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An Impending Point of No Return

A prominent federal court of appeals has dismissed a lawsuit that aimed to compel the government to respond to climate change more urgently. It’s an interesting case.

Essentially, the plaintiffs wanted an injunction that ordered the government to phase out emissions from fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Or to come up with a plan for that, anyway. The government moved to dismiss the case, but the trial court denied that, so the government appealed.

The court of appeals dismissed the case last week but had this to say:

  • “The record leaves little basis for denying that climate change is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace.”
  • “Copious expert evidence establishes that this unprecedented rise [in carbon levels] stems from fossil-fuel combustion and will wreak havoc on the Earth’s climate if unchecked.”
  • “The plaintiffs have made a compelling case that action is needed; it will be increasingly difficult in light of that record for the political branches to deny that climate change is occurring, that the government has had a role in causing it, and that our elected officials have a moral responsibility to seek solutions.”
  • “The government by and large has not disputed the factual premises of the plaintiffs’ claims.”

Even so, two of the three judges ruled that it was not a problem that an injunction could solve.

That may or may not be right from a legal standpoint, but the dissent begins with these words:

“In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity. It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses.”

And it ends with these:

“Where is the hope in today’s decision? Plaintiffs’ claims are based on science, specifically, an impending point of no return. If plaintiffs’ fears, backed by the government’s own studies, prove true, history will not judge us kindly. When the seas envelop our coastal cities, fires and droughts haunt our interiors, and storms ravage everything between, those remaining will ask: Why did so many do so little?”

And that may be right from the standpoint of reality staring us in the face.

Indeed, they are questions for the whole world to answer. Fast.

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