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Suing over climate change

November 8, 2018

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the federal government’s attempt to squelch a lawsuit brought by 21 young people seeking to force the government to take action against climate change.  Here are some interesting tidbits about the litigation:

– It was filed when Barack Obama was still President.

– The lawsuit is based in part on what the plaintiffs say is their constitutional right to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.”

– In seeking a delay of the trial, the government argued that the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries “stem from the cumulative effects of CO2 emissions from every source in the world over decades; whatever additions to the global atmosphere that could somehow be attributed to the government over the time it takes to resolve the pending petition are plainly de minimis.” In response, the plaintiffs maintained that “such a rationale is antithetical to our nation’s values and the purposes of government,” the equivalent, the plaintiffs posited, of letting children stay in dangerous foster homes on the theory that they had lived there for years.

– The government also argued that plaintiffs could not show the sort of direct and particular injury that would give them standing to sue, since their claimed injuries, “all involve the diffuse effects of a generalized phenomenon on a global scale that are the same as those felt by any other person in their communities, in the United States, or throughout the world at large.” The plaintiffs responded that “When a child suffers climate-induced flooding where the child sleeps, increased incidence of asthma attacks from climate-induced wildfire and smoke conditions in areas where the child exercises, dead coral reefs due to overly warm oceans where the child swims, and storm surges and rising seas perpetually attacking the barrier island where the child lives so that the child now routinely evacuates and experiences flooding in the child’s roads, home and school, those injuries are hardly generalized grievances.”

– Justices Thomas and Gorsuch would have granted the administration’s request to block the trial until the Supreme Court had an opportunity to consider the case.

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