Category Archives: Climate Change

Editorial: In eco-minded California, there’s still no constitutional right to clean air and water

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: Don’t we have a right to a safe and healthy environment?  It’s time to put it in our Constitution.]

Under a proposal in the California Legislature, voters could weigh in on an amendment to add rights to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment to the state constitution. | Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times.

LA Times, by the Times Editorial Board, April 24, 2024

California may be a leader in the fight against climate change, but the state is years, even decades, behind other states when it comes to granting environmental rights to its citizens.

While a handful of other state constitutions, including those of New York and Pennsylvania, declare the people’s rights to clean air, water and a healthy environment, California’s does not.

That could change as soon as November. Under a proposal moving through the Legislature, voters would decide whether to add one sentence to the state constitution’s Declaration of Rights: “The people shall have a right to clean air and water and a healthy environment.”

The proposed green amendment could be seen as a well-meaning but symbolic change in a state that, despite tough environmental rules, struggles to address deep environmental problems like air pollution, contaminated drinking water and the worsening impacts of climate change.

But there’s a reason that powerful business interests have come out in opposition. Enshrining environmental rights in California’s constitution would give citizens a new tool to hold the government accountable for failing to act in the interest of environmental health, protection and justice. That could, in turn, force the state to crack down on polluters.

It should be obvious that we need more tools to address the climate crisis. And in California, of all places, citizens should have the chance to weigh in on whether a healthy environment is a right on par with life, liberty, safety, happiness and privacy, which are all spelled out in the constitution. Lawmakers should advance this proposal to let the voters decide.

To be put on the ballot the amendment must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate. It must win the support of a simple majority of voters to be added to the constitution.

States like Montana, which declares “the right to a clean and healthful environment,” added this kind of language to their constitutions more than 50 years ago in response to the burgeoning environmental movement. After the advent of Earth Day, Pennsylvania in 1971 amended its constitution to add the people’s right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

In recent years, some of those rarely invoked amendments have seen new life as bases to challenge government decisions over oil and gas permitting and the cleanup of contaminated sites and other environmental hazards. There’s now a nationwide movement to get green amendments onto more state constitutions. In 2021 70% of New York voters passed an amendment adding the right to “clean air and water, and a healthful environment” to its state constitution’s Bill of Rights, language that is nearly identical to the California proposal.

But state Legislatures have also been a chokepoint for these proposals. In some states, such as New Jersey, green amendments with bipartisan support have languished for years because key lawmakers have prevented them from being being considered.

Business interests in California are lining up in opposition to putting the proposed green amendment on the ballot. Brady Van Engelen, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers during a legislative hearing earlier this month that it was a “job killer” that could spur lawsuits and be weaponized by “wealthy white NIMBYs” to block development.

Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) who introduced the green amendment legislation, dismissed the Chamber’s opposition as “ridiculous.” He said that lawmakers opted for simple, direct language that is more limited than other states’ to make it clear the amendment is not intended as litigation bait, but rather to establish a clear obligation that the state make decisions in a way that upholds the environmental values it espouses. A green amendment would not establish any new right for individuals to sue businesses for environmental violations.

But just as in New York, Pennsylvania and Montana, a California green amendment could be used to hold state officials accountable for their decisions, from legislation and permitting to the enforcement of existing environmental laws.

Californians should have the chance to not only send a message about how much they value a healthy environment, but to assert that something as fundamental to life as clean air and clean water isn’t just an aspiration or an ideal, but a right.

Benicia’s future at stake – Small towns as canaries in the coal mine for climate change

Roger Straw, Benicia CA

[BenIndy contributor Roger Straw: As I watched this fascinating interview, I thought of my own little bit of paradise, my home, my small-town Benicia, California. Could it happen here, really? Entire towns have been destroyed by wildfire, and over 3 million US residents have migrated in recent years due to the risks and realities of extreme flooding. How many times have I had the conversation with friends and family about where we would move, if we had to leave Benicia, leave California? How many of us have already left for safer locations? Short of leaving here, is my home fire resistant? Is our city safe? How much would it cost for Benicia and PGE and you and me to avoid the fate of Lahaina, Hawaii, how much to bury all of our electrical lines below ground and clear defensible space around every home and business? How much to adequately prepare for sea level rise and storm-wrecked shores? Near the end of this interview, federal grants are mentioned. Are our city leaders planning carefully and reaching out for these grants?]

Before It’s Gone: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America

Destroyed Communities & Climate Migrants: Climate Change Upends Small Towns

Amanpour and Company on Youtube, April 16, 2024

Hurricanes, storms, and wildfires are persuading Americans to abandon their homes as nature lashes out against human-made climate change. Over three million Americans have already moved due to risk of flooding, and climate experts say some 13 million coastal residents will be displaced by the end of this century. CBS News correspondent and author Jonathan Vigliotti has reported from the front lines of climate change. He explains to Hari Sreenivasan how American towns might become more resilient and why it’s crucial to listen to the science.

Originally aired on PBS on April 16, 2024

Johnathan Vigliotti, Before It’s Gone, Stories from the Front Lines of Change in Small-Town America

Available for order at Bookshop Benicia,

Human rights violated by Swiss inaction on climate, ECHR rules in landmark case

[BenIndy: Youth have been and will continue to be the most impacted victims of rising temperatures and weak government climate policies. Those of us from older generations owe the world’s youth a debt we can never repay, but some from our own generational ranks have devoted their time and energy to making some good on that debt – by fighting for our shared future. Organizations like Third Act are very active in showing over-60s how they can stand up for climate justice, if you’d like to learn more.]

Christian Hartmann / Thomson Reuters.

Court finds in favour of group of older Swiss women who claimed weak policies put them at greater risk of death from heatwaves

Guardian, by Ajit Naranjan, April 9, 2024

Weak government climate policies violate fundamental human rights, the European court of human rights has ruled.

In a landmark decision on one of three major climate cases, the first such rulings by an international court, the ECHR raised judicial pressure on governments to stop filling the atmosphere with gases that make extreme weather more violent.

The court’s top bench ruled that Switzerland had violated the rights of a group of older Swiss women to family life, but threw out a French mayor’s case against France and that of a group of young Portuguese people against 32 European countries.

“It feels like a mixed result because two of the cases were inadmissible,” said Corina Heri, a law researcher at the University of Zürich. “But actually it’s a huge success.”

The court, which calls itself “the conscience of Europe”, found that Switzerland had failed to comply with its duties to stop climate change. It also set out a path for organisations to bring further cases on behalf of applicants.

The Swiss verdict opens up all 46 members of the Council of Europe to similar cases in national courts that they are likely to lose.

Joie Chowdhury, an attorney at the Centre for International Environmental Law campaign group, said the judgment left no doubt that the climate crisis was a human rights crisis. “We expect this ruling to influence climate action and climate litigation across Europe and far beyond,” she said.

The facts of the three cases varied widely, but they all hinged on the question of whether government inaction on climate change violated fundamental human rights. Some of the governments argued that the cases should not be admitted, and that climate policy should be the subject of national governments rather than international courts.

Greta Thunberg, climate justice hero and international badass , pictured in 2019. |  EPA / Justin Lane.

The plaintiffs attending the hearing in the court in Strasbourg, some as young as 12, celebrated after a member of a panel of 17 judges read out the verdicts. The climate activist Greta Thunberg joined a gathering outside the court before the hearing to encourage faster action.

Anton Foley, who with Thunberg was representing Aurora, a youth group that filed a climate lawsuit against Sweden, said it was “unjust” that responsibility for stopping the climate crisis fell on young people, and praised the Swiss women for stepping up. “We don’t want to be the hope for the older generation. We want them to do this, because we don’t want to fight this fight.”

Thunberg thanked Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, co-president of the KlimaSeniorinnen, for what she had done, as they met outside the courtroom.

The KlimaSeniorinnen, a group of 2,400 older Swiss women, told the court that several of their rights were being violated. Because older women are more likely to die in heatwaves – which have become hotter and more common because of fossil fuels – they argued that Switzerland should do its share to stop the planet heating by the Paris agreement target of 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels.

The court ruled that Swiss authorities had not acted in time to come up with a good enough strategy to cut emissions. It also found the applicants had not had appropriate access to justice in Switzerland.

But it also rejected the cases of four individual applicants who had joined the KlimaSeniorinnen.

“I’m very happy,” said Nicole Barbry, 70, a member of the KlimaSeniorinnen who had come to Strasbourg. “It’s good that they’re finally listening to us.”

The Portuguese children and young people – who because of their age will see greater climate damage than previous generations – argued that climate-fuelled disasters such as wildfires and smoke threatened their right to life and discriminated against them based on their age.

The court did not admit the case, deciding that the applicants could not bring cases against countries other than Portugal and adding that they had not pursued legal avenues in Portugal against the government.

“Their [the Swiss] win is a win for us, too,” said Sofia Oliveira, a 19-year-old applicant in the Portuguese case. “And a win for everyone.”

The French case, brought by the MEP Damien Carême, argued that France’s failure to do enough to stop climate change violated his rights to life and privacy and family life. Carême filed the case when he was the mayor of Grand-Synthe, a coastal town vulnerable to flooding. The court did not admit the case because Carême no longer lives there.

The ECHR rejects about 90% of all applications it receives as inadmissible but fast-tracked the three climate cases to its top bench because of their urgency. It delayed hearings on six more climate cases to get a result on the rulings on Tuesday.

The rulings will influence three other international courts that are examining the role of government climate policy on human rights.

Charlotte Blattner, a researcher at the University of Berne who specialises in climate law, said the court had delivered a bold judgment in favour of a viable future. “The nature and gravity of the threat of climate change – and the urgency to effectively respond to it – require that governments can and will have to be held accountable for their lack of adequate action,” she said.

The court said that keeping global heating to 1.5C was a key part of protecting human rights, rather than the higher 2C limit that courts had used for rulings on cases in Germany and the Netherlands.

Gerry Liston, a lawyer for the Portuguese children, said the recognition that Switzerland’s policies were not science-based was “by far” the most significant aspect of the ruling. “No European government’s climate policies are aligned with anything near 1.5C, so it will be clear to those working on climate litigation in those countries that there is now a clear basis to bring a case in their national courts.”

Join Tomorrow at 7pm: ‘Tools for the Faithful in the ‘Just-Green’ Transition’ Zoom Presentation

[Note from BenIndy: There are many lenses through which we can consider and address our climate crisis; faith is an important one. The Heritage Presbyterian Church’s “Make the World a Better Place” program is hosting a Zoom presentation on Wednesday, March 20, at 7pm, to share tools faith communities can use in these discussions. That said, it’s clear these tools can serve not just the faithful, but also “people of conscience.” To get the Zoom link, you will have to RSVP by emailing]

Make the World a Better Place presents

Climate Crisis: Tools for Faith Communities and People of Faith and Conscience in the “Just Green-Transition”

March 20, 2024, 7 pm on ZOOM

To RSVP and to get the Zoom link please email: betterworldbenicia@

Featuring: Gregory Stevens, Northern California Director, California Interfaith Power and Light (


The climate has changed. Our planet is heating up. We need a new system. A system based on deep democracy, radical egalitarianism, participatory budgeting, and social justice. Faith communities across the country already embody these ways of being; so how do we make them global?

Now is the time to take action and this event will provide the tools and framework needed to make a “just green-transition” a concrete reality. A “just green transition” refers to the shift towards a more environmentally sustainable economy and society while ensuring that the process is fair and equitable for all stakeholders, especially those who may be disproportionately affected by the transition. This concept recognizes that transitioning to a green economy, which prioritizes renewable energy, resource efficiency, and sustainability, can have social and economic implications.

About Gregory Stevens: Gregory serves as the Northern California Director. As a former Baptist preacher, long time labor organizer, and interfaith community activist they bring a creative mix of skills to our team as we seek to strengthen multi-religious responses to climate change. Gregory grew up in Tampa/St. Petersburg Florida, where their love for crawling critters, furry felines, and old oak trees solidified into political and social activism for planetary healing. They have a BA in Religion and Gender Studies from the University of South Florida, a MDiv from Claremont School of Theology, and a MA in Anthropology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. In their free time they enjoy overstuffed used bookstores, the smell and feel of giant Redwood Trees, watching documentaries about ancient cultures, and all things Unitarian Universalist.

California Interfaith Power & Light
685 14th Street, Oakland CA 94612
(510) 867-2031 |

To RSVP and to get the Zoom link please email: betterworldbenicia@


More about Make the World a Better Place

Monthly educational programs on Zoom focused on social justice topics that can make a better, more peaceful and just world. The good folks at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Benicia plan and present these programs for thoughtful and caring people. Viewpoints expressed in these presentations do not necessarily reflect any position or policy of Heritage Presbyterian Church and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Heritage Presbyterian Church/ The Presbytery of the Redwoods 1400 E. 2nd St., Benicia
(707) 745-6650 |
Pat Plant, Better World Organizer

“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. – Rabindranath Tagore