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Jeffrey Sachs Praises the Youth Activists Suing the U.S. Government & Fossil Fuel Industry

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A federal judge in Eugene, Oregon, has just ruled that 21 young Americans can proceed to trial in a suit against the Obama administration. The suit alleges that the government has known about climate change for decades, but failed to address it, denying these children and teenagers their right to a safe future. “This is an extraordinarily important case, because these plaintiffs have alleged that their fundamental due process rights have been violated by the failure of the U.S. government to have a proper climate plan that’s going to keep them safe,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

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AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jeffrey Sachs, leading economist, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. You’re still Bernie Sanders’ adviser, through the presidential campaign and now. What do you see is Bernie Sanders’ role? We just watched him standing outside the White House giving this speech.

JEFFREY SACHS: Well, he’s a political and a thought leader for tens of millions of Americans. And I think he’s speaking the truth to the public, and that’s why the public resonated. We also know that he would have beat Donald Trump handily had he been in the general elections versus Trump. So, he’s a very, very important figure in America. And when he speaks, people are listening, because he’s speaking the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip right now. A federal judge in Eugene, Oregon, named Judge Ann Aiken, has just ruled that 21 young Americans can proceed to trial in a suit against the Obama administration. The suit alleges that the government has known about climate change for decades, but failed to address it, denying these children and teenagers their right to a safe future. Last year, Democracy Now! spoke to Aji Piper, 15-year-old Seattle resident and a member of Earth Guardians’ Rising Youth for a Sustainable Earth. He’s one of the youth plaintiffs in the landmark lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust.

AJI PIPER: What concerns me most about climate change is—I mean, it’s a very, like, hard thing, because you have to imagine, like, the future. And we know, like, if we don’t act on climate change, the world is not going to, like, end in like a flash and a bang. But what will end up happening is either my generation will feel the effects, where we have to fight for survival. On the Earth, you know, life will be very, very different. It won’t be like—we won’t be as privileged to live on the Earth. It will be a lot harder. But then also you think about, you know, we’re putting generations that haven’t been born yet and generations to come in the position where they have to deal with that, and that’s not a position anybody should be put in. And it’s just not fair. So it’s a moral, logical thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about the children’s suit and what this means to go forward, Jeffrey Sachs.

JEFFREY SACHS: This is an extraordinarily important case, because these plaintiffs have alleged that their fundamental due process rights have been violated by the failure of the U.S. government to have a proper climate plan that’s going to keep them safe, and that the United States government is not exercising its most fundamental public trust functions. And while the government then made a motion to dismiss this case, the judge said, “Not so fast. There are real, crucial issues that have been raised here. This has to go to trial.” And this is a marvelous step forward.

Now, the fact of the matter is, what is the business of President Obama’s Department of Justice defending such a claim? It should be standing with the children and saying, “You’re absolutely right. We need a plan.” In fact, they should be saying, “We’re putting forward a plan, and we want to see it under court supervision.” This is precisely the agreement that should now be reached with these plaintiffs.

AMY GOODMAN: Back here in Africa, where we are, COP 22 is being held in North Africa, in Morocco. Some say the future of the African continent is not a priority here. On Tuesday, we spoke to Nnimmo Bassey, director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria. He said, quote, “This is COP 22. For us, it’s like Catch-22, because, either direction, Africa is going to lose. The rich countries are forcing the process to go in the direction of polluters continuing to pollute without stopping pollution. And if polluters continue to pollute, no matter how much money anybody makes from carbon trading, from carbon offsetting, like reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, and all the other marks of marketed environmentalism, it’s not going to add up to actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which means the temperature is going to rise.” So that’s Nnimmo Bassey. Your response?

JEFFREY SACHS: I don’t think that’s quite right, because Africa has a phenomenal amount of zero-carbon renewable energy. The best sunshine in the world stretches across the Sahel, countries like Chad and Niger and Mali that desperately need electrification. Here, you have the great solar energy potential, a tremendous hydroelectric power potential that should be tapped and can be tapped safely. So there’s wonderful opportunities here. And I’ve been in workshops and seminars all week discussing very practically how Africa can move forward and also electrify the rural areas through microgrids. I was just in a workshop of leading engineers on that. I think there is a lot of excitement. Of course, Nigeria is an oil country that has been despoiled by oil and by the massive pollution in the Niger Delta. And one of the things that needs to happen in a country like Nigeria is a cleanup, and Shell needs to take responsibility for its historic role in that. It hasn’t done so yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeffrey Sachs, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Any final comments as you head off to last few days of this climate summit, what you want to see happen, and what you want to see when you return to your country, to the United States?

JEFFREY SACHS: Look, the world is moving forward. The technology is moving forward. The decarbonization is moving forward. When I go home, I’m going to make that clear, when I visit congressmen and senators, when I talk to people across the United States. People may have to be out in the streets, indeed, if he tries to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. I think it will be the biggest political issue of our time if he tries to pull such a stunt. It would be the worst mistake at the start of a presidency. I think it would basically end the agenda of the presidency.

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