The April 8, 2016 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Coffin — in Eugene, Oregon — that 21 plaintiffs, ages 8-19, are entitled to be heard in their claim that the federal government has violated their constitutional rights by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production and combustion of fossil fuels is unprecedented. As Judge Coffin wrote in his order denying the government’s motion to dismiss:
The debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now. Plaintiffs give this debate judiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society. It may be that eventually the alleged harms, assuming the correctness of plaintiffs’ analysis of the impacts of global climate change, will befall all of us. But the intractability of the debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short term economic interest despite the cost to human life, necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. This is especially true when such harms have an alleged disparate impact on a discrete class of society.
While the federal government denied any duty under the constitution to protect essential natural resources for the benefit of all present and future generations, the Court’s decision upheld the plaintiffs’ claims regarding the government “denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring short term economic interests of certain citizens.” The next step is a review of Judge Coffin’s decision by another judge in the same court, Judge Ann Aiken.
As political theater designed to dramatize the conflict between Wall Street and main street, it is worth watching the public response to this decision. While it is unlikely to prevail in the federal courts, assuming it ever goes to trial, it is an important clarification of the power imbalance in American society, and a timely reminder that the rigged electoral system — now frustrating US citizenry — must be changed as a matter of human survival.
While it is a noble gesture of citizenship on the part of the plaintiffs, it is unfortunate that their legal counsel have chosen to promote icons of the non-profit industrial complex, i.e. 350, Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein — all of whom are financed by the fossil fuel industry — in their press release. As noted in Charms of Naomi: The Mystique of Mass Hypnosis, this social engineering by Wall Street has hijacked the energy of American youth, in order to prevent the effective political organizing required to combat the exorbitant power of the fossil fuel industry.