Sunday, June 28, 2015

The People vs. The United States?

You have probably heard by now a court in the Netherlands found the Dutch government liable for not protecting its citizens from climate change and has ordered a 25% reduction in emissions over the next five years. This, of course, was a major victory for the people of the Netherlands in particular, and people every where in general.

So, the question is, should we follow a similar strategy here in the U.S.? Can, and should, the people of the United States sue the Government of the United States to force it to cut greenhouse gas emissions? We have to answer a couple of questions to determine that:

1. Is there a legal precedent that would allow such a lawsuit?;

2. Is there a legal basis for a lawsuit?;

3. Is climate change due to manmade greenhouse emissions?

Legal Precedent

The U.S. has enacted several laws with regards to the environment and the affect it has on the citizenry. Specifically, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency were all passed by Congress with one of the stated goals being the protection of the people. So, we can conclude that, on the face of it, the legal precedent has certainly been established that it is a responsibility of the government to protect the people in regards to the environment in which they live.

Point one is determined in the affirmative.

Legal Basis

Another way to phrase this question is to ask, has anyone been harmed by greenhouse gas emissions? If there has been no harm, there is no basis. If you have been following the debate on climate change, you are probably aware this is one of the issues deniers fight about the hardest. Now, we see, that is for good reason. If people are suffering harm due to greenhouse gas emissions, the fossil fuel industry can be sued for damages. If you know anything about the tobacco fight, this is probably sounding eerily familiar to you.

The reality is, we can prove that people have suffered, and are suffering, as a result of climate change. I have detailed an enormous amount of examples of this in my blog and the record is crammed full of examples and data showing the people of the U.S. are suffering from climate change and this damage is extreme.

Point two is determined in the affirmative.


This one is so overwhelmingly established it really isn't worth discussing beyond the point of again seeing why the fossil fuel industry debates this issue. Again, the tobacco wars are repeating themselves.

Point three is established in the affirmative.

So, the conclusion I reach is that there are legal grounds to pursue such a lawsuit in the U.S. and we have reached the time when we should do just that. We need to stop fighting this fight in the media and in blogs and start fighting it in the courts.

The biggest question of all is, who's going to do it?


  1. In a country as lawsuit-crazy as the U.S., I would have expected that it wouldn't be difficult to find plaintiffs and especially lawyers ready to take this on. In fact I'm surprised it hasn't already been tried. But I guess it also takes money. Now there's a kickstarter campaign I would happily donate to!

  2. Whoops, today's SCOTUS ruling that coal fired power plants can continue to emit unlimited amounts of pollutants doesn't augur well for a climate change liability lawsuit in the U.S.
    Is this as worrying as it looks to me?

  3. I think it is. This means more paperwork and more delays in the regulation process. In the short run, that is bad for people. In the long run, I think it will be bad for the utilities. I believe when the total cost of coal-fired power plants is made public they will have a difficult time selling the idea anymore. Of course, that might take years to achieve.

  4. A Kickstarter campaign sounds like a great idea.