Slate Op-Ed: Supreme Court Climate Skeptics Will Help Decide the Fate of the Planet

Karen Sokol

March 4, 2022

Last fall, on the same day that the parties to the Paris Agreement gathered in Glasgow for their first day of their annual international climate meeting, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review an appellate court decision about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases from fossil fuel power plants under the Clean Air Act.

Fast forward half a year: On February 28, the day that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change issued its sobering report on climate adaptation and harms to human and planetary well-being, the court heard oral arguments in the case—West Virginia v. EPA.

Once again, it was a split-screen reality.

In reaction to the report, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated, "Today's IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone—now.

Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world's most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction — now."

This reality doesn't seem to have penetrated the high court's marble walls. In questioning Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar about the extent of the EPA's statutory authority, Justice Samuel Alito twice denied the reality of the climate emergency. "What weight do you assign to … climate change, which some people believe is a matter of civilizational survival?" And in a follow-up question, he again framed dangerous climate disruption in hypothetical terms, stating that he didn't see how considering costs of regulation would limit the EPA's authority "if you take arguments about climate change seriously, that this is matter of survival." (Emphases added.)

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