Thursday, March 26, 2020
The skies over Wuhan have dramatically reduced air pollution. Maps show a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide since factories closed and transportation restricted. NASA maps from January 1 and February 25, 2020 show a 30% drop in NO2, which is created through the use of fossil fuels. "According to NASA scientists, the reduction in NO2 pollution was first apparent near Wuhan, but eventually spread across the country."
“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.
Italy is experiencing similar environmental improvements. Satellite photographs show a decrease in air pollution. Industrialized northern Italy, in particular, was plagued with serious pollution since well prior to the Coronavirus explosion. For decades, cruise ships have long polluted the bay leading to the canals. And boat traffic in the canals is vastly down.
These environmental improvements may be temporary. Indications are Venice canals have reduced sharply pollution levels. Now residents report that for the first time in decades they can see fish swimming in the canals. However, there is no evidence that governments will change their environmental habits or tie any stimulus packages to environmental improvements. Indeed, some of the biggest polluters, the airlines, may be recipients of large influxes of federal funds. To date, no government has tied stimulus funds to changeover to alternative energy systems.
The earth is offering us a chance to repair environmental harms. Is anyone listening?
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Juliana v US is a lawsuit brought by 21 youth claiming violations by the US government of their right to a clean environment. Specifically, the lawsuit claimed violations of the right to a safe climate. The 9th circuit court of appeals dismissed the suit but not without recognizing the severity of the climate crisis. The court acknowledged that young people are the most likely to suffer because of rising temperatures. The opinion was decided 2-1 with the majority stating that the legislature must act to implement environmental protections.
Our Children's Trust supported the Plaintiffs in their lawsuit. In their statement, they noted that the decision was two to one with the dissent noting that "Judge Staton would hold that the youth plaintiffs have the standing to challenge the government’s conduct, have articulated claims under the Constitution, and have presented sufficient evidence to press those claims at trial. "
Counsel for the youth will ask the Court for a review.
The decision fails to acknowledge the human right to a healthy climate and the state's role in creating environmental damage and taking responsibility for the damage.
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Guest Blogger Rebecca Bratspies, Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law and the founding director of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform, contributes this post which was originally published on the Environmental Law Profs Blog.
The choreographer George Balanchine is famous for telling his dancers
“why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”
While dance and environmental law are generally not considered the most closely aligned fields, I have been thinking about Balanchine’s word’s lately as I try to respond to the current administration’s approach to climate change, and to environmental law more generally.
On October 6, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report titled Global Warming of 1.5°C. This report underscores the vital importance of ‘now” that Balanchine was trying to convey to his dancers. The report emphasized that the world is not yet committed to catastrophe—it is still possible to keep anthropogenic climate change below 1.5°C of warming. However, there is only a small window of time in which we can change our trajectory and limit the damages of climate change. Thus, the IPCC unambiguously states that the need for immediate action is urgent and that averting catastrophe will require “rapid and far-reaching transitions” that “are unprecedented in terms of scale.” There are no other times. There is only now. Right now!
The United States national government seems set on preventing any such transition. Announcing with great fanfare that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the Trump Administration is on the wrong side of history. Climate deniers occupy key executive branch positions. As a result, the government alternates between bolstering the coal industry, undoing laws preventing methane and HFC emissions, and reducing fuel efficiency standards. Indeed, the Trump administration recently used the prediction that disastrous warming was inevitable as a reason to allow increased carbon emissions from vehicles. Noting that the proposed rollback was “projected to result in only very minor increases in global CO2 concentrations and associated impacts”the administration rationalized that any such restrictions were too small to matter because climate change is a global issue. This was, of course, precisely the argument rejected in Massachusetts v. EPA. In that case, EPA had argued that because greenhouse gas emissions caused widespread harm, there was no “realistic possibility. . .that the relief petitioners seek would mitigate global climate change and remedy their injuries.” The US Supreme Court flatly rejected this contention noting that “the United states transportation sector emits an enormous quality of carbon dioxide” and that restricting these emissions would be an incremental step that might reduce the risk to some extent.
Yet, even as the federal government backslides, large portions of the country are forging ahead. All eyes are on the cities, states, businesses and other organs of civil society that have pledged to take action on their own. The 3600 member strong “We’re Still In” coalition, for example, has taken up the task of achieving with the United States’ Nationally-Determined Commitment to the Paris Agreement without federal leadership. Hundreds of subnational and private actors have submitted pledged to reduce their carbon emissions. These commitments put us on track to come close to achieving our Paris obligations. And, technology is rapidly leaving carbon behind. Even in the US, renewables and electric cars are burgeoning, prompting the Climate Action Tracker to revise the United States’ projected emissions downward despite federal intransigence. “There are no other times. There is only now. Right now!”
Moreover, the rest of the world seems committed to a greener future. A Dutch appeals court just ordered the Netherlands to rachet up its climate ambitions. A host of similar lawsuits around the globe are pushing other countries to do the same. These lawsuits are changing the public narrative. Together with the IPCC report emphasizing that we are not yet committed to 1.5 C, the message is being heard: “There are no other times. There is only now. Right now!”
Perhaps the greatest signal that we may be experiencing a sea change is the emerging consensus on the human right to a healthy environment. On October 25, 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time. While the United States did not attend, many other countries did. Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Slovenia spoke strongly in favor of officially recognizing a human right to a healthy environment. Russia prefaced its remarks by stating that the Russian Federation recognized the right to a healthy environment. France has proposed its Global Compact for the Environment, which it describes as a “common road map for transforming our world.”
Together these developments suggest that there is a moment open for action. The United States midterm elections may give us a hint of how the federal government will move forward from here. Yet, regardless of federal action or inaction, we can seize the chance, we can remake our world. Now is the time to think big, to think beyond the narrowing limits of existing environmental law to what a truly sustainable society would entail. There are no other times. There is only now. Right now!
Thursday, December 7, 2017
On December 4, President Trump announced that he would dramatically downsize two Utah
National Monuments - Bears Ears by 85 percent and the Grand Staircase-Escalante by roughly half. The reduction, totaling two million acres, represents the biggest rollback of federal designated land protection in U.S. history. The Bears Ears monument is home to an estimated 100,000 Native American archeological and sacred sites. President Obama designated Bears Ears in 2016, while the Grand Staircase-Escalante was protected by President Clinton in 1996, both under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows presidents to unilaterally set aside public lands to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” In contrast, National Parks are designated by acts of Congress.
The announcement came a week after Trump sparked controversy during a ceremony honoring World War II veteran Navajo code talkers by reviving his feud with Senator Elizabeth Warren, indirectly referring to her as “Pocahontas,” an intended slur that offended the families of the code talkers. Critics also questioned the optics of holding the ceremony against the backdrop of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, whose bloody enforcement of the Indian Removal Act caused thousands of Native American deaths.
Hours after the announcement, opponents hit back. A coalition of five Native American tribes - Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian- filed suit to block the move. According to Native American Rights Fund (NARF) attorney Matthew Campbell, “Bears Ears is one of the most important places for Indian Country, and that is why Indian Country came together to advocate for this important place. Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is an attack on all of us, and we will fight to protect it.” The tribes argue that the Antiquities Act allows a president to designate but not to revoke monument status, and that Trump has exceeded his authority by curtailing the monuments so sharply that he has in effect eliminated their protections. Trump’s move is not unprecedented – previous presidents have made much smaller reductions, but their right to do has never been tested in court. The move bodes ill for Trump’s respect for Native sovereignty. As NARF points out, “This latest action follows on the heels of the Administration’s other actions against Tribes: (1) issuing the permit to the Dakota Access Pipeline, (2) issuing the permit to the Keystone XL, and (3) revoking the Executive Order to protect the Bering Sea on April 28th. Tribes vigorously opposed all of these efforts. The Administration uses the term “tribal sovereignty” but clearly does not understand what that means.”
The same day, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of a group of environmental and conservation organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and seven others, claiming that the decision to shrink the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante was unlawful. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage,” said Earthjustice’s attorney Heidi McIntosh.
The outcome of the litigation will have far-reaching implications for the preservation of natural resources, including whether the designation of national monument status will be rendered effectively meaningless if it can be easily reversed by subsequent administrations. In making the announcement, Trump said “public lands will once again be for public use.” But as NARF’s Executive Director John Echohawk sees it, the reality is that the lands will provide private benefits instead, with potentially damaging environmental and cultural consequences. He said “It is clear that Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is motivated by his desire to undo decisions made by his predecessor, but also to grant political favors to the Utah politicians who would see our sacred lands plundered for short-term economic gain that could come from drilling for oil and mining for uranium.”
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
The Earth does not have an unlimited ability to sustain its inhabitants. President Trump either does not care or does not understand this urgency.
Ten governors have pledged to continue compliance with the 2015 Paris Agreement despite the announcement of recent US plans to withdraw. The states have formed the bipartisan US Climate Change Alliance. The Alliance pledges to reach the goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025. This would ensure compliance with the goals of the Clean Power Plan, a plan that is now under review per the order of the President.
The governors join mayors, companies and universities that have organized and plan to file reports with the UN in lieu of those typically filed by member national governments. The collaborative was the idea of former NY Mayor Bloomberg who has pledged $15 million of his own money to the replace the US contribution that would have been made to fund the UN's costs in operating the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Local US advocates have assumed leadership in the human rights movement. This was a topic of discussion at the recent HR conference held at Columbia University.
Monday, March 13, 2017
by Lauren Carasik
On March 3, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued an End of Mission Statement, following her 10 day visit to the US to study the human rights situation the nation’s indigenous peoples, with a focus on energy development projects. She lamented the failure of the government to engage in meaningful consultations with tribes, concluding that "The legislative regime regulating consultation, while well intentioned, has failed to ensure effective and informed consultations with tribal governments. The breakdown of communication and lack of good faith in the review of federal projects leaves tribal governments unable to participate in dialogue with the United States on projects affecting their lands, territories, and resources."
The UN expert singled out the flawed process with respect to the Dakota Access Pipeline:
“Many indigenous peoples in the United States perceive a general lack of consideration of the future impacts on their lands in approving extractive industry projects in particular, and a lack of recognition that they face significant impacts from development of not just their own, but neighbouring resources as well. In the context of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the potentially affected tribes were denied access to information and excluded from consultations at the planning stage of the project. Furthermore, in a show of disregard for treaties and the federal trust responsibility, the Army Corps approved a draft environmental assessment regarding the pipeline that ignored the interests of the tribe… Although the final environmental assessment recognized the presence of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe five hundred meters away, it dismissed the risks to the reservation and failed to mention any of the other tribes that traditionally used the territory. Without an adequate social, cultural or environmental assessment, and the absence of meaningful consultation with or participation by the tribes, the Corps gave multiple domestic authorizations permitting the construction of DAPL.”
While she did recognize some positive steps towards indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, Tauli-Corpuz expressed deep concern over President Trump’s executive actions on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, and recommended “that for any extractive industry project affecting indigenous peoples, regardless of the status of the land, the United States should require a full environmental impact assessment of the project in consideration of the impact on indigenous peoples’ rights.”
In order to move forward, the UN expert emphasized the need for reconciliation:
“The issues surrounding energy development underscore the need for reconciliation with indigenous peoples in the United States. Tribal leaders and representatives indicate that they are interested in engaging in a program of reconciliation to remedy the harms they have faced and improve the government-to-government relationship going forward. Such a program would acknowledge the historical wrongs inflicted upon indigenous peoples in the United States and confront systemic barriers that prevent the full realization of indigenous peoples' rights.”
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Standing Rock tribal members protesting the pipeline placement have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. According to a report on International Law Grrls, "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and Yankton Sioux Tribe, with Earthjustice and the American Indian Law Clinic – UC Boulder, submitted a Request for Precautionary Measures Pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure Concerning Serious and Urgent Risks of Irreparable Harm Arising Out of Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to the IACHR."
Among the relief sought is a request to end state violence at the protest site and ensure the safety of those engaging in "peaceful prayer." The Standing Rock website has information on the environmental and other issues as well as a link to the petition. A copy of the petition may be found here.
While the press was prompt in announcing that on December 4, the Army Corps or Engineers determined that it would not grant a permit for the pipeline route to include running underneath the local tribe's water supply, the connrection to the power of the tribes' IACHR petition was not reported.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The 28th Meeting of the Parties (MOP 28) to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer met in Rwanda last week. Among the discussion was the use and misuse of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). The related working group met immediately prior to the general meeting in order to write draft policy on HFC. The use of HFC has environmental benefits. Hydrofluorocarbons can substitute for chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. Uncontrolled use of HFC leads to climate warming. The meeting focused on ways to manage the use of HFC, which would prevent a rise in world temperature by more than half a degree Celsius by the end of the century.
On Saturday, 170 nations signed an agreement limiting the use of HFC in air conditioners and refrigerators. The agreement amends the Montreal Protocol, a pact agreed to so that unified actions could take steps to close the hole in the ozone layer. At that time countries agreed to ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC).
The agreement exemplifies the UN's best. Nations working together to create solutions. The agreement acknowledges that poorer nations will take longer to implement HFC reduction. And scientists say slow implementation is insufficient to avert some warming. None of that takes away from the fact that 170 countries acknowledged the seriousness of the warming crisis and acted together to help save our planet.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
The Standing Rock Sioux and the International Indian Treaty Council opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline have asked four UN Special Rapporteurs to intervene to stop the work on the project. According to a report in Indian Country Today, the groups cited “ongoing threats and violations to the human rights of the Tribe, its members and its future generations.” The urgent communication was submitted to UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and Environment and Human Rights, as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A more detailed description of the communication is available here. Pipeline construction was halted pending resolution of a court proceeding, with the hearing now scheduled for September 8.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
On August 4th and 5th Vancouver will host the 18th International Conference on Justice, Security and Human Rights.
The conference has an impressive range of topics including science based presentations on Fish Stock Habitats, business enterprises addressed in Sustainable Entrepreneurship,and Creating Shared Values, medical approaches to Treating Diabetes; and political topics such as Rights of Refugees and Promoting Gender Equality.
For more information, click here.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Imagine finding out that the contamination of your water was deliberate. And the perpetrator was your local government. Much more is at stake beyond the already significant physical health risks that the contamination brings. Along with the potential, if not likely, short and long term health conditions the water brings, comes the knowledge that those on whom you rely for that element most critical to life cannot be relied upon.
The residents of Flint are experiencing mental health problems as a direct consequence of the contamination. In addition to the uncertainty of accessing safe water, residents experience isolation as friends and family stop visiting, reluctant to expose themselves and loved ones to the risks. Children are experiencing anxiety resulting from exposure to frequent discussion of the crisis. Some are experiencing guilt resulting from the inadvertent exposure of their children to the contaminated water.
Mental health counsellors have organized centers such as the Flint Community Resilience Group to assist residents experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Michigan State University School of Social Work has a website updating the public on the crisis and available resources.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
“Poetry has a lot to offer a world in crisis — and, in particular, in environmental crisis. For centuries, poets have given voice to our collective trauma: naming injustices, reclaiming stolen language, and offering us courage to imagine a more just world. In a world such as ours, poetry is an act of cultural resilience.” – Melissa Tuckey, “Introduction on Ecojustice Poetry”, Poetry Magazine, January 2016.
I want to gently urge you all to read the January 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine, which is dedicated to ecojustice poetry. The human right to a healthy environment feels clear, alive, and magical when you are in the midst of reading these poems and prose. Sitting in what seems to be the middle of this grey, frigid, winter landscape, finally arrived, I need inspiration to put on the several layers of clothes required to walk outside, let alone inspiration to seek environmental justice for all. While I have never thought of myself as a lover of poetry; it’s growing on me. I appreciate the celebration of language, the oddity of content and structure, the imagery, and the freedom of poetry. Also, I’m learning not to dwell on logic when reading poetry, which seems to be a good lesson for reading emails from my law students as well.
If you don’t know where to start or don’t have time to savor each and every poem, start with From “summer, somewhere” by Danez Smith, which more obviously than others touches directly on race, environment and justice. Maybe then read Crossing a City Highway by Yusef Komunyakaa to see the urban landscape come to life with its subtle references to severe environmental degradation. And don’t miss Water Devil by Jamaal May, who makes me feel like I can reach out and grab the things he is describing.