Warwickshire Climate Alliance
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End of 2022 Climate Quiz
Young Montana activists win challenge to state's fossil fuel promoting laws.
The judge who heard the US’s first constitutional climate trial earlier this year has ruled in favour of a group of young plaintiffs who had accused state officials in Montana of violating their right to a healthy environment. A provision in Montana's state constitution guarantees this right. The plaintiffs in the case argued that this meant that a state law, which forbid officials from considering climate impacts when deciding whether to approve projects for oil and coal extraction, was unconstitutional. After months of argument, the judge agreed!
Montana has some of the biggest coal reserves in the United States, and, unfortunately, the Republican state administration was quick to deny that the court ruling will affect their decisions whether to award fossil fuel extraction permits. However, they immediately lodged an appeal, so perhaps they forsee difficulties.
The state's lawyers argued that Montana's contribution to climate change was small enough to be ignored, and therefore that its own fossil fuel extraction did not violate the right to a healthy environment. The same argument could be applied to all individual fossil fuel projects, and renders the problem of collective action completely insoluble. Collective action on this issue is humanity's only hope. If we follow the Montana state lawyers' argument then it will still be ''in the UK's interest" to issue fossil fuel permits even after London is permanently submerged by rising sea waters.
The idiocy of this argument, that the impact of one's own contribution to global carbon emissions is negligible and can be ignored, highlights the failure of a purely individual utilitarian morality to deal adequately with collective problems. It is not enough to say "my action will lead to a negligible amount of harm and therefore I can do it", because this applies to all of us and if we all use it we are doomed. We have to reason collectively.
If it seems grotesque and absurd that consideration of climate impacts should be explicitly prohibited by state law in Montana (and in Florida, and other states), it is because the fossil fuel monster robot which is devouring our future is utterly shameless. Whether human laws will prevail against it remains to be seen.