When seeking inspiration for action on climate change we rarely look in the direction of the nation that elected George W Bush, has a penchant for sports-utility vehicles, and uses a disproportionate amount of the atmosphere’s carbon-recycling capacity. Yet lawyers in the US are exploring a new frontier for the issue: in a ground-breaking move this July both state and local governments asked the courts to force corporate polluters to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas that is most responsible for climate change.
The suit, filed in New York’s federal district court using a common law public-nuisance petition, alleges that the corporations it names are “the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the US and are among the largest in the world”. These five – the energy firms American Electric Power, Southern Company, Xcel Energy, Cinergy and the Tennessee Valley Authority – emit approximately 10 per cent of the US’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions contribute directly to climate change, which, the suit alleges, could lead to severe environmental and health impacts, including a doubling of heat-related deaths in Los Angeles. The suit claims that the melting of the snows that feed California’s water supply could lead to water shortages that would “harm residents, hurt agriculture, disrupt other businesses, cut the source of hydroelectric power and significantly increase the damage caused by wildfires”. The suit points out that means for reducing carbon dioxide emissions are both affordable and available.
This lawsuit has been driven by one of the factors that also leaves the US facing so much international criticism over climate change: Bush’s refusal to do anything useful. In an article in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, David Grossman acknowledged that the “widely perceived lack of meaningful political action in the US to address global warming” has potentially left litigation as “the best tool for addressing climate change in the foreseeable future”.
However, the problem had been not just the lack of “meaningful action”; the lack of a clearly connected chain of events from fossil-fuel use to unpredictable weather patterns had also proved problematic. This began to shift in 2001 with the release of the third climate-change assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report found that it was “likely” (better than a two in three chance) that human activities were causing the global climate to warm up. Some environmental lawyers saw this as hugely significant in paving the way for compensation claims against those responsible for climate change.
Peter Roderick, a lawyer who has worked with Friends of the Earth International, stated: “I think there is no doubt at all now that the third assessment report has taken forward the legal significance of the science, and this next decade is going to see quite a lot of climate change cases around the world.” Even the Financial Times speculated recently that corporations that delay taking action on climate change could be sued by their investors for “incurring higher costs as a result of unduly delaying emission reductions, damaging a company’s reputation and failing to disclose investment-relevant information”.
The issue of attribution – finding out where responsibility lies for the dramatic changes that are taking place as a result of global warming – is becoming increasingly unavoidable. As Myles Allen put it in the journal Nature, in between sandbagging his doorstep from the rising Thames floodwaters outside his Oxford home, in February 2003: “The issue is important as it touches on a question that is far closer to many of our hearts than global sustainability or planetary survival – who to sue when the house price falls?”
Far be it from anyone in the UK to underestimate the motivational power of falling house prices. And, even though it isn’t exactly based in a revolutionary consciousness, the use of legal channels for compensation may stimulate the public engagement that is needed, but still lacking, on tackling emissions and climate change. Maybe it is time for the oil companies that extract and promote the fossil fuels that lead to carbon emissions to really watch out. After all, as Allen wryly observed, if climate change leads to higher insurance premiums or lower house prices then “even the most impassioned eco-warrior has nothing on a homeowner faced with negative equity”.
For more on climate change legal cases, see the website of the international legal-action pressure group the Climate Justice Programme at www.climatelaw.org
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant