WASHINGTON—There’s a commonplace when writing about climate change, a juxtaposition so familiar it almost deserves a name. It resembles CSPAN, but directed by Michael Bay. First, a speaker points to the prospect of 21st century ecological collapse: sloshing waves, ravenous forest fires, fathers weeping as their crops succumb to a drought.
Then, the camera reveals the rooms where people make climate-change policies today. They are wood-paneled, document-strewn, and full of briefcases. Compared to the Hollywood blockbuster that preceded them, they seem boring. They are boring. But then the punchline: In this room—this bureaucratic, tedious room—the fate of the whole planet is decided.
On Tuesday, during the most important legal hearing for climate-change policy in the United States this year (Politico compared it to the Super Bowl, World Series, and Quidditch World Cup happening all at once), a George W. Bush-appointed federal judge made a similar point about the absurdity of the circumstances.
“Why isn’t this debate on the floor of the Senate, instead of in a courtroom in front of a panel of unelected judges?”, Judge Thomas Griffith asked.
He and nine of his colleagues, who sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, were hearing arguments about whether the Obama administration’s signature domestic climate policy passes muster under the Clean Air Act and the Constitution. No one doubted the reality of the science, and they recognized their decision meant more than just a change to federal administrative law.