It's a long shot, but these kids are suing the U.S. government over climate change

It always seemed like a long shot, but a group of youngsters are on the cusp of facing off against the U.S. government in court over climate change.

Latest issue of environmental newsletter also looks at the carbon tax conundrum

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(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

Hello, hello. This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week's lineup:

  • Meet the kids taking the U.S. government to court over climate change
  • Don Pittis on the carbon tax bogeyman
  • Canada's energy mix isn't as scary as you may think
  • A tasty solution to food waste

Enviro kids to U.S. government: See you in court! (Maybe?)

Kelsey Juliana, far left, is one of 21 plaintiffs in Juliana et al. v. United States, a lawsuit that seeks to hold the U.S. government accountable for its environmental policies. (Our Children's Trust/CBC)

It always seemed like a long shot, but a group of youngsters are on the cusp of facing off against the U.S. government in court over climate change.

Named after Kelsey Juliana, one of 21 youth plaintiffs in the case (and the one on the far left in the photo above),  Juliana v. United States is an earnest attempt to hold the U.S. government accountable for its environmental policies. The plaintiffs are being represented by the non-profit Our Children's Trust.

This unprecedented case is set to go to trial on Oct. 29 — if the U.S. government doesn't manage to thwart it (again).

The case dates back to 2015, when a conservation group called Earth Guardians and the youth plaintiffs — including one Canadian — filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for their right to clean air, clean water and a healthy future.

The suit is led by 18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an Indigenous musician and youth director of Earth Guardians, who has called it "the trial of our lifetimes."

After an almost four-year battle and attempts by the fossil fuel industry and the U.S. government to have the case thrown out,  Juliana v. United States is supposed to begin in federal court in Oregon on Monday.

The prominence of this case is probably the reason the administrations of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have tried to stop it from moving ahead. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, saying litigation would put a large burden on the government.

In its response, Our Children's Trust emphasized that Juliana v. United States is "not an environmental case, it's a civil rights case."

They argue that through its "affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change," the government is depriving Americans of their "constitutional rights to life, liberty and property."

What the plaintiffs are ultimately asking for is that the government take measures to mitigate climate change.

Observers have pointed out that the Supreme Court's involvement is odd, since the case is being heard in a lower court. Ann Carlson, a professor of environmental law at the University of California Los Angeles, told Vox that it's a sign the Supreme Court "is uncomfortable with the underlying legal theory of the Juliana case."

Celeste Decaire

Who will pay the ultimate price in the carbon tax fight?

On Oct. 23, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his government's new carbon tax. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

CBC business columnist Don Pittis weighs in on the political posturing over the federal carbon tax announced this week.

Whether a politician uses the term "carbon tax" or "carbon pricing" may become similar to the difference between "tarsands" and "oilsands." Both describe the same thing, and while pedants will argue that one or the other is more correct, the term you use has really just become a marker of whether you are for it or against it.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't use the term carbon tax once to describe the federal backstop plan for those provinces that don't have an existing carbon-pricing plan (namely Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan).

For environmentalists already convinced that climate change is a hazard,  Trudeau's plan to offer rebates in advance of the consumer costs of carbon taxes will likely seem a step in the right direction. But environmentalists are not the ones Trudeau and his Liberal government are trying to convince.

Although he specifically denied it in the news conference, Trudeau gave every indication that his government will be fighting the next election over a carbon tax to battle climate change.

Already critics are describing his "climate action incentives" as old-fashioned pork barrel bribes to sway voters. But as  I outlined in my latest online column, what you might call the "prebates" sound like they were conceived by a behavioural economist well versed in the idea that most people don't want to wait for their reward.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a carbon tax opponent, warned of an upfront cost of $260 per family in carbon tax expenses. To people who are really worried about the state of the planet, $260 seems like chicken feed compared to the ultimate economic damage climate change will create.

Trudeau's response? He upped the ante, promising $307 to Ontario families and similar amounts to people in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan in advance to cover those carbon tax expenses, with more to come in the future, as carbon pricing rises.

Whether that will be enough to convince the many people who seem to think that tax is a four-letter word — especially during elections — remains to be seen.

Editor's note: In the coming weeks and months, What on Earth? will return to the issue of carbon pricing in order to clear up confusion over this contentious issue.

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

The Big Picture: Canada's energy mix

Canada is often criticized for its lacklustre action on climate change, but a breakdown of the country's electricity sources is somewhat reassuring — it shows a large reliance on low- to no-carbon sources (hydro and nuclear, though the latter has its own issues), decreasing use of carbon-rich sources (coal, oil and gas) and rising use of renewables (wind, solar).

No beef tenderloin left behind

This beef tenderloin is one of the dishes that the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto recently donated to local homeless shelters. (Chris Zielinski/MLSE)

Grilled chicken breast, wild mushroom gnocchi, beet and goat cheese salad — not bad for a soup kitchen, right? OK, so they're leftovers, but they're from the corporate and party suites at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, where buffet menus go for $55 to $95 a head during Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors games.

And these meals are not just feeding the hungry, but helping fight climate change. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that globally, food waste is responsible for about 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon emissions each year. So providing hot meals to the homeless could, in a small way, help keep future Earthlings cool.

The arena formerly known as the Air Canada Centre has been donating unsold hot dogs and other concession stand extras for 20 years, but until this month, it had been tossing many unserved portions of its finest fare in the green bin. Not anymore.

"If we could feed people the food, why would we turn it into compost?" said Chris Zielinski, culinary director for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns and runs the arena.

MLSE has partnered with Hellmann's Real Food Rescue and the non-profit organizations Second Harvest and Tablée des Chefs to donate its "premium" leftovers to the city's hungriest residents. Jean-François Archambault, founder of La Tablée des Chefs, started a similar program at Montreal's Bell Centre 12 years ago and retested it in Calgary before bringing it to Toronto.

The idea stemmed from Archambault's time in the hotel industry and seeing food he spent hours preparing get thrown out: "That I could not stand." So he started connecting chefs with local soup kitchens and created pathways for the food to find its way to the needy.

Archambault said that at first, many organizations refused to take part because they feared the risk of food poisoning and how it might affect their reputations. But more and more kitchens are jumping on board. Now, Archambault said, your reputation as a chef might take a hit if you're seen letting food go to waste.

Emily Chung

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNulty