James Hansen, the well know Climate Scientist, was a party to a 2014 law suit against the State of Washington, supported by an organization “Climate Change for Families”. Besides his granddaughter there were a number of infant plaintiffs in the case.
In 2015 a judge heard the case and ordered the State to consider the available climate science in determining the means to regulate emissions. A good result, although the Court was not prepared to direct the State to draft rules as long as the State was developing policy to govern GHG emissions.
Our Children’s Trust, another climate change organization focussing on children, supported a legal action in 2015 against the Obama administration. Hansen, who is optimistic about the ability of US courts to find a remedy, is again a party together with his granddaughter.
Hansen has been preaching intergenerational justice for many years. 4RG was there when he first spoke to the subject in Toronto in 2010.
The Children’s Trust’s law suit advanced two claims:
- That the Federal Government had over many years supported the fossil fuel industry thereby increasing the use of fossil fuels. Over the period since 1965 the risks of climate change and ocean acidification were identified and well recognized. The claim is that this support was a violation of the plaintiffs’ legal rights.
- That the court should protect constitutional rights by ordering the Federal Government to significantly reduce CO2 emissions through implementation of a science-based climate recovery plan.
The court gave leave to several trade associations e.g. the American Petroleum Institute, to intervene as parties in the action as the claim threatened the business of their members.
More recently the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, on behalf of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) intervened to support the claim. Tomas Insua, Global Coordinator with the GCCM, referred to the Papal Encyclical “Laudato Si’. He observed that “Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
This second law suit will be long and complex. Whatever the result in the first court, there will be lengthy appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Our Prediction: The Supreme Court might be willing to make a declaration that supporting fossil fuels was an infringement of the constitutional rights of future generations. But it will not order the Government of the United States to pass specific laws to reduce GHG emissions. Supervising Government compliance with this order would be just too complicated.