A Note From Our Chapter Chair
Photo: The Klamath River flows through Oregon and Northern California
On October 11, Sierra Club Connecticut is hosting a special event to honor past heroes and celebrate over 50 years of our Connecticut Chapter. Let’s get together in remembrance and fellowship! Among our many leaders, Marty Mador, was one of Sierra Club’s most visible advocates in Connecticut. Marty passed away on June 21, 2023. Together, we will share successes and memories. Tickets are $50.00. I hope you will join us and help support our work going forward.
Climate lawsuits are on the rise with cascading climate disasters setting the stage for urgent action. Looking back, we find past lawsuits or requests for rulemaking that failed. They give me an eerie feeling, a Cassandra-like effect of prophecies come true. Just as our governments have ignored the warnings of science for decades, the courts have denied many of these cases, including a suit for more water rights for Indigenous peoples in Maui, where they recently suffered from a lack of water to fight the tragic fire that destroyed Lahaina. However, there have been recent wins to restore waters once diverted to Maui plantations, including efforts by Sierra Club Hawaii to restore water rights to local communities in 13 Maui streams. (To send donations for relief to families of Lahaina, check out these Sierra Club Hawaii resources)
Around the world, we are now seeing more legal actions succeed in strengthening rights to a clean environment and protecting our natural resources. Indigenous-led campaigns to recognize the rights of natural phenomena, like rivers, have been successful in several countries. For example, in New Zealand, the Māori have fought and won personhood for the Whanganui River. In the U. S., the Klamath River has been given legal rights, and remarkably, the Columbia Supreme Court granted legal rights to the Amazon River, the world’s largest river, in 2018.
This approach reflects the Indigenous world view which recognizes the living spirits of nature, animals, and plant life as equal to humans, in contrast to the Western view which places man as the dominant caretaker (or exploiter) of nature.
“I see the river and the trees as ancestors. They’ve been here long before we have and deserve the right to live,” says Uapukun Mestokosho, reflecting on the Māori view on the personhood of nature.
The Mutuhekau Shipu, or Magpie River in Quebec, Canada, is a good example, that asserts the authority of the Innu First nation:
“The 120-mile-long waterway is sacred to the Innu First Nation, who call it Mutuhekau Shipu. They’ve depended on it as a major highway, food source, and natural pharmacy for centuries. But in recent years, the river has been threatened by hydroelectric dam development, the negative environmental and social effects of which often outweigh any renewable energy benefits.
To protect the natural landmark, the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Municipality declared the Mutuhekau Shipu a legal person in 2021. Now the river has nine rights, among them the right to flow, maintain biodiversity, be free from pollution, and to sue.”
Legal actions led by Indigenous groups, our youth, and advocacy organizations, like Earthjustice and Sierra Club, continue the fight to protect our environment and public health. I hope all these efforts create a drumbeat, backed up by all of our participation in whatever way is best for us, whether it is working for energy efficiency in your home or community, participating in the legislative process, or marching for a better world.
In Connecticut, Our Children’s Trust filed a petition with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in 2011 requesting “the promulgation of a regulation to strictly limit and regulate fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions, and to establish an effective emissions reduction strategy that will achieve an atmospheric concentration no greater than 350 ppm of carbon dioxide by 2100.” (More in September’s Notes)
While this was denied, our state HAS moved forward with setting mandatory goals for greenhouse gas reduction with the Global Warming Solutions Act, Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 21-3, the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3), and more.
I’m sure that many factors led to these strong goals to address the climate crisis in our state. But all of our efforts are important. I see the rise in climate litigation as a positive sign that the world is taking this seriously, and beginning to recognize clean air and water as a public right. Hopefully, it’s not too late. [Learn more about a new campaign Sierra Club Connecticut is supporting – let’s pass the CT Environmental Rights Amendment!]
With thanks for all you do,
Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.