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.
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, 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.
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.