Systemic change is needed to fix the climate. Piecemeal regulations won't cut it.
One woman who is working on fixing this is Maya van Rossum. She's the founder of For The Generations, an organisation working to get constitutions to pass a Green Amendment passed to guarantee a right to clean air, clean water, healthy environments, and a stable climate for present and future generations.
She has already had success getting a Green Amendment passed in the state of New York and is currently working with 12 other states to get amendments passed there too.
I invited her to come on the podcast to tell me more. We had a fantastic conversation. You can really here the passion in Maya's voice as our chat covered what a Green Amendment is, why it is needed, and how to go about getting one passed.
This was a truly fascinating episode of the podcast and I learned loads as always, and I hope you do too.
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Music credit - Intro and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper
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When we did have passage of laws like the clean water act and like the clean air act, we did have a level of environmental improvement that was very economically beneficial to companies and to industry and to developers. And making sure that they had healthy workers to come work so we can prove very easily through research and experience how protecting and preserving and restoring the environment actually helps us protect, preserve, and enhance economic developmentTom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate 21 podcast, the number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emissions reductions, and I'm your host global vice president for SAP, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the climate 21 podcast. My name is Tom Raftery with SAP and with me on the show today, I have my special guest Maya. Maya, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?Maya van Rossum:
Well, first off, thank you very, very much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to join in in the very valuable messages you spread about the importance of protecting our climate and our environment. I am Maya van Rossum I'm located here in the United States of America. I, wear a couple of hats, I've authored a book called The Green Amendment, the people's right for a clean, safe, and healthy environment. I'm also the founder of a national organization here in the US called green amendments for the generations advancing this concept of green amendments, which we're gonna talk about. And I've also had the honor of the last 30 years of serving as the Delaware River Keeper and leader of a four state organization called the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which literally fights the good fight through advocacy and litigation to protect and restore the beautiful Delaware river, all the tributary streams that feed it and it's watershed, which includes portions of four states here in the US.Tom Raftery:
Well, let's start with that before we get onto the green amendment. Why is the Delaware river so important to you?Maya van Rossum:
Well, it's important to me all, you know, all aspects of our environment of course are important, but I think the Delaware is particularly important to me. I grew up within the Delaware river watershed playing in a little tributary known as Ice and Creek. But the Delaware river it's 330 miles long. It is the only major river east of the Mississippi. So on the east coast, that's undammed. And that is because of the advocacy and the work of the communities here within the Delaware river watershed. it is a river whose upper reaches are so pristine they have a special designation that I and my organization fought for called special protection waters which brings with it, not just a special designation, but special protections, ensuring that the existing water quality of the Delaware river is protected. It is home to a genetically unique population of Atlantic sturgeon, to horseshoe crabs, the largest spawning population in the world of horseshoe crabs. From top to bottom, it is beautiful. It is meaningful, both for people to enjoy recreationally, but also to support the local economy. So, you know, I think the only way to really explain how wonderful the Delaware is, is to encourage people to go there. And many people do and anybody who's listening, who hasn't at one point or another, it's very worthy of a visit.Tom Raftery:
Okay. I'll add that to the list of places I need to go to . Thank you. But you mentioned as well, the, the green amendment and I can see on the shelf behind you, you've got The Green Amendment book there. So we obviously need to talk about the green amendment. What is the green amendment?Maya van Rossum:
Well, here in the US, the people across the nation have a right to free speech to freedom of religion. They have property rights, they have civil rights. They have all sorts of human, civil, and political rights that the people hold dear. And these rights are meaningful and enforceable cuz they are recognized and protected in the bill of rights section of our state and federal constitutions. And so when government takes action that infringes upon those rights, people can take action to hold government accountable and actually get those rights restored. But across the US, people do not actually have a right, no matter how much they believe it in their hearts, or they hear it in political rhetoric all the time, they do not have a right to clean water and clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments. And a constitutional green amendment changes that it is placing in the bill of rights section of our state and federal constitutions, the right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment. So when our government officials at the state level or the federal level take actions that result in people being forced to drink water that is contaminated, breathe air that is polluted of course, face a growing climate crisis as we are now, where we have habitats or species that are being decimated by government actions and activities. And we have environmental racism taking place where communities of color, native American communities, indigenous communities, low income communities are intentionally targeted under our current system of environmental protection laws. So they are disproportionately burdened by all of these environmental harms. When those things happen. If there is a constitutional green amendment, the people can take action to defend their rights, to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments. It totally transforms our US legal system from a system that is focused on legalizing pollution, degradation, and environmental racism to a system that is focused first on preventing harm, protecting people and protecting environment.Tom Raftery:
Okay, very good. there or wasn't there though the clean air and water acts famously passed by Nixon in the early seventies or thereabouts?Maya van Rossum:
There are hundreds of thousands of environmental protection laws here in the US. There's the clean water act, the clean air act, the endangered species act, the national environmental protection act, the toxic substances control act there. I mean, we have laws of all kinds at the federal level and at the state level, which have titles like clean water act and clean air act, which would suggest to you that they ensure that people everywhere across the nation have access to clean water and clean air. But the way these laws are written across the board, they are written so that they literally accept environmental pollution and degradation as a foregone conclusion and they work to manage it. They work to manage it through reviews. And through permitting and legalize it through reviews and through permitting. And so whenever there is a proposal of a new industrial operation or something that would harm the environment, very literally government officials kind of hop to the end of the process and they say, okay, what permits are we gonna issue to manage the who? The, how the, when the, where that this is going to happen. It is not actually a system of laws that is focused on prevention of pollution, degradation and harm first, prevention of environmental sacrifice zones. And the clean water act and the clean air act are no exception. In fact, in the clean water act, there is actually a provision in sort of the upfront purposes section that says that there will be zero pollution discharges to waterways by 1986. That was something that was in the earlier portions of the clean water act. If I, as an environmental activist actually recite that truth, that goal of the original clean water act during my activism, very literally every government official, every industrial operator or polluter laughs. They laugh because they know it's a joke. They laugh because they know that is not actually the intention of the clean water act, at least not today. The intention of the clean water act is to legalize pollution degradation, not really to strive first to prevent that actual contamination of our water waste.Tom Raftery:
And you're working with states to try and get them to put a green amendment in place. First of all, do you have a kind of a framework document for them to work with that, this is what a green amendment should say?Maya van Rossum:
So, there's sort of two answers to that question. So first of all there is no cookie cutter approach. There are criteria that I've identified that are very clear if you want to raise up environmental rights, so they are given this same highest constitutional standing as those other human, civil and political rights we hold dear, like the right to free speech, like freedom of religion. Then you have to meet these criteria. It has to be in the bill of rights section of the constitution. It has to be what we call self-executing meaning it has legal life and standing and enforceability in its own, right? It is not dependent on the passage of laws by state or federal legislatures. So there's a number of criteria like those that have to be met in order to raise up environmental rights to that highest standing and meet my green amendment definition. But that doesn't mean you have to use the same language to get there. And across our nation, every community, every state really has its own personality. It's it has its own highest priority goals. Some are more harmed by the climate crisis right now, and wanna raise that higher. Whereas others are, have a greater experience of environmental racism against native American communities. And so there is a desire to prioritize that higher. Some states have, you know, more concerns about water issues or air issues or species issues or the recreational values of the environment. So what I do when I go to work with a state is I help ensure that they are advancing language that meets the criteria. And at the same time meets the unique characteristics of their state and their communities. So they really feel like it is their green amendment. And when they feel like it's their green amendment, they're gonna be more effective and committed activists, working to get it secured. Now, the way I came up with this, shall we say this model language? These model criteria is actually because of an existing constitutional environmental rights amendment. What I now call a green amendment that exists in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And this was actually an amendment that was passed way back in 1971. And it very literally recognizes the rights of all Pennsylvanians to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment. It designates the state to be trustee of the state's natural resources and obligates the state to protect those natural resources for both present and future generations. Now, while that really power. And it's in the bill of rights section of the constitution, which is really the highest portion of the constitution. That's where those fundamental rights are recognized and protected and where it's, the people are very literally saying to their government through their constitution while we're giving you permission to govern over us. We are making very clear. There are these fundamental human rights that you may not infringe upon. And we are now adding the environment to those fundamental rights. Now while Pennsylvania's amendment was passed over 50 years ago, almost as soon as it was added to the Pennsylvania constitution, there was a real overreach in how people sought to use this newly minted constitutional right. And frankly, they tried to use this powerful language. In ways that they had no business using. And a very notable case was to try to use this language to prevent construction of an educational viewing tower that would look out over a historic battlefield. Very literally. And they tried to use the environmental rights amendment to protect again, this view of a battlefield. And I can imagine what was happening in the minds of the justices who were hearing this case at the time they thought to themselves, holy Crow, if this is how you're going to use this constitutional right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment, that's a real overreach and, you know, we're not gonna let you get away with it. And they very literally passed decisions early on that declared the environmental rights language to be just a statement of policy, but to not have the same legal strength as all those other fundamental rights. So from those very early years, we had this really beautiful, powerful language in the bill of rights section of the Pennsylvania constitution, but nothing had changed for the people of Pennsylvania. Fast forward to 2012, 42 years later, 41 years later, actually, fracking for gas from shale had come to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was decimating the environment, decimating communities, contaminating drinking, water supplies, devastating forest, and ecosystems of all kinds and the Pennsylvania legislators who were very pro fracking decided that they wanted to make it easier for the industry to have their way with Pennsylvania's environments and natural resources. And they passed a very pro fracking law called act 13. That was going to make it exponentially easier for the industry to advance across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In my role as the Delaware river keeper and my organization, the Delaware river keep network had been fighting fracking for many years. And in fact, there's no fracking anywhere within the boundaries of the Delaware river watershed because of our work. But we know that fracking anywhere is bad for all of us everywhere. And seeing as Pennsylvania's part of the Delaware river watershed and being one of the few organizations that litigate, we knew that we had to legally challenge this law. The problem is how do you challenge a law that's passed by your legislators and signed by your governor? You don't really have many options. You can protest and try to get it rescinded. Right? You can try to get it reform. Those things were not gonna happen. This was a very pro fracking legislature, but we realized at my organization that we had in the Pennsylvania constitution. This long ignored environmental rights amendment. And that this law was such an incredible egregious overreach for the industry. Just like all those years ago, people had overreached in how they had sought to use that environmental rights amendment inappropriately on the other side of things, we thought that by challenging act 13, with this powerful law, maybe we could overturn that 42 years of bad judicial precedent that had been set. And so we challenged act 13, in very significant part, claiming that these provisions that were so devastating would result in a violation of the Pennsylvania environmental rights amendment. Seven towns joined us and our case went all the way up to the state Supreme court, which was a very conservative Supreme court at the time. And we got this amazing victory that did in fact, strike down those provisions of act 13, saying that they would violate the environmental rights amendment of the Pennsylvania constitution. And so in that moment, we defeated that law before it ever got started. We defeated the exponential advancement of the fracking industry and we breathed legal life into this long ignored, constitutional environmental right. And in the wake of that victory, recognizing how powerful it was I thought, wow, we need to have this everywhere. And I looked at every state constitution across the nation, and I found out that there was only one other state, just one Montana that had a similar amendment. And so I decided I was gonna change that. And so defined, what was different about what Pennsylvania and Montana had versus other states? I called it a green amendment. I wrote my book and I founded green amendments for the generations. And there you go.Tom Raftery:
And here we are.Maya van Rossum:
Here we are. And that, was really right, those criteria. It was like, see, the thing is what Pennsylvania and Montana had was fundamentally different. Almost every state here in the United States talks about the environment. Some even talk about environmental rights, but they don't raise the environment. Up to that highest constitutional standing. And so that's, what's different about Pennsylvania and Montana and made those provisions enforceable in a powerful and meaningful way. Whereas other language in other states, were not having an effect and people had been trying, particularly in the climate context, people had been trying, but it wasn't making a difference because the language wasn't the right language. It didn't have the right placement and so, you know I identified those differences again, and I laid out the criteria, coined it, a green amendment. And that is the model that you asked about. That becomes the model that we seek to advance in other states across the nation.Tom Raftery:
Okay. So is it a case of two down and 48 to go?Maya van Rossum:
At this point, it's a case of three down and 47 to go because we actually got a constitutional green amendment passed in the state of New York just last year, so thank you. So it was a couple of years of work and a couple, you know, go arounds, which of course, you know, constitutional amendments, not an easy lift anywhere, you know, at the state level, at the federal level or at the international level. Right. In other nations. But once you get it, because it's harder to get. Once you get it. It also means you're very unlikely to ever lose it. So we secured one in New York state last year, and I'm working in over a dozen other states with either community groups or legislators who are seeking this powerful protection.Tom Raftery:
Yeah, cuz that was gonna be my next question. Who in those states do you work with? How does that work?Maya van Rossum:
So every state is really different and it's very interesting. So sometimes it's a legislator who perhaps read the book or heard me speak. There's an organization called the national caucus of environmental legislators who really sees the power of this pathway and has had me speak at their conferences a couple of times, and their organization is focused on exactly what it sounds like. They work with legislators who are dedicated to progressive environmental protection. And so I've given my talk and sometimes those legislators have gotten in touch afterwards and said, wow, Maya, how do we make it happen here in my state? And you know, so I work with them to think about what's the right language, but very importantly, I also then start to work to do the outreach within that state because you're not gonna get a constitutional amendment. Just with some interested legislators. You have to have the support of the people cuz fundamentally a right that a constitution falls to the people to decide what they would like it to say. In other states, sometimes it's an organization, right? And so it's an environmental organization, a larger one or a smaller one. And they, again, read the book or they heard a podcast like your podcast and they get in touch. And sometimes it's just a single individual, some of my most powerful green amendment efforts, notably in New Mexico and in Maine got started because somebody got the message. In one case, it was through hearing a radio show and another, it was through reading the book and they called me up and I feel so dedicated to this vision and this mission and making sure people get it right. I take it very personally. So if you email me or you call me about this message, it is very likely that the person you will hear back from is me. And if you wanna make it happen in, in your state. And so I called these individuals back and we just started a conversation. And started to talk about how could we start to spread the word in their state? How could we get other individuals and organizations to wanna join with them? What might be a good legislator to reach out to get our legislative champion who's gonna, because that's an important part of the process. And we slowly over time develop a strategy and implement that strategy for that state. Just like the language. There's nothing cookie cutter about it. It is very unique to the state. And so, you know, if you're an organization, if you're an individual, if you're a legislator, no matter, you know who you are, if you would like to see this amendment happen in your state, I think what we've been able to demonstrate is that all you have to do is have that dedication get in touch and let's start to work together and we can really make it happen in powerful ways. It seems daunting, but you know, you have to make that first connection and take that first step and we can absolutely work together to make it happen.Tom Raftery:
And roughly, how long would something like this take from the time someone picks up the phone and calls you to the passing of the amendment? I know that's a ridiculous question, butMaya van Rossum:
No, it's an awesome question. Because you know, some people do think like, oh my gosh, this, you know, like I said, it's a higher hurdle to get a constitutional amendment than it is to get a law passed, but it is not, so daunting that you can't see the finish line, but every state is different because the process for amending a state constitution is different in every state. So for example, in New York, we had to pass through the New York state legislature, both houses of the legislature twice, in two consecutive legislative sessions. And each legislative session is a couple of years long. Right. So just de facto you're talking about, and then once it passes through the legislature, it has to go to a vote of the people. There's no role for the governor of the state. It goes from the legislature to the people, unless you're in a state where they have something called ballot initiative, which is an entirely different process. But for the most part, the green amendment has been advancing in this way where the legislators pass the law and then it goes to the people. So in New York state, just necessarily, it was gonna take a couple of years in New Mexico, you know, you could get a green amendment within one year because in their legislative process, it just has to pass majority vote in each of the legislative houses of that state's legislature. And then it goes before the people at the next general election. So it, it can happen quite quickly. Of course, you know, there is education because you do need to get legislators and people on board. So even in New Mexico, we've been advancing it for a couple of years now. So I think in my mind from that first phone call to ultimate conclusion, we could be talking about anywhere from one to five years, and that depends on the state. And I'm not so far out, anywhere at this point that I have experienced much beyond that. New York took us four years, but the other thing is, is you don't have to, the, one of the beautiful things about the green amendment movement is you don't have to actually secure the green amendment to start having a meaningful impact on environmental activism within your state. Yes. Once you get the constitutional right actually added to the constitution, you now have the most powerful legal tool available here in the US that you can use to fight for your right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment. But as you're going through the process of pursuing a constitutional green amendment, you are changing the way people think about, talk about the environment, talk about environmental rights. Talk about their expectations of their government officials for the environment. I mean, very truthfully, most people, again, they might hear in a political speech or an environmental rally, you have a right to clean water and you have a right to clean air and they think to themselves, yes, I do. And they don't fully process that actually you don't because if you can't enforce it, nothing changes. So people haven't actually thought about the reality of the environment, this basic necessity of life, getting that same, highest constitutional protection as those other human, civil and political rights we hold dear. And when I point out to them this reality, when I point out to them that we can change that when I point out to them that there are three states that have this highest constitutional protection, this mind shift happens and people really do start to think about, I have a right to clean water and clean air. And so when they go out and testify at a public meeting against a highly polluting industrial operation, or when they go and have a meeting with their state or federal legislator about the newest operation that is sacrificing communities of color to more devastating pollution so much so that it is damaging even the capacity of children to learn. They use stronger language because now in their heart and in their mind, they have this belief, this absolute belief that, yes, I do have a right as a person here on this earth to a clean, safe, and healthy environment. And that is not just a facade and that is not just make believe. This is something that. Yes, I'm entitled to in my heart, but I should be entitled to under the law. And when they start advocating, they use stronger, more powerful language because intellectually and emotionally, they've been more empowered to recognize that they are entitled to a clean, safe, and healthy environment. And so they start to demand it. And when they go to a public hearing and people can't call out them or legislators suggest that they should, you know, literally sit down and shut up and they may not use the word shut up, but it comes pretty close. People don't do that anymore. I mean, it used to be and very often in many places until they've had this mind shift still is, you know, that legislators or whatever, the government decision making body on the day is. We'll listen to the testimony and be like, well, thanks very much. You can sit down now. And people recognize that they have all the power. And so they do, they sit down and they hope, and they wish that they'll get the right decision. And when they don't, they're very, very sad and they might think about, is there a way to litigate or not? But the truth is the laws on the side of the decision makers. And it all feels very deflating and defeating. But if you have a green amendment or you're fighting for a green amendment, that deflation is no longer there because you have this true sense of entitlement. What I say to people in environmental circles. I mean, think about those who believe that here in the United States, every person should have an unfettered right to bear arms because in our state and federal constitutions, it says that people have a right to bear arms. And when there is any effort to curb the ability of people to in an unfettered way bear arms those gun activists, they don't sit down and shut up. They are not ridiculed into silence. They get indignant, they get angry, they stand up and they advocate more firmly and more passionately for their constitutional right to bear arms. And as a result over time, they have been winning, very literally winning that battle to have greater and greater access to the right, to bear arms. In the environmental context, because so often, you know, the power is with industry and the power is with government people don't get that same indignation. They sort of get resignation that well, pollution and degradation is gonna harm, you know, are gonna happen, cuz that's what the law says. That's what the government says. If I wanna live a modern life, I guess I have to accept drinking toxic water. And you know that people are gonna be sacrificed. But when you start talking in green amendment terms, that resignation goes away and that indignation replaces it. And so it really is the journey to get a green, amendment has power in its own right.Tom Raftery:
Nice. Nice. Why state level though? I mean, if you went for a federal green amendment, wouldn't that cover all the states in one go?Maya van Rossum:
Great question. So, no, it wouldn't. Here in the US there's actually a tremendous, sort of bifurcation of power when it comes to the environment, there is a lot of power at the federal level. And often, very often it's the federal government sets the floor the bare minimum of protection, and then the states are allowed to do better, but as a result. And also by design in the way the laws are written, there are many, many aspects of environmental protection where the primary power and authority is in the hands of the states. So, by virtue of the way the laws operate here in the US, when it comes to environmental protection, we actually have to have state green amendments and federal green amendments if we wanna cover the whole realm of environmental protection. So that's sort of number one. Number two, when it comes to constitutional amendments, state amendments are much more accessible. Amendment of state constitution, or amendments of state constitutions happen with a lot of frequency. I mean, you know, some states you, you have multiple amendments a year that go forth and or happen. State legislators are much more accessible to the people, much more accountable to the people of their state and given their leadership role in this. That accessibility and that accountability can really help drive more powerfully and more quickly this constitutional amendment process. So given those two things strategically, when one thinks about getting green amendments at the state and federal level. Me as an activist says, well, the best place to start is at the states. It's more accessible. We're much more likely to get it in a more timely fashion when we get it, it will have a powerful and meaningful impact and the journey of getting this state green amendment requires us educating and activating people across the state about the power and the importance of a constitutional green amendment. So we are building as we build the foundation for a state constitutional green amendment. We are also doing the work necessary to ultimately get a federal green amendment. To get a federal amendment, you need three quarters of the states to vote in support of a constitutional amendment. So you have to do that work of getting that state level support to get the federal amendment. So I sort of feel like strategically. It makes perfect sense. Go state by state, by state getting state amendments and we'll be building the foundation and the awareness and the support to ultimately get that three quarters vote that we need for a federal green amendment. So that's why I'm going that pep and we'll reach a tipping point, we're not there yet. I feel like they'll come a point. I hope relatively soon when we will have had enough green amendment success at the state level, both in terms of passage, but also just awareness and support. When it will be clear that we sort of hit a tipping point. And so now is the time to kick into gear, also building the activism towards an actual federal amendment. And so I'm just keeping my eyes and my ears and my heart open to identify when we hit that, when we hit that tipping point.Tom Raftery:
Sure. Sure, sure. There must be a lot of pushback from groups in industry or legislators or, I mean, how, how do you come back against that kind of what I assume are high levels of push back.Maya van Rossum:
So one of the beautiful things about a green amendment is it is kind of hard to openly and earnestly advocate that people should not have a right to expect clean, healthy water coming out of their faucets, that they should not have the right to expect that when they take in a breath of air, that they're not gonna fall prey to an asthma attack or a heart attack or ingesting toxins that could give them cancer or cause ADHD in kids or Alzheimer's in, you know, people as they grow to adults. So it is hard because we all need that. I don't care if you're an industry executive, right. Or you're a child in an urban community. We all need clean water and clean air and water and air rate don't respect boundaries. So, and you look kind of stupid as an industry executive. You know, coming forth and publicly saying, no, you don't have a right to clean water and clean air. Right. So that's just sort of in terms of messaging and reality, that is something that really helps us cuz we're fighting for something positive that benefits everyone, not just one community or another, not just one political affiliation or another. So that's really powerful. So all of our messaging can be very inclusive and very positive and can speak to every community, an urban community, a farmer, right? There's something in this for everybody. And it's just a matter of explaining to them how a green amendment will help them in their lives and their livelihoods. The other thing though, that sort of goes along with that reality is I think that when the opposition that I've heard in the dozen and a half states where we've worked, it's all very similar. It's all very the same. And it's all very easy to speak against. Oh, the language is too broad. What is clean water? What is clean air, you know, to which the response is, well, all constitutional language is broad. I say to you, what is free speech? What is freedom of religion? What is the right to bear arms? Right? So there is just that sort of legal reality that we can go back and then they say, oh my gosh, Sky will fall, all economic development will end if we protect the environment. And of course there are a couple ways to respond to that one. We know that's not true. We know that actually a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. And when we did have passage of laws like the clean water act and like the clean air act, we did have a level of environmental improvement that was very economically beneficial to companies and to industry and to developers. And making sure that they had healthy workers to come work so we can prove very easily through research and experience how protecting and preserving and restoring the environment actually helps us protect, preserve, and enhance economic development. And then the third thing is, you know, I can literally say, go look at Pennsylvania, go look at Montana. The sky has not fallen. All economic development has not ended. In fact, fracking still happens in Pennsylvania. Now I am telling you, I do not think that you can frack and honor your constitutional obligation to protect the environmental rights of the people. There is no way to make fracking safe for water air climate in environments. But what happened was the frackers were, came to Pennsylvania before we got a living thriving green amendment. So what is happening now is the green amendment is being used to check that industry in powerful and important and meaningful ways. And over time we're building what it actually means to have a constitutional right. But you can look at those states. Things are still happening. Powerful benefits are still happening in terms of economic growth and also bad things are still happening in terms of the environment. As we learn, it's not an instant panacea to have a green amendment. We have to learn what it means to have a constitutional right. But what we are proving. And as chief justice, Ronald Castile said in that very first victory that we achieved against that pro fracking law, that a green amendment is not about ending economic development. It's simply about making sure that as we advance business operations and industry, we are doing so in a way that protects the environment and environmental rights at the same time. And I would suggest to you as an activist, you can always do that. There was always a way to protect the environment and achieve your economic goals at the same time. And sometimes it's about how you ask the questions, right? It's in the energy context, it's not you know, how do we frack? No, it's how do we create energy? And when we asked the right question, how do we create energy? The way we create energy with clean and renewable energy options. And so you can protect the environment and create energy at the same time and not frack.Tom Raftery:
Sure, sure. the other thing I guess I need to ask really is, cause this is the climate 21 podcast. We haven't discussed at all, how the green amendment would help the fight against climate change.Maya van Rossum:
The green amendment is again taking the most powerful legal tool we have here in the United States of America, and now using it to protect the entirety of our environment, including our climate. So, so there are a couple of ways that it helps. So first of one of the things that is notable is that in Pennsylvania and Montana, where the amendments were passed literally decades ago before they got legal life, the amendments do not mention the climate, but we all know that devastating the climate that a climate crisis has very damaging impacts on water, on air and on environments. And so one of the things that we are demonstrating in these states is that, protecting the climate is necessary to protect the water and the air and to honor those constitutional obligations. The other thing is, green amendment language. In all the states where we are seeking to advance them. One of the criteria that I say is essential is that we're recognizing the rights of future generations. And in fact, we got a legal decision here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That is very clear that when we talk about the environment and environmental rights, That obligation to protect natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations doesn't mean that we, the people today get to gobble up and desecrate the environment. And then when future generations sort of, get their chance. They have to do a good job at protecting what we left them. No, protecting the natural resources for present and future generations means that you actually have to ensure that natural resources are protected equitably because future generations have the same constitutional right to this healthy, natural resources and to government protection that we, the people here today have. So. That generational, that long term vision and view and obligation that comes from the best screen amendment language. Brings in that generational component in a meaningful and enforceable way. That's number two. And number three, you know, when Pennsylvania and Montana were passing their green amendments, it was early in the seventies. And so we certainly had information about what was happening in terms of the climate, but people did not have the same Brit large awareness about the climate crisis, that we have today. But today we do have that knowledge. And so when you look at my green amendment criteria and when people work with me, I say, listen, let's not, worry about whether or not we can convince a judge that protecting the right to clean water and clean air necessarily requires protecting the climate. Let's be really clear. We have a right as people to clean water and clean air, healthy environments and a stable climate. So I really encourage that, that climate language be explicitly written into the constitutional green amendment. Right. And in most of the states where I'm working that has happened. There are some where for one reason or another, because largely because of worry about the ability to pass it, they have not explicitly included that language and usually they later regret it. But the other thing to recognize too, is, not just not does the climate crisis just impact water and, and air, but of course the climate crisis is the result in no small part, right. About what we are emitting to the air and what we are damaging in terms of habitats on the landscape. So when there are going to be new industrial operations resulting in the emissions of climate changing pollutants, those pollutants have other impacts on our environment, on our health, on our safety and on the right of people to clean air. So we can go after those air releases in their own, right. Because of their impacts on the right to clean air. And so we sort of don't have to do it through the climate lens. We can do it through the air quality lens, but we get to the same end point, the same thing with the decimation of a forest, right. Or a critical ecosystem that is essential for, naturally capturing carbon and sequestering. It It not like the false solution of carbon capture and sequestration using industrial operations. That is a false solution. That is just frankly, that's just another fossil fuel lie. But when we're using natural ecosystems and wetlands and forests, to help us with the climate, their decimation, if it is large scale enough to rise to the constitutional level. We can argue that we, the people have a right to the natural qualities of the environment. That's one of the things that often gets written into green amendment language. We have a right to healthy environments. So the decimation of that ecosystem is a violation of my constitutional right to a healthy environment. But of course, if we protect that ecosystem, we also protect its climate, benefiting qualities.Tom Raftery:
SureMaya van Rossum:
So there are like the that's one of the beauties of a green amendment. There are so many ways to come at it, to get us to that good outcome, but the long and the short of it is write the constitutional right to a stable climate for present and future generations write into the green amendment language. And then we don't have to convince anybody about anything when it comes to climate rights. It's right in there.Tom Raftery:
Nice. Okay. We are coming towards the end of the podcast. Now, Maya, is there any question that I haven't asked you that you wish I had or any aspect of this that we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about.Maya van Rossum:
No, I think you asked me all the great questions and I really appreciate it. I hope people have been inspired. I think the only thing that I would offer is that, I, I am not working in the international arena when it comes to advancing green amendments, but there is a lot of international attention on our, US green amendment movement. First of that act 13 victory that, victory I talked about against that pro fossil fuel law, really elevated in a powerful way, what it means to have an enforceable constitutional right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment in ways that have been inspirational to other countries. And so there is, as I understand it from experts in international law and international human rights and environmental rights, there has been a lot of attention on our incredible victory, because it does have a lot of lessons. Not the least amongst them, that we can actually make environmental rights, enforceable and achievable. And I do get, I think in the criteria, the green amendment criteria that I lay out when I've talked with people from Chile and from other countries who, who are advancing the idea of enforceable environmental rights in their nations. The, the qualities of our green amendment criteria really do translate from the US into international law or the law of other nations. It's just a matter of, taking the concept and figuring out how that works in under another nation's laws. Right. They might not have a bill of right section, but they have a declaration of right section that operates differently. So it's really just to say that this is not the, the. Of course the power and the strength of an environmental, right, is something that's re recognized internationally and increasingly, so, which is powerful and beneficial, but I think the legal successes and the way we've been able to accomplish the legal strength of a green amendment here in the United States does translate internationally. And so I do encourage people if they're thinking about this for another country, to look at the website, um, give a call and, and let's see if we could be helpful in, making that translation to, to your country or your,Tom Raftery:
That's that's a nice segue into my, into my last question. maya which is, if people want to know more about yourself or the green amendment or any of the things we talked about today, where would you have me direct? themMaya van Rossum:
If they just go to www dot for the generations F O R cuz that generational quality is really important to me. So www.forthegenerations.org, they will find. Everything they need to know. And if they wanna learn more, an email or a phone call, all of which can be found on the website, is also most welcome.Tom Raftery:
Tremendous. I'll put the link to the website and the show notes as well. So people can find it easily there. Great Maya. That's been really, really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Maya van Rossum:
Thank you so much for having me and again, thanks for helping to spread the word of being so dedicated to climate protection. Um, as you know, it's powerful and important, and it's only because people like you helping to spread the word of all these different, powerful pathways for protecting our environment that, we all get to learn so much about what we can do to contribute.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. Thank you. Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about Climate 21, feel free to drop me an email to Tom dot Raftery @ sap.com or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you liked the show, please don't forget to subscribe to it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks catch you all next time.