News & Politics

Oregon Judge Upholds Kids' Lawsuit Against Gov. Inaction on Climate Change

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An Oregon judge ruled in favor of a group of children last week. Twenty-one kids between the ages of 8 and 19 sued the federal government and the fossil fuel industry for violating their rights and those of “future generations.” The judge, rather than dismissing these petulant children, found that they have a substantive complaint on legal grounds, and dismissed the government’s call to drop the case.

No, this is not The Onion. Taking climate alarmism to an absurd conclusion, the 21 kids — along with Dr. James Hansen, who participated as a guardian for the plaintiff “future generations” — said that the gridlock in the federal government which has stopped massive economic regulations against the allegedly disastrous effects of carbon emissions was a direct assault on their rights to life and liberty, and a substantial breach of their due process rights when compared with prior generations. It is as convoluted as it sounds.

Yes, this judge accepted the argument that the federal government is harming future generations by not acting against a huge chunk of the energy sector.

“This is purely political — a liberal judge putting his personal opinions on climate change above the law he is supposed to uphold and defend,” H. Sterling Burnett, a Ph.D in environmental ethics and research fellow at the Heartland Institute, told PJ Media in an email statement. “The Obama administration has gone around our elected representatives to enact draconian restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, yet for these kids that’s not enough.”

Burnett conceded that it is almost impossible to halt the use of fossil fuels across the world. “It is true that the actions taken by the administration and by world leaders in the Paris climate agreements will not stem the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, but nothing they can realistically do would.” He estimated that “you would have to shut down all of industrial civilization to stop rising greenhouse gas emissions, condemning [both present and future generations] to poverty and early death.”

The Heartland scholar argued that this case “should have been thrown out of court based on lack of standing,” since the children “can’t show they have or are or will be harmed by human caused climate change, and because burning fossil fuels does not violate any portion of the Constitution or the bill of rights,” as they claim it does (emphasis added). Rather, burning oil and gas “contributes greatly to life, the pursuit of happiness, and the general welfare.”

Burnett noted that these children are likely hypocrites, enjoying the benefits of fossil fuels, such as cell phones, iPads, laptops, television, air conditioning and heating, refrigerated foods, the increased mobility of automobiles, and the use of hospital facilities. All these positive elements of developed civilization are rendered possible, at least in part, due to the cheap energy from fossil fuels.

“The court should have fined the kids and their parents for wasting its time,” Burnett concluded. Unfortunately, there is likely to be a great deal of time and legal resources spent on this case before its conclusion.

Next Page: Why the kids’ argument is so dangerous.

But the children’s case isn’t just a waste of time — it represents a threat to our understanding of how constitutional government works. Their arguments employ complicated legal twisting to make what amounts to a civil rights claim for government action, without the consent of the people’s elected representatives.

The 21 child plaintiffs said that CO2 emissions “are infringing the plaintiffs’ right to life and liberty in violation of their substantive due process rights.” These emissions also violate their “equal protection rights embedded in the Fifth Amendment by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring short term economic interests of certain citizens.” Even further, they added that emissions “violate the implicit right, via the Ninth Amendment, to a stable climate and an ocean and atmosphere free from dangerous levels of CO2.”

In other words, acting on the unproven premise that climate change is catastrophic, that it is entirely caused by human actions, and that we can know this with complete certainty (all of these claims are hotly contested), there is no legitimate basis for the government not to act, even if 100 percent of voters opposed such measures.

Forcing elected representatives to take action against their will and against the demands of voters, in the name of rights supposedly violated under claims which cannot be proven, is fundamentally undemocratic and dangerous. If all I have to do to compel you to pass laws that I like is claim that you are harming me in some indemonstrable way, then I have complete control over you.

This is what climate groups are claiming today, and it is truly scary to see.