Youth Sue Government for Failing to Protect the Atmosphere for Future Generations

May 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Jen Marlow in Blog

Our Children’s Trust (OCT), a nonprofit law firm in Eugene, Oregon, is representing youth who are alleging that the government, by failing to protect the atmosphere, is denying their constitutional rights.

This action follows years of serial climate change cases based on the public trust doctrine filed in states and federal courts across the country. These cases have activated the climate debate inside the judicial forum about whether the atmosphere is part of the public trust and if so, what the government obligation is to protect it for current and future generations. Youth are declaring the atmosphere as part of the public trust, alleging that governments are failing their duty to protect it, and asking the courts to order state and federal governments to make scientifically prescribed policy commitments to reduce carbon emissions to safe levels.

Three Degrees Warmer Board Member, Andrea Rodgers, is representing the youth in Washington, a case that is still alive after years of filings. Three Degrees Warmer supported the Washington youths’ case with an amicus brief to the Washington Supreme Court in 2012, and then filed an amicus brief supporting the youth with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.

Read the expert legal opinions collected by the New York Times in an opinion piece published today about the litigation. Three out of four legal experts interviewed offer affirming views.


Social Art and Three Degrees Warmer

March 15th, 2016 | Posted by Jen Marlow in Blog

In 2009, when Jeni and I started Three Degrees, global international climate policy was failing to achieve measures to mitigate climate harms and to support impacted communities to adapt. Jeni and I were examining the potential for other organizations, principles, areas of law, and political formations to help fill the gap of the failing international regime.

After organizing a diverse set of climate justice projects with students and faculty at universities, elected officials and activists at international workshops,  journalists, and scenario planners and futurists alike, I’ve discovered that working at the community level is where I’m learning the most about climate justice work and how it is evolving in the context of global issues of disparity, hierarchies of power, local creativity and pursuit, particularized assemblies of unlikely suspects, and ethical and honest frameworks for cultural recognition of the multiple ways of life that reveal a more engaged philosophy about human existence and perseverance in 2016 .

What I am learning now through my work in Kivalina and in particular, as I’m asked to share our work in Kivalina with others, is that local institutions for change are already in place. Responses, adaptations, and alliances for climate justice must align and assemble around existing systems, forming a vast network of lines and connections rather than a discrete object with a functional purpose defined as policy. On a more global level, institutions have, for a long time, been too centralized/apolitical to affect change positively. Assembling networks among impacted communities, academics, funders, specialists, designers, artists, and media is the kind of institution that needs composing. With the ArtPlace grant, I believe Three Degrees Warmer is working toward this mission.

As part of ArtPlace, I’ve been asked to serve on a panel in April focusing on design and architecture as disciplines for creative placemaking. While I am trained as a lawyer—not a designer nor an architect, I think back to the days when Jeni and I started Three Degrees. We started the project to build an architecture and framework that would support us and others to do climate justice work in the world. The work of Three Degrees Warmer is an architecture of the scaffolding that holds people and relationships up. These are formworks that people build themselves, at their own pace, with materials that are available to them. Where the shake and sway means it might be working. (Photo from Shanghai, 2009.)


Three Degrees Warmer and Re-Locate Kivalina Partner on ArtPlace America Grant

September 13th, 2015 | Posted by Jen Marlow in Blog


$500,000 Grant Will Fund Village-Based Territorial Planning Process in KIVALINA, ALASKA

Anchorage, Alaska – Re-Locate announced today that it is among 38 recipients of ArtPlace America’s 2015 National Grants Program. ArtPlace, one of the nation’s largest philanthropies dedicated to creative placemaking, is investing $500,000 in Kivalina, Alaska, to further integrate arts and culture into the field of community planning and development. Re-Locate will work to co-create a village-based territorial planning process with individuals, families, and institutions in Kivalina that makes visible and brings action to their strategies and plans for relocation and for a world where particular subjectivities and cultural practices can endure and flourish. ArtPlace selected Re-Locate from a pool of nearly 1,300 applicants. Three Degrees Warmer, a nonprofit climate justice organization, will serve as Re-Locate’s fiscal sponsor.

“While the strategies and projects these resources will activate and materialize are only part of the latest developments in Kivalina’s multi-generational struggle to relocate—a persistent need the community continues to live with and skillfully act on every day—they do mark a turn toward Kivalina-based decision making, voluntary partnership, local history, and political exchange. Artplace funding and support for this turn, one that we’ve imagined with Kivalina while living and making together over the past 4 years, is fitting and timely. We are tremendously grateful.”

With ArtPlace support, Re-Locate will co-create of a series of projects with Kivalina and a collective of artist, state, corporate, non-governmental, and international partners that recognize and support community-led strategies for village expansion. These projects—including a living archive, large-scale models and drawings of Kivalina’s traditional territory, in-village summits, people’s maps, interactive online platforms, prototypes of decentralized water and sanitation technology designs, immersed artist residencies, and an intranet mesh network—will compose a village-based master planning process housed in the Kivalina Community Center, which we are adapting to become the Center for Kivalina Relocation Planning and Global Responsibility for Climate Displacement.

This is a process that “belongs to the people of Kivalina,” Kivalina IRA President Millie Hawley said. “We’ll visualize where we’re at, where we can be, and how we can move in that direction. There are 229 Tribes in Alaska. Five villages have the same climate change issues, some worse than ours. If you do this project in Kivalina, you do this work for them. They would all benefit from this in their villages,” she said.

“[These projects] empower the people to make the decisions,” City Councilwoman Colleen Swan said. “The people know what to do. Otherwise, plans are developed by people who don’t live here. It’s the only way I believe we will get anywhere.”

“Re-Locate can elevate recognition, attract visibility, and visualize our learning,” said Enoch Adams Jr., Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee Chairman.

“Investing in and supporting the arts have a profound impact on the social, physical, and economic futures of communities,” said ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie L. Bennett. “Projects like these demonstrate how imaginative and committed people are when it comes to enhancing their communities with creative interventions and thoughtful practices.”

“The National Grants Program is actively building a portfolio that touches each of the sectors and stakeholders that make up the community development field,” said ArtPlace’s Director of National Grantmaking F. Javier Torres.  “Last year, ArtPlace developed a Community Development Matrix to help us better evaluate our success on this front.  So, we’re thrilled that this year’s 38 grantees represent a dynamic spectrum of creative approaches and partnerships in community development that expand the dimensions of our portfolio.”

This year’s ArtPlace America grantees were selected from nearly 1,300 applicants across 48 states and the District of Columbia. Grants range from $50,000 to $500,000 with an average of $265,000.

“Each one of these grants supports a geographic community: a collection of people who live, work, and play within a defined circle on a map,” continued Torres.  “In each case, a community development challenge or opportunity was identified by local stakeholders; and these 38 grantees are serving as conduits for their community’s desires by leading arts-based solutions through their projects.”

To view the complete list of 2015 ArtPlace grantees, go to


About Re-Locate

Re-Locate is a collective of immersive ethnographic artists and transdisciplinary partners co-creating a community-led village expansion planning process in Kivalina. Re-Locate projects are making the economic, political, and environmental issues underlying relocation visible to global audiences; supporting community discussion and exchange; locating, connecting, and educating new relocation partners; creating spaces where people from displaced communities can share original media and ideas about local ways of life; developing platforms for managing local to global networks of support; hosting collaborative design processes that synthesize project knowledge into culturally specific planning and architecture; contributing to global efforts that are shaping the discourse on climate displacement; and developing practices for working in partnership with climate-displaced communities worldwide. Read more at or on Facebook.

About ArtPlace America

ArtPlace America (ArtPlace) is a ten-year collaboration of foundations, banks, and federal agencies that exists to position art and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities. Visit for more information.

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Supreme Court Will Not Hear Public Trust Case

December 8th, 2014 | Posted by Jen Marlow in Blog

Three Degrees Warmer, in partnership with Our Children’s Trust and its national network of legal supporters, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court last month. Today, we learned that the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Here is the note I received from Our Children’s Trust Climate Law Fellow, Nate Bellinger, sharing the news. With the New York Time‘s breaking story exposing the collusion of Attorneys General with the energy industry to curtail needed changes to our national energy policies, it is critical to enlist lawyers that will fight this breach of trust in the law.

Dear Supporters, Hours ago, we received notice from the U.S. Supreme Court that it decided not to hear our young people’s case seeking protection of essential natural resources for the benefit of future generations. Of course, we are gravely disappointed, but we are also realistic. The Supreme Court decides to hear only 75-80 of the 10,000 worthy cases it receives each year, and only 3 of the 119 cases it reviewed in its last conference.  In our case, we suspect the court wants a deeper split between the Circuits than currently exists between the 8th, 9th, and 10th Circuit decisions favoring our position, and the D.C. Circuit decision.

With yesterday’s front page New York Times article uncovering the massive and funded big energy lobby focused on defeating all efforts that implement responsible climate policy, the nature of the opposition we all face in trying to advance science-based climate recovery at all levels of government is huge. Our Children’s Trust has been building new federal cases to secure science-based climate recovery policy nationally, and to return to the Supreme Court if necessary.

We will expand our efforts to enforce individual states’ responsibilities to preserve the atmosphere for the benefit of future generations, and will advance select global and local efforts to do the same.  Piecemeal legislative and executive actions not based on nature’s laws will simply never get us where we need to be.  We need judicial declarations that government must act systemically to stabilize our climate.

We are so grateful for your support as a “friend of the Court” in this case.  We hope to have your continued support as we respond promptly to the strong resistance we face and keep the pressure on the courts so science-based climate recovery is implemented comprehensively and quickly, and before it is too late.

Thank you.  We will alert you to our next steps at the federal level in the very near future and welcome your support.




Three Degrees Warmer Files Amicus Brief with Supreme Court on National Climate Change Case

November 7th, 2014 | Posted by Jen Marlow in Blog

On November 6, 2014, Three Degrees Warmer partnered with Our Children’s Trust to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court yesterday arguing the national importance of a federal public trust doctrine climate change case.

In the brief, amicus parties argue that “[t]he questions presented in this case are of exceptional national importance and of great interest to these amici curiae. The D.C. Circuit held that the public trust doctrine does not apply to the federal government. Such a ruling disregards the federal government’s trust obligation to protect essential national resources for present and future generations and prevents Article III courts from requiring the political branches to fulfill their trust obligations. This outcome is alarming in any context but especially in the context of global climate change.

The federal government’s violation of its obligation to protect the atmospheric resource under the public trust doctrine is endangering human health, harming the economy, undermining our Nation’s food and water security, adversely impacting Native Nations and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, threatening our national security, and creating challenges for state and local governments. When government fails to fulfill its trust obligations, citizens must be able to hold federal officials accountable to act in a manner consistent with their trust responsibilities. Because of what is at stake in this case, the questions presented deserve to be clearly addressed and resolved by this Court.” Read more here.


About the Photo

Top-left: Swells rise in the Bay of Bengal and splash into Nuzahan Bibi’s rice field, which, as global temperatures rise and sea level climbs, becomes an ever more precarious means of support for the widowed Bangladeshi. © Peter Essick

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