Citizen Action Monitor

James Hansen raps US government for failing to protect young people from climate change threat

Executive and legislative branches of government too concerned with short-term politics

But an upcoming court hearing could be a turning point for young people

No 1036 Posted by fw, April 20, 2014

James Hansen

James Hansen

“A U.S. District Court earlier ruled against young people, in essence saying that the young people had not shown a Constitutional basis by which the Court could require the U.S. government to deliver a plan defining how it would reduce emissions consistent with what science shows is necessary to stabilize climate.  Young people had filed their case based on the “trust” concept, the argument that the present generation has a fiducial responsibility to deliver a safe atmosphere and climate to the next generation.  The “trust” concept is well established in law and American history, as Thomas Jefferson, a farmer, argued that his generation must not deplete the soil, but rather must leave it in equally fertile condition for the next generation.  However, our current Administration argued against the young people, saying that it had established the Environmental Protection Agency, and thus had sufficiently carried out its duties.  Industrial polluters joined the federal government in court, arguing against the case filed by the young people…. The situation is crystal clear.  The climate threat is undeniable.  Yet the executive and legislative branches of government, concerned with short-term politics, are failing to protect young people.”James Hansen

But as Hansen convincingly argues in the following short piece, an upcoming court hearing could be a turning point for young people. Unfortunately, US courts are too often tools of powerful political and corporate elites, pandering to their interests first and the public’s last.

Young People’s Day in Court by James Hansen, April 14, 2014

May 2 could be an historic day, as young people have their day in court, at 9:30 AM in the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. [This is an influential court, arguably the most important court beneath the Supreme Court. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Court_of_Appeals_for_the_District_of_Columbia_Circuit]. This concerns the legal case that young people have filed against the United States federal government, the case for which the paper Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reductions of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature provides the scientific basis.

A U.S. District Court earlier ruled against young people, in essence saying that the young people had not shown a Constitutional basis by which the Court could require the U.S. government to deliver a plan defining how it would reduce emissions consistent with what science shows is necessary to stabilize climate.  Young people had filed their case based on the “trust” concept, the argument that the present generation has a fiducial responsibility to deliver a safe atmosphere and climate to the next generation.  The “trust” concept is well established in law and American history, as Thomas Jefferson, a farmer, argued that his generation must not deplete the soil, but rather must leave it in equally fertile condition for the next generation.  However, our current Administration argued against the young people, saying that it had established the Environmental Protection Agency, and thus had sufficiently carried out its duties.  Industrial polluters joined the federal government in court, arguing against the case filed by the young people.

In my opinion, the Court’s initial ruling was for the best, because it forces attention upon our most fundamental rights.  Our Constitutions purpose to “provide the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…” implies obligations to the young and the unborn.  Our nation was founded on the “self-evident” concept that all people have equal rights.  The Constitution assures that all people, including young people, will receive “equal protection of the laws” and that no one can be deprived of property without “due process” of law.  Furthermore, this focus on fundamental rights has global relevance because of substantial commonality of our Constitution with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In an amicus brief that I filed with 10 of my colleagues we point out that the claim by the United States government that climate change presents “the possibility of some remote future injury” evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the climate threat.  Our brief makes clear that atmospheric CO2 today is already in the dangerous zone, and the government should present a plan to reduce fossil fuel emissions and increase carbon uptake by the land and biosphere at rates required to reduce atmospheric CO2 this century to at most 350 ppm.

The situation is crystal clear.  The climate threat is undeniable.  Yet the executive and legislative branches of government, concerned with short-term politics, are failing to protect young people.

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