Judges have ruled on everything from car emissions to the constitutional right to life.
Social movements can’t rely on a single tactic to be successful. You have to use every tool at your disposal — walks-outs, protests, social media campaigns. Recently, climate movements have turned to litigation as a potentially powerful tool too.
In the United States, the courts have had a questionable role in social movements. Living in the post-Roe era, we’re intimately familiar with how the courts can fail us. At the same time, litigation can lead to big successes. That much was seen with Roe v. Wade when it was originally ruled, as well as landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia.
Climate litigation isn’t new. As Paul Sabin, a professor of environmental history at Yale, told Vox, “Litigation has been a crucial strategy for environmental activism since the ‘60s and the ‘70s.” As the crisis worsens, though, climate cases have increased. Last year, Reuters reported that data from Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law showed 1,375 climate-related lawsuits were filed in U.S. courts, compared to around 425 in other countries.
These lawsuits don’t always end in wins. But winning isn’t necessarily the point. Sure, it’s great to have the courts — or even a jury — rule in your favor. But sometimes, lawsuits are just meant to get attention and start agitating people. Here are five climate lawsuits that have shaped the movement as it stands today.