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Faculty and Staff

Lawyers: The Atmospheric Trust Doctrine

The atmospheric trust doctrine provides a means by which courts can hold governments at the national and sub-national level accountable for reducing carbon emissions. Such litigation rests on the premise that all governments hold natural resources in trust for their citizens and bear the fiduciary obligation to protect such resources for future generations. While atmospheric trust litigation bears the risk of any untested strategy, it is perhaps the only macro approach that can empower courts to effectuate the reductions in emissions within the limited time frame afforded to us before critical climate thresholds are exceeded.

Public Trust Legal Scholars – Press Contact

Public Trust and Climate Legal Scholars – Press contacts

Professor Denise E. Antolini, Director, Environmental Law Program, University of Hawai'i at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law

Professor Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Faculty Development; Boehl Chair in Property & Land Use; Professor of Law; Affiliated Professor of Urban Planning; Chair of the Center for Land Use & Environmental Responsibility, University of Louisville, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

Professor Michael Blumm, Lewis and Clark Law School

Professor Maxine Burkett, Associate Professor of Law and Director, Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, University of Hawai'i at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law

Professor Fred Cheever, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Professor Karl S. Coplan, Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director, Environmental Litigation Clinic, Pace Law School

Professor Tim Duane, Associate Professor of Law, Vermont Law School, and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

Professor Alyson Craig Flournoy, Professor of Law and Director, Environmental & Land Use Law Program, University of Florida Levin College of Law

Professor Eric Freyfogle, Max L. Rowe Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

Professor Patrick McGinley, Charles H. Haden II Prof. of Law, West Virginia University College of Law

Professor Zygmunt J.B. Plater, Professor of Law, Boston College Law School

Professor William Rodgers, Stimson Bullitt Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law

Professor Joseph L. Sax, James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation, Emeritus, University of California Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law

Professor Gus Speth, Vermont Law School, formerly Dean of Yale School of Forestry

Professor David Takacs, University of California, Hastings College of the Law

Professor Gerald Torres, Bryant Smith Chair in Law, University of Texas at Austin School of Law

Professor Edith Brown Weiss, Francis Cabell Brown Professor of International Law; Co-Director, Joint Degree in Law and Government, Georgetown Law School

Professor Burns H. Weston, Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Center for Human Rights, University of Iowa College of Law

Professor Charles Wilkinson, Distinguished University Professor, Moses Lasky Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School

Professor Mary Christina Wood, Philip H. Knight Professor of Law, Faculty Director, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, University of Oregon School of Law

Speeches

"The Planet On Your Docket, Atmospheric Trust Workshop," University of Oregon, (October 15, 2010).

 

"Perfection v. Survival: A Lawyer's Role in the Age of Global Warming," Address, Environmental and Land Use Section of the Lane County Bar Association (February 25, 2009).

"The Climate Victory Speakers," Address, League of Women Voters, Eugene, Oregon (February 19, 2009).

"The Planet on Your Docket," Keynote Address, Montana Trial Lawyers Association, Flathead Lake, MT (August 7, 2008).

"Government's Atmospheric Trust Responsibility," Keynote Address, J.E.L.L. Climate Change Conference, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR (October 19, 2007).

Click here for more speeches. For a complete list, please refer to Professor Wood's curriculum vitae.

Publications

"Atmospheric Trust Litigation Around the World," chapter in Fiduciary Duty and the Atmospheric Trust (Ken Coghill, Charles Sampford, Tim Smith, eds) Ashgate Publishing (Australia) (January 2012). For purchase information: http://www.ashgate.com/default .aspx?page=637&title_id=10736& edition_id=14050&calcTitle=1&l ang=cy-GB

"Atmospheric Trust Litigation," in Climate Change Reader (W.H. Rodgers, Jr. and M. Robinson-Dorn, eds.) Carolina Academic Press (2011).

"How to Sue for Climate Change: The Public Trust Doctrine" and "Enforcing the Atmospheric Trust Fiduciary Obligation," co-authored with Susan O'Toole, Outlook: Oregon State Bar Environmental and Natural Resources Section Newsletter Vol. 10 No. 2 (Winter 2009)

"'You Can't Negotiate With a Beetle': Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age," Natural Resources Law Journal, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring 2010).

Comments on Nature's Trust Approach submitted to Office of Management and Budget, Federal Regulatory Review, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Request for Comments, 74 Fed. Reg. 8819 (February 26, 2009).

Atmospheric Trust Litigation, chapter in Adjudicating Climate Change: Sub-National, National, And Supra-National Approaches (William C.G. Burns & Hari M. Osofsky, eds.) (2009, Cambridge University Press). To read an abstract of this article, click here. For Word document of chapter, click here.

"Nature's Trust: A Legal, Political and Moral Frame for Global Warming," 34:3 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review (May 2007).

Click here for more publications. For a complete list, please refer to Professor Wood's curriculum vitae.

Briefs and Materials in Atmospheric Trust Litigation

Law Professors' Amicus Brief in Alec L. et. al. v. Lisa Jackson (federal ATL case).

Dr. James Hansen's Amicus Brief in Alec L. et. al. v. Lisa Jackson (federal ATL case), with The Case for Young People: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future attached (setting forth scientific prescription of carbon emission reduction necessary to achieve 350 ppm by century'a end).

Media Coverage

David Swanson, Judge Deliberates on Whether to Save Earth's Atmosphere (May 13, 2012)

Costello, Greg, “The Gathering of the Tribe,” The WELC Blog, http://www.westernlaw.org/blog/2012/03/gathering-tribe (March 16, 2012).

Plitz, Rick, “Hansen:  Climate Science and Moral Responsibility,” http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2012/04/08/hansen-climate-science-and-moral-responsibility (April 8, 2012).

Swanson, David, “As We Ruin Our Kids’ Planet, They Take Us to Court,” http://my.firedoglake.com/davidswanson/2012/04/10/as-we-ruin-our-kids-planet-they-take-us-to-court/(April 10, 2012).

"Stand Up for Our Future," iMatter March, http://vimeo.com/40336812.

Robinson, Jessica, “Environmentalist Push Climate Change Suits on Behalf of Kids,” Northwest Public Radio, http://nwpr.org/post/environmentalists-push-climate-change-suits-behalf-kids (March 5, 2012).

Schendler, Auden, “Cigarettes’ Lessons for Climate Change,” http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-schendler-cigarettes-lessons-for-climate-cha-20120304,0,6134172.story (March 4, 2012).

Bollier, David, “Atmospheric Trust Litigation vs. the Obama Administration,” David Bollier: News and perspectives on the commons, http://bollier.org/atmospheric -trust-litigation-vs-obama-adm inistration (December 16, 2011).

Thomson, Claire, "The Young and the Restless: Kids Sue Government Over Climate Change," Grist, http://www.grist.org/climate-change/2011-12-08-the-young-and-the-restless-kids-sue-government-over-climate-chan (December 8, 2011).

Evans, Chris, "Atmospheric Trust Litigation," West Coast Environmental Law, http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/atmospheric-trust-litigation?utm_source=twt (June 14, 2011).

Brash, Kate, "Young Citizens Lawsuit Seeks to Compel US Action on Climate Change," State of the Planet Blogs, Earth Institute, http://links.visibli.com/f13175188cf85b66/?web=bf2dbe&dst=http%3A//blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/05/31/young-citizens-lawsuit-seeks-to-compel-us-action-on-climate-change/ (May 31, 2011).

Wise, Carla, "Lessons From the Rapture That Wasn't for the Climate Movement? No – Just Ideas on a Way Forward,"huffingtonpost.com, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carla-wise/lessons-from-the-rapture-_b_869207.html (June 1, 2011).

EPA: Former General Counsel Martella discusses agency's decision to delay boiler rules," E & ETV, http://www.eenews.net/tv/2011/05/25/ (May 25, 2011).

"The Reason Why," Opinion Editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/51855160-82/state-agencies-petition-utah.html.csp (May 23, 2011).

Interview with Alec Loorz, "A Teenager Sues Uncle Sam over Climate Inaction," Living on Earth, http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=11-P13-00020&segmentID=5 (May 20, 2011).

Florio, Gwen, "Montana Supreme Court orders state to respond to children's climate change lawsuit,"missoulian.com, http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/article_88abd69a-8151-11e0-8164-001cc4c03286.html (May 18, 2011).

Firger, Daniel, "A Novel Use of the Public Trust Doctrine," Center for Climate Change Law, Climate Law Blog, Columbia Law School, http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/climatechange/2011/05/10/a-novel-use-of-the-public-trust-doctrine/ (May 10, 2011).

Black, Richard, "Generation game warms legal climate," Earthwatch, bbcnews.com, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/2011/05/generation_climate_game.html (May 6, 2011).

Kahle, Don, "Kids take legal route to force grown-ups to save the future," The Register Guard.com, http://www.registerguard.com/web/opinion/26210151-47/future-trust-kids-kahle-legal.html.csp (May 6, 2011).

Worth, Dan, "A Matter of Trust: What the Next Generation Wants for Mother's Day," huffingtonpost.com, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-worth/protecting-earths-atmosphere_b_857919.html?view=screen (May 5, 2011).

Boatsie, "guerrilla law-fare: climate activist youth sue government," Daily Kos Community Site, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/05/05/973520/-guerrilla-law-fare:-climate-activist-youth-sue-government (May 5, 2011).

Nelson, Gabriel, "Young Activists Sue U.S., States Over Greenhouse Gas Emissions," newyorktimes.com, http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/05/05/05greenwire-young-activists-sue-us-states-over-greenhouse-64366.html?scp=1&sq=Climate%20Activists%20Target%20States%20With%20Lawsuits&st=cse (May 5, 2011).

"Suit claims fed not protecting Earth," UPI.com, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/05/05/Suit-claims-feds-not-protecting-Earth/UPI-99151304600050/ (May 5, 2011).

Greenspan, Jesse, "Enviros Launch Climate Change Suits Against US, States," Law360.com, http://www.law360.com/articles/243093/enviros-launch-climate-change-suits-against-us-states (May 4, 2011).

Becker, Bill, "Defending the Atmosphere: Part 2," Climate Progress, http://climateprogress.org/2011/05/05/defending-the-atmosphere-part-2 (May 5, 2011).

Loorz, Alec, "Why I'm Suing the Government of United States," Earth Island Journal: The EnvironmentaList, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/why_im_suing_the_government_of_united_states/, (May 4, 2011).

Barringer, Felicity, "Suit Accuses U.S. Government of Failing to Protect Earth for Generations Unborn," The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/science/earth/05climate.html?_r=2&ref=greenhousegasemissions (May 4, 2011).

Brown, Matthew, "Climate Activists Target States With Lawsuits; Atmosphere As a 'Public Trust'" CNSnews.com, http://cnsnews.com/news/article/climate-activists-target-states-lawsuits (May 4, 2011).

Becker, Bill, "Defending the Atmosphere: Part 1," Climate Progress, http://climateprogress.org/2011/05/04/defending-the-atmosphere (May 4, 2011).

"The Politics of Climate Change," interview with Laurie Mercier, KBOO 90.7FM,http://kboo.fm/node/12479(March 2, 2009).

Wise, Carla, "Green All the Lawyers," UTNE Reader, http://www.utne.com/2008-09-01/Environment/Green-All-the-Lawyers.aspx (August 19, 2008).

Hall, Bennett, "Law Professor Wants to Use Courts to Fight Global Warming," Corvallis Gazette Times (June 1, 2008); also posted by Climate Crisis Coalition, (June 1, 2008).

Interview with Jason Bradford, "NPR's The Reality Report," KZYX, http://www.kzyx.org/joomla/, Mendocino County, CA (April 14, 2008), available athttp://globalpublicmedia.com/the_reality_report_mary_wood_on_government_as_the_trustee_of_common_assets.

Click here for more media coverage. For a complete list, please refer to Professor Wood's curriculum vitae.

Voicing the Fiduciary Obligation

Jim Hansen, Speech at Freedom Plaza, Sept. 27, 2010: Equal Protection of the Laws, available athttp://www.columbia.edu/%7Ejeh1/mailings/2010/20100929_FreedomPlaza.pdf

Jim Hansen, Am I an Activist for Caring About My Grandchildren's Future? I Guess I Am, The Guardian, Aug. 26, 2010,, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2010/aug/26/james-hansen-climate-change

Jim Hansen, Remarks Accepting Sophie Prize, Oslo, Norway, June 22, 2010, available athttp://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2010/Sophie_20100722.pdf

Bill Becker, Road to Copenhagen: Part 6: Tragedy of the Commons v. Action by the Uncommon, Climate Progress Blog, Nov. 9, 2009, available at http://climateprogress.org/2009/11/09/road-to-copenhagen-tragedy-of-the-commons/

ATL Background

Mock Trial: Asia v. Group of 8 Countries (charged with planetary malpractice resulting in inter-generational damage)

Climate Science

United Nations Environment Programme, Climate Change Science Compendium (2009), available athttp://www.unep.org/pdf/ccScienceCompendium2009/cc_ScienceCompendium2009_full_en.pdf

The University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, The Copenhagen Diagnosis, 2009: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science. (CCRC).

United States Global Change Research Program, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (2009).

Dr. James Hansen, How Will Global Warming Change Where People Can Live?, 06 June 2011 Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement Oslo, Norway

Trajectories and 350 prescription/Global Emergency Response

1. James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer & James C. Zachos, Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? (2008), 2 The Open Atmospheric Sciences Journal 217 (Nov. 2008), available at http://arxiv.org/abs/0804.1126

2. A 350 ppm Emergency Mobilization Pathway, http://gdrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/a-350-ppm-emergency-pathway-v2.pdf

3. David Spratt & Philip Sutton, Climate Code Red: The Case for a Sustainability Emergency (Friends of the Earth 2008),

Allocation the Burden of Carbon Reduction

1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf

2. The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework, http://www.ecoequity.org/docs/TheGDRsFramework.pdf

Legal Resources

1. Mary Wood, Atmospheric Trust Litigation in Climate Litigation (Cambridge University Press)

2. Mary Wood, Atmospheric Trust Litigation in Climate Reader (Rodgers)

3. Mary Wood, The Planet on Your Docket

4. NEDC v. Owens Corning, 434 F. Supp. 2d 957

Please click here for an extensive list of resources regarding atmospheric trust litigation. Research is ongoing, so please continue to check back for updates.


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