Sarah v Government

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, June 23rd, 2017 - 56 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, sustainability - Tags: , ,

Law student Sarah Thomson is taking the NZ government to court over climate change. The court dates are Monday 26 June to Weds 28 June (next week).

Thomson writes at The Spinoff about what brought her to this,

The day it really hit home was when I listened to James Hansen – the man who warned the world about climate change in the 1980s and whom NASA tried to silence – give a talk comparing climate change to an asteroid speeding towards Earth. The longer we delay taking action, the harder it will become to divert.

I looked around me to see if anyone else was worried about this rather large problem hurtling towards us. Surely, at least the government would save us from impending doom.

But the more time went on, the more conscious I became of how backwards the whole situation was. I wasn’t a climate change expert, but I could see that as far as diverting the asteroid went, we were doing about the equivalent of laying out a runway and waving glow sticks at the thing.

In my own city, the illustrious Tron, big, new, expensive roading projects were under way while public transport and cycleways were given second class treatment. More exploration for new oil was also happening in New Zealand waters, even though we know the majority of the world’s existing known oil reserves can’t be used if we’re to avoid a climate catastrophe.

It didn’t make sense. It made me furious. What kind of a mess were we going to leave our kids to live in? What would we say to them when they asked us what we did about it? And that’s when I realised that the Government can’t always be trusted to act in the best interests of the people or the planet. I felt compelled by an irresistible force to do something.

In November 2015, inspired by climate change litigation overseas including a case in the Netherlands where 900 Dutch citizens filed as plaintiffs, and in the US where 21 kids are taking a lawsuit against the Federal Government, I filed a legal action challenging the New Zealand government’s inadequate response to climate change. The case was the first of its kind here.

She explains more about the case here,

As part of the Paris Agreement, the NZ Government adopted a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 11% below 1990 levels by 2030 (the NDC). My case claims that this target is unlawful.

I’m arguing that the Minister for Climate Change Issues failed to take into account relevant considerations when deciding the target – the Minister considered the cost of reducing emissions in the short term, but not the cost of climate change in the longterm if we fail to act. I’m also arguing that the target is irrational because it’s well below what’s needed to strengthen the global response to climate change.

I’m taking the case because action on climate change is urgent, and it’s going to affect everyone and every aspect of our lives. Failure to reduce emissions will result in more extreme weather events, which will put our homes and health at risk, make food prices rise, and have a significant impact on the economy.

The best outcome would be for the Court to order the Minister to reset the target in line with what’s needed on a global level to keep warming below 2°. At the very least, I would like to see the Court order that the target is unlawful and needs to be reviewed.

On the first day of court the Coal Action Network Aotearoa will be holding a rally outside the Wellington High Court at 9.15. There will  be speeches including an address from Sarah Thomson. You can also attend the hearing that starts at 10am.

Update,

Statement of Claim

Statement of Defence

Moderator note – zero tolerance for climate change denial in comments. Bans will be given without warning. 

 

56 comments on “Sarah v Government”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Bloody impressive. My father says that when the mass of women in as society decide to change something … it changes.

    The asteroid analogy is wonderful, but reality is madder than this. We aren’t merely vaguely inviting it, we’re actively strapping monstrous fucking rockets to the thing and steering it smack onto the planet.

    Building more roads, digging up more fossil carbon, investing in anything which is dependent on fossil carbon in any manner is now a folly. We had two decades in which to take easy actions; it got wasted by the lies and confusion. Now it will all be hard work.

    Yet I remain optimistic; our understanding of the issues and how to respond to them is better than ever. People are starting to realise doing nothing is no longer a safe option. And people WILL act when they see options that make a difference and work to improve their lives. There is so much about de-carbonising society that is amazingly positive and re-generative. So much of the stress, anxiety and dysfunction of the world we live in, has roots right back into this mass petro-addiction.

    Thanks for posting on this.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      …investing in anything which is dependent on burning fossil carbon in any manner is now a folly.

      FTFY

      People are starting to realise doing nothing is no longer a safe option.

      I’m pretty sure that people have understood that for a long time. The real problem is that our governments are ruled by business and business didn’t want to change. Change is hard and expensive and they’re making lots of profits as they are.

      • RedLogix 1.1.1

        The carbonites FUD campaign created a space in which people felt like they could safely choose the status quo without being morally challenged. That option is fast running out.

        And while some businesses are indeed making money from the status quo, others see big opportunity in de-carbonising.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1

          It’s burning fossil carbon that’s increasing CO2 but using them in other ways is still useful and doesn’t increase GHGs.

          Sure, there’s some business that are starting to make big money from renewables and other sustainable practices but they’re a minority and they’re probably not the biggest companies in the world with the highest paid lobbyists and donations to political parties. In other words, they’re not the ones puling the strings.

          • weka 1.1.1.1.1

            “but using them in other ways is still useful and doesn’t increase GHGs.”

            Can you give some examples? I can think of some but I’m not sure what you are meaning exactly.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Can you give some examples?

              Drugs
              Plastics
              Glues
              Rubbers
              Metals
              Paints
              Oils

              The major problem of fossil carbon is the fossil fuels based upon it and the simple fact that they’re burnt releasing huge amounts of CO2.

              Actually, thinking about it, most of those examples will release some CO2 but I think it would be minimal enough that the natural environment could probably handle it.

              • weka

                Thanks, that’s a good list. The problems I see there are cradle to grave issues. Not just emissions in manufacture, but also other pollutants, and then what do do with end of life waste. All of those things need to be reduced hugely, with the possible exception of metals, although I have seen the argument that we should stop mining too. We should be reserving those things for essential need. The big issue there is consumption, the growth economy and population expansion, all of which underpin the impacts on the environment. Time to power down.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  Not just emissions in manufacture, but also other pollutants, and then what do do with end of life waste.

                  We need to make use of the entire resource, minimise waste and recycle. Done fully (not that I think we can ATM) waste should become a thing of the past.

                  All of those things need to be reduced hugely, with the possible exception of metals, although I have seen the argument that we should stop mining too. We should be reserving those things for essential need.

                  I look at the iron sands off the Taranaki coast. A few years ago it was reported that there was ~300 million tonnes and the licence holder had permission to extract 20 million tonnes per year meaning it would all be gone in about 15 years. After a year the licensee said that there was actually 2 billion tonnes and immediately asked to increase the take to 50 million tonnes per year.

                  That resource is our wealth that allows us to do stuff and yet the government is willing to sell it off for money which is nothing (Really, you try making something with money). Never mind the damage done to the environment to get it.

                  If it really was about economics we’d be very, very conservative with the resources we have as they’re very, very limited.

                  The big issue there is consumption, the growth economy and population expansion, all of which underpin the impacts on the environment.

                  Yep.

                  Time to power down.

                  Is it power down or decrease population while increasing living standards?

  2. ianmac 2

    Hooray for Sarah. Is there a Givealittle fund to help her?

  3. Ad 3

    Is this a judicial review?
    What is the most optimistic thing that a judge could force the government to do?

    • I didn’t know you actually could take the government to court for not taking relevant matters into account when making decisions, or making decisions that are irrational. That seems to offer a hell of a lot of scope for future court action.

      I did wonder when I saw the headline if she was taking them to court for using fake carbon credits to pretend we were meeting our previous emissions reduction commitments. That one strikes me as having better scope for legal arguments (not that I’d know the first thing about legal arguments, mind).

      • Ad 3.1.1

        To challenge the process of a Ministerial decision you would need to launch a judicial review. It’s really hard work to win one.

        Last good one was when Chris Carter was Minister for the Environment and the Courts required him to look again at his decision about a marina in Whitianga.
        So that was a wee while ago.

        • Phil 3.1.1.1

          A judicial review looks only at the process used by the minister or department/agency to make a decision. It does not opine directly on the decision made.

          So, when Ms Thomson says “The best outcome would be for the Court to order the Minister to reset the target” it would suggest she doesn’t fully understand the scope of the legal avenues she’s using?

          • weka 3.1.1.1.1

            Relief sought:

            (b) An order requiring the Minister to set a new Target that will, if adopted by other developed countries in combination with appropriate targets set by developing countries, stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

            (b) An order for certiorari / quashing the NDC decision and an order that the decision be remade.

            From link at bottom of post (first one).

    • Draco T Bastard 3.2

      In NZ?

      Absolutely nothing. Parliament is supreme.

      But it would be a bad look for the government when they lose and so may decide to Do Something to make it look like they’re taking it seriously.

      • Ad 3.2.1

        Not true.
        Judicial review is one.
        Some Maori Land Court decisions are another.
        Plenty of Public Works Act decisions would be incredibly hard to overturn by the state.

        I just want to know what legally she hopes to achieve.

        • Poission 3.2.1.1

          The remedy is in tort (mandamus) para 117.

          The argument is that setting the NDC at a level that will mitigate global climate change and eliminate poverty (whatever that means) is almost surely beyond the realm of responsibility of the minister.

          If the argument is the level of the NDC then that is contestable,in so far as the sink contribution of NZ is well understated.

          • Ad 3.2.1.1.1

            Cheers.

            If that’s the case it would be fruitful to see few points from her actual submissions.

            I don’t mind if it’s all done for publicity either.
            It’s election time – publicity from the courts is perfectly legitimate.

            • weka 3.2.1.1.1.1

              I put some links at the bottom of the post, docs from the case.

              • Ad

                Thanks.
                The Statement of Defence doesn’t seem to open.

                I’ll be interested to see how this progresses.

                Any legal mind here know what the presiding judge is like?

        • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1.2

          Parliament is supreme.

          It really can ignore the courts. If they do so or not is a matter of following tradition and/or not looking bad to the public.

          There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent our government from doing whatever it damn well pleases. Even if it’s unconstitutional and against the law cannot actually prevent them from doing it if they so choose.

          I’m not even sure that the Governor General can stop them.

          That really is our governing system in a nutshell.

  4. Greg 4

    [RL: Deleted. Banned from this thread for not reading the OP.] … nothing short of lunacy.

  5. Savenz 5

    Good on her. And it’s true, why should people stand back and allow stupid short term politicians to bring the planet into danger so they can have a luxury life and be in
    Denial, passing the much greater problems onto other people in the next decade. It should be illegal.

    • roadrage 5.1

      Agreed.

      One point. Oil is a highly energy dense liquid fuel and it is reasonable while we have the infrastructure to find all reserves. Its about using the stuff slower not faster and faster. The asteroid analogy would be flipping it into a controlled orbit and slowly mine it. Its the private automobile that needs to be resign to museums.

  6. dukeofurl 6

    is there a list of her expert witnesses, as Im sure it boils down to what they would be saying.

    • Savenz 6.1

      Yes paid expert witnesses, what on earth could go wrong? Sarc. I thin the average joe these days have more common sense on most issues. Look at grenfell towers all those experts & apparently 18 inspections failed to notice illegal cladding or think is it a good idea to have zero sprinklers? The occupants sure as hell noticed, but nobody cared because they were not experts just ordinary people with more brains than the experts.

      • roadrage 6.1.1

        Electing neolibs who don’t do govt or regulation yet are put in charge of governing and inspecting… …whose foolish? Tories get you killed. Slow in tower infernos or slowly toasting like a lobster with climate change.

      • dukeofurl 6.1.2

        Please save the sarc. Courts expect expert witnesses to be you know ..expert
        Im sure Sarah has some high powered people behind her.

  7. weka 7

    I’ve added a couple of links to the claim documents for the case.

  8. Whispering Kate 8

    All power to you Sarah, you have the thoughts and prayers of many kiwis who value their country and wish that our Governments would have vision and think of the future. You go girlfriend you have my blessings.

  9. Alas Sarah you have been sold a pup, and you have fallen for it hook line and sinker.
    Yes climate change is going to lead to the extinction of over 98% of current life on the planet. That is what over 405 ppm CO2 will result in, there is nothing humans can do AT SCALE to reverse this situation.
    For the best information about our current situation you need to listen to Professor Guy McPherson @ guymcpherson.Com
    Guy is one of the only ‘academics’ publicly stating the facts.
    Where as James Hanson is like your cancer doctor telling you to up your vitamin C intake.
    Humanity is a heat engine, “Everything we do creates CO2” reading this message has added more CO2 To our environment, your court case will add more CO2
    Kiwisaver is 100% dependent on the continued manufacture of CO2, that is what GROWTH is all about
    Every new born is equel to a potential 70 years of more CO2 emissions
    We were warned back @ the Reo earth conference we had 10 years to reverse our CO2 emissions, and even back then they didn’t understand how bad the situation was
    The ‘safe’ level of CO2 for a human friendly atmosphere is a MAX of 315 ppm and no more than about .7 ppm CH4, which hasn’t been exceeded for the past 800,000 years, until 1960 ish. Currently we are seeing a global average of nearly 1.9 ppm CH4, with spikes of 2.5 (ish). Acording to a few people CH4 is 150 to 300 times worse/stronger a GHG than CO2 giving ‘us’ a CO2e reading of anywhere between 700 – 1000 ppm
    That is probably enough time wasting on my part.
    Good luck
    Robert Thankyoufornotbreeding Atack
    http://Www.oilcrash.com
    http://www.vhemt.org

    http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.conversationearth.org%2Fnear-term-human-extinction-guy-mcpherson-218%2F&h=ATMuaErn82Yy4ZUPkI_fkRFBgVBFEdA46r_3rDvfn23Kx891EH6hxffRi6AOvVbsmeqCPt5080VLK1l8-2eiqA-Uae2Vj-55smluo61RZ4WZPXcXDitIg-3n8VZkuU9VBZrcPz5hUV9w

    [Guy McPherson misuses data to scaremonger and promote his personal apocalypse fantasy, and thus encourages people to give up trying to mitigate climate change. He’s a problem like the CC deniers. I wrote a post about it here. – weka]

    • Kevin 9.1

      100% Correct Robert.

      Have followed Guy McPherson for last 12 months now and read The 6th Great Extinction. A fascinating read.

      The earth will recover, but we won’t.

      • Ad 9.1.1

        We’ve survived worse and come out stronger.

        • Tony Veitch (not etc) 9.1.1.1

          @AD 9.1.1

          Have we indeed? Care to clarify that statement? If McPherson’s right, (and I hope he isn’t) then we’re facing the end of human life on earth.

          I’ve studied a bit of history, but I don’t recall anything quite as catastrophic as that!

          • weka 9.1.1.1.1

            The problem with McPherson isn’t whether he is right or not, it’s that he pretends the science supports his view that it’s too late. It doesn’t. He should just be honest about his belief, but he misuses science and his position to promote doom. No-one knows yet if it’s too late. He is as bad as anything the denialists do.

            There are better sources to look at for how serious things are.

            • Macro 9.1.1.1.1.1

              Exactly!
              McPherson is not a climate scientist. He is an Ecologist. For those who need to see what an actual Climate Scientist thinks of Prof McPherson’s claims I refer them to Prof Jim Rendwick’s excellent blog post here:

        • marty mars 9.1.1.2

          Survived worse ad – do you mean noahsark flood?

          • Ad 9.1.1.2.1

            No I was thinking the Paleolithic.

            It’s definitely going to change us as a whole species – but we’ve been responding to vastly changed climactic change with nothing like the technology we now have. In a weird way it’s exactly the kind of challenge that we all needed.

            • marty mars 9.1.1.2.1.1

              I don’t agree with you. the challenges we face today are not similar to previous ones and also technology ain’t going to be a white knight saving us any more than aliens arriving will.

              • Ad

                Ice age was worse.
                Bring it on.

                • Yeah make a joke. Obvious you don’t care – well do about your sking lol – just another variant of denier but dressed in pretend fashionable clothes.

                • weka

                  Ice age happened slowly though right? This is happening fast and it’s up for debate about whether we have time to adapt well. I think if we did a fast drop to zero carbon and thus limited the risk of runaway CC, then here in NZ we’d be relatively ok. Lots of places in the world are going to do very badly once it gets hard to grow food.

        • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1.3

          No we haven’t. The Earth has not been in the same climate conditions that it’s in now for the entire time of humans being on the Earth,

          • In Vino 9.1.1.3.1

            AD – Technology will quickly die with a major catastrophe. Our technology will collapse like a huge house of cards. You underestimate what we may well be facing. (I was tempted to type ‘misunderestimate’ in memory of a US President whom I thought would be the worst we would have for some time. No such luck.)

            • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1.3.1.1

              WTF has that got to do with the price of fish?

              • In Vino

                Reply was to AD, who thinks we will be OK because of technology.
                I don’t share that belief.

      • roadrage 9.1.2

        Essentially the biological history of parasitical plagues is the same. They, or we, distort the ecology so significantly that we cause our own extinction. Eating several Earths is considered by the great conservative herd to be a virtue, a success, a product of hard work (not), like running rabidly round the hamster wheel even faster once all needs are met is somehow intellectual genius. And every member of the Tory herd has it by conformity to the neo-libmantra. Led by mogals like Murdoch its the lowest common denominator people that sells.

        • roadrage 9.1.2.1

          And that’s why the best way to change the world is to stop eating Murdoch’s product. He’ll survive. We won’t by continuing eating Trump ads manufactured solely to keep our attention.

      • dukeofurl 9.1.3

        ” read The 6th Great Extinction”

        Experts on great extinctions say we arent in one.
        https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/06/the-ends-of-the-world/529545/
        Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction

        “Erwin is one of the world’s experts on the End-Permian mass extinction”
        Erwin says no. He thinks it’s junk science.

        “Many of those making facile comparisons between the current situation and past mass extinctions don’t have a clue about the difference in the nature of the data, much less how truly awful the mass extinctions recorded in the marine fossil record actually were,”

        • Draco T Bastard 9.1.3.1

          So, out of all the scientists that say we are you managed to find one that says we aren’t?

          See, that’s the exact same tactics that the climate change deniers have used over the last few decades to try and discredit the overall science.

  10. Ad 10

    Quite enjoyed Bill Nye’s 4 minutes of science on climate change. It’s about my level of science:

    https://www.climaterealityproject.org/video/climate-101-bill-nye?utm_source=email-welcome-sequence&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=General

  11. Tautoko Mangō Mata 11

    Sara Thomson is showing that age is irrelevant when it comes to taking leadership on an issue. My view is that the ultimate in futility is to DO NOTHING about climate change, which is almost exactly what the current government is doing…
    Being hopeless is not an attitude to which I am prepared to submit. We may not be able to change the final outcome but how can we not try?

    Go Sara

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