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Kids Climate Litigants Petition Court to Stop Fossil Fuel Development

Kelsey Juliana and her fellow litigants are the youngsters who, since 2015, have been suing the federal government to “prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric [carbon dioxide] so as to stabilize the climate system.” On February 7th, they petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals  to halt fossil fuel development on U.S. soil and territorial waters.

Specifically, the kids want the court to enjoin federal agencies from “authorizing through leases, permits, or other federal approvals: (1) mining or extraction of coal on Federal Public Lands; (2) offshore oil and gas exploration, development, or extraction on the Outer Continental Shelf; and (3) development of new fossil fuel infrastructure.” At a minimum, the “injunction would apply to the approximately 100 new fossil fuel infrastructure projects poised for federal permits, including pipelines, export facilities, and coal and liquefied natural gas terminals.”

If granted and later upheld by the Supreme Court, the Kids’ petition would jeopardize untold billions of dollars in energy development, infrastructure, job creation, consumer benefits, and shareholder value. They don’t see the harm in it, citing one of their mentors, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who stated in a supporting declaration:

There is no urgency to promote more fossil fuels. There is no urgency for energy supply. There is no urgency for employment or economic growth. There is, however, real urgency to stop the climate crisis and the already-dangerous status quo from worsening, and to protect these young people’s constitutional rights. There are very real and substantial societal costs and risks of moving forward with these fossil fuel enterprises while this lawsuit is pending.

Strange remarks for an economist. Although the U.S. economy keeps booming and creating jobs, some 6.5 million Americans remain unemployed, and millions more are one paycheck away from poverty. Outside the ivory tower, employment and growth are still matters of some urgency.

Similarly, although America is expected to become a net energy exporter in 2020, that would all go south if the next president and Congress revive Obama-style anti-energy policy or, worse, enact the Green New Deal to decarbonize the U.S. economy in ten years. There is no urgency for energy supply until politicians restrict access to it. Then it’s a crisis.

On February 6th, the U.S. Department of Interior announced that in 2018 it shattered previous records by generating $1.1 billion in oil and gas lease sales—nearly three times the previous high of $408 million in 2008. The press release also states that “$500 million of that revenue has gone back to states, providing support to key institutions like hospitals and public schools.” Does Prof. Stiglitz think the kids served by those hospitals and schools would be better off if President Trump directed Interior to “keep it in the ground”?

Stiglitz says there are substantial societal costs and risks of “moving forward with these fossil fuel enterprises” while the kids’ lawsuit is pending. Nonsense. If we generously assume a climate sensitivity of 3°C, even complete shutdown of the U.S. economy would avert only 0.137°C of global warming in 2100. Nothing the U.S. government does or does not do between now and whenever the kids’ climate suit is resolved would have any impact, positive or negative, on climate-related risks.