Children Fight Governmental Climate Policies

Twenty-one children in America have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government and the president of the United States, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The lawsuit claims the federal government, abetting, if not causing, climate change, “has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” (source: ourchildrenstrust.org)

This is a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit.

Essentially, the lawsuit challenges the federal government’s national fossil fuel programs.

Provocatively, since adults don’t seem to “get it,” the children of America are taking the lead to stop, and hopefully reverse, decades of governmental abuse of public resources.

“We uncovered shocking admissions by the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency: They have known for decades of the extreme dangers of fossil fuels,” notes Philip Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, of Burlingame, CA, counsel to the Plaintiffs. “The Complaint explains how Defendants have known since at least 1965 that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels would create perilous climate change….”

Levi Draheim, an 8-year-old Plaintiff from Indialantic, FL lives with his family on a small barrier island between the Atlantic ocean and a lagoon. Sea level rise is already seriously impacting their island, and Levi is worried he will have to move if it becomes worse. Plaintiff Journey Zephier, a 15-year-old who, lives in Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, is watching the island’s beaches erode away. The island’s decreased rainfall is resulting in lower river water levels, and his community is faced with serious water quality problems because saltwater is intruding upriver from sea level rise.1

Exhibit A

Exhibit A is a fascinating declaration by Dr. James E. Hansen in support of plaintiff’s complaint. Dr. Hansen is the immediate past Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and arguably the world’s most renowned atmospheric scientist. It was in 1988 when a NY Times headline trumpeted Dr. Hansen’s testimony before the U.S. Senate, explaining how science for the first time detected harmful levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Dr. Hansen:

In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal, nature of U.S. climate and energy policy.

Those are very powerful words coming from the man who ran America’s most prestigious space studies institute for over three decades. His testimony does not mince words; e.g., when discussing ice melt, sea level rise, and superstorms, “…consequences that may threaten the very fabric of civilization.”

Climate Change Turbo-Charged

It is not at all surprising that Dr. Hansen has joined in with the children as an expert because, by all appearances, humanity, pouring on the gas, is fulfilling a perverse death wish.

Dr. Hansen’s discovery finds global emissions accelerating, specifically the growth rate of fossil fuel emissions increased from 1.5%/year 1973-2000 to 2.6%/year 2000-2014. Basic math says that’s a 73% increase.

In harmony with accelerating emissions, atmospheric CO2 concentration is itself speeding up.  The annual mean rate of CO2 growth more than doubled from 0.85ppm 1960-70 to 2.0ppm 2000-2010. Basic math says that’s a 135% increase.

CO2 concentration growing twice as fast as fossil fuel emissions is comparable to attaching a turbo-charger to a gasoline-powered engine.

According to Dr. Hansen, Earth’s warming has persisted in the face of a five-year solar minimum, when solar irradiance was at its lowest level since the 1970s. Imagine the consequences if it were at a solar maximum.

How Much CO2 is Too Much?

“The longer paleoclimate record shows that warming coincident with atmospheric CO2 concentrations as low as 450ppm may have been enough to melt most of Antarctica.” (Hansen)

Well now, wait a minute here, and calculate how soon the planet will hit 450ppm, assuming nothing changes going forward: If CO2’s growth is 2ppm per annum, then, at a minimum, assuming exponential growth does not occur, 450ppm will ring the bell by 2040, or less (but exponential growth is occurring… hmm.) And, Hansen is suggesting that most of Antarctica could melt at 450ppm. Antarctica’s ice equals 200 feet of additional water rise. What about NYC, Miami, LA, Seattle, Houston, and Sea World/San Diego? What to do?

Well, fortunately, he did say, “450ppm may have been enough….” That’s not entirely conclusive.

Thereafter, Hansen goes on to say, in a sub-headline: “Unabated Emissions May Devastate Our Coasts, Civilization And Nature As We Know It.”

Here Dr. Hansen “regrettably” discusses doubling of ice mass loss at Greenland, West Antarctica and parts of East Antarctica. Antarctic glaciers especially vulnerable to “complete disintegration” include the Totten glacier, Cook glacier, and Amundsen Sea glaciers, which, when all-combined, would raise sea levels by 45-50 feet. That’s just for starters.

Thereafter, as he explains how ice sheet melting has already started, Dr. Hansen compares the current period to the Eemian period approximately 125,000 years ago when temps were 2C warmer than pre-industrial climate or 1C warmer than today.

Interestingly enough, David Attenborough, the famous British naturalist who is responsible for so many BBC nature films, discussed the Eemian period in his film Are We Changing Planet Earth, wherein he discusses the turbo effect of today’s climate change: “Today, it took 200 years to warm +0.85C. Historically, it took 5,000 years to warm +0.85C.”

Similar to Dr. Hansen, Attenborough mentions “big planetary changes” by focusing on the period 125,000-130,000 years ago, the Eemian period, when temps were 2C warmer than today. NYC would have been in 16 feet of water, yes, Wall Street submerged, no more ticker tape clicking along.

The Declaration of Dr. James E. Hansen in Support of Plaintiffs, August 11, 2015, is a 31-page tour de force of the ravages caused by misdirected governmental policies that favor, and subsidize, fossil fuels over innocuous sources of energy, like renewables.

In all, he believes there is still time to rescue the planet from the destruction of ecosystem collapse: “Our use of fossil fuels must be phased out as rapidly as is feasible.”

  1. Our Children’s Trust, press release, August 12, 2015 []
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.