“What’s At Stake: Climate and the Environment,”

Source: Daily Newsletter

Bill McKibben in The New Yorker describes the scene at recent hearing in Washington on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court.

Senator John Kennedy, of Louisiana, asked Barrett if she had an opinion on climate change. “I’ve read things about climate change,” she said. “I would not say I have firm views on it.” It’s hard to imagine that an intelligent and highly educated person, such as Barrett, would not have reached a conclusion on the key questions facing the future of life on earth: Is global warming dangerous, and is it caused by humans? Neither of these positions is controversial among the scientific community, nor, for that matter, in the Catholic community where Barrett makes her spiritual home. Pope Francis’s lengthiest and most important encyclical, “Laudato Si,” takes on the climate crisis with a philosophical and sociological depth that few others have even attempted. The Pope’s newest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” released this month, covers much the same ground, and he has helpfully produced a ted talk that makes the point in much sharper terms. “We must act now,” he said, which is what every scientist studying the crisis has said, too.

My guess is that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, probably explains such evasiveness best. After years of tracking the influence of dark money on the courts (as he demonstrated at Barrett’s hearings), he was one of nine Senate Democrats who last week released a vital report. Titled “What’s At Stake: Climate and the Environment,” it explains the legal doctrines that the courts will likely use to make the regulation of greenhouse gases more difficult (unitary executive theory and the non-delegation doctrine chief among them, which Abbie Dillen discusses in an interview below). Whitehouse’s bête noire is Charles Koch, who has reportedly spent millions of dollars backing Barrett’s nomination, and who is among the nation’s biggest oil and gas barons. His Americans for Prosperity group has been ridiculing clean energy for years—back in 2008, it offered free balloon rides over crucial states as part of a “Hot Air” tour attacking solar and wind energy. (As the Pope pointed out in his recent encyclical, “often the voices raised in defense of the environment are silenced or ridiculed, using apparently reasonable arguments that are merely a screen for special interests.”)

It is clear, first, that regulation is going to be essential to bring greenhouse gases under control, and, second, that it’s going to have to happen fast. The world’s climate scientists have stated plainly that the next decade represents the critical time frame: without fundamental transformation by 2030, the chances of meeting the Paris accord’s climate targets are nil. Given Barrett’s performance at her hearings, it seems doubtful that she’ll let America play its role—if you’re not even clear that climate change is real, how much latitude will you give government agencies to attack it? As with so many things about climate change, the problem is ultimately mathematical. Joe Biden, should he be elected, acting not out of anger but out of sorrow at Republican gamesmanship, could make sure that the will of the people, not just the will of Charles Koch, is represented on the bench. The composition of the Supreme Court has varied over time from five Justices to ten; eleven seems like the right number for 2021. Or maybe thirteen.

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