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Earth The Courts

Children Can Now Sue The US Government Over Climate Change (vice.com) 345

"America's children have officially won the right to sue their government over global warming," reports Motherboard. An anonymous reader quotes their article: Thursday, a lawsuit filed by 21 youth plaintiffs was ruled valid by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon. A group of citizens, whose ages range from nine to twenty, charged President Obama, the fossil fuel industry, and other federal agencies with violating their constitutional rights by declining to take action against climate change. "Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it," wrote Judge Aiken in her ruling. [PDF]
Several groups -- including the U.S. government and the American Petroleum Institute -- had asked the judge to throw out the case, but the judge ruled instead that climate change would "threaten plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty," calling man-made climate change an "undisputed" fact. In a related story, Slashdot reader devinp shares a new study which suggests "Global changes in temperature due to human-induced climate change have already impacted every aspect of life on Earth from genes to entire ecosystems, with increasingly unpredictable consequences for humans."
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Children Can Now Sue The US Government Over Climate Change

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  • have to prove damage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @12:40AM (#53274347) Journal
    I would think it would be hard for anyone to prove that they've been damaged by global warming.

    Also, there is the legal principle of sovereign immunity [wikipedia.org]: The King Can do No Wrong. If memory serves, victims of radiation from nuclear tests in Nevada sued the government, and lost based on that principle. If victims of nuclear fallout can't win the case, I can't imagine these people will.

    But anyway the case should be an entertainment. Bring out the popcorn!
    • by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @01:30AM (#53274523)

      Sadly, the government can waive immunity. And then there is the sue&settle technique where an agency partners up with an activist group and together they come up with a plan where the activist group sues the agency, then the agency settles. The settlement then becomes a court order to do or not do something that Congress never would have agreed to.

      • Has that happened before?
      • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @07:16AM (#53275173) Journal
        It's an interesting case. Moreso because the government isn't really "declining to take action against climate change", is it? At least the current administration acknowledges hat AGW is a problem, and they have some policies to address it. The real question is: what should they be doing, and are they doing enough? There was a similar case here in the Netherlands, where an environmental group sued the government and won. In that case the judges simply said: "government must abide by the treaties they signed, including the Kyoto one", noting that the country wasn't meeting the agreed emission goals. But in this case, I don't think a judge could have ordered the government to sign and ratify the treaty in the first place, merely to uphold the agreements therein.

        In this case, what could a judge order the government to do? Reduce emissions by X? Build N wind farms? Sign some treaties? I imagine that a settlement would boil down to whatever gets negotiated between gov't and environmentalists, but... wouldn't it be a funny-as-hell joke on the plaintiffs if a judge ordered the government to fund 20 new nuclear power plants to help meet CO2 reduction goals?

        The Dutch ruling has similar interesting side effects: it turns out there are many other treaties and agreements not being kept, and apparently we can now have the court force the government to respect those treaties. For example, the rule ("recommendation") in the NATO treaty about military spending, and the subsequent 2014 agreement of the "freeloading countries" to increase spending and at least approach the minimum agreed amount. Not quite what those environmentalists were after...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          The real question is: what should they be doing, and are they doing enough?

          They should be mass-producing a standardized nuclear reactor design to replace every coal-fired plant (and then every gas-fired plant). And no, they're not doing enough.

        • wouldn't it be a funny-as-hell joke on the plaintiffs if a judge ordered the government to fund 20 new nuclear power plants to help meet CO2 reduction goals?

          It'd take more than 20, but, no that wouldn't be a funny joke, that would be a great move.

      • The settlement then becomes a court order to do or not do something that Congress never would have agreed to.

        ...but can't they just use their immunity to ignore it? I'm curious how the US constitution holds any weight though if the US government is immune to the courts. They might be able to strike down laws but it seems that if the US government takes an action which is against the constitution there are no legal consequences if they are really immune.

    • in The Netherlands: Guardian article on Dutch lawsuit here [theguardian.com]. So there is some precedent, albeit under a different legal system.
  • I guess I have to go back and read them again.

    I don't remember a constitutional right about climate change.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @12:49AM (#53274377) Journal
      .....rights to life and liberty
      Those are what the judge was referring to.
      • by rwven ( 663186 )

        It's a valid claim if they can prove they've been damaged by climate change/warming/etc. Therein lies the rub.

        • It's a valid claim if they can prove they've been damaged by climate change/warming/etc.

          All it says is a right to life, not the right to a comfortable life. Climate change will cause a lot of upheaval that may damage our quality of life but will not actually kill us.

          • The constitutional phrasing is in fact "life, liberty, or property". So if a judge rules as you suggest, the next step is to find owners of waterfront real property and show in court the overwhelming evidence that climate change has shifted the coastline, which in turn reduces the usable area of said property.

      • by William Baric ( 256345 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @01:06AM (#53274451)

        That's an extremely broad interpretation of rights to life and liberty. What's next? Americans suing the US government for not having done enough research to find a cure for cancer?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Major Blud ( 789630 )

          Not to mention that this is really a suit being brought by the parents of these youths.....parents who themselves help contribute to global warming.

        • You could say the same thing about the commerce clause, but look - it can now be used for everything.

        • by truedfx ( 802492 )
          Just because they have the right to sue doesn't mean the suit will be successful, it just means it's not obvious whether the suit has merit and should get before a judge. Yes, it's a broad interpretation, but not so broad that we already know beforehand how a judge would rule.
        • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @06:43AM (#53275115)

          That's an extremely broad interpretation of rights to life and liberty. What's next? Americans suing the US government for not having done enough research to find a cure for cancer?

          Indeed I would hope that if the US government put as little effort into cancer as they did into climate change that they would also get sued for this.

          It sounds ridiculous, but this is not the first government to be sued by it's citizens for not doing enough about climate change https://www.theguardian.com/en... [theguardian.com]

          But really I consider climate change secondary now. Climate change hasn't affected me and likely won't directly affect me. However fighting climate change has directly resulted in initiatives that have already made my life better. The air smells cleaner, there's less smog, driving behind cars no longer fills my cabin with horrid smelling fumes, the oil refinery near where I work doesn't smell anywhere near as bad as it used to, there's less diesel dust settling on everything... even to climate deniers I don't see any good reason why we shouldn't continue down this road of stemming pollution.

          • "The air smells cleaner, there's less smog...

            That's actual pollution, not CO2. I await your reasonable response mentioning that the US Supreme Court had deemed CO2 to be a "pollutant".
            • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @01:10PM (#53276195)

              That's actual pollution, not CO2. I await your reasonable response mentioning that the US Supreme Court had deemed CO2 to be a "pollutant".

              Sorry forgive me. I completely forgot the only emission from coal fired and oil fired power plants was CO2, and that the massive increase in fuel efficiency and effective burning of engines has only changed the amount of CO2 emissions.

              How stupid of me.

      • You probably don't want to go around talking about a right to life with the incoming administration. They're liable to interpret that in ways you won't like.
      • Generally your rights get infringed before you have standing to sue. Last I checked, everyone is still alive and free, so I don't think those are the constitutional rights they think they've had infringed. For that matter, I'd be hard pressed to name any. As much as I think climate change is a topic that needs addressing, unless they can cite specific harm that they personally have already suffered, I don't know how this case wasn't thrown out for a blatant lack of standing.

    • They won't win; however, some points:

      The constitution and it's amendments do not enumerate rights; they are not bestowed upon the people. The people already are have their rights which can only be infringed upon; a big distinction. The constitution even makes this point (go look yourself.)

      The people can define and demand recognition of any rights they choose.

      Then there is the "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" mission statement part where life and liberty can be pretty miserable and so that last i

      • by tsqr ( 808554 )

        Then there is the "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" mission statement part where life and liberty can be pretty miserable and so that last inspirational phrase was included.

        That would be the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. The Constitutional reference to life and liberty (and property too, but not happiness) is in the 5th Amendment, which prohibits the Federal government from depriving individuals of those things without due process.

  • Can I sue? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @12:59AM (#53274413)
    I want to sue the government over the existence of a large number of things and people that they are allowing to threaten my life and happiness. Especially that guy that cut me off in traffic today. And the lack of fiber to my door. It's unfair and I want a bunch of money because my feelings are hurt. Maybe I'll go out and burn down somebody's business and smash some windows, since protesting is fashionable.
    • I want to sue the government over the existence of a large number of things and people that they are allowing to threaten my life and happiness.

      Then go for it. You can sue pretty much anyone for anything. Just don't expect to actually win.

      Especially that guy that cut me off in traffic today.

      I'm going to sue you for that guy cutting me off in traffic too. I mean it's your fault just as much as it is the government's right?

      And the lack of fiber to my door.

      Maybe you should actually sue the people who are responsible.

      It's unfair and I want a bunch of money because my feelings are hurt.

      Not all lawsuits are for money. The lawsuit brought against the Dutch government last year for instance was to force them to implement CO2 reductions. But this is America and dollars and lawsuits rule supreme so everything

  • National Debt (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @01:00AM (#53274421)

    Do children get to sue over the accumulating National Debt they will be saddled with.

    WWon't survive 5the new SCOTUS

  • What if they don't get a pony for Christmas? Their favored political party loses an election?
  • I expect some coolly rational discussion in a warm friendly atmosphere.

  • Food plants are now 15% more efficient than 30 years ago. Fewer hungry people! Widely known fact. Search youtube for "earth greening".

    • by Gussington ( 4512999 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @02:22AM (#53274671)

      Food plants are now 15% more efficient than 30 years ago. Fewer hungry people! Widely known fact. Search youtube for "earth greening".

      Food has never been a production issue, it has always been a distribution issue.

      • Food has never been a production issue, it has always been a distribution issue.

        That's just factually wrong. The main political division in 19th century England was between the food producers and industrialists. Both subscribed to the idea of Malthusian equilibrium. Which essentially viewed starvation as an inevitable form of population control. Food only became plentiful in the 20th century and largely due to the of short-stock wheat invented by Norman Borlaug.

        • That's just factually wrong. The main political division in 19th century England was between the food producers and industrialists.

          Right. So think about for a moment, politics in England prevented more food from being produced in England. Since this wasn't limiting food production in say China or the US, it is purely an issue of distribution. Just as politics in Africa prevents those starving kids from accessing the surplus food we have here.

          Food only became plentiful in the 20th century...

          When transport technology made it cheap and easy to distribute. There has always been enough food for survival growing on trees, in the ground, roaming fields, or swimming in the oceans, we've just

          • If the problem is politics (or more accurately, tyranny) then it is misleading to call the problem "distribution".
    • Food plants are now 15% more efficient than 30 years ago.

      YES!

      Fewer hungry people!

      YES!

      But sadly these two statements have absolutely zero to do with each other. We're currently trending towards a massive reduction in crop yields thanks pissing many years of farming science against the wall in the name of "organics".

      Also world hunger is not an issue of crop yield.

    • I'm sure there'll be lots of sophistry upcoming in the comments here trying to discredit your post.
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @01:33AM (#53274529)

    calling man-made climate change an "undisputed" fact.

    I wasn't aware that there was such a thing in empirical science as "undisputed."

  • When I normally use the "society is not government" argument it is usually in response to people that say "government should do something" when they really mean "society should do something". Should government pay to educate children? No, because that is not a power granted to the federal government or most state governments. But we still see public schools anyway, funny that people will vote themselves free stuff when they can. Should society pay to educate children? Of course. This can be done many

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hyades1 ( 1149581 )

      If you're not a "believer" in AGW, then you probably aren't a "believer" in gravity or evolution...or even science.

      So if you're going to post the kind of drivel you seem so fond of, at least show the rest of us enough respect to keep it short.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by blindseer ( 891256 )

        If you're not a "believer" in AGW, then you probably aren't a "believer" in gravity or evolution...or even science.

        Tell me something, is it more important to you that I "believe" in AGW as you do or more important that I reduce my CO2 output as you (presumably) do? Think real hard about that.

        You tell me I have to do X because it will slow the rise of the oceans, and I'll tell you I don't care because I don't live near any coasts. You tell me to do X to save the polar bears, and I'll tell you I think they are vile creatures that eat cute little baby seals. You tell me to do X because it saves me money, now I'm listeni

    • Electric cars suck big time, they cost too much, take to long to charge, and don't go very far.

      I see you've never driven one. Electric cars are awesome. Charge time is irrelevant except on road trips, and the road trip problem is not difficult to solve once you have a 300+-mile battery. The only real issue with electric cars is cost. They are expensive because batteries are expensive. With that said, I actually bought my electric car because it was the cheapest option when I got it in 2012. I needed a car for commuting, wanted to buy a new car, and tried to calculate total cost of ownership over the

  • "My days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle."

  • Lawyers love to push this kind of insanity in which everyone is guilty or liable for something as it translates into massive profits for themselves.

    Lawyers within the US already eat up by far highest percentage of GDP of any other developed country. Obviously being #1 by a sizable margin still isn't enough for them. They always want more.

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin

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