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<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- On Monday representatives from Iceland held a prime-time event announcing a study on Arctic warming. Featuring computer-predicted melting and pleas about the Arctic Inuit's plight, the report was already a month old and well-spun through the media cycle. It took an event two nights later to bring this rehash into focus.
On Wednesday the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a hard green legal group, convened the press to detail a pending human rights complaint. The forum for the complaint is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS). The aggrieved are Arctic Inuit peoples; the defendant is the U.S.; the allegation against the U.S. is "for causing global warming and its devastating impacts."
Leave aside for the moment this action's legal merits (there are none). Consider the presentation, which included a remarkable approach to oral argument.
The speaker was Dr. Robert Corell, most famous for his steady guidance of the November 2000 "National Assessment on Climate Change." According to Dr. Corell it seems that the Inuits—whom he described as steeped in a 9000-year old subsistence lifestyle—now have their cold, hand-to-mouth bliss threatened by global warming. The problem is that apparently their snowmobiles are falling through the ice. You can't make this stuff up.
"Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts," Corell said. "If you are indigenous and you have lived with your ancestors for upwards of 7-9000 years and you had a subsistence living which has been dependent upon the existence of ice, that is now a serious problem. Snowmobiles do not detect thin ice; I think you will find indigenous partners in this room who will tell you some of their close relatives who have not made it trough the ice pack because they expected it to be more firm than it actually was and their snowmobiles went through."
Warming that would apparently not have occurred but for the United States is the turbulence supposedly imposed on this idyllic stability.
The Inuits might consider calling John Edwards. This complaint—seeking an unenforceable determination, under an agreement which the U.S. has not ratified—is mere foreplay to making "climate change" the trial lawyers' next Tobacco.
Success before the IACH can produce no tangible outcome. So this likely is an effort to parlay "soft" international law—or RUDs: unenforceable resolutions, understandings and declarations—into a device for domestic damages. Reading CIEL's 15-page argument and roadmap, the groups appear to be laying a foundation for subsequent tort claims. That foundation dwells excessively on claims of deprivations of the Inuits' rights to privacy, residence, preservation of home and property and the like. The money claim for tort purposes is some determination that "human rights"—as protected by both treaties and "the law of nations"—have been violated.
Potential plaintiffs are placing great value in a determination—even one by the IACH—that anthropogenic climate change violates human rights. Such a determination could qualify plaintiffs to sue for money—possibly to buy a nice, warm house and non-subsistence lifestyle—under the 1789 "Alien Tort Claims Act." That Act gives any foreigner with a tort claim access to the U.S. courts, so long as they allege violation of a treaty or "the law of nations."
Therefore, whatever its weaknesses, this approach should be taken seriously. Substantively, of course, many other difficulties impede an effort to assign responsibility for some portion of climate change - particularly since earlier climate changes have occurred, without calamity (or lawsuits), and which even many alarmists say cannot be distinguished from natural variability.
Assisting such plaintiffs, however, is the Bush Administration's biggest environmental policy blunder: the "Climate Action Report 2002". The report was submitted to the United Nations under a ratified treaty as America's "policy and position" on climate change. The document "admits" U.S. complicity in climate change, albeit with some watery qualifications. Presumably the report's authors assumed this, like so much else in the diplomatic arena, is an unenforceable or otherwise feel-good project.
All of this begs for the opportunity to put climate alarmism on trial. To date, grandstanding lawsuits like that of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, et al., against select utilities, are not likely to yield substantive debate but only settlements for windmill quotas. Depending on how the Inuits proceed, they might surprise the world through altering their ages-old culture—by adopting litigiousness.