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'Father of Climate Change Awareness': We Must Take Our Fight to the Courts

Former NASA physicist James Hansen, dubbed the 'father of climate change awareness', says we need to fight climate change in the court system, suing companies responsible for the pollution. (Image credit: Takver/Flickr)

Former NASA physicist James Hansen, dubbed the 'father of climate change awareness', says we need to fight climate change in the court system, suing companies responsible for the pollution.

"The judicial system is the only way to get the funds needed to deal with climate change," Hansen told National Geographic. "Legislation won't work because that's where lobbyists rule."

Hansen, who alongside his granddaughter spearheaded the current lawsuit against the U.S. government for its inaction on climate change, took their ideas to the United Nations this week.

In a presentation this week alongside COP23 – the United Nations climate conference currently being held in Bonn, Germany – Hansen, together with his granddaughter, 18-year-old Sophie Kivlehan, made the case for why legal action could be the last chance to avert what Hansen thinks is a looming climate catastrophe.

The crux of their argument, in a lawsuit exceptional for the numerous children comprising the plaintiffs, is that the government has violated young people's Constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

"I am afraid and angry at the problems that greedy and foolish adults have created," Kivlehan said in Germany. "No civil rights issue in history has ever been solved without the pressure of the public behind it. So the main goal is to show the government that that pressure is there."

But Hansen believes the mission also should entail suing companies to obtain necessary funding. "As a matter of justice it should be extracted from those who benefitted most from fossil fuel burning – the so-called carbon majors."

These carbon majors were identified in a report released in July, which outlined how 100 companies were responsible for producing 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

The biggest commercial polluters who for decades have profited from environmental degradation should also be targeted, he says, so that money can be raised to help pay for the high costs of climate action.

While it remains to be seen what will come of his latest plea, Hansen does not intend to quit any time soon.

"Let us not sugarcoat the truth: as long as we allow fossil fuels to be cheap energy, not required to pay their costs to society, we cannot kick our fossil fuel addiction… The period of consequence requires honesty and courage. Nothing less will do."

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