Trial of the Century, No Oral Arguments

During the Vietnam war, teenagers facing the draft were fighting for the right to vote. This week, teenagers some of whom are still too young to vote, fight for the right to a habitable future here on Earth, not too young to sue the federal government in court for a plan to protect nature and all generations to come. Their case is now being decided in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

These young whippersnappers argue that it must be against the law for one generation to mess things up so badly that their own children inherit a planet beyond repair. They demand the EPA give us a plan to restore a livable world this century, based on our best science. On our current path with no plan, the teens argue we will race past irreversible pollution thresholds soon.

This week judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals cancelled the oral proceedings originally scheduled for today May 2nd, 2014. One year prior, a judge dismissed the case with the suggestion that young people and the EPA should work together as a team to solve the climate crisis. The three appellate judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. apparently have enough information to decide the case and don’t need to hear oral arguments from teenagers.

We only hope that the three judges listen to reason more than they listen to the National Manufacturers’ Association who joined as a “Friend of the Court” to help our EPA. How generous of our nation’s manufacturers to stand up in court on the side of EPA.

In oral arguments, now cancelled, the judges might have asked the NMA & the EPA fighting together on the same side in court, ‘how did you two sworn enemies decide to team up against a bunch of children?’ And they might have asked the young plaintiffs, ‘how much fresh air do you future people want?’

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of clean air!” 

Is livable Earth a basic right for our children? Yes or no? Corporations buy sell and pollute our common resources today; and yet, in philosophical, legal, and moral codes throughout history, the Air Water and Land exist for all into the future.


In U.S. law, the Public Trust Doctrine establishes the duty of the government to protect the natural resources that are essential for our collective survival and prosperity. These resources -rivers, groundwater, the seashore and in this case, the atmosphere- cannot be privatized or substantially impaired because they belong to everyone equally, even to those not yet born.”  from Our Children’s Trust website

Children are set to inherit a mess so big, so uncontrollably impossible to deal with, that they cannot wait to act, because before they are grown, it will be too late to clean up. As one young person said, “My entire generation has been traumatized by something that hasn’t happened yet,” something adults still prefer not to talk about.

If we grownups are stealing the future from our children, well, isn’t that just the cost of doing business? One might argue, how else are we supposed to put our kids through college? How else will they get good-paying jobs, buy nice cars and pay for vacations with their own kids?

Poisoning the land, water, and air was never OK, no matter the reason, no matter how much we pretend otherwise. And when someone makes a mess, under most laws, that someone has to clean it up. Do we have a plan to clean this up?

The Remedy

“When a person opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution.” -Exodus 21:33-34

While our EPA looks at power-plant emissions, our wealthy, educated, powerful, polluting nation has big plans to export more coal oil and gas. “Energy independence” based on burning more fossil fuels exposes our #1 national security failure, “a weapon of mass destruction” according to Secretary of State Kerry, more certain and deadly than terrorism, like a slow-release time bomb left behind for future generations, a parting gift from mom and dad.

How exactly will we fix this for our children? We’ve been digging pits all over the planet, pits we can never fill, digging up ancient stored carbon and releasing so much of it into the air, our air itself has now become the pit. While future generations silently pray for us to stop, we dig faster. So now, in a role reversal, the youngest generation sues the grownups to force us to quickly clean up our mess. The remedy our young people require from the EPA is a plan that puts us back on course to a habitable world.

Dr. James Hansen, working with a team of scientists, calculated the required annual CO2 emission reductions, coupled with massive reforestation to absorb excess CO2, so that we return the planet to a safer CO2 level in this century avoiding the most dangerous climate impacts. Starting now, 6% per year CO2 reductions along with planting more than 1 trillion new trees will restore balance and limit global temperatures to an additional 0.5C , to protect this generation and nature in posterity.

That’s what the youth sue for, a plan to save the world in their lifetimes.

The good news? Our judges must have enough information to decide this case based on the compelling written arguments submitted. Attorneys for E.P.A. and “Friend of the court” National Manufacturers’ Association, vs. the plaintiffs, Alec Loorz and the legal team from Our Children’s Trust representing young people, future generations, and nature. Cancelling the proceedings blocks the youth plaintiffs from facing off with our judicial system, but this verdict won’t be changed by testimony. As Dr. James Hansen writes in his blog this week,

“Regardless of the outcome of this specific trial, if we continue to improve the presentation and
press for the rights of young people, their case will be won eventually. However, it is important
that “eventually” be sooner rather than later.”

We have to act fast. For young people today, waiting too long leaves humanity on the hook, but unable to get out of the hole we’re digging with the future of the world in the balance. Kathleen Dean Moore calls this the Hinge Decade, “Put a nail in this decade and all life on Earth up until now balances with all to come. It all hinges on what we humans do (or don’t do) during the next few years.” Climate scientists warned us to avoid the worst consequences of our pollution just in time, if we choose to act, the remarkable, unbearable passion of this moment. Once we stop burning fuels, excess CO2 now suspended in the air will warm Earth for another 30 years or so before it slowly settles over millenia, or triggers runaway climate feedbacks that warm up Earth without our input.

Long story short, we’ve got work to do to protect life and no time to waste. If three judges decide for young people,  we have a better chance of changing course in time, but we can’t afford to wait for the courts to act. Carbon corporations aren’t waiting. They accelerated mining and drilling each year, trillions of dollars in product still buried underground for paying customers like you and me who turn fossils into fortunes.

So what can we do now to make a real difference?

  • Divest of all fossil fuels.
  • Consume less. Get your family carbon footprint way down.
  • Dream bigger.
  • Speak up everyday. Tell officials, businesses, and utilities to champion protections for our children.
  • Organize. We need overwhelming people power. Volunteer to build a stronger movement.
  • Learn more.

4 thoughts on “Trial of the Century, No Oral Arguments

  1. It is our moral responsibility to provide to our children and future children of humanity the environmentally best planet that that our current level of science awareness permits. WE MUST ACT IMMEDIATELY TO MITIGATE AND REVERSE OUR GLOBAL CLIMATE CRISIS FOR ALL MANKIND.

  2. It is necessary to keep the poor from starving and being deprived of the life saving benefits of abundant, cheap electricity. This means exploiting our vast fossil fuel reserves. Our the children who claim they know what they want in reductions of carbon dioxide output aware of sacrifices needed?

    1. Fossil fuels no longer keep the poor from starving or save their lives, if dirty fuels ever did. We have reached a day when filthy electricity can benefit one life and condemn all life after to poverty, to illness, to hunger and even to extinction. The “starving and being deprived” is exactly what gets worse the more carbon we release into the sky.

      Are we more concerned about coal miners or their kids? Or about the billions living on less than $1 a day? What does our abundant cheap dirty electric power do for the world’s poor? Acidify their oceans and wipe out fisheries? Asthma epidemics in the poorest countries and neighborhoods? Would you choose coal oil and gas over your grandchildren living on an abundant verdant planet?

      The truth is, we can help the coal miner and her kids, if we make an abrupt bold transition to clean power and conservation. But wasteful consumptive habits have grown beyond the planet’s capacity.

      From Kathleen Dean Moore,
      I love what Carl Safina, who writes about the ocean, says in Moral Ground: “We think we don’t want to sacrifice, but sacrifice is exactly what we are doing. . . . We’re sacrificing what is big and permanent to prolong what is small, temporary, and harmful. We’re sacrificing animals, peace, and children to retain wastefulness.” So many of us wake up in the morning and eat a breakfast of food we don’t believe in and then drive a car we don’t believe in to a job we don’t believe in. We do things that we know are wrong, day after day, just because that’s the way the system is set up, and we think we have no choice. It’s soul-devouring. – Kathleen Dean Moore in The Sun, “If Your House Is On Fire”

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