What Happens When a Youth Climate Group Sues the US Government?

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session, opened the 2019 UN Climate Conference. She led by saying that youth all around the world are mobilizing to stop climate change, emphasizing the phrase “There is no Planet B”. She warned the attendees that in 11 years, the effects of climate change on our planet will be irreversible.

Four years prior, 21 youth and organizational Earth Plaintiffs from Our Children’s Trust filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government. Juliana vs. United States is a climate lawsuit which professes that, due to the government’s affirmative actions which cause climate change, they are denying future generation’s their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. By denying youth of a “climate system capable of sustaining human life,” the Juliana Plaintiffs argue that the government is complicit in infringing on those rights. If the planet is unhealthy, how can people have a life that includes those things? Climate change threatens the safety of the planet and will evidently impede on the opportunities, health, and lives of youth, both now and in the future. Many people felt that the complaint was a long shot, but radical asks lead to radical change.

The case has proceeded for 5+ years as of March 2021! The fossil fuel industry initially joined the government as defendants, seeking to have the case dismissed. Eight months after those motions to dismiss were filed, the fossil fuel industry was released as defendants, and the initial trial date was set for February 5th, 2018.

Two months before the originally scheduled trial date, the court heard oral arguments from the plaintiffs and defendants. The trial was pushed to October 29, 2018. In July of that same year, Judge Ann Aiken heard oral arguments, with supporters of the plaintiffs packing the courtroom and three overflow rooms in the Eugene, Oregon courthouse. Over the next few months, the U.S. government would file multiple appeals for stay, attempting to put a hold on the trial proceedings.

The Trial Proceeds

On October 29th, 2018, the date of the trial, thousands of people packed courtrooms around the nation to stand in solidarity with the plaintiffs!

Zero Hour, a youth-led climate organization, set up www.joinjuliana.org in February 2019 as a means for helping youth show their support for the movement. The website helped thousands of young people put their names on a “friend of the court” briefing to support the Juliana Plaintiffs. Later, in June of that same year (2019), Julia Olsen argued at the injunction hearings on behalf of the plaintiffs, and Attorney General Jeffrey Clark argued on behalf of the federal government. The three judges who heard the injunction were Mary H. Murguia and Andrew D. Hurwitz of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Josephine L. Staton of District Court for the Central District of California.

Six months later on January 17, 2020, a divided ruling was made by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While all of the judges agreed and recognized that the government is violating the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs, 2 of the three judges suggested that the requested remedies should be addressed in legislative or executive branches rather than the Judicial courts. They said that the courts just don't have the power to mandate climate policy under the constitution. The Juliana Plaintiffs ask would require restructuring of the U.S. energy policies and sources among many other large scale changes to the nation’s economy and laws,

The Power of Dissent

Judge Josephine L. Staton was the lone dissenter. Her powerful statement begs the question “Where is the hope in today’s decision?”. Staton stated, “Plaintiffs bring suit to enforce the most basic structural principle embedded in our system of ordered liberty: that the Constitution does not condone the Nation’s willful destruction.” Staton further emphasized the importance of immediate intervention, but her attempt didn’t prevail, and Juliana vs. United States took a loss.

The Juliana Plaintiffs pressed forward, having appealed for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to assemble a new panel of 11 judges to review the ruling, upholding it in the end. Still, the plaintiffs persevere, and as of March 2021, we await a ruling from Judge Ann Aiken on the Juliana Plaintiff’s request to amend their complaint.

Judge Staton’s dissent provides some optimism. There ARE public officials who believe in the severity of climate change. There are people who recognize the massive undertaking, sacrifices, and immense changes that have to unfold if we want to preserve the health of the planet. There are activists willing to participate in long, drawn out, legal proceedings, putting the best interest of the planet and people at the forefront of their fight. People are willing to mobilize and unify for the greater good, and Juliana vs. United States continues to prove that.

Sharks are Restoring Habitats

In 2011, a heatwave along Australia’s western coast in destroyed many of the region’s seagrass meadows. While recovery of the marine ecosystem has been slow, scientists have discovered that tiger sharks are aiding in the regrowth of seagrass beds by scaring off grazers such as dugongs.

The creatures who graze these treasured seabeds include sea cows, turtles, crustaceans, and other commercially valuable fish. When sharks were not around to control and scare away these populations in the study, these grazers over-grazed and the seagrass failed to recover and grow back. 

Seagrass: Beauty and Brains

While the study further emphasized the importance of top predators to various marine ecosystems, it also highlighted the crucial role that seagrass plays, too. When growing tall, the grass provides shelter and food to the marine life around. 

And marine life isn't all that benefit from this incredible ecosystem: seagrass even pulls carbon dioxide from the surrounding waters- known as blue carbon- storing up to 1,000 metric tons of carbon per hectare and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and climate change much like tropical forests.

One species of seagrass has even been shown to trap and remove plastic waste from the ocean floor. WHAT!  

Climate Change Bites

The heatwave which brought abnormally warm water into the bay was recorded to be 3.6 to 7.2 degrees F above average temperatures- this is A LOT. And unfortunately, this extreme temperature is expected to only become more common as climate change raveges on. 

While these ecosystems are working their hardest to adapt to the harm that humans activities are inflicting upon them, not all can fast enough. In fact, shark and ray populations have dropped an estimated 71% over the past half century due to overfishing. And meanwhile, studies like this one continue to confirm the importance of healthy predator populations and to maintain and conserve ecosystems. 

So where does this leave our oceans? Our activities as humans are clearly negatively impacting its systems and marine populations. It's growing even more imperative that we alter our actions before it is too late.

 

New Documentary Exposes Wildlife Killing Contests

If you have never heard of wildlife killing contests, they are just as bad as they sound. These ‘contests’ are privately organized events that hunters participate in with a goal of killing the most animals or the largest ones in a given area in a specified period of time. The particular animals that are targeted are dependent on the rules of the particular contest, however usually predator species are targeted like foxes, bobcats, pumas and coyotes. The predators being stalked for slaughter can be lured by distress calls and the promise of food, lacking fair chase principles. The prize for ‘winning’ ranges from cash to hunting equipment. Terrible…..so these must be going away, right? Unfortunately, wrong.

While these competitions have been happening for about 20 years now, in the past 5 to 10 years they have picked up immensely. Texas alone has more than 600 wildlife killing contests in the state. Considering that a single competition can result in more than 1,000 animal deaths within the span of a single night, the loss is immeasurable and completely devastating to even think about. How could these possibly be legal, you ask? The narrative that is used to justify and keep these contests going is centered around population control and the protection of livestock. 

Calling B.S. on Motives

There are many reasons this particular narrative is B.S:

1. There is still no concrete data to support the thought that there are systemic issues with natural predatory killing of livestock. This has only been shown with occasional, one-off cases that usually are tied to open grazing and letting livestock graze outside of their property.

2. Studies cited by Texas Parks & Wildlife show that general predator removal with no planned management objective is not an effective or safe way to control predators or reduce livestock predation. In other words, taking out huge numbers of predators for a contest with no means to implement any management after does not work. 

3. This reckless killing can actually make livestock kills worse. For example if you kill an alpha in a wolf pack that is the expert hunter of larger bull elk, the other wolfs and yearlings may not be able to take down elk on their own, so they then turn to livestock as a result.

4. Even normal hunters are against these contests as they A) negatively shift the public perception of hunting, casting a large shadow over the practice in general and B) believe it diminishes their ability to hunt with any kind of ethical standards.

We don’t need any more points to prove that these contests are horrific, without merit, and a disgusting excuse for those with a bravado complex to project their insecurities via a power trip over these defenseless animals. 

Colorado Man gets Lifetime Ban

Here's some good news. Recently, a 28-year-old Colorado Springs man will likely never legally hunt again in 48 states after going on a poaching spree in several Colorado counties. Because Colorado is a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, he was charged with poaching charges in 2019 and illegal possession of a bighorn sheep in February of 2020. He also pleaded guilty to illegal possession of three or more big game animals, according to CPW. He was fined $4,600 and sentenced to six months in jail with three years of supervised probation. He was also forced to surrender the weapons he used for poaching. One less a***hole out there hunting, at least.

Here is the trailer to the documentary that is bringing awareness to these events.  TRIGGER WARNING as there are graphic images in the trailer:

 

 

The True Cost of Fossil Fuels

When we talk about the transition to renewable energy from fossil fuels, the question of cost-benefit analysis is often brought up and pointed to as an argument. In these cases, people are often comparing the costs incurred by producing electricity from renewables, vs. fossil fuels. The problem is however, the costs that are often used in this calculation do not take into account externalized costs, or ‘externalities’. Externalities are essentially hidden costs in the form of side effects or consequences that are not represented in the market price of the goods or services, despite the impacts to our health and environment.

In this case, the externalities of the fossil fuel industry range from pollution, land degradation, to cancer and asthma. Some are easier to see, and some are not, however all are real costs that are not accounted for when talking about the true cost of fossil fuels.

Renewable Math

The true cost of climate damage is insurmountable because some of the effects are irreversible and many others will be felt for years and years after.

To understand this concept it’s important to understand just how much the costs of climate damages impact us as a society. At every point of the fossil fuel supply chain, costs are incurred. During the extraction process, air and water pollution are generated, harming local communities and burdening them with related medical bills. The transportation of fuels deploys air pollution, sometimes resulting in serious spills and accidents. As the fuels are burned, toxins and greenhouse gases are emitted, contributing to the further pollution of the process. And after all of that, the waste products that are produced as a result are extremely hazardous to public health and the environment.

And those are just the short term effects. When considering the long term effects, one must examine the true consequences of pollution, water contamination and sea-level rise. Think increased extreme weather like longer hurricane seasons, increased devastating wildfires (which result in insane physical damage + smoke pollution), coastal city displacement as a result of sea level increases, ect. Those are just to name a few- each one incurring millions and millions of dollars in costs.

So the question becomes when looking at a switch to renewable energy, or something like Biden’s $2 Trillion Renewable Energy Plan, what is more expensive? The answer is we can’t afford to NOT switch to renewable energy, plain and simple. Addressing the issues now and occurring those costs preemptively will be much lower in cost than if we continue to watch the effects of climate damage from these externalities. 

Donut Economics

The world of offsets and cost benefit analysis is no doubt continuing to develop and shift as we progress as a society. Doughnut Economics by economist Kate Raworth is a must read for this particular subject.

It’s a wake-up call to transform our capitalist worldview obsessed with growth into a more balanced, sustainable perspective that allows both humans and our planet to thrive. Kate suggests an update to 21st century economics, which accounts not just for our well-being and prosperity, but for that of our planet as well. Here is a summary of her ideas in 3 lessons: 

-Our economy isn’t a closed market system

-To cover both our, as well as our planet’s needs, we can think of economics as a donut

-The first step to actually turning our economy into a circle is focusing on reusability

For anyone interested in economics, people or the planet, we definitely recommend this book and welcome its ideas at how we can shift economics to better account for the thing that we must always always keep in mind: the planet.

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