The Supreme Court, global warming, clean energy, and “Everything’s Cool”


Juliet Eilperin writes in the April 8 Washington Post that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Massachusetts et al. v EPA—that the agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act—“Marked a watershed moment for the United States…Years from now, Massachusetts v. EPA may be seen as akin to the Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion, in which the Supreme Court answered a question that U.S. politicians were unable to resolve.”  We appreciate her mention in the article of the global warming film, “Everything’s Cool”—our favorite new documentary.  (We’re not biased, just because we’re in it.) 

“The Court’s Green Light for Green Tech”
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
Sunday, April 8, 2007; B03


…The legal decision marked a watershed moment for the United States, with the nation’s highest court sending a powerful signal to the political and business communities that a mandatory cap on carbon dioxide is no longer a matter of if, but when.

Years from now, Massachusetts v. EPA may be seen as akin to the Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion, in which the Supreme Court answered a question that U.S. politicians were unable to resolve. In this case, the justices stepped in to referee a scientific debate that had become so highly polarized that individual states decided to sue the federal government for what they saw as its failure to protect them from a possible future catastrophe.

Massachusetts’s attorney general had argued before the court that rising sea levels and more intense storms linked to global warming were threatening the state’s residents and their livelihood, and the court agreed. In the majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the court said that the EPA’s steadfast refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions presents a risk of harm to Massachusetts that is both “actual” and “imminent,” and that “The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized.”

This is the sort of ruling that may finally give Congress the oomph to deal with climate change on its own. As Tim Profeta, director of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, observed, the legal authority to act “is firmly established, and everybody in the political arena knows it. I think this debate has exploded it. It’s a pressurized system that’s had the lid taken off.”

And this:

And in fact, that’s what seems to be happening nationwide, as private equity firms pour millions into clean-energy projects in anticipation of stricter federal curbs on carbon dioxide. Investors put $2.4 billion into green start-ups in 2006, a 262 percent increase from 2005.

“If you ask me, the floodgates had already opened,” said Adam Wolfensohn, director of Wolfensohn and Co. in New York. “People have been investing in low-carbon projects as they’ve been seeing the writing on the wall.”

I happened to go to college with Adam, who in the early 1990s was a talented composer but is now—along with his father, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn—an investor in environmentally friendly projects such as sugar cane-derived ethanol from Brazil.

Adam is also preaching the global-warming gospel to other clean-tech investors, having just made a film on the subject titled “Everything’s Cool” (billed on its Web site as “a real-life disaster movie”). Last month he showed the movie to clean-tech investors at the Sundance Institute…

See our April 2 post on the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts et al. v U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and this link to documents in the case.  We will be following up on this case with further discussion of how the Court (and an earlier dissenting opinion at the Appeals Court level) made use of climate science and linked it to policymaking.

See our January 19 post on “Everything’s Cool.”  We will be following up in a subsequent post with information about a number of upcoming screenings of the film around the country.

Everything’s Cool, a new documentary film featuring a number of “global warming messengers on a high-stakes quest,” had its world premiere screening on January 19 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film features writer/activist Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature;” investigative journalist Ross Gelbspan, author of “The Heat is On” and “Boiling Point;” Heidi Cullen, the climate scientist who has introduced coverage of global warming and climate change to The Weather Channel; Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz; Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism.”

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