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A New Strategy to Address Climate Change: Suing for Community Rights

If these recent headlines are any indication, environmental woes are mounting despite decades of attempts to reverse ecological devastation. A proliferation of environmental statutes, regulations and advocacy campaigns has fallen short of securing a clean and healthy environment for all.

Environmental issues, to be fair, are complex and difficult to remedy effectively. In one sense, they are a symptom of an underlying conflict of a continuously growing global economy pushing up against physical planetary boundaries. Endless pursuit of profit and economic growth has driven us to the brink of ecosystem collapse, whereby various interdependent components of the biosphere - oceans, atmosphere, wetlands, forests etc. - begin to break down simultaneously. Trying to remedy one of these symptoms - passing a law to ban logging in old-growth forests, for example - is almost pointless given the scale and scope of the current ecological crisis.

Indeed, we've already tried this approach, creating laws addressing a plethora of environmental issues from endangered species and wilderness protection to air and water pollution. While there have been some improvements, the overall outcome is quite bleak. The United States ranks well below other wealthy nations in terms of environmental protection. As James Gustave Speth has pointed out, a third of our plant and animal species are threatened with extinction; half of our wetlands and 90 percent of our old-growth forests have been destroyed; and nearly half of rivers, streams and lakes fail to meet the quality standard set by law.


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