WATCH LIVE: Can the Courts Bring About a Climate Fix? Three Judges Are About to Decide
By John Light
Editor's note: Watch the oral arguments live beginning at 1 p.m. EST above.
Three judges in San Francisco potentially have the power to decide how the U.S. government deals with climate change. Monday, 21 young Americans will make the case that President Trump has endangered their future by aiding and abetting the dirty industries responsible for the global crisis. And they will argue that they can hold him legally accountable.
Trump and his predecessors in the Oval Office, these young Americans claim, have not only let climate change occur, they've encouraged it. Despite research going back to the mid-20th century that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would destabilize the climate, they say the government incentivized the companies that did so through such programs as fossil-fuel subsidies.
Thery further attest that Donald Trump has upped the ante, with his administration outlining plans to lend a helping hand to the coal companies whose CEOs have donated to his campaign—regardless of the dirty fuel's dim future prospects—and promoting fossil fuels internationally.
The 21 young plaintiffs originally filed their suit against President Obama in 2015, but Trump inherited it, and Justice Department lawyers quickly redoubled efforts begun by the Obama administration to have the case dismissed.
Whether they can will be decided following Monday's hearing: A lower court is set to hear the youth's arguments in February, and the Trump administration has appealed to a higher court, the 9th Circuit, to throw the case out before it goes to trial.
In November 2016, days after the election, District Court Judge Ann Aiken allowed the case to proceed. The Trump administration's decision to ask a higher court to weigh in is highly unusual.
But so, too, is the young plaintiffs' suit, which seeks a judicial solution to climate change, a crisis that is growing increasingly urgent and that the other branches of the government have failed to adequately address. The suit argues both that the government cannot put kids in harm's way by encouraging fossil-fuel production, but also that the earth's atmosphere is a public trust that the government has failed to protect.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eric Grant, who was appointed to work in the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division last April, will be representing the government. Grant replaces Jeffrey Wood, an acting assistant attorney general and former coal lobbyist who was working on the case last spring. Formerly a California-based lawyer, Grant clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Chief Justice Warren Burger.
Three fossil-fuel industry lobbying groups, meanwhile, have quit the suit. After the young plaintiffs filed their initial lawsuit against the Obama administration in 2015, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the National Association of Manufacturers joined as co-defendants, challenging the case in court. But after November 2016, when a court gave the plaintiffs the green light to proceed to trial, the lobbying groups bailed, claiming that the Trump administration would more adequately defend their interests than the Obama administration.
Interestingly, although Trump himself has spoken extensively of his doubts on climate change ("global warming hoax," etc.), his legal team assigned to this case has not denied the reality of the threat during recent proceedings. Instead, they've sought to wriggle out of the case on the grounds that what the young people are asking for—both in terms of their legal remedy and in terms of discovery—is overly broad. The U.S. may be a rogue state when it comes to climate change—the only one no longer on board with the Paris agreement—but, the government's attorneys argue, that's not their problem. The Constitution, they say, says nothing about climate change.
In its briefing to the court last June, the government wrote:
The Supreme Court has recently emphasized how, under established separation-of-powers principles, Congress, through legislation, defines the EPA's authorities and duties regarding the control of greenhouse gas emissions, while the executive executes them … There is no room in the constitutional structure for a federal court to take on the role of overseeing the propriety of all governmental actions that may be viewed as contributing to the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.
But the government's approach to the case may change. As E&E News reported earlier this month, the Justice Department has been speaking with scientists who have been critical of the case or who have expressed dissenting views on climate change, which may indicate DOJ lawyers plan to put on trial the science behind climate change.
The suit also comes at a time when the lack of a presidential or legislative response to climate change has made the U.S. unique in a world that has at least acknowledged the necessity of action. As a result, environmentalists and legal scholars alike increasingly look to the courts for a solution. Judge Ann Aiken's decision to let the suit proceed, days after Trump won election, "was a ray of sunshine in what was a very dark day for the environmental community," Michael Burger, the executive director of Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told BillMoyers.com.
Trump's climate change-blind policies could "make it more likely the courts will step into this situation," David Bookbinder, chief legal counsel for the libertarian Niskanen Center, told Bloomberg Environment. Trump's election, lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana told us in May, "has really lifted our case up and given our case even more importance and urgency."
In the short term, it comes down to the three 9th Circuit judges who will hear the case Monday. Two are Clinton nominees, and the third, Alex Kozinski, is a Reagan nominee. It's unclear what effect, if any, allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct by six court staffers against Kozinski, reported by The Washington Post Friday, will have on the hearing.
John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Moyers & Company.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
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By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
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By Jessica Corbett
As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.
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<div id="23d44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a800573625ce69a53bedfe537b572116"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281123005695959040" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Annual mean global temperature likely to be at least 1° C above pre-industrial levels in each of coming 5 years (20… https://t.co/WOBeEOhbCe</div> — World Meteorological Organization (@World Meteorological Organization)<a href="https://twitter.com/WMO/statuses/1281123005695959040">1594278501.0</a></blockquote></div>
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