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Healthier Climate: A Constitutional Right?

"Climate change?!" by Eric Wüstenhagen licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr).

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring contains the earliest written suggestion that a healthy environment should be a constitutional right. Carson’s assertion was specific to the warning against indiscriminate pesticide use and the spreading of disinformation by chemical companies. Silent Spring led to a national ban on the chemical DDT and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Today, the debate over whether or not a healthy environment should be viewed as a fundamental right is pushing new boundaries by taking on a graver, more nebulous issue: global climate change. The right to a healthy, stable climate is not enumerated in the Constitution and currently does not exist, but what if it must for the well-being of future generations? U.S. Courts of the past have seen fit to grant numerous rights unwritten by the founders of our nation and, as Duke Law describes, “from the very beginning, American judges have been prepared to enforce constitutional rights that cannot fairly be said to derive from any enumerated textual guarantee.” Should such a broad, yet seemingly vital, right to a life-sustaining environment (atmosphere included) be enforced by our nation’s courts?

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