Sue The Bastards

The US Justice System, as a mechanism for winning justice, does not make my list of favored avenues for applying social pressure. But it is an avenue, and given access to lawyers and significant funds it could invite a paradigm change. Money can insulate a person against the judgement of the courts, and the oligarchs who need to be brought to justice are targets because of their activities which gave them a Scrooge-McDuck-style gold coin swimming pool. A lack of money can also hinder, or just end, the journey to justice of a victim or accused criminal.

Some of the 21 youth suing the government over climate change with Our Children’s Trust.

Organizations and individuals from across the political and factional spectrum engage in litigiousness as a political strategy. The current EPA Chief, Scott Pruitt, sued the EPA 13 times as the Attorney General of Oklahoma to overturn regulations and climate policy. A group of 21 youth are currently suing the US for violating their constitutional rights by failing to respond to climate change. Countries are allowed to enter trade disputes with other countries in an international court for their businesses lost profits, these trade disputes result in fines. The Westboro Baptist Church makes its money from suing people who attempt to curtail their right to protest at sensitive events such as soldiers’ funerals. And the ACLU has spent most of the last century protecting and furthering the civil rights of the American people.

Litigiousness is a slow mechanism for change. Lawyers can use legal processes to slow down and raise the costs of cases. Frivolous lawsuits can also be filed to intimidate people and burden them with legal fees. These are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs. They could potentially be used for the benefit of the public. According to this Boston Globe article from May 5, 2017, Trump has been named in 134 lawsuits since the Inauguration, Obama had been named in 26 at this point. Trump is a public figure who is used to being sued, but given an extreme capacity, the legal system might provide an excellent avenue for a modern response to climate change and social inequality. It has happened before.             

The Environmental Defense Fund was founded in response to Rachel Carson’s environmental call-to-arms, Silent Spring. Their unofficial slogan was, “Sue the bastards”, and they followed through. In their first few decades as an NGO they used lawsuits, science, and lobbying to help ban the toxic pesticide DDT, to remove lead from gas, to protect water and air from pollution, and to ban a compound which helped create a hole in the atmosphere. Sue the bastards indeed. Their litigation protected Americans from corporate poisoning, and forced corporations to change their business practices. I say protected in the past tense as EDF now favors PR-first corporate partnerships and failed market-based solutions as a path to climate action. The anti-regulation sentiment popular among lobbyists and tea partiers has also undermined some of the regulations the EDF helped establish.

The narrative in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, paints the EDF’s efforts in modern times as corporate greenwashing, but holds the regulations it helped pass in high regard.

The millenial generation has an abundance of lawyers, community organizers, and potential lobbyists to recreate the golden days of the EDF, fervently oppose the fossil fuel industry, and win strong regulations. Although the strategy is slow, a massive infrastructure to bring people into organizing litigious actions nationwide would possibly win great legal and legislative battles and it would recruit and train people to improve upon the strategy and get involved in intersectional justice.

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