Q: “There seem to be a number of class-action lawsuits against federal and state governments regarding climate change. Who can join as a plaintiff, is it helpful/advisable, and what steps need to be taken?”
A: Litigation is one of our most formidable tools for saving the planet. Our courts hold tremendous power in ensuring that governments and regulators uphold their responsibility to act in the public’s interest.
A recent wave of lawsuits are presenting the urgent need to act on climate. A number of cases brought by coalitions of cities and counties seek damages from oil companies that are responsible for a significant portion of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. In these cases, the cities themselves are the ones suing, so direct citizen participation isn’t needed. For example, take a current lawsuit targeting 37 fossil fuel companies that was filed by the California counties of San Mateo and Marin in partnership with the city of Imperial Beach, where a rising sea is eroding the coastline and damaging infrastructure. The plaintiffs (the two counties and one city) are arguing that these costly impacts result directly from climate change and should be shouldered by the ones who caused it.
There are also several cases in which the plaintiffs are children—the ones who stand to lose the most. In Juliana vs. U.S., 21 young people are seeking to force the federal government to take action to address climate change. The government filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but the district court rejected it and set a trial date for later this fall.
There are ways to get involved in similar legal cases, even without serving as a plaintiff. (And to clarify: Many of the cases you’re likely referring to are not technically class-action lawsuits, which require plaintiffs who represent a class of individuals and seek compensation for damages for all members of the class.) Ben Longstreth, a senior attorney in NRDC’s Climate & Clean Air program, works tirelessly in courtrooms against climate catastrophe. He notes that often, cases related to climate change inaction are coordinated by an organization, with the plaintiffs carefully selected by that group to provide varied perspectives. Plaintiffs may be chosen because they’ve felt some immediate impact of climate change already—like a flooded home or destroyed crops.
Even if your participation isn’t warranted in suits like these, Longstreth notes that there are still other ways to voice your concerns through our justice system. In every case NRDC files, our lawyers must demonstrate that NRDC members are harmed by the action they’re challenging, and that the harm will be remedied by the action they’re asking the court to take. Longstreth explains that these members serve as “standing declarants”—a fancy term for real people who can provide personal statements and real-life stories. So if you become an NRDC member, we might one day ask you if you’d be willing to stand with us in court.
The bottom line? The chance to directly join a legal battle doesn’t come up too often. But there is no shortage of opportunities to support organizations like NRDC that are fighting for the values you support. It’s also critical that we show up and participate in forums to promote climate action, whether that’s through submitting public comments, attending public hearings, or taking part in other events where we can influence policy decisions that affect our planet’s future.
However you choose to get involved, Vicente, you should feel encouraged that public pushback is reshaping the conversation around climate change accountability—and that we can win.
Model, actor, and designer Luka Sabbat can make just about anything look good—even an air mask. Behold the future of fashion.
To ignore this fact—as the Trump administration insists on doing—is to hamper U.S. foreign policy.
A recent climate assessment raised red flags about a shrinking economy. But maybe it doesn’t have to play out that way for millennials—we can start demanding with our dollars for a green, just economy.
The president doesn’t know what the U.N.’s climate report is, Ryan Zinke’s “pay-to-protest” plan, and Andrew Wheeler’s racist index finger.
The administration cites the likelihood of catastrophic global temperature rise to justify gutting fuel-efficiency standards. Yes, you read that correctly.
Trump denies climate change on “60 Minutes,” and yet his administration says climate facts are indisputable in court. Also, strange things are afoot between Ben Carson and Ryan Zinke’s scandals.
A recent ruling on methane emissions serves as a smackdown to Pruitt’s EPA—and a way forward for environmentalists.
The American people believe in climate change—and are committed to doing something about it.
California cities square off against oil companies in a debate over who’s to blame for a warming planet.
Gun-control activists want to use financial levers to curtail firearm sales. Can we do the same for carbon emissions?
The prospect of geoengineering freaks us out. And it should—it signifies the lateness of our climate hour.
On the first anniversary of the agency’s removal of climate change info from its website, a look back at one of the earth’s roughest years on record and the fight to set things right.
Seriously. It’s asking American taxpayers to fund a 60-mile seawall along the refinery-heavy Texas Gulf Coast.
NRDC Chief Counsel Mitch Bernard takes on big polluters, climate deniers, and their powerful allies—including those who sit in the West Wing.
It’s true that aggressive policies and laws are crucial to save the planet. But carbon-cutting actions by individuals can also make a dent (especially when corporations and elected officials take note!). Here are some easy, concrete ways you can make a difference.
Turn your city into a climate sanctuary, rally on Main Street, and other ways to make change globally by acting locally.
Insert yourself in the policy-making process. At town hall meetings and in public hearings, during comment periods and in our courts, government officials have to listen to us—whether they like it or not.
Darby Hoover, NRDC’s waste expert, says this “single stream” type of recycling is mostly about customer convenience, but the costs may outweigh the benefits.