The fight to stop global warming just got more interesting. A newly formed activist group iMatter and its litigation partner, Our Children’s Trust, have launched an ingenious new strategy to use the public trust doctrine to protect the atmosphere in conjunction with a mass mobilization of young people.
The project seeks to rally young people around the world to protect their futures, quite literally, by organizing street protests and other citizen action. But the project also casts young people as the lead plaintiffs in simultaneous common-law lawsuits against all fifty states as well as several federal agencies (EPA, USDA, Commerce, Defense, Energy and Interior) for failing to curb carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
It’s been 23 years since James Hansen, the eminent NASA climatologist, first raised alarms about global warming in testimony to Congress. Since then, the U.S. government and international bodies have done precious little to take action even as the evidence of an impending planetary disaster continues to mount. Bottom line: the government has been grossly negligent in protecting our atmospheric commons, and must be held to account.
One way to do so has been a series of marches in cities around the country, including Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, Great Britain and more than a dozen other countries. The iMatter campaign was launched on Mother’s Day (May 10) and will continue throughout the summer. But a key tie-in to the protests is a litigation strategy based on the often-overlooked “public trust doctrine.” The public trust doctrine is an ancient legal principle that declares that government must exercise the highest duty of care in managing property that is necessarily held in common by all – such as the atmosphere.