In sharp contrast to the flurry of legal and policy-oriented efforts of years past, climate activists today employ protest and nonviolent civil disobedience to advance their agenda for rapid and ambitious mitigation and adaptation. In so doing, activists make explicit references to the storied past of defining social movements in American history—notably the anti-slavery movements of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 20th—and draw direct comparison to the moral failure igniting the relevant social movements. This article examines a topic largely ignored by the legal academy, the emerging climate movement, to assess the usefulness of its persistent reference to prior movements. Comparing this recent mobilization with earlier struggles, this article explores the following questions: First, what are the characteristics of the climate movement and what tactics and narratives does it employ? Second, how are the moral questions and legal and policy goals of the climate movement similar to, or distinct from, the social movements that many climate activists invoke? Third, given the distinct moral and legal questions posed by climate change, what lessons could the climate movement glean from other similarly poised social movements? The preliminary conclusions note that extra-legal actions and non-violent civil disobedience were ostensibly indispensable in the past and appear relevant today. Further, points of overlap and departure in the framing and narrative of prior movements may be instructive for the contemporary climate movement.
In 2015, at least 3.9 million Americans were exposed to lead in their drinking water at legally unacceptable levels. An additional 18 million Americans were at risk because their water systems were not in compliance with federal rules designed to detect the presence of lead contamination and to ameliorate its impact. What’s more, in 82 percent of the cases where the violation related to a health standard, no formal state or federal enforcement action was taken.
These startling statistics indicate that the Flint Water Crisis (“Flint Water”) is not an isolated event. In fact, it is a case study that might explain these statistics. Flint Water reveals a fault line within our cooperative federalism model: We are relying on an increasingly ineffective power structure to guarantee the safety of our water supply, one that places the heaviest burden on the least powerful actor—the water supplier. This article proposes a ‘reset’ of the model in order to achieve safe water and government accountability.