What’s Next for the Youth Climate Lawsuit
Andrea Rodgers, second from the right, takes notes during a hearing in the Juliana v. U.S. case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on June 4. Colleague Elizabeth Brown sits to her left, while colleague Julia Olson sits on her right, with co-council Philip Gregory on Julia's right. Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust
By Fran Korten
On June 4, Andrea Rodgers was in the front row of attorneys sitting before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court. The court session, held in Portland, Oregon, was to determine whether the climate change lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) brought by 21 young plaintiffs should be dismissed, as requested by the U.S. government, or go on to trial.
It's the latest of many delays for the lawsuit, which was first filed in 2015 by the then-youth plaintiffs. The judges' decision on this most recent request to dismiss the case is expected sometime in the next few months.
Rodgers is a senior attorney for Our Children's Trust, the nonprofit based in Eugene, Oregon, that is supporting the young plaintiffs — the eldest of whom are now young adults while the youngest is 11 — in making their case.
They're suing the U.S. government for endangering their future by supporting a fossil fuel-based energy system, despite knowledge of how that would contribute to the current climate disaster. Rodgers is also the lead attorney for climate-related suits on behalf of children in the states of Washington and Florida.
I spoke with Rodgers about the lawsuit, the youth movements erupting around the world in response to governments' inaction on climate change, and about preparing her own children for a future marked by the climate disaster.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length, and Andrea Rodgers reviewed the edits for accuracy.
Fran Korten: In the 9th Circuit hearing on June 4, Judge Andrew Hurwitz remarked that with this suit you are asking the court to break new ground. Are you?
Andrea Rodgers: We are not breaking ground with respect to our claims that the government's conduct is violating the youth's constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and equal protection of the law.
Where we're breaking new legal ground is with respect to a new fundamental right—the right to a stable climate system that sustains human lives and liberties. The scale of the government misconduct in this case is quite unprecedented. Never before has there been this kind of government-created public health disaster at such a large scale.
Korten: This case has been stalled for more than four years by the government's motions to dismiss. How are the plaintiffs in this case reacting to all this delay?
Rodgers: Many of these kids have been engaged in this litigation for a fifth or more of their lives. They're ready to get their evidence presented to a court. So it's frustrating. But they're also confident that they're going to get their stories told and that justice will be done. They're just unfortunately seeing that sometimes justice is not swift.
Korten: What gives them the confidence that they will be heard?
Rodgers: They know that they have constitutional rights. They've read the Constitution. They see that they have the right to life and liberty. And they understand the science and how their rights are being infringed upon. Under our system of government, you can go to court to get redress. So they are confident that the courts will appropriately apply the law to protect them.
Korten: How do you see this youth-based lawsuit relating to other youth-led movements like the Sunrise movement, Zero Hour, Extinction Rebellion and the worldwide Friday strikes led by Greta Thunberg in Sweden?
Rodgers: It's really exciting to see these other youth movements develop. I think a lot of people were inspired by these young plaintiffs who, back in 2010, decided to bring their cases to court. Youth today are so aware of what other youth are doing that these movements build off of one another—the students fighting gun violence and [racism] and so much more. They're having these conversations about the world that they want to live in and that they believe that they're entitled to as a matter of law. So it's exciting to see that. As an adult, you want kids who are active in the democratic process. And this is such an important part of that.
Korten: Do you think the activism among the youth will have any effect on the courts' decisions in this case?
Left to right, attorney Andrea Rodgers, Juliana youth plaintiff Aji Piper, lead counsel Julia Olson and Juliana youth plaintiff Hazel Van Ummersen, walk to a court hearing in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on June 4.
Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust
Rodgers: The court doesn't look to what's going on outside the courtroom in order to render a legal decision. But the courts are also made up of judges who are human and aware of the world around them. They understand when there is societal change going on. You see that with the gay marriage decision. I don't think that decision would have happened without the "Love Is Love" and other campaigns. Same thing with Brown v. Board of Education and the bus boycotts. So the movements outside of the courtroom are critical. We have three branches of government, and they all know what the other is doing. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that the courts are influenced directly. It's really much more indirect, long term and bigger picture.
Korten: If you do go to trial, you will bring testimony from many experts. But much of that information is already in the news, in academic papers and reviewed in governmental panels. Is there any special value to having it aired in court?
Rodgers: Absolutely. Because in court, it's sworn testimony under oath. Scientific testimony has to go through a very rigorous process to be admissible in a court of law. Junk science is thrown out or considered unreliable. There are scientific standards for what's admissible in a court of law. The person delivering testimony has to be considered an expert in the fields in which they're testifying. There's no fake news in the court because that's considered perjury. And then the witness is cross-examined. So it gives the other side an opportunity to poke holes in their testimony and to bring in other conflicting information.
We have 23 expert witnesses. People like James Hansen, Joseph Stiglitz, Frank Ackerman, Harold Wanless, Steve Running, Hugh Goldberg, Pete Erickson and [James Gustave] Speth, all of whom are the top experts in their fields. It'll be the trial of the century.
Korten: What is the best outcome you could imagine from this suit?
Rodgers: A court order recognizing that these youth have constitutional rights and that the government is violating those constitutional rights. And then a court order directing the defendants—the government agencies—to come up with a plan to bring the energy system into constitutional compliance.
While the courts can order the government to make a plan, they don't write policies. That's why things like the Green New Deal and other climate change policies are so critical. We have to have the policies ready because our government is not going to be quick to develop a remedial plan.
Korten: What can ordinary citizens do to support this case?
Attorney Andrea Rodgers being interviewed at a press conference on the steps of the Miami Dade County Courthouse in 2018. Rodgers was representing Florida youth in a climate change lawsuit against the state of Florida.
Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust
Rodgers: On the Our Children's Trust website, there are toolkits so that supporters can get engaged and support the youth plaintiffs. You can teach young people about the suit and their constitutional rights in school. There are ways to utilize the litigation to galvanize members of the community in support of science-based climate action. There are people getting congressional and other elected leaders to recognize that there's a fundamental right to a stable climate system.
Korten: You recently spoke at the Bainbridge Island Climate and Energy Forum in Washington state. How do you see the value of local actions such as that one?
Rodgers: Local action is the primary way that people in the community are learning about climate change. This kind of local forum can keep people aware of policy efforts and making phone calls on legislation or learning about election issues. The other thing a local forum does is to bind us together as a community. Climate change is a very difficult issue. It's easy to throw up your hands and give up. When you're working on this issue within a community, that's so much more powerful. It keeps you going when you feel frustrated or disheartened. You have that community to lean on.
Korten: You are a mother. How do you help your children understandwhat you're fighting for without scaring them?
Rodgers: It's really hard. My daughter is 8, and my son 11. You don't want them to think that there is no future for the planet. But at the same time I want them to recognize the reality of what's going on and what the scientists say. This is going to be the issue they will work on because it's going to affect their world in every way imaginable. So they need to be prepared for that.
I try to engender within them a love and appreciation for the natural world and then the understanding that they're going to need to fight to protect it. It shouldn't have to be a fight, but it really is. We saw that in court. The government's lawyer was advocating that there shouldn't be a right to a stable climate system even though his children and his grandchildren are dependent upon that for their lives. But there he was making those arguments, as scary as that is. So my own children are going to need to know the reality and carry the fight forward.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.
Soil can act as a natural "carbon sink." Climate Central, 2019
- How Permaculture Is Helping Wildfire Survivors Recover - EcoWatch ›
- 17 Organizations Feeding and Healing the World Through ... ›
- Michael Pollan: It's Time to Put Carbon Back Into the Soil - EcoWatch ›
By Shelly Miller
The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.
It’s All About Fresh, Outside Air<p>The safest indoor space is one that constantly has lots of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">outside air</a> replacing the stale air inside.</p><p>In commercial buildings, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143277/" target="_blank">outside air is usually pumped in</a> through heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. In <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">homes, outside air gets in</a> through open windows and doors, in addition to seeping in through various nooks and crannies.</p><p>Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2010.00703.x" target="_blank">reduces the exposure of anyone inside</a>. Environmental engineers like me quantify how much outside air is getting into a building using a measure called the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2013.30" target="_blank">air exchange rate</a>. This number quantifies the number of times the air inside a building gets replaced with air from outside in an hour.</p><p>While the exact rate depends on the number of people and size of the room, most experts consider roughly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0668.2002.01145.x" target="_blank">six air changes an hour</a> to be good for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with three to four people in it. In a pandemic this should be higher, with one study from 2016 suggesting that an exchange rate of nine times per hour <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1420326X16631596" target="_blank">reduced the spread of SARS, MERS and H1N1</a> in a Hong Kong hospital.</p><p>Many buildings in the U.S., <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12403" target="_blank">especially schools</a>, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. Thankfully, it can be pretty easy to get more outside air into a building. Keeping <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(99)00012-9" target="_blank">windows and doors open</a> is a good start. Putting a box fan in a window blowing out can greatly increase air exchange too. In buildings that don't have operable windows, you can change the mechanical ventilation system to increase how much air it is pumping. But in any room, the more people inside, the faster the air should be replaced.</p>
Using CO2 to Measure Air Circulation<p>So how do you know if the room you're in has enough air exchange? It's actually a pretty hard number to calculate. But there's an easy-to-measure proxy that can help. Every time you exhale, you <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12383" target="_blank">release CO2</a> into the air. Since the coronavirus is most often spread by breathing, coughing or talking, you can use <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dd7e/b2870c38f70e5285e5118ed6f158c091f7cf.pdf" target="_blank">CO2 levels</a> to see if the room is filling up with potentially infectious exhalations. The CO2 level lets you estimate if enough fresh outside air is getting in.</p><p>Outdoors, CO2 levels are just above 400 parts per million (ppm). A well ventilated room will have around <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.1999.00003.x" target="_blank">800 ppm of CO2</a>. Any higher than that and it is a sign the room might need more ventilation.</p><p>Last year, researchers in Taiwan reported on the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak</a> at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">the outbreak completely stopped</a>. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.</p><p>Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">higher chance of transmission</a> if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, I recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy <a href="https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-7-3325-2014" target="_blank">good CO2 meters</a> for around $100 online; just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm.</p>
Air Cleaners<p>If you are in a room that can't get enough outside air for dilution, consider an air cleaner, also commonly called air purifiers. These machines remove particles from the air, usually using <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cap.2005.07.013" target="_blank">a filter</a> made of tightly woven fibers. They can <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/miller-leiden-et-al-1996.pdf" target="_blank">capture particles containing bacteria and viruses</a> and can help reduce disease transmission.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that <a href="https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/air-cleaners-hvac-filters-and-coronavirus-covid-19" target="_blank">air cleaners can do this for the coronavirus</a>, but not all air cleaners are equal. Before you go out and buy one, there are few things to keep in mind.</p><p>The first thing to consider is <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/air-cleaner-report.pdf" target="_blank">how effective an air cleaner's filter is</a>. Your best option is a cleaner that uses a high-efficiency particulate air (<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0021-8502(05)80214-9" target="_blank">HEPA</a>) filter, as these remove more than <a href="https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2771421" target="_blank">99.97% of all particle sizes</a>.</p><p>The second thing to consider is how powerful the cleaner is. The bigger the room – or the more people in it – the more air needs to be cleaned. I worked with some colleagues at Harvard to put together a tool to help teachers and schools determine <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NEhk1IEdbEi_b3wa6gI_zNs8uBJjlSS-86d4b7bW098/edit#gid=1275403500" target="_blank">how powerful of an air cleaner you need for different classroom sizes</a>.</p><p>The last thing to consider is the validity of the claims made by the company producing the air cleaner.</p><p>The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies air cleaners, so the AHAM Verifide seal is a good place to start. Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has a <a href="https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/air-cleaners-ozone-products/california-certified-air-cleaning-devices" target="_blank">list of air cleaners</a> that are certified as safe and effective, though not all of them use HEPA filters.</p>
Keep Air Fresh or Get Outside<p>Both the <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/deciding-to-go-out.html" target="_blank">U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> say that poor ventilation increases the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.</p><p>If you are in control of your indoor environment, make sure you are getting enough fresh air from outside circulating into the building. A CO2 monitor can help give you a clue if there is enough ventilation, and if CO2 levels start going up, open some windows and <a href="https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/07/17/outdoor-gathering" target="_blank">take a break outside</a>. If you can't get enough fresh air into a room, an air cleaner might be a good idea. If you do get an air cleaner, be aware that they don't remove CO2, so even though the air might be safer, CO2 levels could still be high in the room.</p><p>If you walk into a building and it feels hot, stuffy and crowded, chances are that there is not enough ventilation. Turn around and leave.</p><p>By paying attention to air circulation and filtration, improving them where you can and staying away from places where you can't, you can add another powerful tool to your anti-coronavirus toolkit.</p>
- These Are Some of the Highest-Risk Places for COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- CDC Recommends Big Changes to Office Life - EcoWatch ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Kamala Harris Introduces Environmental Justice Bill in Senate ... ›
- Harris and AOC Introduce Climate Equity Act to Protect Frontline ... ›
The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Source of Vast Oil Spill Covering Brazil's Northeast Coast Unknown ... ›
Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).
- Trump Admin Moves to Weaken Restrictions on Killing Migratory Birds ›
- Migratory Birds Lose Protection Against Industry in Latest Trump ... ›
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
- Pregnant Sperm Whale Found Dead With Nearly 50 Pounds of ... ›
- Green Turtles Are Mistaking Plastic for the Sea Grass They Normally ... ›
- Microplastics Pose Major Problems for Ocean Giants - EcoWatch ›
By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
- Mauritius' First Major Oil Spill Poses Environmental Crisis - EcoWatch ›