Oh, you want air? And water?


There’s a federal court case, Juliana v. United States, in the works in which the plaintiffs argue that the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness obligates the government to maintain a sustainable, livable atmosphere — or, at least, support legislation in good faith that limits how much we can poison it. That sounds like a good idea to me.

The plaintiffs, who include 21 people ranging in age from 11 to 22, allege that the government has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by failing to prevent dangerous climate change. They are asking the district court to order the federal government to prepare a plan that will ensure the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere falls below 350 parts per million by 2100, down from an average of 405 parts per million in 2017.

How can you argue against that? The Trump administration has a simple defense.

By contrast, the US Department of Justice argues that there is no right to ‘a climate system capable of sustaining human life’ — as the Juliana plaintiffs assert.

That is not the answer I expected. Hemming and hawing about the practicality of limiting greenhouse gasses, sure; endless lying about whether climate change is a temporary phase, or about the desirability of warming up the planet by a few degrees, or claiming that we might be getting a little warmer, but there is no threat to our existence…I could imagine all that coming out of Republicans in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry.

But to announce that they feel no compulsion to provide an environment compatible with life? That’s a new one.

Comments

  1. =8)-DX says

    I think the US Department of Justice is arguing the entire administration should be fired into the Sun.

  2. Curious Digressions says

    Considering the rhetoric around yesterday’s election, I’m cheering for climate change. People are too stupid and selfish to live. Maybe the next round of evolved sapience a couple million years from now won’t suck so much.

  3. says

    This surprises you? They think they’re either going to be able to live in their bunkers forever, or that the Singularity will turn them into immortal cyborgs. They cannot face the prospect that even if they die last, they’ll still die if the biosphere is rendered incapable of supporting human life.

  4. woozy says

    — as the Juliana plaintiffs assert.

    I interpret that (I may be wrong) that this means the Juliana plaintiffs are paraphrasing and interpreting the Dept. of Justice’s position. The Dept. of Justice did not literally say it but the Juliana plaintiffs are claiming the Dept of Justice position is tantamount to just that.

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    It’s just like the Right’s belief on health care access:

    Everyone should be have access to health care… provided they can pay for it.

  6. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    @woozy
    With the quotes as they are, it reads to me more like the gov is flat-out rejecting the plaintiffs claim/assertion that a right to a climate capable of supporting humans follows from the rights to life, liberty, property.

  7. leerudolph says

    tankermottind@3:

    They think they’re either going to be able to live in their bunkers forever, or that the Singularity will turn them into immortal cyborgs.

    My guess would be that a large number of them, if not an outright majority, believe that “God will provide”…for them.

  8. Mark Jacobson says

    @2, Curious Digressions

    That sort of misanthropic bullshit shouldn’t be acceptable here. If someone accused any group of people as being too stupid and selfish to live, they’d be rightly blasted for hate speech. It’s no less disgusting just because you broaden the scope to all humans.

  9. woozy says

    “With the quotes as they are, “

    Oh…. That parses. I was having one of those mornings when I just couldn’t parse phrases. That would be the way the paragraph reads.

    I’m just gobsmacked the say such a thing in those words.

  10. Dunc says

    woozy, @ #4, No, I’m afraid that’s not correct. The phrasing “there is no right to ‘a climate system capable of sustaining human life'” is a direct quote from the defendant’s petition for a writ of mandamus (see bottom of page 4 of the PDF). They further argue that “such a right is entirely without basis in this Nation’s history or tradition”, and that to recognise such a right “would wrest fundamental policy issues of energy development and environmental regulation affecting everyone in the country from ‘the arena of public debate and legislative action,’ and thrust them into the supervision of the federal courts.”

    The phrasing you refer to simply means that the the existence of such a right is being asserted by the plaintiffs. Yes, the DoJ did literally say it.

  11. DataWrangler says

    I wonder if that argument could be used for abortion cases – the uterus being a “a climate system capable of sustaining human life”.

  12. Dunc says

    Perhaps worth noting that the full quote is:

    there is no right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” under the Due Process Clause or a public-trust doctrine.

    [My emphasis]

    The Due Process Clause referred to is the one in the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

    Personally, I think the argument that failure to prevent climate change violates the 5th seems pretty sketchy. But hey, IANAL…

  13. says

    leerudolph

    My guess would be that a large number of them, if not an outright majority, believe that “God will provide”…for them.

    Many years ago when I was much younger,much more naive and absolutely unexperienced in Americans, I searched the internet for information on how to recreate costumes from the first Narnia movie (their costuming was absolutely gorgeous and could, contrary to the Lord of the Rings costuming also be shown from the back). I did find the information (I also made a damn wonderful dress) and a forum full of young evangelical christians. It took me a couple of weeks at least to understand that these people were not joking. One of the positions there was that caring about the environment was against god’s will because for one he had given earth to man to do as he wants and second he wanted to bring about the endtimes and if instead you created a nice environment you would be working against god.

    +++
    Seconding Mark Jacobson

    +++
    Data Wrangler
    No, really no.

  14. kome says

    The lesson here is no matter how far you think conservatives have sunk, they are always able to find a more powerful shovel to dig a little deeper into the depths of inhumanity and depravity.

  15. numerobis says

    It is a large expansion of the initial intent of the constitution: that passage means the government can’t kill you, jail you, or otherwise block you from enjoying your life as you see fit. All things that the king could do, so it was important to assert otherwise.

    But just because it’s a large expansion doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing. Already we’ve expanded the original intent of the constitution only protecting white men to protecting all US persons.

    (“Protecting” in theory of course; in practice it’s messier.)

  16. bobphillips says

    I am not surprised, considering it likely came from people who (or their bosses) believe in a second coming and a heaven they will go to as our human habitats are destroyed. Some christian extremists want armeggedon and destruction and see it as necessary for their christ to return. Same people who believe a zygote/embryo/fetus has rights and the mother should be enslaved to carry it to term, and then don’t care whether it has a good life later.

  17. microraptor says

    leerudolph @7:

    I think most of them are just thinking that they’re old and rich and can therefore afford to live comfortably for the rest of their lives without doing anything, because they’re not going to be around long enough for climate change to seriously affect them so fuck everyone else.

  18. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    They are dying. Old white men, raping and pillaging the world until they can profit no longer. After they are dead, sustaining human life is no longer necessary in their view.

  19. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    @21
    …or the religious fanatic variety: Jesus is going to end the world any day now, so why bother preserving it? All those terrible results won’t matter because their god takes away consequences and responsibility.

  20. unclefrogy says

    I agree that many of the professed and practiced beliefs and action of many christians we see are of the kind already indicated here. They are all in harmony with many of the corporate right wing policies advocated by big oil and others. There is another faction for religion isn’t anything if not fractured by profound disagreements on every side. There is the good steward movement of christians who believe they or we will be judged on how well we have cared for the creation when the god returns at the final judgement.
    I suspect many of the loudest anti regulation advocacy arguments are paid for by people who are in fact none believers (though closeted) and are much closer to existential nihilists which surely matches up with their actions.
    uncle frogy

  21. komarov says

    By contrast, the US Department of Justice argues that “there is no right to ‘a climate system capable of sustaining human life’” — as the Juliana plaintiffs assert.

    Perhaps there’s another amendment to the constitution in this. Fine, it’s another one of those people will later look back on with embarrassment, because it seems so obvious, being the literal basis of human life, let alone civilisation or constitutional governments. But it clearly isn’t obvious enough.

    In the meantime any service provider selling air conditioning can now refer to the DOJ in their defence regarding injury or death suffered because of their systems. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.

  22. rietpluim says

    In the Netherlands, an environmental group called Urgenda sued the state for not taking enough measures against climate change. Their main argument was that a clean and safe environment is a human right, and that climate change is an urgent threat to that right. They won the case, and they won the appeal.

  23. says

    @Dunc:

    You’re technically correct but largely (and importantly) incorrect here. Yes, the 5th amendment does say that. No, the 5th is not the immediate and most relevant referent when discussing due process rights in this context.

    The referent here is the 14th amendment, which reads in part:

    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    Why is this the relevant portion when it mirrors the 5th and the 5th is what applies to federal government while this appears to limit only the action of the states?

    Because of the subsequent history of SCOTUS decision making. The line of thought that leads to positive duties on the government (“public trust” justifications) was entirely post-Civil War and almost entirely about state action first, only being retconned into limitations on the federal government later. Various rights derived from state constitutions and various statutory rights have been the basis for lawsuits under the 14th that allege that once the right is given, it can’t be deprived without due process of law, even if the government had no original obligation to provide that right under the federal constitution. In other words, the 14th protected rights not in the federal constitution.

    Combined with the 9th, state constitutional rights, and statutory rights, due process obligations have become a much larger portion of the case law protecting residents and citizens that was ever anticipated when the 14th was written.

    In any case, the 5th was there, and is important because the alleged violation is by the feds, but all the relevant case law comes from hashing out the meaning of the 14th, not the 5th. The 5th just got passively changed along the way b/c the states were more likely to engage in the kind of egregious fuckery that left evidence behind too obvious for courts to ignore, thus creating the cases that resulted in the new case law. Since these were generally state actions, the most important cases were all brought under the 14th.

    “So, really, Crip Dyke?” you might ask. “Wasn’t I right that the 5th is the important bit, since without it the federal government wouldn’t be constrained?”

    Well, sort of. A long time ago SCOTUS decided that the 5th constrains the feds to the same degree as the 14th constrains the states. BUT as you surely noted in that quote I provided above, the 14th provides a surrounding context that is not present in the 5th. If the protections of the 5th and 14th are the same, but the 14th puts “due process” in a much larger context, then the 14th transitively creates a new context for the 5th, allowing the courts to infer much broader, more specific, and stronger protections than they might from the 5th alone. (This is not merely theory, this has been borne out in the histories of these amendments.)

    So the reason the 14th is more important here is that due to the specific interpretive histories, the 14th effectively provides the meaning of the 5th.

    Of course, regardless of where the meaning comes from, the case is unlikely to win us anything at all. We have a SCOTUS that believes that the constitution prevents depriving an owner of her property without due process but permits depriving property of its owner without due process – presto change-o, stealing your property without compensation is totally legal! In this legal environment, the idea that public trust doctrine will be accepted by the courts as binding on the Feds is carbon-dioxide-pie-in-the-sky at best.

  24. nomdeplume says

    It is an extension of the privatisation of water supplies occurring all over the world. (What? They can’t afford to pay for water? Tough, let them eat salt). So this comes as no surprise, the only surprise, as you say PZ, is quite how blatant this is. I guess the Right feel they have everything under control, both in the US and elsewhere, so don’t need to be coy about their ahuman agenda any more.

  25. says

    And this is why we’re going to get the TPP, even if Trump talked himself into a corner during the election and has to keep pretending he doesn’t want it. The ability it would grant corporations to nullify governmental protections is the endgame for ignoring this sort of challenge. And since it would be in the form of a treaty, and treaties are specifically said in the Constitution to have the same force as the Constitution itself, it would be legally unassailable. (Of course, at the end of World War II we signed a treaty saying we wouldn’t start wars unilaterally, and nobody has been punished for Iraq or Libya, so…)

  26. ridana says

    26 @ Crip Dyke wrote:

    We have a SCOTUS that believes that the constitution prevents depriving an owner of her property without due process but permits depriving property of its owner without due process – presto change-o, stealing your property without compensation is totally legal!

    I’ve been trying to wrap my head around asset forfeiture and cases like “United States v 1967 Ford Mustang Convertible” for years, and while I’ve sort of followed their “reasoning,” it still has never made sense (not that it does now). This is the most succinct explanation of their convoluted “rationale” I’ve seen. Thank you.

  27. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    not me, only asking on behalf of Capt. Obvious who asks “Didn;t the founders of this country say something about the right to life, how is that possible without an environment that sustains life?
    facetiousness aside, this is totally incomprehensible as a valid argument, I can’t understand.

  28. methuseus says

    Just a reminder to everyone, the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is entrenched in the Declaration of Independence, which, while revered by many in this country, holds literally no power over the people of the USA. it is literally not a legal document and has no bearing on any government practices.
    What Crip Dyke said about the 14th and 5th amendments are the only statement about protections to life in the Constitution, or any other Federal document.

  29. says

    @ridana:

    I’ve been trying to wrap my head around asset forfeiture … This is the most succinct explanation of their convoluted “rationale” I’ve seen.

    Well, don’t give me credit for the idea, and I’m not even sure that none of my professors phrased it exactly that way. It’s pretty standard to speak at law schools about civil asset forfeiture that way – so the credit really goes to the people who educated me – or even the people who educated them.

    The rationale has always been sketchy and a perfect example of motivated reasoning.

  30. Dunc says

    Thanks for the clarification, Crip Dyke – like I say, IANAL, and even if I were, I wouldn’t have any expertise in US Constitutional law.

  31. alkisvonidas says

    But to announce that they feel no compulsion to provide an environment compatible with life?

    They only refuse to do it for human life. They made no claims whatsoever about Republican life.

  32. says

    @17 “It is a large expansion of the initial intent of the constitution: that passage means the government can’t kill you, jail you, or otherwise block you from enjoying your life as you see fit.”

    Hmm. I would argue that this also means the government cannot legally “indirectly” do such things, by, say, knowingly allowing your neighbor the right to poison your water supply, moving a group of murderers in next door, and handing them guns, knowing they are likely to shoot at you, selling off all the land around you, and then letting the new owner arbitrarily build a wall around your property, then not let you cross through the wall, or any other act that violates the “principle” of the constitution, even if, in some sneaky, round about way, it doesn’t violate the letter of it.

    Then again, this is exactly how/why we ended up with the “big government” these assholes always whine and complain about, and claim we need to shrink – an endless pursuit, on the part of greedy assholes for loopholes, that will let them do any damn things they please, combined with an endless stream of laws, and/or new agencies, to slap them down for shit that was, previously, “Not technically protected against, under the law.”

  33. says

    @Dunc:

    You’re way ahead of the IANAL class. If I geek out on con law, it’s not because I’m disappointed in you. I should have said that It’s actually good of you to recognize the 5th, rather than the 14th, as a due process amendment binding on the feds. A lot of people don’t even make that distinction, counting the 5th as providing a “right to life”, forgetting that at the time it was written, capital punishment existed largely unquestioned. It wasn’t about some irrevocable right to life, but about constraints on when and how the government may kill you.

    So, yeah, we have to read the 14th to figure out whether this particular suit will succeed or not, but you’re doing fine by knowing and citing the text of the 5th as a place to start.

  34. vucodlak says

    @ Crip Dyke, #38

    It’s the Toilet Paper Parade! Huzzah! Wait, no, it’s Tall Prancing Prats (hey, I resemble that remark!). Trees Preening Prettily? Toes Pointing Poutily? Turtles Preferred Pricing… Toxic Petroleum Puddles… Towers, Perihelion Pointing… Tweedledee’s Paramilitary Pact…

    It’s actually the Trans-Pacific Partnership (probably). Sorry for the silliness; I hate it when people just drop acronyms like that.

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