Who Has the Youth, Has the Future (Part III: Atmospheric Trust Litigation)

More on Alec Loorz and the young people who have taken to the courts. When Loorz was 13, he founded a grassroots movement of young people called Kids vs. Global Warming, a very successful effort through which he has spoken to tens of thousands of his peers and has earned the respect of adult environmental activists. (They appear to be much too busy to keep their website updated.) Having catalyzed a growing youth movement under the umbrella of its “iMatter” campaign, Kids vs. Global Warming is now focusing on the courts.

The federal agencies named as defendants in the federal iMatter lawsuit include the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, and Defense. (Download a PDF the complaint here.)

Environmental lawyer Julia A. Olson and her colleagues at Our Children’s Trust and Wild Earth Advocates are among those spearheading a campaign of “Atmospheric Trust Litigation,” for which they have also filed suits against the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.  (click here to download the state complaints)

The legal basis for these lawsuits is to include the atmosphere under Public Trust Doctrine, a new application of an old concept. Our Children’s Trust describes the core concept of the Public Trust Doctrine this way:

“The government has a legal obligation to preserve these trust resources and to manage them for the equal benefit of everyone, not just for the benefit of the wealthy and politically-connected corporations. The government cannot allow the privatization of the atmosphere. The Public Trust Doctrine is well-established in American law and in many other legal traditions throughout the world. The doctrine stretches all the way back to the Roman times, long before anyone understood how important and fragile the atmosphere truly is. Fifteen hundred years ago the Emperor Justininan wrote, “The things which are naturally everybody’s are: the air, flowing water, the sea, and the seashore.” The legal actions apply this deep-rooted doctrine to our modern understanding of the atmosphere, demanding that the government recognize and protect our collective right to a stable, livable climate.” (click here for more)

Question in need of analysis: What effect will the unanimous Supreme Court Decision handed down in late June in American Electric Power v. Connecticut have on these cases and on the stormy relationship between congress and the EPA? Comments encouraged!

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About Scott Brophy
Scott Brophy is a philosophy professor whose work is focused on the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially on environmental issues, law, and education. He has also taught philosophy of science, logic, and the history of philosophy. He has served as a consultant for educational programs and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad, and as an adviser to several philanthropic foundations.

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