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The Fight Doesn’t End With Kavanaugh

Politics
Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Patrice Simms and Brielle Green

The confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh was painful for many of us. Earthjustice stood staunchly against his nomination—both because of the jurist we know Justice Kavanaugh to be, and because we believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Despite having every opportunity to get it right, our lawmakers once again failed all of us by charting a course that was deeply disrespectful to survivors of sexual assault and offensive to our bedrock principles of equity and justice.


While Kavanaugh's confirmation has raised concerns about the impartiality of the judicial branch, we believe the courts remain a place for those left behind by the political system to seek justice. And Earthjustice has a plan to keep them that way.

First, the laws and statutes protecting our communities, our public health, and our planet remain robust. Earthjustice has nearly 50 years of experience navigating and pushing forward those laws to save lives, reduce pollution and preserve our most irreplaceable natural wonders. Those laws don't simply disappear because Brett Kavanaugh got confirmed. In fact, the clear mandates in those laws provide a powerful tool that is more important than ever to push back against polluters and their cronies.

Second, the legal landscape for key environmental fights extends far beyond just the Supreme Court. In fact, the vast majority of cases we work on are ultimately decided by lower courts. Earthjustice has filed more than 110 lawsuits against the Trump administration's efforts to gut environmental safeguards, and we are winning many of those fights long before they ever reach the Supreme Court.

Third, while the Trump administration's efforts to fill federal courts at all levels with polluter-friendly judges are deeply worrying, those judges are still beholden to the laws and precedents already on the books. They cannot simply ignore the statutes that Congress has adopted. Earthjustice will continue to hold the government and corporations accountable for following those laws.

And finally, Earthjustice will continue to fight in the courts because it's what we do. It's who we are. And it's what is right.

Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg at work in an Albany courtroom. Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

This is a profoundly difficult time for those of us fighting for justice, but we cannot give into despair or throw our hands up at the obstacles ahead of us. We must continue protecting not only the health of our planet and its people, but the health of our democracy and our justice system. Earthjustice will remain on the front lines of these fights—in the courtroom, in communities and in the halls of Congress. I hope you will continue to stand alongside us.

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"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."

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