Natural Resources as Our Legacy

I don’t usually get political on my blog posts, but today I am going to. So if that upsets you, you might want to go back and read a different post. This one is about our environment.

Christina Wood, an environmental law professor at the University of Oregon, lives in Eugene, Oregon and is the author of a book entitled Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.  She is adamant “that the resources necessary for human survival–including the atmosphere–are part of a trust that the government must safeguard on behalf of current and future generations. Since politicians are failing to do that, she created a roadmap for citizens to take the government to court and demand a science-based, legally enforceable plan to stabilize the climate.”   “We have to phase out fossil fuels, period.”  We need to ALL get active in some way.

I recently read a most captivating interview with her by Mary DeMocker of the Sun.  In the 1980’s Ms. Wood witnessed forests, and farmlands being transformed into malls and and fancy housing developments. Many of us have witnessed the same.

It is part of what Ms. Wood calls a “massive system failure” whereby Presidents make decisions that drive up fossil fuel production and oil use at a time when scientists are warning us that the world must end its dependence on carbon fuels. End it.  At the end of his term, President Obama committed the United States to the Paris Agreement.  President Trump pulled our country out.  President Obama closed off large areas of the country to fracking and drilling.  President Trump came in and made those lands accessible, except the Mar-a-Lago area off the coast of Florida of course, where he owns a resort.  So it seems our environment, our air, our land, our water, is not being treated as if it were in a trust for future generations; it’s being treated like a disposable napkin. Use it and throw it out when it no longer serves you.

This is how things are going down with the executive branch of government presently. AND we see the legislative branch, wanting to be loyal players, voting the way they are expected to by the commander in chief, instead of listening to the American public.  While Americans need to continue to press our legislators to vote according to what we the people want, Ms. Wood suggests we now take this to the judicial branch and demand justice for our children.  Interesting idea: take our President and legislators to court over their behavior that puts our public trust at risk.

Wood continues: “Climate disruption poses a clear and present danger today, not a hundred or a thousand years from now, as the public has been led to believe.”   She says the public has pushed through helpful legislation so that we don’t find “eagles dying of DDT or rivers catching fire, or lead in our gasoline” however, the public is not aware of the toxins in the air and water that industries have not been held accountable for.  The United States has more agencies dedicated to the protection of the environment than most other countries, but these agencies are under “political siege” as President Trump has ordered the eradication of “thousands of records from the Department of the Interior.”  How can the American public hold agencies accountable without the records to back them up? Exactly what he must be thinking.

What is the “public trust“? Wood says that it is one of the oldest and most basic principles in environmental law.  It requires the government to protect our natural resources over the LONG term. It’s a concept as old as indigenous people!  A public trust means that politicians working for the United States government (and governments around the world) are working to manage the natural resources wealth of our nation (and world) FOR YOU AND ME.  The government must protect all resources with future generations in mind. This is not a new idea, Wood insists.  Law professor Gerald Torres has argued cases using this concept for quite some time. For her cases, she has simply woven the arguments related to air, water, and land all together.

“Courts are a last resort, but a resort nonetheless,” Woods states.  We’re at a partial dead end with the other two branches of our government; perhaps this one will yield results.  The good news is that this branch seems more aware.  “Global atmospheric trust cases are gaining momentum and creating a domino effect. A recent case in Colombia stopped old-growth logging in the Amazon forest. A Netherlands decision ordered the Dutch government to achieve a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.  Judges are stepping up because they are alarmed about the climate crisis. The clear trend is for future generations to inherit a stable atmosphere.”

We need to remind our Presidents and legislators that climate chaos is REAL; that we expect them to manage our (trust) resources in such a way as to benefit WE THE PEOPLE and not to benefit big corporations who may have donated to any politician’s (re)election campaigns. Politicians who accept money for campaign financing must find themselves at the sharp edge of a double edged sword. That sharp edge just might be the judicial system!

WE THE PEOPLE must continue to write letters, show up, holler out when appropriate and demand not just better legislation, but true enforcement of the desired legislation.

Ms. Woods says she cannot be a “purist” in a world that is the opposite of how she’d like it to be, but she does grow her own food, cook a big portion of what her family eats, and buys locally. Her goal is to try to do these things 80% of the time. “Modern lifestyles are completely detached from from the reality of climate change…I advocate scaling back to the basics and trying out the principle of ‘less is more.’ …The home used to be the center of production.”

We’re not even close to being purists at my house, but we are trying to change the way we do things little by little.  I tried to take the train to work one morning a few years ago. It required a transfer to a city bus and then a good bit of walking after that.  I decided at the time that I didn’t feel comfortable walking in the dark of downtown by myself to get to work.  These kinds of changes feel more comfortable for my kids maybe.  But we are cutting down on the amount of meat we eat, trying to use less fossil fuel, and conserving where possible. 

Thanks to my daughter and her boyfriend, who’ve been very busy getting edibles growing in and around the greenhouse, we have welcomed a new tree to the yard!  It’s a fruit tree, but the earth loves plants of any kind.  For those wanting to do something, maybe planting a tree or bush or beginning a small garden, even in pots, might help ease the sense that “We all want to do something, but what?”  Cultivate and share with your community when possible. Read about how to plant and grow in your zone.  We’re not all attorneys, but we can contribute to the public trust of cleaner air, water, and healthier soil in our own ways.

And finally, we can, and must vote very consciously, understanding what the major candidates’ records are (based upon trusted sources: not the TV or Twitter!)  and what they believe in that makes sense for a better world for ALL OF US, not just some of us.

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