The climate change lawsuit that could stop the U.S. government from supporting fossil fuels

A lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 kids alleges the U.S. government knowingly failed to protect them from climate change. If the plaintiffs win, it could mean massive changes for the use of fossil fuels

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Kelsey Juliana

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Of all the cases working their way through the federal court system, none is more interesting or potentially more life changing than Juliana versus the United States. To quote one federal judge, “This is no ordinary lawsuit.” It was filed back in 2015 on behalf of a group of kids who are trying to get the courts to block the U.S. government from continuing the use of fossil fuels. They say it’s causing climate change, endangering their future and violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. As we first reported earlier this year, when the lawsuit first began hardly anyone took it seriously, including the government’s lawyers, who have since watched the supreme court reject two of their motions to delay or dismiss the case. Four years in, it is still very much alive, in part because the plaintiffs have amassed a body of evidence that will surprise even the skeptics and have forced the government to admit that the crisis is real.

The case was born here in Eugene, Oregon, a tree-hugger’s paradise, and one of the cradles of environmental activism in the United States. The lead plaintiff, University of Oregon student Kelsey Juliana, was only five weeks old when her parents took her to her first rally to protect spotted owls. Today, her main concern is climate change, drought and the growing threat of wildfires in the surrounding Cascade Mountains.

Kelsey Juliana: There was a wildfire season that was so intense, we were advised not to go outside. The particulate matter in the smoke was literally off the charts. It was past severe, in terms of danger to health.

Steve Kroft: And you think that’s because of climate change.

Kelsey Juliana: That’s what scientists tell me.

It’s not just scientists. Even the federal government now acknowledges in its response to the lawsuit that the effects of climate change are already happening and likely to get worse, especially for young people who will have to deal with them for the long term.

“The government has known for over 50 years that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change. And they don’t dispute that we are in a danger zone on climate change.”

Steve Kroft: How important is this case to you?

Kelsey Juliana: This case is everything. This is the climate case. We have everything to lose, if we don’t act on climate change right now, my generation and all the generations to come.

She was 19 when the lawsuit was filed and the oldest of 21 plaintiffs. They come from ten different states and all claim to be affected or threatened by the consequences of climate change. The youngest, Levi Draheim, is in sixth grade. MORE

10 Inspiring Canadian Women Who Are Saving The Environment

Courtney Howard in red parka against snow covered background — Courtney Howard climate change mental health
Photo, Pat Kane.

This Yellowknife ER doctor is raising the alarm about the mental health impact of climate change

While large parts of southern Canada are feeling the effects of climate change—unchecked forest fires, once-in-a-century storms that now happen once a year—people living in the North have been on the front lines for a long time. There, rising temperatures have meant, among other things, thawing permafrost, dramatically unstable weather and dwindling caribou populations.

But for Courtney Howard, an indefatigable emergency room doctor in Yellowknife and the president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the physical changes wrought by a warming planet are just, well, the tip of the iceberg. She argues that climate change is also, not surprisingly, very bad for your health; it’s the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.

Some of the illnesses caused or exacerbated by climate change are obvious (heatstroke induced by longer, more severe heatwaves, for example), but Howard highlights less apparent psychological conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by forest fire survivors or the increasingly common anxiety and depression felt by people freaked out by the imminent apocalypse.

Howard is one of the lead authors of the Canadian policy makers’ brief, produced in conjunction with the 2018 Lancet Countdown—the medical journal’s comprehensive analysis of the health issues associated with climate change—and she and her co-authors have several policy recommendations. It’s an ambitious list, including phasing out coal, introducing global carbon pricing and rapidly integrating climate change and health in all medical and health sciences facilities. With the International Federation of Medical Students, she’s trying to introduce climate change and health in the curriculum of every medical school in the world by next year. Howard currently spends 30 to 40 hours a week on her climate health work, most of it as a volunteer, while still working eight shifts a month in the ER. That balance may have to change soon, though, she says: “The timelines of climate change are just so urgent.”

Headshot of Catherine Gauthier of ENJEU, who is suing the federal government
Photo, Julie Durocher
This millennial is suing the federal government for environmental negligence

Last November, the Montreal-based environmental non-profit Environnement Jeunesse(ENJEU) sued the federal government for failing to do enough for climate change. Their legal argument was devastatingly simple: By not reducing carbon emissions enough to avoid dangerous climate change, the government was violating the charter rights of Quebeckers, who are guaranteed the right to live in a “healthful environment.” MORE

The Right to a Stable Climate Is the Constitutional Question of the Twenty-first Century

A rally following a hearing in Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana v. the United States, which is better known as the climate kids’ lawsuit, in Portland, Oregon. Photograph by Robin Loznak / ZUMA

On June 4th, in a packed courtroom in Portland, Oregon, Judge Andrew Hurwitz, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, posed an unusual hypothetical question. “Assume that we have rogue raiders come across the Canadian border of the Northwest. They are kidnapping children of a certain age and murdering them,” he said. “The White House refuses to do anything and Congress doesn’t act. Can those people”—the terrorized families and communities—“go to court to compel action?” He was asking Jeff Clark, the lawyer representing the federal government, the defendant in the case. Clark replied, “My answer is no.”

Judge Hurwitz, along with Judges Mary Murguia and Josephine Staton, was presiding over oral arguments in Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana v. the United States, better known as the climate kids’ lawsuit. In August of 2015, the twenty-one plaintiffs, who then ranged in age from eight to nineteen years old, sued the Obama Administration and various federal agencies, alleging that the government’s policies on fossil fuels advanced catastrophic climate change and therefore violated the right, guaranteed to them under the Fifth Amendment, that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In other words, as Judge Hurwitz’s hypothetical suggested, their suit is an attempt to compel action from a government that is ignoring (and furthering) a life-threatening danger that they face. Since then, the case has ricocheted through the courts, gaining strength as urgency around climate change has increased and the Trump Administration has continued to deny that a problem exists. (“The climate goes both ways,” President Trump said in London, last week. “I believe that there’s a change in weather and I think it changes both ways.”) Instead, the Administration has aggressively promoted and expanded the use of fossil fuels, recently announcing that natural gas would be rebranded as “freedom gas.”

Hurwitz asked his question at the start of the hearing, establishing the stakes and reflecting the gravity with which the judges were weighing the plaintiffs’ claims. It pointed to an issue at the heart of the case, and at the heart of most climate litigation—the separation of powers. “The central issue the Ninth Circuit is grappling with is what is the role of the courts vis a vis Congress and the executive branch,” Michael Gerrard, a professor at Columbia Law School and the faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, wrote me in an e-mail. “If a building is on fire and all the firefighters are off at a convention, can the neighbors break into the firehouse and run the firetrucks themselves? Or do they have to wait for permission, while the building burns down? Likewise, if the planet is on fire and Congress and the Administration are checked out, can the courts act on their own?”

Since most major environmental statutes date to the nineteen-seventies, and Congress has not been able to pass a single major environmental law since 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency, other federal agencies, and the courts have been forced to address current problems with laws that are decades old. (The main problem now is that the Senate will not act. In early May, as the House prepared to vote on a new bill, the Climate Action Now Act, which would force the Trump Administration to remain in the Paris climate agreement, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said that it would “go nowhere.”) Once Trump was elected, and federal agencies no longer had a mandate to address climate change, the courts became the only branch of government where action might be possible. But, in the absence of adequate climate-policy laws, the courts must find their right to act in the Constitution. Two days after Trump’s election, a federal judge for the District of Oregon, Ann Aiken, found that right and issued a major decision, denying the government’s motion to dismiss the Juliana case. “Where a complaint alleges governmental action is affirmatively and substantially damaging the climate system in a way that will cause human deaths, shorten human lifespans, result in widespread damage to property, threaten human food sources, and dramatically alter the planet’s ecosystem, it states a claim for a due process violation,” Aiken wrote. “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” A trial date was set for early last year, then postponed until last fall. The government, meanwhile, turned to the Supreme Court, asking the Justices to prevent the trial from going forward. In November, they declined to do so, determining that the government needed to bring its objections before the Ninth Circuit first. The Ninth Circuit now must decide whether the case can, finally, proceed to trial.  MORE

 

The County’s Missing Climate Action Plan

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The central aim of the Paris Agreement is to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change  and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The recently released UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says there are urgent and unprecedented actions required by the world’s governments to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C. This is the point where humanity would have the best chance of avoiding extreme, unpredictable climate variations. Scientists say we have just 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe–extreme heat,drought, floods, and poverty. At present, the Canadian government’s climate policy is not nearly robust enough to meet the 1.5 C emissions target. In fact, the current ‘rate of emissions’ suggest we are headed for 3 degree C.

Canadians’ emissions per capita are greater than any other country, including the United States.Emissions from the tar sands are the elephant in the room. The proposed tar sands expansion–a policy actually being considered at the moment–if approved, will increase our emissions substantially.

As politicians dither, Canada’s energy policy needs to quickly make a 180 degree turn. In Canada the federal and provincial governments are squabbling over how best to respond. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking.

80% of Canadians live in cities. Cities are the linchpins in driving down global emissions. Some cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto have taken serious steps to build greener, healthier cities. These cities realize that reducing green emissions has huge benefits for city life.

But it all starts with a serious detailed action plan. At the moment, in contrast with Peterborough’s detailed action plan, the City of Prince Edward County, although declaring a climate emergency, doesn’t have anything resembling a coordinated action plan.

If Council is searching for ‘best practices’, the Peterborough Sustainable plan could serve as a template on how to proceed to develop one.The Sustainable Peterborough plan states:

“The overall objective is to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduce the use of fossil fuels, lower our energy consumption, and adapt to our changing climate. The plan has identified goals, actions, and emissions reduction targets.” Eight Community task forces were created focusing on Agriculture and Food, Community Energy, Community Waste, Economic and Business, Land Use Planning, People and Health, and Transportation.

Peterborough started by developing a greenhouse gas inventory that: “provides community and municipal sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for the 2011 baseline year. The associated forecast projects future emissions based on assumptions about population, economic growth and fuel mix.” They issue detailed annual report cards that demonstrate their progress, year over year [https://bit.ly/2Ud1zMu]

Part of the reason Prince Edward hasn’t produced anything remotely resembling Peterborough’s plan, is because there hasn’t been anyone specifically designated to take charge of developing one. An appropriate action plan would identify opportunities, regulations, promotion of climate initiatives,
encouraging community engagement, with measurement, reports, and issuing annual recommendations to Council, complete with timelines.

That is why the County Sustainability Group has repeatedly suggested the appointment of an Environmental Commissioner or, at the very least, a special Committee of Council and Citizens’ Committee to identify opportunities to reduce our climate footprint. Time is of the essence. There are so
many opportunities that are being missed. There are many citizens in the County, many with special expertise, who would be willing to serve on a community task force.

Ron Hart is a member of the County Sustainability Group


 

Extreme weather may finally make climate change a ballot-box issue

In Prince Edward County we  are still recovering from flooding as waves nibble at our shoreline. The County’s soon to be formed Environmental Committee will have its work cut out for it as it will be forced to reexamine past policies, revise them,and set out a vision for a new, local, and sustainable green economy . There is no doubt that  climate change will be a ballot box issue.

Voters have long been unmoved by scientists’ dire climate predictions, but fires, floods and other catastrophic weather events might cause a shift.


A fire burns near High Level, Alta., in May 2019, forcing thousands from their homes (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/CP)

Back in the spring of 2016, when images of a voracious forest fire menacing Fort McMurray, Alta., were dominating the news, reporters asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if climate change was to blame. As the unofficial capital of Alberta’s oil sands, Fort McMurray figures prominently in the bitter debate over fossil fuels and global warming, so Trudeau responded carefully. “It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet,” he allowed, before quickly adding, “Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘This is because of that’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate.”

Trudeau drew criticism from some who thought he had missed a chance to highlight the heavy price humanity is already paying for making the planet hotter and drier. But his answer was a pretty standard political dodge at the time. Even Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said “no credible climate scientist” would draw a neat cause-and-effect link between climate change and the Fort Mac fire. Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said, “It’s not time to start laying blame.” 

A lot has changed, though, in the past three years. During severe flooding in Eastern Canada this spring, for instance, Trudeau didn’t hesitate to raise the alarm about climate change. “Canadians are already seeing the costs,” he said.

READ: Bill McKibben on how we might avert climate change suicide

Other Liberals were even more outspoken. “Yes, climate change is real,” said MP Will Amos, whose Quebec riding, on the Ottawa River, was hit badly by the floods. “Yes, it is wreaking havoc on our infrastructure.” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the senior voice from Western Canada in Trudeau’s cabinet, linked global warming to the floods, as well as fires on Prairie grasslands and in boreal forests. Goodale said he didn’t want to get into a partisan argument, but stressed, “I think we all have to learn the lessons of climate change—the impacts here are powerful and dangerous and damaging.”

The shift from pussyfooting around how climate change leads to more extreme weather events to talking about it so forcefully hasn’t happened by chance. It’s the result of a concerted effort by researchers to create a new field called “attribution science.” The challenge they faced was that climate is so complicated that teasing out a single cause for, say, a flood or a fire is impossible. So they devised methods for calculating how much climate change had contributed. The watershed report was published by researchers from the University of Oxford in 2004, explaining how global warming caused by humans had at least doubled the risk of the heat wave that baked Europe the previous year.

Since that landmark study, attribution science has taken off, including in Canada. The federal government’s “Canada’s Changing Climate Report,” released early this year, listed 14 Canadian attribution studies published from 2015-17, on everything from forest fires, to flooding, to thinning Arctic sea ice. 

In a widely noted report, Environment Canada researchers analyzed the awful 2017 forest fire season in British Columbia, when 65,000 were driven from their homes and millions left breathing smoke-filled air. They concluded that the extreme summer temperatures behind those fires were made more than 20 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  MORE

The next global agricultural revolution

TED Fellow Bruce Friedrich plans to compete with the meat industry on its own terms — by creating alternatives to conventional meat that taste the same or better and cost less.

Conventional meat production causes harm to our environment and presents risks to global health, but people aren’t going to eat less meat unless we give them alternatives that cost the same (or less) and that taste the same (or better).

In an eye-opening talk, food innovator and TED Fellow Bruce Friedrich shows the plant- and cell-based products that could soon transform the global meat industry — and your dinner plate.

SEE THE VIDEO

We’re in a climate emergency — let’s act like it

This letter is by Cameron Fenton. Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Cameron has worked on climate justice issues all across Canada. He currently works as the Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with 350.org. Please sign this urgent petition.

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Drone footage via the Government of Alberta shows large clouds of smoke from the wildfires threatening areas of northern Alberta. Global News: Evacuation alerts and orders in place across the province

Friends,

After tediously debating it for the past week, the Canadian House of Commons is poised to declare a climate emergency.1 If and when it’s passed, Catherine McKenna’s climate emergency motion will commit Canada to “meeting its national emissions target under the Paris Agreement” and go even further to“to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Frankly, this confuses me. If Canada is in a climate emergency, where is the emergency response plan?

That’s why today, I’m asking you to call on the Federal Leaders’ Debates Commission to organize a debate on climate change and Canada’s Green New Deal ahead of this fall’s federal election. Sign the petition.

Temperatures are rising across the country, and with it, the threat of another record-breaking wildfire season. Fires have already forced evacuations in communities like High Level and the Dene Tha’ First Nation in Northern Alberta.2 Just this week, smoke from these fires arrived in skies above Vancouver and blocked out the sun in Edmonton.3

I was born and raised in Edmonton, and for the past six years I’ve lived in Vancouver so I can say without question, that this is not normal. Honestly, I’m terrified. This could be the third record-breaking wildfire season in a row in British Columbia, and it’s average global temperatures have only risen 1ºC. Justin Trudeau’s current climate plan has us on a path to, in the best case scenario, warm the planet by another of 4-5ºC on average.

That would be devastating, and that’s why every person in this country needs to know which one of our major political parties has a real plan to tackle the climate emergency. The best way to that happen is with a federal leaders’ debate on climate change and Canada’s Green New Deal. Add your name to the petition.

In 2015, more than eleven million people watched the leaders’ debates, and there was only one question on climate change. This is unacceptable, especially for a country in a climate emergency.

This is the first election with a designated Leaders’ Debate Commission.4 And since they’ve been tasked with organizing election debates in the public interest, we have a chance to change the debate and make sure responding to a climate emergency is center stage.

Sign the petition to make sure climate change and Canada’s Green New Deal are at the center of the upcoming federal election.

This petition is just the start. When temperatures rise this summer, so will we. As climate impacts continue to strike our communities, we will keep building the movement for Canada’s Green New Deal and demanding a federal climate debate.

We need to change the debate. This is our time to do it.

With urgency,

Cam

PS – The movement for Canada’s Green New Deal is taking off. Over 100 town halls have already happened across the country to build a shared vision for a Green New Deal — and dozens are coming up. To find a town hall near you click here.


Resources:

1. Declaring a Climate Emergency is Meaningless Without Strong Policy
2. We’ve been through it before’: Dene Tha’ First Nation practiced evacuation years before recent wildfire
3. Smokey skies arrive as haze from Alberta wildfires reach Metro Vancouver
4. Canada Leaders’ Debates Commission

Doug Ford’s Reforestation and Conservation Cuts Show He Has Historical Amnesia

“While across Southern Ontario there is still around 26 per cent forest cover in some watersheds, in others, forest cover is still as low as the five percent that triggered flooding disasters in the past.”


Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to reporters while inspecting flood damage in Constance Bay, near Ottawa.Wayne Cuddington/Postmedia

Reforestation and conservation cuts will only increase flooding and other environmental problems in an age when these problems are being amplified by climate change. We need to learn from past environmental mistakes if we wish to avoid repeating them.

On April 25, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced two cuts to programs that were helping to prevent environmental problems such as flooding that are becoming even more acute with the onset of climate change

Ford axed the Fifty Million Tree Program that was started in 2008. This reforestation program was about half way through its target and cost $4.7 million annually. He also announced that provincial funding for Conservation Authorities, now a meagre $7.4 million a year, would be cut in half. These programs designed   to promote reforestation are helping to control flood risks, risks made worse by climate change impacts because climate change is causing increasing precipitation in Southern Ontario in the winter and spring periods. Such programs, which help reduce flooding risks, are needed more than ever before because the forests, many of which are wooded wetlands, help soak up the increased rain and snow melt

Ford’s $12.1 million cuts for trees and flood control is especially galling in view of the small amounts of money involved in comparison with the catastrophic damage to the province that will ensue as a result of the effects of climate change and deforestation going unaddressed.

The cuts also illustrate historical amnesia, a failure to remember why these programs were developed in the first place. MORE

RELATED:

Before Doug Ford cuts, he should ask himself, ‘Will this sound stupid?’
Ontario government breaking deal with Beer Store to expand sales to corner stores

Bill McKibben Talks About “Falter”

“One of the most positive things that’s happening now is the Green New Deal work, and also the school climate strikes—which I hope will spread to adults before long. The spread of the idea about the Green New Deal is a good thing. The more people talk about it and consider it and think about it, the closer we’ll get for people to understand the scale of action that we need. This is a crisis, as big as World War II or the Depression, and so the means that we need to fight it are going to be on the same scale.” — Bill McKibben


The climate action pioneer’s new book explores what it means to be human COURTESY OF NANCIE BATTAGLIA

Journalist and activist Bill McKibben is back with another book about the crushing realities of climate change.

The author of 1989’s The End of Nature, often acknowledged as the first book for a general audience about what used to be known as “the greenhouse effect,” McKibben has been writing about climate issues for three decades.

About 10 years ago, he cofounded 350.org, the first “planet-wide grassroots climate change movement.” 350.org has organized more than 20,000 rallies across the globe in protest of fossil fuels and has promoted the growing fossil fuel divestment movement.

In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, out last month from Henry Holt, McKibben surveys the state of havoc caused by climate change, identifies those institutions and individuals that ignore or actively abet it, and turns his attention to new technologies poised to change the very essence of what it means to be human. He also finds a measure of hope for the future, relying on the power of cheap energy and nonviolent resistance.

Sierra recently called up McKibben to discuss climate change, Ayn Rand, and artificial intelligence. MORE

 

An Early Voter’s Guide to Trudeau (Bad) and Scheer (Worse)

“Voters may suspect the Shiny Pony is phoney. But if they think that makes Andy dandy, they have forgotten something. Answered prayers are often a special brand of nightmare. Could it be time for change with risk? Could it be time to elect a government committed to saving the planet, rather than four bucks on a fill-up of gas?”

Don’t let negative partisanship trick you into backing Harper lite.

ScheerPlatformComic.jpgCartoon by Greg Perry.
Nothing the Conservatives have done so far has been remotely as effective in that cause [to elect a Conservative federal government this October] as Trudeau’s remarkable, and mystifying, blundering.

Take the environment. Everyone wants to claim this baby, but no one wants to raise it. Trudeau began as the champion of the blazing issue of our times. But these days, the prime minister looks less like the climate guy from Paris than he does a Texas oil man with gushers on his mind. When he gives the green light to the Trans Mountain pipeline in June, that impression will only deepen.

Apart from his much-ballyhooed carbon tax, there is not much to celebrate on this file, despite all the right words and excellent photo-ops. As Canada stumbles towards missing the modest emission targets of Paris, Stephen Harper’s targets, this PM acts more like Jason Kenney than David Suzuki.

 As disappointing as Trudeau has been to many voters, the traditional alternative, the official Opposition, is far, far worse.

Trudeau overpays for a pipeline carrying dirty oil through pristine rivers and forests in British Columbia;

He exempts certain tarsands projects from new environmental assessment rules in a crude trade-off with Alberta;

He considers loosening restrictions on the pollution of major rivers with toxic effluent from tarsands tailing ponds;

He allows the unregulated use of seismic blasting to explore for oil and gas on Canada’s east coast, right whales be damned;

And he has nothing to say about a pulp and paper mill building a 10-kilometre pipe to carry and dump hastily treated toxic effluent into prime fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait. MORE