It wasn’t long ago when we listened for decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States with hope that the court’s rulings would reflect justice for all, and a jurisprudence imbued with compassion and concern for the greater good.
This hope now seems misplaced, if not quaint, in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bowing to political interests who are beholden to backing from the fossil fuel industry, by rendering this retrograde decision the court abrogated any semblance of impartiality in the fight against climate change.
The court’s ruling on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency restricts the authority of the EPA and other governmental agencies to limit carbon emissions in a “generational shifting way” unless Congress votes explicitly to support such action. This means that Congressional action is now needed to undo what the Supreme Court did, and to restore the government’s authority to enact and enforce regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions.
Even though the EPA hasn’t been doing all that it could to reduce carbon emissions, as mandated under the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the court’s ruling still represents a paradigm shift by reducing how effective and powerful the government can be going forward in its fight against climate change. This and other recent decisions by the Supreme Court drives a point home that has become increasingly clear in recent times: The burden to be good stewards of the environment, and to care for the most vulnerable members of our society, falls increasingly to every individual, household, community and state. Never in our lifetimes has the well-being of the nation rested so heavily, and palpably, on our collective shoulders.
The overriding existential question that each of us now has to answer can be found in the often cited call to action that President John F. Kennedy shared during his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” Although Kennedy’s call to action was intended to inspire a sense of national engagement, rather than to highlight the U.S. government’s failure to meet its obligations toward its citizens and the planet, it is eerily prescient in light of where our country stands today.
Earth will soon cross the rubicon beyond which there is no turning back in the advance of climate change. At this critical juncture in the history of the planet, We The People are the bulwark against a rapidly warming climate.
We now represent the last, best hope in our fight against climate change. The existential question that we face is: What are we going to do about it?
Michael J. Caduto,