A functioning atmosphere is perhaps the most basic element of life on Earth. Before we ever sip a drop of water or consume a bite of food, we humans take that first vital breath. Our continued alteration of the chemical composition of the atmosphere threatens our very existence on the planet.

In the May 9, 2012, Op-Ed, Game Over for the Climate, Dr. James Hansen, the esteemed NASA climate scientist, spoke out against the ethical implications of inaction: “Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait—we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.”

The technical environmental issues related to emissions reductions have now become moral issues. They have become issues of human rights and human dignity. Climate change affects the very elements that lie at the heart of human rights doctrine.

It is thus difficult to conceptualize the human rights impacts of climate change without taking into account the disproportionate impact that global warming will have on the poor and on future generations.

A group of faith-based communities serving the citizens of Washington state who are concerned about these impacts recently filed an amicus curiae memorandum in support of direct review in the Washington Supreme Court of a case filed against the State of Washington to protect the atmosphere for future generations. The Superior Court dismissed the case in February, 2012.

Washington youth (“Our Children”) brought the case against the Washington State. Our Children are requesting the Washington Supreme Court to declare that the atmosphere is a public trust resource and that the State has a duty to protect it according to best available science. Our Children also request injunctive relief in the form of a plan that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent per year.

By filing an amicus curiae memorandum, Amici are drawing the Court’s attention to the important links between climate-induced human rights impacts and the diverse calls of faith-based communities for moral action on climate change.

Amici include Bishops Wm Chris Boerger, Robert D. Hofstad, and Martin D. Wells of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Faith Action Network; The Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ; The Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church; The Right Reverend Gregory Rickel, VIII Bishop of Olympia, The Episcopal Church in Western Washington; The Sisters of St Joseph of Peace; and Washington Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice.

Amici urge the Washington Supreme Court to consider drawing upon international human rights instruments as guidance when interpreting Washington’s public trust doctrine. To warrant direct review, the Court must find “a fundamental and urgent issue of broad public import which requires prompt and ultimate determination.” RAP 4.2(a)(4). The atmosphere is a common, essential natural resource, and its substantial impairment threatens the fundamental human rights of citizens in Washington and around the world, particularly those of the most vulnerable. The atmosphere’s protection under the public trust is consistent with principles of international law, and its destruction is fundamentally an issue of broad public import that merits direct and urgent review. Accordingly, Amici submit that this Court should grant Petitioner’s Petition for Direct Review.

Read a copy of the Motion and the Memorandum.

For more information on atmospheric trust litigation, or to get involved, please visit the website of Our Children’s Trust.