As We Ruin Our Kids' Planet, They Take Us to Court

Here in the land of the free lunch and the home of the instant gratification, most people make a huge deal out of children’s rights or fetuses’ rights, or occasionally both.  Which is extremely bizarre — crazier perhaps than bombing houses in Afghanistan to protect the rights of the women inside them.  Because we’re engaged in the deliberate and knowing process of slowly and irreversibly rendering the whole damn planet uninhabitable.  If not our children, then their children will be forced to live in a desert or move to the North Pole if we don’t quickly change our ways — and possibly even if we do.  And if we don’t change our ways, the approach we take to the coming crisis will make fascism look like summer camp. 

If we do change our ways rapidly, our children will still have it very hard, but their children may start to see things turn around.  That’s the sort of time delay involved in correcting catastrophic climate change.  And much can never be corrected.  When the fish in the sea are killed off, they will not return no matter how many Pentagon contracts you throw at that project.  The damage we are doing cannot be fixed by drilling another oil well or leveling another mountain or identifying another gene.  The destruction of our world is for keeps, and it is the destruction of the world of our children.

We claim to care about children.  In fact we do care about children, at least our own children.  Yet somehow we mentally set aside the fact that we are condemning them to a future of misery and suffering.  Our brains are well-trained to perform this feat.  If we did not constantly set aside the fact that we are each about to die, we would go insane.  We must of necessity set outside our everyday awareness the single most important fact of our existence: its brevity.  Many people aid themselves in this project by fantasizing about a future life in the sky or heaven or paradise or ghost land or whatever.  This, too, is perfect mental training for setting out of our consciousness the fact that those we care about and those that they will care about are going to have to live in a severely damaged home.  If we could stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and shake ourselves by the lapels, we would — I have to think — halt everything we’re doing other than pressuring our genocidal government to shift its priorities from making war to protecting our planet.

Although our children today may not have time in their lives to see things turn around even if we act at once, some of them are able to do what many of their elders apparently are not.  They are able to care about those who will come after.  Young teenagers today are able to care about children their generation has not yet borne.  In some cases, as a credit to our older generation, their parents assist them in this task.

At you’ll find the story of a group of kids who are suing the U.S. government on behalf of the kids who will come after them.  As reported at DeSmogBlog, these young Americans sued the federal government and 49 states last May to force them to address global warming by reducing greenhouse gas pollution to the levels deemed necessary by the best available science.  Much as I’m sure these young people would love to set aside another planet for Exxon-based science or Creationism, as the saying goes, there is no planet B.  We only have one, and — according to the legal argument filed last year — we have a right to protect it in the most effective way possible.

The states have been passing the buck to the federal level, and on April 4, 2012, a D.C. District Court ruled that the National Association of Manufacturers and various other polluter interests could join the government’s defense.  So now it’s a case between a bunch of kids, common sense, decency, and science on the one hand, and the U.S. government and some of the world’s largest corporations and biggest recipients of federal subsidies on the other. The polluters’ defense will be that they have a “legally protected cognizable interest to freely emit CO2.”  In other words, they’ve been destroying the sky for a while now and must therefore be allowed to finish the job.  Or rather, that would be their defense except that they immediately filed a motion to dismiss the entire case, a motion that will be heard on May 11th.

According to University of Oregon Law professor Mary Wood, we all share an “atmospheric trust” which we jointly protect for future generations.  DeSmogBlog explains:

“For you lawyers out there, ‘atmospheric trust litigation’ is rooted in the Public Trust Doctrine, an evolution of old British ‘Commons Law’ that has been used successfully in the past to preserve and protect natural resources — like air and water — for public use.”

The too-young-to-vote plaintiffs in this case are not suing all of us.  They are suing the government (and now its corporate partners).  But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook.  We have, I think, a moral responsibility to support them, to spread the word about what they are doing, to promote their website, to fund their cause, to call radio shows, write newspapers, organize lectures, distribute materials, organize action from the Occupy movement, and if at all possible join in two upcoming events in Washington, D.C., one of them a march, the other the court hearing.  Let’s swarm the Mall and pack the courthouse!

Sign up for the first event on facebook here.  It’s the iMatter March on Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, 2012, 11:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. at 900 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC 20024: “We will march together, rally at the Earth Day event on the National Mall, and coordinate a Flash Mob ‘Die-in’ for anyone 25 and younger. There will be speakers, musicians, film screenings, and more at the iMatter ‘youth hub’, and Alec Loorz [a lead plaintiff, age 17] will be speaking from the main stage at around 5:00 p.m.

Here’s the second event on facebook.  Flood the Courtroom! Friday, May 11, 2012, 9:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. at 333 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC.  I’ll be there.  Will you?

By the way, some friends and I are working on building a network of parents engaged in serious political activism aimed at bequeathing a better world to our children.  If you know of any good projects or organizations through which parents are taking action, please let me know.  Let’s not leave all the work to our children.

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