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.
Three Degrees is presenting a talk at Humboldt State University’s Spring 2013 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Jen Marlow will speak on Thursday, May 2, from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building room 166 (BSS 166) on the HSU campus. The title of her talk is “Climate Change and Human Rights: Justice Beyond Law.”
Jen will also be collaborating with Dr. Laurie Richmond during her visit to teach a scenario planning workshop and will be participating in a colloquium with students from the Environment & Community Graduate Program.
The series is co-organized by the Schatz Energy Research Center and the Environment & Community Graduate Program. For more information, see here.
The American Society of International Law awarded Jen Marlow a Helton Fellowship in international law and human rights. The Fellowship honors Arthur Helton—an advocate for refugees and the internally displaced who was killed in the August 2003 bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad.
Helton Fellowships provide financial assistance in the form of “micro-grants” for law students and young professionals to pursue field work and research on significant issues involving international law, human rights, humanitarian affairs, and related areas.
Jen will use her fellowship to research community-led relocation in the South Pacific.
Three Degrees is excited to announce a partnership with Facing Climate Change, a project of multimedia artists Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.
Facing Climate Change just released a series of four, five-minute films that tell the story of global climate change through local people living in the Northwest. The films feature oyster growers, potato farmers, and Northwest tribes, revealing changing landscapes and plans for adapting to future change. Facing Climate Change paired the films with short summaries by Jen Marlow.
Watch the films here.