blue sky
© Andres Rueda/Creative Commons

Love the idea, not sure it will succeed: Lawsuits have been filed in several states by climate activists, attempting to declare the atmosphere a public trust and force the US to meaningfully act on climate change. Previously such an approach has been used to clean up polluted waterways, but success here will likely depend on a judge will to break new ground.

The suits were filed in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Additional legal action is planned for Alaska, Arizona, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

Writing in The Guardian, 16 year old Alex Loorz, listed as plaintiff in the California suit, writes:
Our parents' and grandparents' generation have created a problem. They've developed a society that depends on burning fossil fuels, like coal and oil, to survive. They never realized that there were any huge consequences to running our lives with fossil fuels. But now, we do.

Today, I and other fellow young people are sueing the government, for handing over our future to unjust fossil fuel industries, and ignoring the right of our children to inherit the planet that has sustained all of civilization. I will join with youth and attorneys in every state in the US to demand that our leaders to live and govern as if our future matters.

The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.
Loorz is both right and wildly optimistic. My parents and grandparents generation--as well as Loorz' parents generation, on which I biologically could be in had I been a teen father--did indeed create the environmental, economic and social problems that are now so pressing.

For a time it's true they didn't realize the breadth and depth of the situation, but frankly the data has been available for some time--for a good deal longer than Loorz has been alive--that we're warming the climate, acidifying our oceans, chopping down too many of our trees, using too much fertilizer and wiping out too many non-human species. I don't give previous generations as much of a pass as Loorz.

Frankly, while I'd like the public trust angle to succeed, I'd be hugely surprised if it does this time around. When public reaction to Bolivia granting Mother Earth something akin to human rights is so hostile internationally and personally, when the notion that cetaceans and apes ought to be granted person-status under the law is mocked, when the notion of ecocide is equally brushed off as starry-eyed hippy nonsense not fit for the so-called real world, I hardly think we're collectively there yet to start talking about protecting the atmosphere as a commons in a legal sense.

Believe me, I'd love to be proven entirely wrong here.