A Grain of Saul: Barack Obama can save the environment before he leaves office (No, really)
If Barack Obama wants to preserve his legacy of combatting climate change, he can do it by settling in court with the 21 youth plaintiffs currently suing the United States government.
I’ve reported on those plaintiffs’ case, and I’m no longer convinced it’s some kind of long shot to battle climate change. Yes, as Slate writer Eric Holthaus put it, it sounds like a Disney movie. But with a looming Donald Trump presidency, I think it might be the only shot.
Here’s the gist of it: 21 plaintiffs from the ages of 9 to 21 years old are currently suing the federal government, several government agencies, and Barack Obama for climate change. A couple weeks ago, a U.S. District Court judge in Oregon named Ann Aiken ruled in their favor, essentially giving life to their claim that the United States constitution ensures every American’s right to a clean and healthy environment that can sustain life. The case is set to move to trial in the coming months.
The decision was historic: it legitimized — in court — the 21 plaintiffs claims that their Fifth Amendment rights, which grant them the right to life, liberty, and property, were being infringed on by the federal government. How? By them knowingly, for more than five decades, allowing the fossil fuel industry to emit carbon dioxide into the air, something the scientific community has recognized as causing climate change.
Several plaintiffs and the lead counsel on the case, Julia Olson, told me in separate interviews that one of their most hopeful outcomes was that President Obama would come to the table and settle before he left office. If he were to do this, the two sides could begin constructing long-term federal, court-enforced environmental and energy regulations that go beyond the actions Obama has already taken.
And if you’re Barack Obama, the question is simply “Why not?”
Why not do everything in your power to legitimize a cause you have championed your whole presidency? Why not send a signal to climate change deniers that there is no time left to hesitate on taking action? Why not let federal courts oversee a science-based climate recovery plan? Why not go out with a bang?
To be clear, President Obama has done Americans (and the world) an immense service in how he has championed energy and environmental issues. He tripled the U.S. capacity for generating energy from wind power. Four hundred thousand electric cars hit the road during his presidency. Oil imports are down 60 percent. Solar installations went up 2,000 percent. Solyndra, which is most known for taking a failed $535 million loan from the Obama administration, happened to build nine of the world’s 10 biggest solar farms.
Obama also instituted enough regulations on refrigerators and air conditioners to cut 3 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2030, “the equivalent of taking every car off America’s roads for two years.” Six billion total metric tons of carbon emissions will be avoided because of his Climate Action Plan, and that’s before we even get into the fact he bound 195 countries to one of the largest global pacts ever with the Paris climate agreement.
But now, Trump threatens all of it. The alternative to not coming to the table and settling this case is potentially disastrous.
We know that despite the smoke and mirrors, President-elect Trump has no plan to combat climate change. In fact, he’s given every indication he will roll back regulations mentioned above. He’s threatened to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is led by a climate change skeptic and donor to Trump, is already tweeting out propaganda that inaccurately questions the evidence of climate change.
To be quite clear: the time is now.
If President Obama comes to the table, he could give a group of people with similar interests an opportunity, with legal and court backing, to overthrow the fossil fuel industry’s vice grip on the energy sector.
If not now, when?
By A Plus’ ISAAC SAUL