Issues Stop Global Warming Judge Deliberates on Whether to Save Earth's Atmosphere

iMatterKids

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins heard the arguments on Friday in Washington, D.C., and is deliberating now on the question of whether young people can sue to compel their government to take serious measures to stop global warming.

Judge Robert Wilkins is familiar with discrimination, having been the plaintiff in a well-known driving-while-black case of racial profiling in Maryland.  But few of us are familiar with the concept of discrimination against future generations.  We grow easily indignant when living people are unfairly treated.  We grow confused when considering the injustice of depriving our grandchildren of a habitable planet so that we can drive our SUVs and fight our wars.  There's no living person or group of persons we can point to as being wronged, unless perhaps it is the young.

Judge Wilkins is familiar with, and appreciative of, the role federal courts played in the U.S. civil rights movement.  But a case had been made that certain people's Constitutional rights were being violated.  Whose Constitutional rights are violated by condemning young people to grow old on a damaged planet turning to desert and barren rock?

There may be an answer to that.  The Constitution's purpose is to "insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."  Surely there is a violation of the Constitution in making the earth uninhabitable for our Posterity.  But no court has ever arrived at that conclusion.

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which under Article VI of the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family."  How can we protect those rights for everyone, including the young and the not-yet-born, without putting everything we have into trying to preserve a climate in which humans can prosper?  How can the U.S. government fulfill its obligations to Native American nations while finally completing the destruction of their land along with everyone else's?

Courageous young people filed suit a year ago against the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Commerce, the United States Department of Energy, and the United States Department of Defense.  One would think being sued for ruining the earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gases was not terribly desirable, but there was a mad rush by other parties to be added to the list of defendants.  These additional defendants succeeded in getting themselves added: Delta Construction Company Inc., Dalton Trucking Inc., Southern California Contractors Association Inc., California Dump Truck Owners Association, Engineering & Utility Contractors Association, and The National Association Of Manufacturers.

The National Association of Manufacturers openlyclaims selfish interests for being involved:

"NAM moved to intervene in this litigation, because the law suit, if successful, would have a dramatic effect on manufacturing processes and investments, increasing production and transportation costs, decreasing global competitiveness and driving jobs and businesses abroad. The litigation, which seeks a minimum 6% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions every year, would be devastating to the entire U.S. economy."

NAM also says:

"The NAM's members include many of the major oil, coal and natural gas producers, petroleum refiners, and petrochemical producers, as well as manufacturing companies that make the tools and components critical to such industries.  Id.  Obviously, immediate reductions—and eventual elimination—of conventional fuel use is a central business concern for these members of the NAM."

So, this was the argument for joining the case: our profits would suffer.  Well, of course, they would.  The government would have to stop giving $11 billion a year or more to fossil fuel companies.  Arguably, the government would have to stop putting over $1 trillion a year into preparation for wars fought largely to secure fossil fuels.  Taxes would have to be imposed on carbon emissions.  But there would also have to be massive public investment in green energy, investment that could help companies become profitable in new ways.  Or it could not.  What's guaranteed is that the current profit-making plans of these companies would suffer, while humanity would benefit.  We're trained to think such conflicts don't exist, that what's good for Exxon-Mobil is good for all of us.  It isn't true.  The oil companies are arguing for the right to ruin the atmosphere.

In Friday's hearing, however, other arguments were advanced.  Three men spoke for the defense, one from the government, one from NAM, and one from the California interveners.  They did not dispute the reality and seriousness of global warming, which James Hansen called "apocalyptic" in Thursday's New

York Times. They did not claim ownership of the sky.  Instead they argued for democracy, the Constitution, the separation of powers, the right of the legislative branch to legislate, and the existence of the EPA as sufficient to answer the plaintiff's claims whether or not the EPA was doing any good.

It was curious to hear the government's defense of the rights of the legislative branch for a number of reasons.  First, the executive branch in recent years has been rapidly eroding Congress's powers.  Second, the Constitution has been discarded when it comes to Congressional war powers, or habeas corpus, or much of the Bill of Rights.  Third, Congress almost never represents majority opinion in the country on any important issue, but is instead openly working for the legal bribes authorized by the Supreme Court as election spending -- for which the Supreme Court has argued to protect the human rights of corporations.  To pretend that the legislative branch envisioned by the Constitution still exists is bizarre.  Fourth, immediately after the government's lawyer rhetorically asked, "In a democracy whose job is it to take public actions of the first order?" he turned the floor over to the lawyer from NAM.  Where in the Constitution does it assign corporate lobbyists the duty to defend the government against popular petitions for redress of grievances?

The NAM lawyer said not one word about his clients' profits.  Instead he proposed, among other things, that "national security" might require current levels of C02 emissions.  He was, of course, using a narrow conception of national security.  How secure is a nation that is losing its farmland and coastlines?  But, if the argument was to be made on behalf of the Pentagon, why not let the Pentagon do it?  Why allow the oil barons' hired hand to substitute?

Julia Olson argued ably for the plaintiffs, citing numerous precedents for her claim that the atmosphere is a public trust and that public trusts must be protected.  As in the on-going struggle over the Supreme Court's pro-bribery Citizens

United ruling, the state of Montana is featured in this debate, as the Supreme Court once ruled that Montana had a right to protect its rivers as a public trust, a ruling based on a long

legal tradition, but later reversed.

Judge Wilkins asked Olson numerous detailed questions in a lengthy exchange that reviewed many precedents and hypothetical arguments.  Olson pointed to a case that had established a three-judge panel to direct the state of California to reduce its prison population.  The judges had not handled the details of the changes made to California's penal system, but had enforced a level of reduction by a deadline, just as these plaintiffs want CO2 levels in the atmosphere reduced to 350 ppm by a set date.

Olson's co-counsel Philip Gregory brought to Friday's hearing something that was otherwise missing in hours of technical debate: honest passion.  Gregory made a moral as much as a legal case on behalf of the rights of the plaintiffs, a row of several teenagers seated in the front row of the courtroom.

Judge Wilkins argued to Gregory that either he was being asked to tell six government agencies that they were not doing their jobs as required by statute -- in which case, the judge said, such matters could be handled one-at-a-time outside of this lawsuit, or he was being asked to instruct six agencies to act outside of their Congressional mandate.  Gregory's response focused, rightly, on the magnitude and urgency of the crisis we face.

Trying to get courts to do Congress's job may, in fact, not be ideal.  Trying to get state or foreign prosecutors to indict Bush for torture is not ideal.  Pinochet's indictment in Spain was not ideal.  Federal desegregation of Southern states was not ideal.  Protecting voting rights state-by-state is not ideal.  But in an emergency, shouldn't one try the tools that are available? And shouldn't one drop counterproductive pretenses, such as the pretense that a functioning Congress still exists?

What if the mythical humanized frogs in the pot of gradually warming water -- thousands and thousands of such frogs in a giant pot on a giant stove -- had a frog government?  And what if the frog Congress had been bought off with piles of flies by a frog whose business it was to sell tiny, cold, bottled water to the frogs as they warmed?  If the frog courts decided to leave the decision to hop out of the pot to the frog Congress, they would make the correct decision that would best allow representative frog government in the future.  But would that do anything to guarantee that there would be any future for those frogs?

In case it isn't blatantly obvious, the above and everything else written here is my opinion, not the plaintiffs' legal arguments.  The hearing ran for about three hours, and was all very formal and polite.  Judge Wilkins generously thanked both sides for their "sincerity, diligence, and earnestness."

"But I would be remiss," he added, "if I did not say that it is a struggle for any judge to determine based on our Constitutional system how best to play the proper role in adjudicating a case like this one.  I don't take the Constitution lightly. . . ."

"That said, it behooves all of us, regardless of the resolution of this case, to really think about what we can do to resolve this very serious problem."

Of course, we aren't all in the same position to do the same amount of good.  By ruling that this case can proceed, Wilkins would open up a public forum on intergenerational justice and a ground-breaking earth-protecting suit that the plaintiffs would be very likely to win.  Future generations would, quite likely, revere the name Robert Wilkins.  His heroism would not be quickly forgotten.

Alec Loorz on the Thom Hartmann show

Link to original article from War Is A Crime

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Our children's burden

Our children's burden

On a personal level, most of us would go to extraordinary lengths to steer our children and grandchildren away from physical or economic peril. Yet look at the mess we're leaving them with public policies that can only be described as selfish and shortsighted: Global...

John Diaz | San Francisco Chronicle 13 Mar 2013 Hits:692 SGW Articles

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When to Say No

When to Say No

The State Department’s latest environmental assessment of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline makes no recommendation about whether President Obama should approve it. Here is ours. He should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate...

Editorial | The New York Times 12 Mar 2013 Hits:602 SGW Articles

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The Sky is Pink

The Sky is Pink

An emergency short film from Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of GASLAND addressing the urgent crisis of drilling and fracking in New York state. Go to www.NYAgainstfracking.org for more info and to get involved. Link to video: THE SKY IS PINK by Josh Fox and the GASLAND Team...

Josh Fox and the GASLAND Team 10 Mar 2013 Hits:716 SGW Articles

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Community Members' Fight Against Gas Pipelines Gets Creative

Community Members' Fight Against Gas Pipelines Gets Creative

Residents take action as thirteen natural gas pipeline Something is happening in the Delaware River watershed, something important and inspiring. Yesterday over 100 people from dozens of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware groups joined together in one of the most empowering actions I’ve...

Ted Glick | AlterNet 08 Mar 2013 Hits:615 SGW Articles

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Climate Change as History's Deal-Breaker

Climate Change as History's Deal-Breaker

Two Sundays ago, I traveled to the nation’s capital to attend what was billed as “the largest climate rally in history” and I haven’t been able to get the experience -- or a question that haunted me -- out of my mind.  Where...

Tom Engelhardt | TomDispatch.com 04 Mar 2013 Hits:913 SGW Articles

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With 2 Ships Damaged, Shell Suspends Arctic Drilling

With 2 Ships Damaged, Shell Suspends Arctic Drilling

WASHINGTON — After a series of costly and embarrassing accidents in its efforts to drill exploratory wells off the north coast of Alaska last year, Royal Dutch Shell announced on Wednesday that it would not return to the Arctic in 2013. The company’s two drill ships...

JOHN M. BRODER | The New York Times 03 Mar 2013 Hits:658 SGW Articles

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Agenda for call February 27, 2013

Welcome May Boeve, Executive Director 350.0rg Victoria Loorz, Executive Director, iMatter, Kids vs Global Warming Russell Greene, History of SGW IOT, Goals, Objectives 2013 James Handley,-Why a Carbon Tax? -Sanders/ Boxer - Carbon Protection Act-When might we expect a bill from congress? Q and A Save the Date:  Our next SGW...

27 Feb 2013 Hits:566 SGW Articles

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Sanders: United States Cannot Afford the Price of Doing Nothing on Global Warming

Sanders: United States Cannot Afford the Price of Doing Nothing on Global Warming

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today disputed claims by the National Association of Manufacturers on the economic impact of a carbon tax. “The price that America cannot afford to pay is the price of doing nothing to reverse global warming,” said Sanders. He recently introduced...

Office of Sen. Bernie Sanders 26 Feb 2013 Hits:838 SGW Articles

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Climate Change Added to US Government “High Risk” List

Climate Change Added to US Government “High Risk” List

WASHINGTON - For the first time, a U.S. government auditor has added climate change to a list of issues that pose the greatest financial risk to the government and country. It is also warning that Washington is markedly unprepared to deal with the scope of...

Carey L. Biron | Inter Press Service 18 Feb 2013 Hits:679 SGW Articles

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Texas poised to double wind energy output

Texas poised to double wind energy output

PECOS COUNTY -- Wind storms in West Texas sent tumbleweed speeding down the street. But it's the steady gusts that blow through Pecos County daily that are powering the future. "We were approached and I was open to change and...

Angela Kocherga | KVUE News 18 Feb 2013 Hits:688 SGW Articles

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Scientists Confirm: Arctic Sea Ice 'Collapse' at Our Door

Scientists Confirm: Arctic Sea Ice 'Collapse' at Our Door

The Arctic Sea is experiencing rapid ice loss at a pace so fast that the area will soon be ice-free in warmer months, scientists confirmed in a report this week—showing a collapse in total sea ice volume to one fifth of its level in 1980. The alarming...

Jacob Chamberlain | Common Dreams 16 Feb 2013 Hits:991 SGW Articles

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Climate Change Is Drowning Out ‘Jobs vs. Environment’ Debate

Climate Change Is Drowning Out ‘Jobs vs. Environment’ Debate

The old argument that unions must choose between jobs and the environment is losing its grip, as climate change becomes more evident and more urgent. More unions than ever have signed up to join environmentalists for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. against the Keystone XL...

Jenny Brown | Labor Notes 15 Feb 2013 Hits:604 SGW Articles

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PDA 10th Anniversary - Join us in Northampton on May 10th

10thAnnSpeakers

Join Jim Hightower, Tom Hayden, Ben Day, Mimi Kennedy,
Thom Hartmann, Cole Stangler, Medea Benjamin, Andrea Miller
Rep. Jim McGovern, Tim Carpenter, Mark Dudzic and
John Nichols

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Leaders - Stop Global Warming

James_Handley BarbaraWarren RussellGreeneHead
James Handley
(DC)
Barbara Warren
(AZ)
Russell Greene
(CA)

Contact us at:
environment@pdamerica.org

PDA Issues

PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:

Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.


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Stop Global Warming IOT Calls

  • 04-16-2014 Stop Global Warming

    Spencer Black, Vice President of the Sierra Club, discusses climate change as it relates to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the real dangers our climate and the environment face should the TPP be ratified. There is also discussion in...

  • 03-18-2014 Stop Global Warming

    Listen to this incredible presentation on what we can achieve with 100% green energy with Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University and Director of its Atmosphere and Energy Program. Updates on our...

  • 02-19-2014 Stop Global Warming

    Listen to the call this month featuring reports from Idle No More, presented by Penny Opal Plant; 350.org, presented by Sara Shor; the Sierra Club, presented by James Prentice-Dunn; and Food and Water Watch; presented by Mark Schlosberg; plus...

  • 01-15-2014 Stop Global Warming

    To kick off the new year, the Stop Global Warming team spoke with Emily Wurth of Food and Water Watch, and Jay Carmona of 350.org. Listen to the discussion of legislation, actions, and new campaigns, such as the Go Fossil Free Campaign.

  • 11-20-2013 Stop Global Warming

    This is a special call and webinar with guest Elizabeth Schuster, the Legislative and Policy Analyst of Food & Water Watch, who presents further information on this team's legislation. Plus, an update from Friends of the Earth on the Trans Pacific...

  • 10-16-2013 Stop Global Warming

    Listen to Mark Schlosberg of Food and Water Watch talk about the events and issues surrounding the Global Frackdown Oct 19, and then listen to Clark Weaver of NASA discuss climate change and what is really happening in our environment (PowerPoint...

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