Dr. Hansen wrote an article (The threat to the planet), for the New York Review of Books, aimed at a non-technical audience. The article, which began “Animals are on the run…”, had a moving effect on Prof. Mary Wood, a legal scholar at the University of Oregon. After discussions between Wood and Hansen, Hansen agreed to write a paper prescribing how rapidly fossil fuel emissions must be phased down to stabilize climate, with the paper providing the scientific basis for legal actions against governments for not protecting the rights of young people.
“Our Children’s Trust” was established by Julia Olson. The paper that Hansen agreed to write serves as the basis for federal and several state cases that have been filed, and which are now making their way through courts. The paper(Assessing “dangerous climate change”: Required reduction of carbon emissions to protect young people, future generations and nature), includes 17 co-authors who are recognized international experts in fields including climate change, atmosphere and ocean physics, chemistry and biology, human health, and economics. Due to resistance by anonymous editorial boards, it was a three-year saga to get the final version of the paper published, in December 2013.
This collaboration will continue, and indeed Dr. Hansen is now able to testify against the government, which he could not do as a government employee. In addition, cooperation with legal efforts in other nations is anticipated. The resistance met in trying to publish the paper described above, specifically by an editorial board objecting to “normative” statements in the paper, suggests that it may become difficult to find other scientists to do a comparable job. It remains to be seen whether the legal approach will bear substantial fruit in terms of forcing government accountability, but at very least it will help draw attention to the intergenerational inequity and the failure of governments to protect the rights of young people.