Public Trust Doctrine basis for citizen's right to sue on climate change action
A recent article on the New York Times Opinion Editorial Page features the public trust doctrine as basis for citizens, including the children atmospheric trust cases, to bring court actions to order governments to take affirmative action to drastically reduce greenhouse gases and minimize climate change. All water, air, and wildlife are legally viewed as public commons. Water and other commons that are special, rare, unique or endangered are protected specifically by the public trust doctrine. Certainly, the atmosphere, which is actually a hydrosphere connected to public trust water, at this time in history is rare, endangered, and tied directly to devastating harm to this and future generations, including our navigable public trust waters and their tributaries. These court cases and similar efforts are growing evidence of a paradigm shift in this country to protecting our commons; they are public, necessary for health and life, and do not belong to any one private interest or sector. The public trust duties require affirmative action in perpetuity to protect citizens rights to water an air under public trust principles. Our federal and state governments have inherent and significant authority to fulfill these duties, and must do so now, without our children having to be surrogates for government and the rest of us. There is no excuse to wait, by government or the fossil fuel industry; failure to take action and waiting and stalling, or patterns of interference in protecting water and air from climate change will impose liability on them.