Three weeks ago the 9th US Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the Juliana v. the US case filed in 2015 by 21 children who petitioned the court to require the federal government to protect their Constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by addressing the climate crisis. In its defense, the US argued the plaintiffs have “no fundamental constitutional right to a stable climate system,” or a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.”
It appears plaintiffs’ lives are in fact not protected. A recently published essay in The New England Journal of Medicine by Harvard’s Dr. Renee Salas and her colleagues concluded, “climate change is the greatest public health emergency in our time and is particularly harmful to fetuses, children and adolescents.” This is because recent reports including the US’s National Climate Assessment, the United Nations’ (UNs’) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) “Global Warming of 1.5ºC” and Lancet’s “Countdown on Human Health and Climate Change” all describe in agonizing detail rapid atmospheric warming from currently 1º Celsius to 2º Celsius within the next few decades is causing increasing flooding, wildfires, disease, starvation, forced migration and war. According to a recent Carbon Brief study, the carbon budget of a child born today will have to be one-eighth that of one born in 1950 if today’s child wants to live in a world that is less than 2º Celsius warmer.
The Juliana case along with numerous related others was decades overdue. Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican party has denied or worked to undermine the life-extinguishing effects of atmospheric warming. President Trump summarized his recent 90-minute discussion on the topic with Prince Charles by stating, “the US right now has among the cleanest climates.” (The US ranks 10th in the world in air quality.) He refused to recognize climate science stating, “I believe there’s a change in weather and I think it changes both ways.”