As we see more ambitious climate action at all levels of government, industry and political opponents will try to revive very old arguments that would diminish the power of Congress and federal agencies. For example, we will likely see constitutional arguments that Congress simply doesn't have enough power under the Commerce Clause to drive the transformative changes that are required to address the climate crisis. And we are already seeing a resurgence of the antiquated "non-delegation" doctrine, which would prevent Congress from relying on the E.P.A. and other federal agencies to sweat the details and make our laws work in practice. Obviously, without the ability to delegate, modern government grinds to a halt. The Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who holds a narrow view of the Commerce Clause and embraces the non-delegation doctrine, is a harbinger of legal battles to come.
Meanwhile, Alisa White, a student at Yale Law School, has helped coördinate a remarkable project -- she and her colleagues have graded the nation's hundred biggest law firms on their climate records. Many of the most famous firms got First -- they represent Big Oil in all its efforts to hold off the regulation that science demands, and the liability that justice requires. The level of detail in the effort is incredible -- apparently law students are good at detailed analysis. (This interview has been edited for length.)
The scorecard is pretty amazing. What was most surprising to you?
While I knew that law firms are supporting the fossil-fuel industry, I was surprised and angered to see just how much top law firms do to enable the industry. For a harmful project like the Dakota Access Pipeline, at least eight top law firms were there to support and push forward the pipeline's development every step of the way.
I was especially caught off guard by the staggering magnitude of work that law firms are doing to support fossil-fuel transactions (one of the three categories we considered in the scorecard). Law firms serve as legal advisers on the financing of new coal plants, adding new facilities to gas fields, refinancing pipelines, and the like. The hundred top law firms are doing this work to the tune of over $1.3 trillion from 2015-19 alone. Even with a background in environmental law and climate-change work, this number shocked me.
Do you think many students will choose their employer based on these questions?
Law students are definitely taking the scorecard into account in their employment decisions. Numerous peers of mine have reached out to express how helpful the scorecard is in their decision-making process. Students I have spoken to are especially reconsidering working for firms with an F climate score. Over all, this scorecard is a powerful resource that students have not had access to before. I wanted to note that this movement is not about shaming our peers who feel compelled to take a firm job due to financial or personal constraints. This movement is about putting pressure on law firms to drop fossil-fuel clients that are destroying our chance at a livable future.
What's the best answer to the defense that "everyone deserves a defense"?
Fossil-fuel companies already have representation -- lots of it. Top law firms are just providing the fossil-fuel industry with additional legal firepower and tipping the scale toward climate destruction. At the same time, thousands of people every year navigate the legal system (including the immigration courts) without any representation at all. If law firms really wanted to advance access to representation and justice, they would represent low-income communities of color that bear the brunt of climate-change impacts in lawsuits against the fossil-fuel industry.
● Everyone knew that, eventually, sea-level rise would erode the price of Florida real estate, and a new study shows that this process is now underway. The next question is: How fast does the process play out?
● Rupert Murdoch's various journalistic outlets have denied and obfuscated on climate change for years, making him as dangerous an Australian export as the giant piles of coal on the Newcastle docks. Now he's being held to task for it by the former Republican congressman Bob Inglis and Lucy Turnbull, the former mayor of Sydney and the wife of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
● For decades, Michael Oppenheimer, from his perch at Princeton, has been one of the most important climate thinkers. His new essay on the danger posed by multiple, simultaneous disasters is worth reading, though not right before bedtime. Here's a more statistical version of much the same idea from the veteran climate analysts Gary Yohe, Henry Jacoby, and Richard Richels.
● Mennonite cookbooks are justly famous -- this new one centers on "sustainable" cooking.
● MobLab, short for Mobilization Lab, a spinoff from Greenpeace, has been a critical piece of movement infrastructure, helping plan campaigns for years. Sadly, it's going under (this is a hard year for nonprofits); its able director, Michael Silberman, explains future plans.
● There's more good climate journalism every day. The writer Yessenia Funes has a new newsletter focused on climate justice; The Atlantic is opening up a planet desk; and here's a very fine piece from the new online literary magazine The Driftit's by the firefighter and climate researcher Jordan Thomas, and it will bring home the painful reality of California's ongoing blazes.
● Meanwhile, a Bay Area high-school senior, Margaret Capetz, who has been cooking for her family throughout the quarantine, has published an online guide to carbon-conscious cookery. Depending on where you live, the zucchini lasagna recipe may still be useful this fall!
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).