The United States citizenry and its economy just dodged a bullet last week when a large-scale climate change lawsuit against the federal government was dismissed by a federal court by a narrow 2-to-1 majority.

In the case of Juliana, et.al. v. United States, The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit “reluctantly” ruled that under Article III of the Constitution, which established the judicial branch, the courts do not have the power to impose or order a remedial plan to address the plaintiffs claims about climate change.

The plaintiffs, including nearly two dozen children, were supported by Our Children’s Trust, a climate activist organization; and by climate alarmist-in-chief, James Hansen, who immodestly claimed to be acting as a “guardian for Plaintiffs … and Future Generations.” The lawsuit was initially filed in federal court in Oregon in 2015 with the hope that judges would direct a wholesale climate remediation plan upon the nation to reduce carbon emissions.

Lower court judges allowed the case to proceed to trial, initially overriding the federal government’s attempt to have it dismissed. Federal district court Judge Ann Aiken ruled in favor of the plaintiffs by declaring “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” was a “fundamental right.” The federal government appealed this procedural ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide on the legitimacy of the case to go to trial, including the legal standing of the plaintiffs.

The Appeals Court majority could not bring itself to abide the plaintiffs’ wishes to proceed with a court trial, much less implement their “remedial plan” for climate change, which would phase out fossil fuels and wreck the present-day U.S. economy.

Accordingly, the two judges on the Appeals Court dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs, the children, lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. The majority opinion stated that to deal with climate change, it would “require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches.” Nonetheless the Court appeared sympathetic to the man-made global warming arguments presented by the plaintiffs, who claimed the planet otherwise faced peril.

Fortunately, the Appeals Court blinked, and who can blame them? It turns out not all activist judges could dare order an upending of the economy to reduce carbon emissions on the specious claim that it would have the desired effect of cooling and healing the planet.

While the Ninth Circuit Court stepped back from the brink, there were other judges willing to advance this farcical lawsuit. The dissenting judge on the Appeals Court, Josephine Staton, was all in with the plaintiffs, including her belief that the courts, not elected representatives in Congress, should force the issue to stop climate change.

In her dissenting opinion, Judge Staton quoted one of the plaintiff’s experts whose claims read like a bad disaster movie from the 1970’s: Unchecked climate change will be “marked by rising seas, coastal city functionality loss, mass migrations, resource wars, food shortages, heat waves, soil depletion and desiccation, fresh water shortage, public health system collapse, and extinction of increasing numbers of species” and more. The Judge would have done better to examine the shoddy record of climate disaster predictions.

This is not merely climate alarmism; it is hysteria, and it was given serious consideration by the federal court system. The case never should have gotten this far, as it bounced around three levels of federal court in a blatant attempt to end-run the democratic process, which, at a national level, has thus far refused to indulge this extreme, unwarranted climate agenda.

The Green New Deal, for example, was defeated last year in the U.S. Senate without a single vote of support, including from senators who sponsored the bill.  The House of Representatives has never voted on the GND since its leadership knows it would fail to pass.

This lawsuit, Juliana, et.al. v. The United States, was an unprecedented attempt to empower un-elected judges and bureaucrats, answerable to no one, to order economic and industry changes in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. It nearly proceeded to a full trial. Knowing the climate alarmist sympathies of the federal district court judges in Oregon, a trial of this case likely would have favored the global warming claims and the “remediation” plan, inviting more years of litigation.

This court victory for common sense against a lawsuit based on junk science and climate hysteria is but momentary. The case will be appealed.  Be warned: climate lawsuits will not stop since alarmist groups will use the courts to attempt to impose their policies that cannot stand scientific scrutiny or pass legislatively.

Author

  • Peter Murphy, a CFACT analyst, has researched and advocated for a variety of policy issues, including education reform and fiscal policy, both in the non-profit sector and in government in the administration of former New York Gov. George Pataki. He previously wrote and edited The Chalkboard weblog for the NY Charter Schools Association, and has been published in numerous media outlets, including The Hill, New York Post, Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @PeterMurphy26.