The Case for Hope
2020, High School, Prose
Deputy District Attorney: Good morning, Your Honour and ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I am privileged to stand before you to represent my client, Mr. Climate Change, in this case today. In accordance with the law, my client is presumed remediable until proven hopeless. I will now present to you the numerous samples of evidence that prove Mr. Climate Change to indeed be remediable.
Global awareness, effort, and indignation surrounding climate change are increasing—this is an undeniable truth (Marlon et al.). While I agree that such progress is not a basis for complacency, I entreat you to allow it to reinforce your motivation to engage in the climate crisis, whether that be through protesting, joining an environmental organisation, or writing letters addressed to a local politician.
The prosecutor has explained to you why she believes optimism to be futile, because my client has detrimentally impacted the earth, especially the ocean, in an irreversible way. However, she has not accurately informed you of all the facts.
Firstly, the prosecutor stated that if current policies continue to be practised, the world will experience a temperature increase of 3.5° C by the conclusion of this century (Miles). My client and I do not refute the probability of this occurring, nor that it would result in rising sea levels and ocean acidity, heightened frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and significant loss of wildlife (WWF). It is also true that the consequences of global warming, including droughts, bushfires, and flooding, both have, and continue to, impact millions of people, flora, and fauna across the world.
However, as this estimate of 3.5° C is based on the trends of past decades, it fails to take into account the monumental progress in technology that will undoubtedly facilitate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, renewable energy has undergone unprecedented rates of growth that have simultaneously reduced its cost and expanded its prevalence. In 2019, 26% of global electricity was supplied from renewable sources (UNEP), as compared to 12% in 2017 (Ambrose). Note that this number has more than doubled in the span of a mere two years. In 2017, the emission of approximately 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was averted due to clean energy (UNEP), and this number will only continue to increase exponentially. The clean electricity sector is growing faster than initially expected, with estimates that its generation capacity will increase by up to 50% by 2024, with a further decline in cost of 15-30% (Ambrose). In most countries, the price of solar energy has already dropped to below that of retail electricity (IEEFA). This incentive is a cornerstone because it could feasibly end large corporations’ demands for fossil fuels by the 2030s.
Projected advancements aside, the world is already equipped with the economic and technological ability to restrict the temperature increase to 1.5° C, as per the 2015 Paris Agreement (Miles). In fact, 33 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided every year with existing technology alone, which is less expensive to implement than it has ever been (UNEP).
The prosecutor further misled you to believe that the aforementioned factors are inconsequential because powerful nations have previously shown reluctance to commit to them. She has disregarded that the climate crisis has shifted into the focus of the public’s political eye in recent years; an unequalled number of voters and protestors, particularly youth, are demonstrating their growing refusal to accept inaction on this issue. Strikes for climate change in September 2019, for example, saw over 6 million people around the globe join to demand urgent action from politicians (Taylor et al.). Polls demonstrate an overwhelming sense of unity on this crisis regardless of nationality or ideology (Cho).
Furthermore, cities, regions, and companies are no longer relying on their federal governments to introduce environmentally friendly policies. About 7,000 cities, 245 regions, and 6,000 businesses, with a combined $36 USD trillion in revenue, have already promised to take action (UNEP).
I concede it to be true that G20 members have yet to take significant measures to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, which account for 80% of the total quantity released on an annual basis (UNEP). Trump’s intention to formally withdraw the U.S., the world’s second-largest polluter after China, from the Paris Agreement, is equally discouraging. However, what the prosecutor has neglected to inform you is that this action will not be legally effective until the day following the 2020 presidential election, assuming that the elected president agrees with his decision. As Trump has not withdrawn from the UNFCCC, the U.S. will continue to have a place at future UN climate conferences regardless (Harvey).
The prosecutor proceeded to elaborate on the Trump administration’s rollback of climate change policies, which included relaxing regulations on offshore drilling and repealing conservation schemes that once protected threatened species from fossil fuel extraction companies (Greshko et al.). However, this is a very one-dimensional view that disregards that in many of these instances, press statements are released before the rule-making procedure has even commenced. Given that a rollback reaches the court, it could still be rejected, as many have been. From a judicial perspective, the impact of anthropogenic pollution on the environment is so thoroughly studied and proven that at a global level, there is not a single judge who has expressed skepticism about climate change, given that they have addressed the topic (Cho). Furthermore, the policies that Trump has revised can be reinstated quite simply by future administrations. This is especially pertinent as the presidential election approaches.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, provided grounds for hope when she expressed her public dissent of Trump’s agenda at the 2019 COP25 Summit in Madrid, saying, “Congress’s commitment to take action on the climate crisis is iron clad.” (ABC News). Intertwined with her words is the reality that in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the vast majority of decisions regarding climate conservation are controlled at the state and regional levels, rather than at the whim of the president (Cho). Once central governments and large businesses decide to convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy, experts have already identified over 1,000 specific measures they can take to maintain the reliability of energy supplies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Gerrard et al.). All that remains is for the public to provide sufficient pressure for them to take these necessary steps.
Finally, please consider that studies have found a correlation between lack of hope and decreased efficacy in tackling a problem (Marlon et al.). Because hope is a proven spur for action, the fatalistic belief that the earth has already crossed the point of no return only contributes to the problem.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we implore that you reflect on my words carefully, and return a verdict of “remediable.” Thank you.
(Three hours later)
Judge (addressing the jury): The bailiff will now escort you to the deliberation room to consider your verdict. You will firstly select a foreperson, who will be responsible for signing the verdict form once you have agreed upon it. The verdict you select must be unanimous, meaning that each and every single one of you must agree upon it.
Bailiff: All rise.
(One hour later)
Judge: Will the foreperson please stand? Has the jury reached a verdict?
Foreperson: We have, Your Honour.
Foreperson: The jury finds the defendant to be remediable.
Judge: The jury is thanked for their service. Court is adjourned.
ABC News. “COP 25: UN chief Antonio Guterres urges hope over ‘surrender’ as report finds greenhouse emissions rising rapidly.” ABC News, 3 Dec 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-03/cop-253a-un-seceratry-general-opens-summit-with-hope/11759032.
Ambrose, Jillian. “Renewable energy to expand by 50% in next five years – report.” The Guardian, 21 Oct 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/21/renewable-energy-to-expand-by-50-in-next-five-years-report.
Cho, Renee. “Six Reasons to Be Hopeful About Fighting Climate Change.” Columbia University, 13 Feb 2019, https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2019/02/13/hope-fighting-climate-change.
Greshko, Michael et al. “A running list of how President Trump is changing environmental policy.” National Geographic, 3 May 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/.
Harvey, Fiona. “US Congress commits to act on climate crisis, despite Donald Trump.” The Guardian, 3 Dec 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/02/congress-commits-to-take-action-on-climate-crisis.
IEEFA. “IEA: Renewable generation capacity expected to climb by 1,200GW in next five years.” Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, 21 Oct 2019, https://ieefa.org/iea-renewable-generation-capacity-expected-to-climb-by-1200gw-in-next-five-years/.
Marlon, Jennifer et al. “How Hope and Doubt Affect Climate Change Mobilization” Frontiers, 21 May 2019, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2019.00020/full#h2.
Miles, Tom. “Global temperatures on track for 3-5 degree rise by 2100: U.N.” Reuters, 29 Nov 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-un/global-temperatures-on-track-for-3-5-degree-rise-by-2100-u-n-idUSKCN1NY186.
Superior Court of California. “Mock Trial Script.” County of Contra Costa, n.d., https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/mocktrialscript-contra.pdf.
Taylor, Matthew et al. “Climate crisis: 6 million people join latest wave of global protests.” The Guardian, 28 Sept 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/27/climate-crisis-6-million-people-join-latest-wave-of-worldwide-protests.
UNEP. “From “lost decade” of climate action, hope emerges.” United Nations, 22 Sept 2019, https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/lost-decade-climate-action-hope-emerges.
WWF. “Impacts of global warming.” WWF, n.d., https://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/climate/impacts-of-global-warming#gs.kdufhh.
As the climate crisis progresses, I’ve noticed that there are a few distinct groups of people: those that deny its existence, those that don’t care about it, those that feel hopeless, and those that are angered by the actions of their leaders. Of these, I am quite fascinated by people who acknowledge the issue of global warming but deem it a lost cause, usually citing human greed as the reason. I’ve seen many articles about the phenomenon of depression caused by climate change. They remind me of a study I once read, where researchers found hopeful cancer patients to have a much higher chance of successful recovery. It makes sense to me intuitively—after all, why would someone bother to fight a battle if they’ve already thrown their hands in the air? I would like to encourage everyone to continue to fight for their planet, especially students like myself, who are often made to believe that their impact is insignificant. As the state of the planet worsens and it seems that every day brings bad news, I will remember that my voice can be used to demand the change the world needs—and that is a beautiful thing.