Panel calls for government action at UO’s Climate in Court summit

A panel of renowned climate scientists spoke on the consequences of climate change at the University of Oregon on Monday. The three speakers expressed frustration over government inaction on the eve of a landmark federal climate lawsuit.

The Climate in Court summit, hosted by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics on Sept. 12, took place the day before the trial start of Juliana v. The United States of America. The Eugene Federal District Court case involves 21 youth plaintiffs who are suing the federal government, asserting that inaction to prevent climate change violates the youths’ constitutional protections to life, liberty and property.

Among Monday’s panelists was James Hansen, Ph.D., who is serving as a plaintiff in the case.

Hansen is “the most renowned climate scientist in the world,” according to the event’s moderator, Dr. Mary Wood, the director of UO’s Environmental and Natural Resource Law Center. Hansen’s Curriculum Vitae lists him as former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and current director of Columbia University’s Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program.

Hansen spoke extensively on the science of of climate change, saying there is a direct linear trend of rapid warming that began 40 years ago.

Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist who studies the health effects of climate change, spoke about her research. She listed extreme weather-, air pollution-, food- and water-related illnesses and mental health impacts as among the most dangerous biological impacts of climate change.

“Every injury comes with an emotion,” Van Susteren said. She added that rises in temperature are linked to rises in drug, alcohol and child abuse.

Economist, author and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs, Ph.D., spoke at the summit via Skype. Sachs paralleled the other panelists’ calls for decarbonization, calling the current U.S. plan to shift from coal to gas an ineffective solution.

“We need to wake up and act,” he said. “We have the technologies to decarbonize the world.”

UO students Rory Isbel, Zachary Green and Anna Brady had the opportunity to question the speakers. A fourth student, one of the plaintiffs in Juliana v. The United States of America, addressed Van Susteren and Hansen, asking what the U.S. government could do to effectively address climate change.

Van Susteren said that Americans “need to get money out of politics.”

Hansen said the the answer is simple: “make the price of fossil fuels honest.”

The summit took place four days after the UO Foundation announced plans to divest from fossil fuels.


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Emily Olson

Emily Olson

Emily Olson is an associate news editor at the Emerald. She likes coffee.