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A Continuing Dialogue: Questions, Answers, and Conversation about Juliana et al v. The United States…

Written by David Hales
June 13, 2019

On June 4, 2019, The Parliament and the Security and Sustainability Forum presented the first in a series of Webinars on Faith and Climate. The Webinar focused on Juliana et al v. The United States, and addressed both the legal issues involved and the scientific basis for the claims of the plaintiffs.

We had almost 700 registrants for the Webinar, and more than 300 attended live. The online participation was quite diverse — 27 countries (from Andorra to Zambia!) were represented, along every region of the United States, as well as Indigenous People from several countries, including Native Americans. We had ministers, missionaries, and leaders from religious and interfaith organizations (from Baptists to World Council of Churches), and a mix of Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions in attendance. They were joined by government policy makers at state, local, and national levels; and intergovernmental organizations including the United Nations, the International Panel on Climate Change, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Our attendees included health professionals, resource managers, researchers and scientists, teachers (secondary and university), students at multiple levels, representatives of business and industry, and investors.

Many took the time to share comments and ask questions, and we want to be as responsive as we can to all. Responses are still coming in and we’ll add them to this stream. Below is just an initial cut. You’ll see that we have grouped and rephrased a number of questions that had essentially the same focus.

We want to know what you think as well, and we hope you will add your thoughts in the reply section … thanks for being part of this important story.

David Hales
Chair, Climate Action
Parliament of the World’s Religions

QUESTION: The Paris Accord identified global forest protection as a high priority and the most effective currently available mechanism for CO2 removal from the atmosphere. How can the Federal and State Governments continue to subsidize deforestation and forest degradation while we are in the midst of the Climate Crisis and the 6th Great Extinction? Isn’t the protection of intact forests also a Public Trust Doctrine issue?

Hales: You raise a very important – and complex – issue. United States deforestation has caused the destruction of virgin forests by 75% percent since European settlement, with the major factor being clearing for cultivation. Since the 1920s, however, lands classified as forest/timberland have increased slightly, as has the volume of those forests, due to the maturation of standing timber. Forest land protected from cutting has increased slightly as well.  Annual afforestation and reforestation in the US slightly exceeds deforestation (+0.09%), although this is projected to change by 2030.

For a carefully documented summary, you can refer to the US National Climate Assessment chapter on Forests.( )

All forests are not ecologically the same, however, and there are significant differences among newer and older stands. And threats to forest land associated with climate change are also increasing.

The issues of what is “degradation” and what is “intact” are also complex, as is the mix of private and public responsibilities and ownership, far beyond what I might address here.

Globally, afforestation and reforestation cumulatively has exceeded deforestation ( but the planet is losing tropical forests. The quality, productivity (especially in terms of ecosystem services) and future of all forest systems is threatened by climate change.

QUESTION: Many in the public service regard fossil resources as “the national interest” and resist advancement of legal challenges, challenges to anti-competitive practices, and so forth; how can these dated, wrong attitudes be turned around?

Hales: A good first step is making sure that each of us is living our own values. There are many good carbon footprint calculators freely available on the web. A comprehensive one is at

Second, it may be easier to change the officials than to change the opinion of the officials. Vote your values.

Third, actively support the public servants who are sincerely wrestling with the challenge of making the transition to a fossil-fuel free economy. I can say from my days as Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that an occasional supportive email or letter to the editor in local papers can make a great difference.

QUESTION: What does the “federal government” have to GAIN by trying to stop the case from going forward, i.e., who benefits if Juliana “loses”?

Hales: In my opinion, no one, but that’s not really an answer to your good question, which goes to the heart of Juliana et al. Defendants and those associated with them want to prevent discovery from going forward and prevent the District Court from hearing the case on its merits. Those who are interested in avoiding transparency on what they knew and when did they know it will “benefit” from a Juliana “loss.”

QUESTION: Where would Science for the People be on the intellectual foundations for – and partners with – this lawsuit? Do we Americans or other-than-Americans truly GRASP the material causality of GHGs and what we do over time (gradually?) experience?? ‘We are our government…’ Can both parties AND nonpartisans unite to lead where the current Administration seems to be digging in its heels?

Hales: Certainly it can happen, and it would be great to have climate leadership from every candidate from all parties. That will not happen until votes depend on  the candidates’ position on climate change.

QUESTION: How much impact can US municipalities that work to comply the Paris Agreement have on reducing emissions?

Hales: Municipalities are having a significant impact, both in terms of building public support for climate action and with actual reductions of GHG emissions. A terrific resource that looks at the transition of cities to renewables is available from the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century (REN21):

Cities are also at the forefront of adapting to the impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable.

COMMENT: Would a carbon fee and dividend be the best overall solution? A gradually but quickly increasing price on carbon pollution, at the mine or oil well, with a border adjustment, would trickle down thru the economy and would result in “all of the above” changes in our economy. I don’t see another way to do this quickly enough, do you? The dividend would return revenue from the tax to households to offset the increasing prices. What potential specific impacts could a favorable ruling on Juliana vs. US have? What so what might the US Govt be REQUIRED to do? Just “consider” policy?

Hales: A clear decision establishing a public trust responsibility for the USG regarding the atmosphere would change the basis for many federal decisions in material ways. The plaintiffs are also asking the Federal Judiciary to mandate a comprehensive and concrete plan to address the issues they have raised.

QUESTION: Some of the charts show global temperature increases as high as 4 or 5 degrees Celsius. Could someone speculate on the impacts in such a scenario?

Hales: Please see: United State National Climate Assessment:

Or for a global view:

QUESTION: How do we reach out to climate denying fundamentalist faith groups – or do we just ignore them? Their votes have influenced elections so far.

Hales: A clear consequence of recognizing that we have only one atmosphere is the realization that we are all in this together. A faith-based “argument” is often more influential than arguments that are just science-based or seen as political.

QUESTION: Maybe I missed it, but did we clarify/remind who/what “Juliana” is? Is there a biography for Juliana?…age? Sports he/she likes? Would be a very good way to empower our students…by knowing more about this young person! Juliana is the plaintiff in this case and represents all of the children who are suing. It’s the last name of one of the plaintiffs. Are there any other similar cases in other countries

Hales: There are indeed. An excellent summary, including the plaintiffs’ bios, is available from Our Children’s Trust:

QUESTION: Larry Kudlow recently said that climate change hasn’t affected the GDP

Hales: Larry Kudlow has said many things that are not supported by facts. Keep in mind the inadequacies of using GDP. GDP is a very poor measure even of economic strength, much less the wellbeing of a society.

COMMENT: Mayor Pete Buttigeig brought up the issues of intergenerational justice at a Town Hall yesterday in response to a question from an 8th grader. Do you think “Julianne” is the best response and action to address intergenerational justice?

Hales: The courts are only one venue for addressing this issue.

QUESTION and COMMENT: What is the role of local and state advocacy of faith groups as well as within congregations?

Critical: If you haven’t done so already, we strongly urge you to join and support these groups with your “time, talent and treasure. “

The Parliament has a new website where local and regional voluntary efforts can learn from – and celebrate — each other. Participation in the network is free, and if you are  a member of a local group we encourage you to join. ( )

The Faith and Climate Webinar Series continues on June 18th with The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato si’.


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