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Juliana v. United States (2015-2021)

Photo credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

By Hunter Marion.

In 2015, a group of 21 young people ranging from 8-19 in age filed a lawsuit against the federal government for violating their rights to a safe climate as argued under the “public trust doctrine.” This collection of plaintiffs was represented by the environmental legal firm, Our Children’s Trust, and contained several activists from the youth-focused environmental group, Earth Guardians. Juliana v. the United States became a high-profile, youth-led, legal battle to correct the political mess that contributed to roughly 50-years’ worth of climate change (several of the young plaintiffs even cited it as directly damaging their ways of life).

Although promising, the case was kicked around the court system, eventually getting stuck in legal limbo with the U.S. Supreme Court currently debating on whether to accept it for oral argument. If accepted, this case (and others) could potentially lay the groundwork for novel legal actions to prosecute against entities that contributed to climate change. It could also lead to more thorough punishment of gas and oil companies, set precedent for other environmental lawsuits, and possibly guarantee a constant right to a clean and stable environment.

Some legal scholars have criticized that the points brought up in Juliana were too weak, had too many sources of damage, or could not be given proper resolution within the judicial context. However, many judges involved in reviewing the case pointed out considerable evidence to the contrary. Critics also protest that even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to accept the case, it would not have the power to enact these changes because it is not the rule-making body of government. But this criticism also falls flat when one recognizes that the U.S. Supreme Court has a record of judicial activism or “legislating from the bench” (creating or interpreting their own new laws or constitutional rights without the need for the legislature to create them first), see Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Roe v. Wade (1973), or Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). To put it bluntly, the courts can find the necessary points, damages, and resolutions if they want to.

The key takeaway from Juliana vs. United States is that for those seeking environmental justice, the courts are not a guaranteed pathway to restitution. Even if you or your group brings solid, compelling evidence or has a resounding reputation, that may not be enough to overcome the federal government’s reluctance to address its responsibility (or even culpability) in environmental degradation, climate driven or otherwise. While this approach creates another pressure point on those responsible for climate change, we at CHEJ would put more faith in a grassroots-based, multi-government level-focused strategy that gives us a seat at the table rather than relying upon a team of lawyers and government officials to do it for us.

If you would like to learn more about the case, you can watch the documentary Youth v. Gov now available on Netflix.

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Do We Need A Worldwide Polluters Pay Policy ?

Photo credit: Pixabay, Creative Commons

By Sharon Franklin.

Emily Beament published an article on January 16, 2023, on The Ecologist, a news and analysis website that focuses on environmental, social and economic justice, about a study by Stuart Jenkins. The University of Oxford researcher’s study was on why we need a polluter pays policy. Jenkins said the world dramatically needs to scale-up geological carbon storage and that making fossil fuel firms pay to clean up carbon could help curb climate change.

The study posits that requiring fossil fuel companies to pay for cleaning up their carbon emissions could help curb dangerous global warming at a relatively affordable cost. Its argument is centered around what is already happening in other industries, such as plastic packaging and electrical goods, and in the water sector. This approach holds producers responsible for the waste generated by the products they sell.

Can the World Afford this Approach to Make Polluters Pay?  

Jenkins’ study describes it as a “carbon takeback obligation” and it would help overcome the energy trilemma – the choice between energy security, affordability, and environmental sustainability. He also stated, “Unfortunately when governments are forced to choose, they often forgo that latter obligation” (e.g., environmental sustainability). According to his study, “A carbon takeback obligation provides a simple and predictable regulation ensuring the fossil fuel industry cleans up after its activities and products without government subsidies.” To opponents to this approach who might ask, “But at what cost?” Jenkin’s response is, “It does add to the cost of fossil fuel production, and so it’s not an incentive to continue production by any means.” 

And What About Energy Demands? 

Dr. Hugh Helferty, a former employee at ExxonMobil North America, added to this argument: “It makes sense that the producer and consumer should pay rather than the taxpayer should pay, and that puts the drive to reduce costs in the right place.” He later issued a warning that “a lot of the reaction to current very high fossil fuel prices has been to increase supply not to reduce demand.”

So, What’s Next?  

Professor Myles Allen, from the University of Oxford, also stated that “ending fossil fuel use was going to be hard. We need to start a conversation about how we redirect this colossal amount of money that is currently simply being injected into what we call fossil fuel rents to addressing the climate problem.” Professor Allen went on to state that implementing the obligation could reduce and ultimately prevent further global warming from fossil fuels at an affordable cost.  

This is relative to conventional solutions, because the world spent ~$13 trillion in energy costs last year, mostly on fossil fuels and with a substantial fraction going into “rents” or profits, taxes and royalties.  By 2050, the global economy is expected to double, and the net costs would be less than half of last year’s energy costs as a proportion of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

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8 Strategies to Grow Your Social Engagement

Social engagement
Credit: Rudzhan

By Gregory Kolen II.

When measuring the effectiveness of your social media messaging, engagement through actions such as liking, sharing, and responding indicate a potential for growth and continued interaction. This growth doesn’t just stop at the number as a vanity metric, but can be converted into effective action takers and loyal contributors. There are a number of strategies that a nonprofit organization can use to increase social media engagement. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Create valuable and relevant content: Make sure the content you are sharing on social media is interesting, informative, and relevant to your audience. Share stories and updates about your organization’s mission and the people you serve, as well as tips and resources that your audience might find useful.
  2. Use visuals: Social media is a visual medium, and posts that include images or videos tend to perform better than text-only posts. Consider using photos and videos to showcase the work of your organization and the impact you’re making in the community.
  3. Engage with your audience: Respond to comments and messages, and encourage your followers to share their own stories and experiences. When people feel like they are part of a community, they are more likely to engage with your organization’s social media content.
  4. Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to social media engagement. By posting regularly, your followers will come to expect new content from you, and they’ll be more likely to engage with your posts.
  5. Use social media advertising: Use social media ads to reach new people who are likely to be interested in your organization’s mission. Target your ads to people in your area, or people who have shown an interest in similar organizations or causes.
  6. Collaborate with other non-profit organizations or influencers for cross promotion, this way you can expose your organization to new audiences and vice versa.
  7. Create a sense of urgency and scarcity on some of your posts, by promoting upcoming events, deadlines, or limited-time opportunities.
  8. Consider hosting or sponsoring events that can be promoted on social media, that way you can create buzz and attract new followers.

Keep in mind that social media engagement is not always about the number of followers or likes, but also about the quality of the interactions and the impact that you are able to generate from those interactions. Time to create value for your audience!

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2022 – The Year in Review

Photo credit: Eman Mohammed | Survival Media Agency

By Stephen Lester.

As CHEJ begins its 42nd year in operation, it’s always good to reflect on the previous year. We found that 2022 concluded with incredible success. Our staff, volunteers and, most importantly, our leaders on the frontlines successfully adapted to new ways of organizing and fighting back during a difficult pandemic period. And they continued to win local efforts to stop polluters and protect their families.  

This is all possible because of our donors and supporters. With your support, we were able to provide leadership skills, facilitate strategic action plans, produce scientific analyses and provide the much-needed resources to frontline grassroots communities through our small grants program and community organizing efforts throughout the country. 

With the new administration in Washington, we saw significant new legislation passed by the Biden Administration including the Build Back Better and the Inflation Reduction Acts that offer promise for a better tomorrow. Most notably, the reinstatement of several Superfund polluter pays fees that promise to raise $3.5B for Superfund cleanups as part of the Build Back Better infrastructure legislation. Many Superfund communities across the county celebrated this long-awaited victory, which never would have been possible without the persistent call for action from hundreds of grassroots communities across the country.

CHEJ’s Unequal Response, Unequal Protection campaign continued in 2022 to create a clear, community-driven framework for conducting health investigations that prioritizes public health and gives community leaders the decision-making power to decide how government should respond. After meetings with community leaders and scientists who helped brainstorm an alternative response, we finalized an 8-step process that follows a defined timeline – ensuring that communities get answers in a timely manner.

This past year we also continued our work with grassroots groups in communities like Bristol, TN/VA, Wausau, WI, Houston, TX, Greeley, CO, Seattle, WA, Rostraver, PA, Rensselear, NY, and the Ohio River Valley, OH, all of whom had many accomplishments and expressed the strength and passion to fight against polluters and for environmental justice. Many of their stories are truly inspiring and help to keep us going.

We also continued providing our technical assistance to grassroots organizations in support of local organizing; published our biweekly feature Toxic Tuesday, which provides information on the toxicity of individual chemicals as well as features on the challenges of interpreting toxic effects; conducted 14 diverse and informative Zoom training calls that focused on topics designed to educate and develop skills amongst grassroots leaders. Attendance on these calls increased by over 86% from the previous year. Additionally, CHEJ was delighted to support 48 grassroots organizations with the assistance of our donors and supporters, as part of our Small Grants Program, as we continue to build the base of the Environmental Health and Justice Movement. We look forward to more success in this coming year.