Holding the federal government accountable for the adverse effects of climate change

Whatever your policy, you are seeing the adverse effects of climate change and continued dependence on fossil fuels all around you. This summer alone we have seen the surface of the ocean on Fire in the Gulf of Mexico, deadly record heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, forests burning across the West, and entire cities in Canada reduced to ashes.

All in this context: July was the hottest month on file and last month’s UN climate science report was called “Red codeFor humanity by the UN Secretary General.

The air we breathe, the water we use and the land we inhabit are becoming increasingly unsafe for humans. Climate chaos is already driving the kinds of population displacement that we hear about in decades.

At this point, conservatives and libertarians should join the rest of the political spectrum to push for real solutions. If your political goal is the protection of property rights, consider the extent to which these rights are violated by the extreme weather conditions and global changes that we are already seeing.

The legal community is already beginning to recognize this. This year the Australian Federal Court ruled that the Australian government has an obligation not to cause physical harm to young Australians in the form of bodily injury due to climate change. Just two years ago, the Dutch Supreme Court felt that the Dutch government has a human rights obligation to its citizens to urgently and significantly reduce emissions. This means that the legal door is now open for these governments to be financially responsible for climate-related damage.

While there are important differences, the US constitutional framework is similar to the principles and legal foundations of these countries, and it is no exaggeration to believe that our laws offer us the same protections – or at least should offer us the same protections. same protections – outlined in these recent court decisions. Even the Cato Libertarian Institute made this argument, writing that the property rights granted to Americans include “a right to exclude others, a right against trespassing or a right of quiet enjoyment … and the right of active use, at least to the point where such use violates the rights of others to quiet enjoyment. “

There is no “quiet fun” to be had when your forests, fields and farms are on fire, your air is unbreathable, and your water is either irrecoverable or unusable. There is no active use of resources when the country suffers from an unsustainable mix of extreme heat waves, droughts, floods and pollution. In these circumstances, the constitutionally established rights to liberty, liberty and autonomy – and even the constitutional right to privacy, which is often referred to as the “right to be left alone” – become difficult to realize. work or, in some cases, impossible. to achieve.

This is largely the reason why nearly two dozen young people have filed a climate complaint, Juliana v. United States, against the United States government seven years ago. Like the Australian and Dutch cases, the Julienne The court ruled that the federal government “violated the constitutional rights of the younger generation to life, liberty and property, and failed to protect essential resources of public trust.” While the Julienne the trial survived the Trump administration’s sacking attempts, 17 US states joined the case in June to “oppose any proposed settlement and prevent the youth case from going to trial.”

The attorneys general who fight against the trials of young people are not content to escape our country’s legal responsibility to our young people. They ignore the Constitution and centuries of jurisprudence on individual rights. If young Americans have no right to a liveable world – a world in which all other constitutionally guaranteed rights have meaning – what are their other rights really worth?

The Julienne The court is not alone in asserting the rights of Americans to life, liberty and property. Just before this year’s Independence Day celebrations, dozens of public interest groups and public figures united in supporting legal action first deposit three years ago by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and others against the federal government. This case is now on appeal. Pleading in the spirit of the founding of America, the petitioners in ALDF v. US are asking federal courts to recognize the constitutional right to be left alone in the wild. They ask for nothing more than to keep Americans safe when they use and enjoy public lands.

As the plaintiffs in these cases acknowledge, climate change threatens the life and freedom of every American. These are fundamental things that we should all be fighting to protect, no matter how we vote or what we believe on other issues.

As long as our federal laws promote and enable a fossil fuel economy, these threats will escalate. These cases seek, on behalf of all of us, to force the adoption of a different framework that protects our common and personal interests. While it’s too early to predict the details, if either case is successful, it will add legal weight to efforts to hold the U.S. government responsible for past failures to act. It is time for libertarians, conservatives and climate leaders around the world to unite behind these lawsuits. Our fundamental freedoms are at stake.

Grijalva is the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Shank is Director of Communications for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and Assistant Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU.

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