When discussing the recent Supreme Court case, those opposed to action on climate change often use the argument that the court should rule against Mass. et al. because these kinds of legal challenges are end runs around the legislative process. Rather, they argue, it is the president and Congress that should be taking up this issue.
We all agree on this. However, Congress and the president have done nothing on this issue. Into this vacuum of leadership, a climate insurgency has arisen. The insurgents are individuals, cities, even states like California, and their weapons are individual activism, city ordinance, state law, lawsuits, etc.
Taken individually — even taken together — the impact of these actions on atmospheric CO2 is going to be minor. The real impact of the insurgency is on public opinion.
In Iraq, no single attack shifted public opinion. Rather, it is the daily drumbeat of carnage and death that has convinced most people the invasion was a mistake. In the climate change debate, no single event has turned the tide. Rather, a constant drumbeat is slowly convincing the majority that the problem needs to be addressed: Al Gore’s movie, California pledging to reduce emissions, Katrina and the ongoing debate about hurricanes and global warming, images of drowning polar bears, cities like Seattle … and, yes, the case before the Supreme Court.
Viewed this way, the litigation now in front of the Supreme Court is both sensible and irrelevant. It is sensible because it is another blow for the insurgency. It doesn’t even matter what the decision is — it keeps the climate-change drum beating. Every day climate change is in the news is a victory for those in favor of action, and this case is another front-page news story.
On the other hand, it is irrelevant, because the conservative pundits are right: suing the EPA is the wrong way to address global warming. Ultimately, the problem will only be solved when Congress, the president, and the other countries of the world engage.
The hope is that insurgent actions like this court case will eventually force Congress and the president to take action. And the sooner the better.