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.
Read an open letter from the Human Rights Council to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Kivalina, Alaska – On March 4, the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation awarded funding to the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to work with the Tribal and City Councils of Kivalina to develop a shovel ready project to provide biochar sanitation to the village. Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community in the Northwest Arctic, is among seventeen other communities that received an award out of a total pool of 589 applicants.
The biochar project addresses sanitation as the most critical opportunity to improve public health in the village. Residential homes in Kivalina lack toilets and running water, and people use honey buckets (paint buckets lined with plastic trash bags and covered with portable seats) to store and haul human waste. Located on a barrier island, Kivalina is highly susceptible to erosion and the impacts of climate change. Plans to relocate the village have limited investment in basic water and sewer services.
Kivalina Tribal and City Councils are partnering with the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to co-design a pilot project to address these issues. The project will include designs for community-scale waste management systems, dry toilets, and a biochar reactor that converts human solid waste into charcoal and substrate for fertilizer.
“This world will never run short of compassionate people who see the through their hearts the communities that struggle for what everyone sees as the simple things in life and for that, we are grateful,” said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina City Administrator. “While governments wait for some communities to relocate and refuse to fund projects because of that, others move forward to address little things that would make living conditions in rural communities better, and improve health and wellness.”
Stanley Hawley, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Kivalina, recognized that “[g]aining international attention to Kivalina’s human waste issue is no small feat. The Re-Locate Project deserves the highest credit for this achievement because historically, the village, regional, and State’s efforts to address the sanitation issues have become hampered by policy that restricts investment in communities with aspirations to move, resulting in high rates of infection from untreated sewage and solid waste. Although still in the planning stages, addressing the human waste issue in our village can finally realize some gains with this new development. We are thankful for the time, work and dedication that the Re-Locate Project put into addressing our village issues, and will extend our hand to the new partners.”
Partners will improve upon, engineer, and adapt Biochar Reactor technology developed for sub-Saharan Africa by the Climate Foundation to Arctic conditions. These reactors process human waste into energy, biochar briquettes, and useful raw materials. Biochar is free of biological pathogens and may help reduce the rates of communicable disease in villages currently using honey buckets. A winner of the Gates Foundation dry toilet challenge, the Climate Foundation will work with Kivalina leaders and Re-Locate to apply its success at developing innovative waste management technology around the world to benefit Kivalina and other Arctic village communities.
Other benefits include the entrepreneurial potential for biochar to be sold in the region and the system’s resilience to climate change. “Biochar reactors require no underground pipes, generate their own energy as a byproduct, and are easily transportable by shipping container to possible future village sites being planned in response to the impacts of climate change on Kivalina,” said Dr. Brian von Herzen, physicist, inventor, and founder of the Climate Foundation, a nonprofit with offices in Oregon and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Re-Locate, a transdisciplinary and global collective, will continue working with Kivalina’s City and Tribal Councils on this project, which it initiated two years ago. The collective is collaborating with Kivalina to support village relocation away from the threats of climate change. Re-Locate projects locate, make visible, and bring action to the political, social, and environmental issues underlying relocation. It will use the award to coordinate efforts to co-design the new waste management system with leaders and residents in Kivalina, government agencies, and expert consultants across the state of Alaska and around the world. International collaborators include Dr. Guenter Langergraber, who heads the Institute of Sanitary Engineering and Water Pollution Control at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.
“Local relationships, roles, and responsibilities are critical to understand, visualize, and integrate into the design of any new waste management plan,” said Michael Gerace, founder and chief curator of Re-Locate. “Biochar systems and dry toilets play an important role, but the success of the technology depends on its effective integration with and support of the autonomously functioning practices that are operating in the village already.”
The Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), composed of the highest-level environmental authorities from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, funded $1.2 million in grants under CEC’s North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action program to address environmental problems at the local level.
Read more about the award here.
Faith Groups Support Youth Appellants’ Federal Climate Change Case
Washington, D.C. – Today, Three Degrees Warmer, a climate justice project based in Washington State, helped six faith-based groups file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to support young people suing the federal government for not acting to reverse climate change. Late last month, attorneys for five youth appellants and two non-profits filed their opening brief in the D.C. Circuit court arguing that they have a constitutional right to the benefits of a protected atmosphere and a safe climate system.
As relief, the youth appellants seek a comprehensive federal Climate Recovery Plan, which would reduce U.S. emissions based on the prescription that Dr. James Hansen and other leading international climate scientists say will restore our atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm) by the end of the century.
The youths’ lawsuit was filed with the help of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based non-profit orchestrating a game-changing, youth-driven legal campaign in the United States and across the world. The case relies upon the long-established principle of the public trust doctrine, which requires all branches of government to protect and maintain certain commonly shared resources fundamental for human health and survival.
The faith groups are six diverse organizations: Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, Interfaith Power and Light, The Green Zionist Alliance, The Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community Leadership Team and The Sisters of Mercy Northeast Justice Council, all of which serve vulnerable communities across the United States and call for moral action to reverse climate change.
“These groups offer a unique perspective to the Court grounded in moral values common to faith traditions from around the world,” said Jen Marlow, Director of Three Degrees Warmer. “In order for the U.S. government to meet its human rights obligations in a warming world, the government has a legal and moral obligation to protect the atmosphere.”
In advocating for the D.C. Circuit to rule in favor of the youth, the faith groups write to the court:
“[T]hat the greater impacts of the Court’s decision will fall most heavily upon the members of our society who, for social, economic, political, environmental, and cultural reasons are the most disadvantaged by climate threats and whose human rights to life, health, and property are most at risk from climate change should the Court determine the U.S. Constitution does not require protection of the atmosphere or that the atmosphere is outside the scope of the public trust.”
They cite numerous provisions of international human rights law to show that a healthy atmosphere is a “prerequisite for protecting human rights,” emphasizing that the young and vulnerable populations will be hurt most by the U.S. government’s failure to act urgently to reduce carbon emissions.
“The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines underscores our support for this brief,” said Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, an order of nearly 4,000 women religious in the U.S., Philippines, Guam, the Caribbean and Central and South America. “We hear the cries of those most impacted by climate change around the world, and are compelled to respond out of Catholic teachings on the dignity of life and our deep commitment to Earth and to persons who are poor and vulnerable, especially women and children.”
This amicus curiae brief is one of seven briefs filed today, on behalf of youth. The faith groups are joined by leading climate scientists, law scholars, national security experts, government leaders, NGOs, and amici representing native communities.
Three Degrees is partnering with the Re-Locate Project, an international group of partners working with Kivalina to support a culturally specific and community-led relocation process.
Together with the city and tribal councils, the people of Kivalina, and representatives from related agencies, Re-Locate is producing online and site-specific projects that: make the social, political, and environmental issues related to relocation visible to global audiences; support community discussion and consensus building; locate, connect and educate new relocation partners; create spaces where people in Kivalina can share original media and ideas about local identities and ways of life; and develop an infrastructure for managing global support and pursuing relocation planning opportunities.
Last summer, at the invitation of people in Kivalina, Anchorage-based artist and architect Michael Gerace brought fourteen international researchers and artists to visit Kivalina for a 10-day work camp last August to build solidarity and opportunities for listening and ongoing engagement. The camp, which identified relocation as an impetus to study and affect the most pressing humanitarian and architectural issues in the state of Alaska, was co-produced by the Alaska Design Forum with initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and other partners. Invited collaborators represented several universities, including the University of California Santa Cruz, California College of the Arts, and the University of Washington.
Results included the launch of two information-sharing websites: 1) kvak.tv, a site hosting youth-made films about day-to-day life in Kivalina, 2) and relocate-ak.org; as well as an upcoming launch of a third site specifically designed to provide context for people from Kivalina to share ideas about social justice, planning, governance, and locality. Re-Locate also taught two university-supported relocation education workshops in London and Vienna.
This past July marked the second in a series of Re-Locate Project camps in Kivalina. Participants represented universities including the [applied] Foreign Affairs Laboratory, University of Applied Arts Vienna; the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London; and the University of Washington. Alaska Pacific University hosted the camp’s culminating Project Review on July 30, 2012, with the Kivalina city and tribal councils in attendance.
Results of Camp II include visualizations of Kivalina’s multiple water economies, spatial maps of 40 interviews with state and federal agencies and Kivalina delegates of the social and political processes influencing relocation, and an architectural concept of a new ReLocation Center building in Kivalina.
Three Degrees Warmer initiated its partnership with Re-Locate last year, and is helping support both on- and off-site project initiatives. Visit Re-Locate to learn more.