This post provides further perspective and some legal background regarding the lawsuit campaign by Hansen et al fronted by idealistic children. First an article at Investor’s Business Daily points out how the lawsuit is not in the best interest of present or future generations: The Children’s Climate Lawsuit Against The Children Excerpts with my bolds below from Benjamin Zycher Jan. 12, 2018
Litigation may be as American as apple pie, but some lawsuits are so destructive that they stand out even among the hugely expensive wreckage wrought by our legal system. The most prominent current example is the “children’s” climate lawsuit (Juliana v U.S.): A group of kids, including “future generations, through their guardian Dr. James Hansen,” claim that the government’s actions and failures to act have caused climate change, thus violating the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and have failed to protect essential public trust resources.
First the Policy Concerns the People’s Interest not the Judges
I leave the numerous legal issues to the lawyers (see backgrounder further on), although precisely how the ineffable Hansen came to be the “guardian” for future generations is a question both fascinating and amusing. Instead, it is crucial to recognize first that the fundamental policy assumption underlying this lawsuit — we can make “the children” better off by making them poorer — is preposterous.
More generally, the lawsuit is a blatant attempt to circumvent democratic processes, in terms of both the Congressional power to make policy and the authority of the president to implement it.
Climate policies — mandated reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — by and large are energy policies, and the constitution is silent on which such policies would serve the interests of future generations, or on the appropriate tradeoffs between the interests of “the children” and the adults alive in the here and now.
Those are policy questions, and this attempt to induce judges to interfere with Congress’ legislative powers is deeply destructive of our constitutional institutions. Should “the children” not be concerned about that? Why are “the children” not suing about, say, the national debt?
Second CO2 is Not a Pollutant
The claim about the protection of “essential public trust resources” boils down to an assertion that carbon dioxide is a “pollutant.” No, it is not: A certain minimum atmospheric concentration of it is necessary for life itself. (Merely look at NASA’s time-lapse photo of the earth’s greening over the last 30-plus years.) By far the most important GHG is water vapor; does anyone claim that it is a “pollutant?” Obviously not, and not because ocean evaporation is a natural process; so are volcanic eruptions, and the massive amounts of effluents emitted by volcanoes are pollutants by any definition.
Third Energy Poverty Shortens Lives
Consider a homo sapiens baby born in a cave some tens of thousands of years ago, in a world with environmental quality effectively untouched by mankind. That child at birth would have had a life expectancy on the order of ten years; had it been able to choose, it is obvious that it willingly would have given up some environmental quality in exchange for better housing, food, water, medical care, safety, ad infinitum. That is, it is obvious that people willingly choose to give up some environmental quality in exchange for a life both longer and wealthier.
The Lawsuit Will Make Future Generations Worse Off
In other words, the children’s lawsuit is inconsistent with actual interests of future generations, as the obvious underlying assumption is that future generations would prefer the purest possible environmental quality. That is not correct: Future generations want to inherit the most valuable possible capital stock in all of its myriad dimensions, among which environmental quality is one important component among many, and among all of which there are tradeoffs that cannot be avoided.
Is it the position of the attorneys representing “the children” that making energy more rather than less expensive unambiguously would make future generations better off? In order for future generations to receive the most valuable possible capital stock, the current generation must consume and invest resources most productively.
If regulatory and other policies implemented by the current generation yield less wealth now and a smaller total capital stock for future generations, then more resource consumption and more emissions of effluents currently would be preferred from the viewpoint of those future generations.
Lawsuit Asserts Facts Not in Evidence
That is only the beginning of the problematic factual assertions and assumptions underlying the children’s lawsuit. The measurable effects of increasing GHG concentrations are far smaller than the climate models would lead one to believe. The degree to which recent warming has been anthropogenic is unsettled in the scientific literature; and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth assessment report (AR5) has reduced its estimated range of the effect in 2100 of a doubling of GHG concentrations from 2.0–4.5 to 1.5–4.5 degrees C.
There actually is little evidence of strong climate effects attendant upon increasing GHG concentrations, in terms of sea levels; Arctic and Antarctic sea ice; tornado activity; tropical cyclones; U.S. wildfires; drought; and flooding. IPCC in the AR5 is deeply dubious (Table 12.4) about the various severe effects often hypothesized (or asserted) as future impacts of increasing GHG concentrations.
One might assume that the facts underlying a lawsuit ought to be consistent with its central claims; one would be wrong. And wrong again if one assumes that the policy objective would make an actual difference: The Paris agreement with full U.S. participation would reduce temperatures by 2100 by seventeen one-hundredths of a degree. The U.S. contribution would be fifteen one-thousandths of a degree. Add another one one-hundredth of a degree if you believe that the Obama pseudo-agreement with China is meaningful. (It is not.)
Children Used by Environmental Ideologues
Precisely what is the children’s climate lawsuit trying to achieve? It cannot be protection of our constitutional principles, or protection of future generations, or environmental improvement. Only one possibility remains: It is part of the long-term effort by the environmental left to use any means possible to exert control over other people’s property, economic choices, and lifestyles. The plaintiff attorneys are happy to participate in a litigation process in which “the children” are irrelevant.
For those interested in the legalities Andrew Varcoe provides a Legal Backgrounder published at the Washington Legal Foundation Does the Constitution Provide a Substantive Due-Process Right to a Stable Climate System? Excepts below with my bolds.
Americans have many views on the causes and severity of climate change—and on the pros and cons of conceivable policy responses. But most Americans would likely react with some measure of surprise to one suggested solution—the notion that individual citizens have a constitutional right, enforceable by judicial diktat, to a stable climate system. Surprising or no, this suggestion has landed in the lap of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In June, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a mandamus petition in that court in Juliana v. United States, a lawsuit pending in federal district court in Oregon.
The Juliana plaintiffs claim a substantive due-process right— a fundamental, unenumerated right—to a stable climate. They also argue that the federal government has an enforceable public-trust duty to protect the atmosphere and other resources from climate change. DOJ’s mandamus petition asks the Ninth Circuit to direct the district court to dismiss the Juliana case. Although the Trump Administration filed the mandamus petition, the Obama Administration had asserted the same basic jurisdictional and merits arguments before the district court.
The Ninth Circuit may rule on the petition soon. While this litigation presents several important questions, this Legal Backgrounder focuses only on the core merits question whether there is a fundamental, unenumerated right to a stable climate system protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
1. It seems unlikely that a Ninth Circuit panel would recognize a constitutional right to a stable climate system.
A mandamus petition is a request for extraordinary relief. The Ninth Circuit has various options for ruling on the government’s petition without reaching the merits. That said, if the court were to reach the merits now, it seems likely that the court would hold that there is no fundamental right to be protected against climate change. As a general matter, federal courts are rightly reluctant to create or recognize new fundamental rights protected by substantive due process. As the Supreme Court has said, judges must “exercise the utmost care whenever we are asked to break new ground in this field, lest the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause be subtly transformed” into judges’ “policy preferences,” and place great public questions “outside the arena of public debate and legislative action.
Older lower court decisions are consistent with the view that interests related to pollution and climate change are not protected by substantive due process. See Nat’l Sea Clammers Ass’n v. City of New York, 616 F.2d 1222, 1238 (3d Cir. 1980) (Constitution protects no “right to a pollution-free environment”), vacated in part on other grounds sub nom. Middlesex Cty. Sewerage Auth. v. Nat’l Sea Clammers Ass’n, 453 U.S. 1 (1981).
Prudential factors militate against crafting a new constitutional right in the air pollution context. Congress has already enacted a comprehensive statute to regulate air pollution—the Clean Air Act (CAA)—and has amended it over several decades. After the Supreme Court held that the Act authorizes federal regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, see Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497, 532 (2007), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating such emissions. Despite recent political changes, EPA has not proposed to stop regulating GHG emissions.
Congress is free to override federal common law, but not a constitutional precedent. For example, the plaintiffs want the district court to determine “the minimum safe level of atmospheric CO2 concentrations” and the “timeframe” for achieving that level. But what if the court misses the mark in doing so? Congress and the President would have no power to override such an error.
2. It also seems unlikely that the Ninth Circuit would extend the state-created danger doctrine to climate change.
The Juliana plaintiffs invoke a different strand of substantive due process when they rely on the state-created danger doctrine. Under that doctrine, a governmental entity takes on a constitutional duty to an individual whom it places in peril in deliberate indifference to his or her safety.5 The Juliana plaintiffs argue that the defendants or their predecessors assumed such a duty when they “authorized, permitted, and promoted the extraction, transportation, and combustion of fossil fuels for decades with full knowledge that such activities would manifest unique and personalized injuries to individuals.” This argument could be seen as an extrapolation from the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. Nonetheless, as applied to climate change, the argument is fundamentally problematic for several reasons.
First, the state-created danger doctrine covers dangers attributable to government actions, not to government omissions. See DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 195, 197-203 (1989). The doctrine provides no remedy for failures to regulate private activity. Second, even when limited to government actions, the plaintiffs’ argument would expand the state-created danger doctrine so radically as to make it unrecognizable and unworkable. The argument proves too much. Courts have applied the doctrine to government actions that cause direct physical harm to individuals— typically, actions by law enforcement officers or other government agents. But climate change is immeasurably more complex than such incidents. Climate change is a kind of global mass tort, with diffuse and innumerable causes and impacts, involving a very large number of potential wrongdoers and victims.
Andrew R. Varcoe is a Partner with Boyden Gray & Associates, PLLC, in Washington, D.C. The firm’s clients and lawyers have a mix of views on climate change policy issues. Mr. Varcoe thanks his colleagues, and Professor Douglas A. Kysar, for their contributions to the ideas in this Legal Backgrounder; he alone is responsible for any errors.
Footnote: More on Children’s Trust and Lawsuits see Climate War Human Shields