Public Health’s Important Role in Climate Change Litigation

Sabrina McCorkmick

As the political fray over climate change heats up, public health science has an increasingly important role to play as disputes end up in court.

Although public health was a primary argument in the 2007 landmark Massachusetts vs. EPA case that led to the regulation of greenhouse gases, it has so far been underutilized by pro-environment plaintiffs, said Sabrina McCormick in a talk for the Climate Change and Health Initiative (CCHI) on March 3 at the Yale School of Public Health.

In an ongoing study of climate change litigation, McCormick and colleagues catalogued 581 cases filed since 1990. The majority targeted coal-fired power plants, followed by other air-quality and biodiversity issues. Biodiversity suits, such as threats to endangered species, have the highest rate of success, possibly because it is easier to frame the science with a compelling story about animals and extinction, said McCormick.