This September, millions of people across the world will walk out of their jobs, classrooms and homes to join in the annual Global Youth Climate Strike. On Friday, September 20 and 27, participants in more than 150 countries will disrupt their daily routines to speak out against the coal, oil, and gas industry with a goal to demand an end to the use of fossil fuels. More information on how to organize a climate strike and strike event locations can be found on the Global Climate Strike website. <Read More>
Our use of fossil fuels is driving carbon dioxide levels higher and accelerating global warming. However, most of the impacts from our overuse of coal and oil fall on people who haven’t yet been born, much less had the chance to contribute significantly to climate change. Should future generations be able to sue over global warming? According to several courts in the United States, the answer is yes.
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In mid-April, twenty-one young people received the go-ahead from an Oregon judge that their lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to act on climate change could proceed. The plaintiffs, between ages 8 and 19, alleged that the federal government, by failing to act on climate change and continuing our pattern of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, has caused harm to today and tomorrow’s youth, and violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Previous climate-related lawsuits have focused mainly on violations to specific environmental laws, and this was the first to focus purely on constitutional rights. The federal government and the fossil fuel industry moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
In Washington State, young people recently won a major victory against climate change. A group of eight children filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Ecology department for endangering their rights by not taking strict measures against climate change. The court ruled that the state must create rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2016, fulfilling their responsibility to protect air quality for future generations. Late in May, a group of four young people in Massachusetts won a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to set stronger regulations against greenhouse gases. These groups, as well as the students in Oregon, were represented by the non-profit group Our Children’s Trust. This group also has pending cases in North Carolina and Colorado, and is engaged in international work.
According to experts on climate change, future generations will bear the brunt of global warming impacts. This week, Dr. Frederica Perera of Columbia University penned an op-ed for Environmental Health News about why our climate change policies should focus on children. While adults do suffer illness and death as a result of fossil fuel pollution, children’s health and development suffer profoundly from our lack of regulation. “While air pollution and the adverse health impacts of climate change affect us all,” Perera writes, “they are most damaging to children, especially the developing fetus and young child and particularly those of low socioeconomic status, who often have the greatest exposure and the least amount of protection.” Perera also published an article in Environmental Health Perspectives on our moral obligation to protect our most vulnerable population – children – from climate change.
As the lawsuits in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington demonstrate, youth activists and climate change organizations are prepared to tackle this issue head-on, and in at least a few cases, the courts are prepared to listen. We can only hope that robust regulations will follow on the heels of legal victories, so that today’s children are the last generation of young people to have to sue for protection from climate change. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for generations to come are dependent on our ability to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and our emission of greenhouse gases – and as these lawsuits prove, we cannot wait any longer.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Recently, it seems that every month or so there is a new story that shows another way that ExxonMobil has worked to hide the truth behind the highly destructive effects of climate change. This past month was no different, as the Guardian released a report that links Exxon to the elimination of an important congressional lecture series on climate science in 2001, just days after the inauguration of George W. Bush.
While this story is troubling, as it prevented members of Congress from hearing about the emerging science of climate change at a very important time, it is just one incident that has come to light in recent months showing how Exxon has sheltered the truth behind climate change decades earlier. According to an investigation by InsideClimate News, the oil company has known that the burning of fossil fuels results in a rise in the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere as early as 1977, which is over a decade before climate change ever became a public issue. The company actually played active role in discovering the phenomenon by employing top scientists to develop climate models based off of original research. Exxon’s top scientist even delivered a speech to executives introducing the science and warning that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” Yet, almost 40 years later, humans are beginning to experience the effects of climate change and still very little has been done, thanks to Exxon’s sheltering of the truth.
Not only has Exxon prevented the public from discovering the potentially catastrophic future that climate change poses, but they have also contributed to spreading of skepticism of climate science among the general public. Much like the tobacco industry promoted misinformation regarding the health risks of smoking, Exxon has spent more than $30 million on organizations promoting climate denial. They have even utilized the same consultants that worked with the tobacco industry decades earlier to develop a communications strategy. A memo from the fossil fuel industry, found by the Union of Concerned Scientists, sums up the intentions of their campaign perfectly when it stated, “Victory will be achieved when the average person is uncertain about climate science.”
It is sad that Exxon could not act on the troubling evidence provided to them by its own scientists in the 1970s. We would’ve had a chance to get ahead of climate change and start taking the steps necessary to mitigate catastrophic levels of temperature rise. But, it is easy to see why Exxon would hide the truth and promote skepticism of climate science, as any logical response to widespread acceptance of the science by the public and our policymakers would involve major government intervention to slow the burning of fossil fuels, which would most certainly hurt Exxon’s profit. Now that it is clear that Exxon prevented action on mitigating climate change, it is time that they pay their share of the costs that climate change is already inflicting across the world.
By Dylan Lenzen
Just in the last few years, groups of U.S. teenagers have begun filing lawsuits against state and federal governments in an effort to force governments to adequately respond to the threats posed to climate change. Some groups have actually been somewhat successful in doing so. The most monumental of these cases involves 21 children and renowned climate scientist James Hanson who are suing the Obama Administration and other federal agencies in an attempt to force serious action in response to climate change.
This most recent case involving the Obama administration is the result of multiple lawsuits filed by youth in all 50 states since 2011. Some of these cases have actually seen some success. Most recently, in Washington state, a group of 8 teenagers won their case against the Department of Ecology. The King County Supreme Court judge who heard the case did not agree with the teenagers’ argument in entirety, and as a result, did not order the Department of Ecology to draft rules for cutting carbon emissions. With that said the judge did state, “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
The organization that has inspired these recent legal efforts is Our Children’s Trust. Their work has culminated with a lawsuit with the Obama administration. The argument that is made by these young people accuses the federal government of infringing upon the rights of young people. In their own words, “in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” So even though we are already feeling the impacts of climate change today, it is clear that future generations will be most affected by climate injustice.
This effort that seeks to create change through judicial channels as opposed to traditional ones and comes at a very important time. With the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Paris, it will be incredibly important that domestic policies show that the U.S. is adequately responding to threat that the science of climate change has shown. Utilizing the judicial system, the arm of government that appears least effected by the lobbying power of deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests, could prove to be an important step in ensuring domestic action is taken to combat climate change.
Winning this lawsuit against the federal government will not be without challenges. It could take years before the case even reaches the Supreme Court. Even if it does make it to the Supreme Court, it is difficult to say whether five justices will support a decision in support of Our Children’s Trust. In addition, the influence of fossil fuel interests will be difficult to avoid. Most recently, three trade groups, that represent the likes of Exxon Mobile, Koch Industries, and others, have requested to be allowed to join the Obama administration as co-defendants in the case.
Despite these challenges, we can only hope for future generation that our government will take the threat of climate change as a serious matter.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
On April 20th 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven workers and triggering the spill of nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident wreaked massive damage on marine and coastal ecosystems, caused myriad negative health effects in cleanup workers, and gutted the Gulf Coast economy. Five years later, it remains the largest offshore environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Environmental effects from the disaster linger and the debate around offshore drilling for oil continues. Meanwhile, Gulf Coast residents are still writing a story of resilience and recovery in the years following the disaster.
In the immediate aftermath of the spill, water quality was drastically impaired in the Gulf of Mexico. Concentrations of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS) skyrocketed in the waters off the coast of Louisiana, and were also found at elevated levels in the ocean near Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. The spill threatened dozens of marine species with elevated risks of extinction. Residents and cleanup workers experienced health effects from exposure to both the toxic organic compounds that composed the spill, and from the cleanup process itself. Toxic dispersants were used in the cleanup process, causing illnesses that gravely affected cleanup workers.
After five years the acute effects of the spill have passed, but marine species are still dying at accelerated rates and tar balls continue to wash up on the shores as oil that was buried under sand at the time of the spill resurfaces. Researchers have also begun to investigate the possibility of long-term health damage in cleanup workers. As debate surrounding offshore drilling continues, the BP oil spill has added a horrific cautionary tale to the annals of what many hope will be the key to solving our energy crisis. The lingering environmental and health effects from the spill ensure that the BP oil disaster will not soon be forgotten…and thanks to one groundbreaking citizen journalism initiative, neither will the stories of those most closely affected by the disaster.
The Bridge the Gulf Project is a community media project founded in 2010 following the BP disaster. For the past five years, the organization has worked to elevate the voices of Gulf Coast communities as they work to enhance sustainability and social justice. The Project is organized by a network of community leaders, experts and writers, and spotlights stories that are seldom heard in the mainstream media, while providing training and support for those engaged in regional movement-building. Many of the stories center on environmental activism. On April 19th, one blogger wrote of being arrested at BP America’s headquarters; another recent post covers environmental justice mapping initiatives; and last month, one BP spill cleanup worker spoke out about his health issues. However, media featured on the site also cover topics ranging from immigration to racial justice.
In the immediate and long-term wake of environmental disasters, it is often the stories of failure and tragedy that dominate the mainstream media. Bridge the Gulf offers an alternative to this often dehumanizing coverage, elevating the voices of those most responsible for the complex recovery from an environmental accident that intersects with many other social and economic injustices.
To learn more about the Bridge the Gulf project, visit http://bridgethegulfproject.org/about.