Whenever the current state of climate climate change policy seems particularly frustrating, I like to imagine that our generation will handle things differently once we have more power and influence. There are a number of new climate lawsuits popping up around the country arguing the “public trust doctrine,” and, according to the New York Times, some are being filed by teenagers (perhaps strategically)! They argue the government agencies have failed in their duty to protect the atmosphere.
Most of the individual plaintiffs in the suit, filed in United States District Court in San Francisco, are teenagers, a decision apparently made to underscore the intergenerational nature of the public trust that the earth’s atmosphere represents. More novel, however, is the suit’s reliance on the public trust doctrine, which dates to Roman times.
That doctrine has been invoked in cases involving the protection of Chicago’s lakefront and of Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevada.
But in some ways the suit parallels a current case, brought by several states against the five largest utilities in the country, that frames greenhouse gas emissions as a public nuisance, legal experts noted.
The similar, and more prominent case (which was mentioned in class), is AEP vs. Connecticut, which argues the “public nuisance” of carbon dioxide emissions. Whether the public trust cases get thrown out or not, it is inspiriting to envision bridging an environmental generation “gap.”