Yves here. We will all miss Bill Moyers, who in an important act of public service came out of retirement twice at viewer request. I was lucky enough to appear on his show twice. Bill is both a gentleman and a true pro, and went to great lengths to make his interviewees look good.
His final show looks forward in an important way, to the efforts of a young group of climate change activists called Our Children’s Trust to use well-settled case law as the basis for suing governments for their failure to combat change.
From the start of the transcript:
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. This is our final broadcast. But you haven’t seen the last of us — we’ll continue to report and comment at our website, BillMoyers.com, I hope you’ll join me there for a webchat later this month.
We end our broadcast series on an encouraging word from the emerging generation. Remember Kelsey Juliana from Eugene, Oregon? She’s 18 years old, and co-plaintiff in a lawsuit spearheaded by the organization Our Children’s Trust, which claims that Oregon is not doing all it can to slow down global warming and protect the future. It’s one of several such suits around the country based on the doctrine of public trust, which goes back to ancient Rome…
Further hearings in the Oregon case are expected in a couple of months. The idea, which has come to be called atmospheric trust litigation, is catching on, thanks to this very influential book, “Nature’s Trust,” by the aforementioned legal scholar Mary Christina Wood…
Let’s talk about some of those cases that have been filed by Our Children’s Trust. Exactly what is the purpose of those particular suits. What do they want?
MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: Every suit and every administrative petition filed in every state in the country and against the federal government asks for the same relief. And that is for the government, whether it’s the state of Tennessee or the state of Oregon or the federal government to bring down carbon emissions in compliance with what scientists say is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change.
And so the remedy in the suits pending is for the courts to order a plan, simply order the legislatures and the agencies to do their job in figuring out how to lower carbon emissions. So the courts would not actually figure out how to do that. That’s the other branch’s job. It’s just that they’re not doing it. And they probably won’t without pressure before we pass crucial tipping points.
BILL MOYERS: A plaintiff in one of the early suits, 16 years old at the time, sued the federal government, quote, “…for making decisions that threaten our right to a safe and healthy planet.” Now, where does it say anywhere in law that the government serves as the trustee of the atmosphere and that it’s violating its most compelling duties by failing, in the words of this young man, to protect the atmosphere from climate change? Where do you find that?
MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: You find that in case law, going back to the beginning years of this country. The Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court, has announced the public trust doctrine in multiple cases over the years. And again, it’s in every state jurisprudence as well. And so this is not statutory law.
I think people are so accustomed to our statutory system, they always say, as you just did, where can we find it written down in a statute? Well, this is actually the foundation of all laws. Professor Gerald Torres has a wonderful quote in his writings, saying this is the slate upon which all constitutions and laws are written. And that is the approach most courts (in this country and other countries) take in describing the public trust.
I hope you’ll watch the show in full. If you are time-pressed, you can find the transcript here.