The capacity of wealthy nations to embrace global justice might determine if civilization survives. Now that it's clear business as usual means a 6 degree C temperature rise, we will all live in a fair sustainable world or we will all succumb.

In “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” — Bill McKibben’s Call to Ac...

Tom Athanasiou warns

...what McKibben should really say is that “most people in rich countries would actually come out ahead.” Because if fee and dividend was the only equity framework on offer, and if energy prices increased as a result of the sunsetting of the fossil industry – which would be a very real danger, given this crazy world and its crazy economy – this wouldn’t be very good news for most people in the developing world. Not, at least, during the next few critical decades, wherein we hope to see a great transition. Which would probably fail for just this reason. 

... we never quite get around to the “acting globally” part of the equation. And that, despite all, despite even mad dogs and Republicans, climate remains a global commons problem.

The climate problem, in a nutshell, is that we’ve already exhausted the global carbon budget – the atmospheric space – but that many of us are still far too poor to live minimally dignified, let alone prosperous lives.

...it hardly matters if these are judged in terms of “climate justice” or “climate realism.”  What finally matters is that the transition be fair enough to actually work.

From the South’s perspective, this quite implacably means that development is still pitted hard again climate protection, and it will continue to mean this until low-carbon energy is no longer an expensive gamble that the poor are expected to make on their own.

...we also need a plan for “lifting up the poor,” globally and as an integral part of the abandonment of fossil energy. Fee-and-dividend approaches could indeed help within rich countries. But they won’t work internationally, and we need something that will. [emphasis mine]


This is our ultimate moral test. Where are the Atheist voices calling for inclusion of developing nations in the transition away from fossil fuel?

Tags: CO2, Global Warming, cap and trade, global justice

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Replies to This Discussion

I think you could insert just about any world cause into the sentence "Where are the Atheist voices calling for ___?" We may not have the big coffers like religious groups, but we need to start using what influence we do have and utilizing atheist, humanist voices like Dawkins and Alain de Botton to be the change we want to see in the world.

No one else is going to do that for us.

Thanks for your support, David. I agree, but the issue of sustainability seems more foundational to me. If the planet becomes uninhabitable, all other worthy causes also fail.

As a die-hard skeptic I'm not 100% sold on global warming, but am all for doing everything we can do reduce our footprint on the planet and finding more sustainable and renewable ways of living. That's one of the things my boyfriend is currently working on... building sustainable communities, and converting existing communities into sustainable ones.

I don't know if you know about this site or not David but I get a very interesting digest from them also regarding sustainable communities Resilient Communities and one other site whose name fails me at present but I'll try to remember to post it when I get a digest, I think that one is weekly rather than daily.

Did you see this story today Ruth? It was in the daily digest from Common Dreams http://www.commondreams.org

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Published on Thursday, July 26, 2012 by On the Commons
Texas Judge Rules 'The Sky Belongs To Everyone'
Is this a "shot heard round the world" for fight against climate change?
by David Morris

“Texas judge rules atmosphere, air is a public trust”, reads the headline in the Boston Globe. A tiny breakthrough but with big potential consequences.(Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

And as we continue to suffer from one of the most extended heat waves in US history, as major crops have withered and fires raged in a dozen states, we need all the tiny breakthroughs we can get.

The “public trust” doctrine is a legal principle derived from English Common Law. Traditionally it has applied to water resources. The waters of the state are deemed a public resource owned by and available to all citizens equally for the purposes of navigation, fishing, recreation, and other uses. The owner cannot use that resource in a way that interferes with the public’s use and interest. The public trustee, usually the state, must act to maintain and enhance the trust’s resources for the benefit of future generations.

Back in 2001, Peter Barnes, a co-founder of Working Assets (now CREDO) and On the Commons as well as one of the most creative environmentalists around, proposed the atmosphere be treated as a public trust in his pathbreaking book, Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism (Island Press).

In 2007, in a law review article University of Oregon Professor Mary Christina Wood elaborated on similar idea of a Nature’s Trust. “With every trust there is a core duty of protection,” she wrote. “The trustee must defend the trust against injury. Where it has been damaged, the trustee must restore the property in the trust.”

She noted that the idea itself is not new. In 1892 “when private enterprise threatened the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Supreme Court said, ‘It would not be listened to that the control and management of [Lake Michigan]—a subject of concern to the whole people of the state—should . . . be placed elsewhere than in the state itself.’ You can practically hear those same Justices saying today that ‘[i]t would not be listened to’ that government would let our atmosphere be dangerously warmed in the name of individual, private property rights.”

In 2010 Wood, along with Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust “had the vision to organize a coordinated international campaign of attorneys, youth, and media around the idea that the climate crisis could be addressed as a whole system,” Peter Barnes observes, replacing a situation in which “legal solutions were fragmented, focused on closing down a particular power plant or seeking justice for a particular endangered species, threatened neighborhood or body of water impacted by our fossil fuel abuse.”

On behalf of the youth of America, Our Children’s Trust, Kids Versus Global Warming and others began filing suits around the country, arguing the atmosphere is a public trust. So far cases have been filed in 13 states.

In Texas, after a petition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to institute proceedings to reduce greenhouse gases was dismissed, the Texas Environmental Law Center sued on behalf of a group of children and young adults. The Center asserted the State of Texas had a fiduciary duty to reduce emissions as the common law trustee of a “public trust” responsible for the air and atmosphere.

The lawsuit argued, “The atmosphere, including the air, is one of the most crucial assets of our public trust….Global climate change threatens to dry up most of these waters, turning them from gorgeous, life-giving springs into dangerous flash-flooding drainages when the rare, heavy rains do come. The outdoors will be inhospitable and the children will have few places to recreate in nature as the climate changes. They will be living in a world of drought, water shortages and restrictions, and desertification.”

The TCEQ argued the public trust doctrine applies only to water. Judge Gisela Triana, of the Travis County District Court disagreed. Her letter decision, issued on July 12, 2012 stated, “[t]he doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.” The court went further to argue that the public trust doctrine “is not simply a common law doctrine” but is incorporated into the Texas Constitution, which (1) protects “the conservation and development of all the resources of the State,” (2) declares conservation of those resources “public rights and duties,” and (3) directs the Legislature to pass appropriate laws to protect these resources.

The immediate impact of the case is limited. Noting that a number of climate change cases were wending their way up the judicial ladder, Judge Triana upheld the TCEQ decision not to exercise its authority.

But a few days after Judge Triana’s ruling, Judge Sarah Singleton of the New Mexico District Court denied the state’s motion to dismiss a similar case. That will now move forward.

The Texas court is the first to support the possibility that the “public trust” doctrine may justify the creation of an atmospheric trust. One Houston law firm advised its clients the decision “may represent a ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ in climate change litigation…Given the stakes involved in such cases, clients should monitor these suits carefully—and perhaps participate as amicus curiae to support the state’s attorneys’ arguments.”

What a delicious irony if future generations could look back to Texas as the catalyst that ultimately afforded legal protection to the sky.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
David Morris

David Morris is Vice President and director of the New Rules Project at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. focusing on local economic and social development.

That's a great precedent! Thanks.

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