old, seek a court-supervised plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions at a rate set by a science-based prescription. The judicial role is analogous to court-supervised remedies protecting equal opportunity for students after Brown v. Board of Education.
The Juliana v. U.S. decision could be a legal game-changer, as it challenges the entire fossil-fuel policy of the U.S.
Environmental lawsuits typically rely on statutes or regulations. But Juliana is a human rights case that bores down to legal bedrock by asserting constitutional rights to inherit a stable climate system.
The court, which ruled the suit can proceed to trial, rightly described the case as a "civil rights action"—an action "of a different order than the typical environmental case"—because it alleges that government actions "have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs' constitutional rights to life and liberty." The litigation, variously called "a "ray of hope," a legal "long shot" and a "Hail Mary pass," yielded its groundbreaking decision not a moment too soon.
At a rally for action on climate in 2014. The decisions made by adults will have broad implications for the planet today's youth will live on as adults. Joe Brusky / Flickr
To have any hope of reversing or stalling these effects of climate change, the world must restrict fossil fuel production and ultimately switch to safe renewable energy. Even continued production solely from currently operating oil and gas fields will push the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures, beyond the aspirational limit set by the global Paris agreement on climate change.
President-elect Trump, who notoriously claimed that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, has said he plans to immediately approve the highly contentious Keystone pipeline, open public land to drilling, rescind Obama's Clean Power Plan, eliminate NASA's climate research and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He intends to spur production of US$50 trillion worth of shale, oil, coal and natural gas.
The 70-year-old president-elect will not live long enough to witness the worst consequences of rapidly expanding fossil fuel development. The cruel irony for young people is that actions taken during Trump's time in office will lock in a future of severe disruptions within their projected lifetimes—and sea level rise that could make coastal cities uninhabitable. James Hansen, formerly the nation's chief climate scientist at NASA, has warned, "Failure to act with all deliberate speed …functionally becomes a decision to eliminate the option of preserving a habitable climate system."
Sea levels are projected to rise at least three feet, and perhaps much more, in the lifetime of children today, inundating some locations and making storm surges more dangerous. The Juliana lawsuit and others like it argue that citizens have a right to a stable climate. NOAA
For decades, the political branches have promoted fossil fuel consumption despite longstanding knowledge about the climate danger. President Obama ignored warnings when he charted a disastrous course of increased fossil fuel production early in office. In a last moment of opportunity to avert climate tipping points, Americans should recall an elementary school civics lesson: The U.S. has three, not two, branches of government. The founders wisely vested an independent judiciary with the responsibility of upholding the fundamental liberties of citizens against infringement by the other branches.
As the president-elect promises to ramp up fossil fuel production and dismantle Obama's recent climate measures, and with no obvious statutory law to prevent him from doing so, only a fundamental rights approach carries any hope of trumping Trump.
In Juliana, the youth asserted their fundamental rights under the Constitution's substantive due process clause and the public trust doctrine. This is an ancient principle requiring government to hold and protect essential resources as a sustaining endowment for citizens. They contended that government infringed on their rights to life, liberty, and property by promoting fossil fuel policies that threaten runaway planetary heating—thereby jeopardizing human life, private property and civilization itself.
The principle of public trust law, dating to the time of Roman Emperor Justinian, holds that natural resources, including the sea, the shores of the sea, the air and running water, are common to everyone. It has since become part of U.S. jurisprudence. Petar Milošević / Wikipedia
Judge Ann Aiken's Juliana decision in November upheld both public trust and substantive due process rights under the Constitution and allowed the case to go forward. "I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society," she wrote, explaining that public trust rights, which "both predated the Constitution and are secured by it," cannot be "legislated away."
The opinion is bound to have a rippling effect. The case is actually part of a wave of atmospheric trust litigation (ATL) cases and petitions across the U.S. and in other countries. Launched by the group Our Children's Trust in 2011, the legal campaign asserts youths' rights to a stable climate system and seeks court-supervised climate recovery plans.
Recent victories in Massachusetts, Pakistan, the Netherlands and Washington state indicate widespread judicial concern over the political branches' failure to confront the climate emergency. The youth plaintiffs hope that the dominoes continue to fall in their favor in time to thwart climate catastrophe.
As ATL moves forward globally, the Juliana case will proceed to trial as early as next summer or fall. The plaintiffs' attorneys aim to show the government's deliberate indifference to mounting climate danger.
Already dubbed "the trial of the century," this is the first time that U.S. fossil fuel policy will confront climate science in court. Any government denial of climate change will have to confront the scrutiny of a fact-finding judge.
Consent Degree From Obama?
The case also offers President Obama a fleeting opportunity.
Five days after the election, Sec. of State Kerry proclaimed that President Obama would use his last days in office to "do everything possible to meet our responsibility to future generations to be able to address this threat to life itself on the planet."
If so, the most viable way might be to offer a partial settlement of the Juliana case before going to trial. One form of settlement could be an enforceable consent decree consisting of interim steps to halt further fossil-fuel mining and infrastructure development. Such a settlement would help secure Obama's measures to close the Arctic to drilling and halt coal leasing on federal lands.
Young Americans could use a down payment on the colossal climate mortgage hanging over their future. And President Obama could use a climate legacy. It may be worth his time now to sit down with the "plucky millennials" who sued him to save the planet—before his time in office runs out.
Mary Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law at the University of Oregon. Charles W. Woodward, IV is a post graduate research fellow at University of Oregon. Michael C. Blumm is the Jeffrey Bain Scholar & Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark. Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.