What They Knew: The U.S. Government and the Climate Crisis
The word “causing” stands out in the title of James Gustave “Gus” Speth’s new book, They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis. Not merely “ignoring,” but causing. It is an indictment, and, in fact, that’s what this book is. It invokes memories of Pete Seeger’s song from the ’60s about a Marine platoon forced to cross a river that was too deep. “We were waist deep in the Big Muddy,” he sang, “and the big fool said to push on.”
Back in 2015, a group of 21 plaintiffs, none older than 19, submitted a brief to the District Court for the District of Oregon arguing that the U.S. government had violated its constitutional responsibility to protect their right to life, liberty, and property by knowingly “perpetuating a fossil-fuel-based energy system despite long-standing knowledge of its harms.” The charge is that we have known the dangers for a long time, that we have been fully appraised of what was necessary to avoid those dangers, and that, over and over, our nation’s leadership chose not merely to ignore this knowledge, but despite knowing, continued to push on. Referred to by the first-named plaintiff, Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, as Juliana v. United States, the case is supported by Speth’s expert testimony. That testimony provides the core of They Knew.