They Knew presents the most definitive indictment yet of the US government’s role in the climate crisis
In 2015, a group of twenty-one young people sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights by promoting climate catastrophe and thereby depriving them of life, liberty, and property without due process and equal protection of law. In search of preeminent experts to make compelling arguments on behalf of their climate case, Juliana v. United States, the plaintiffs tapped James Gustave Speth—former Chair of the US Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme from 1993 to 1999. They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis provides an updated version of the Expert Report that Speth prepared for this lawsuit.
In They Knew, Speth analyzes how administrations from Carter in the late 1970s to Trump continued aggressive support of a fossil fuel based energy system. The book offers evidence supporting the children’s claims, presenting a devastating and compelling account of the federal government’s role in bringing about today’s climate crisis.
What did the federal government know and when did it know it? Speth asks, and goes one step further: What did the federal government actively do and what did it fail to do?
Since Juliana v. United States was filed, the federal government has repeatedly taken unprecedented steps to delay the case and force it to the appellate courts’ shadow dockets. Although the case has progressed slowly, it has inspired a generation of youthful climate activists.
“Will the [Biden] administration come to the settlement table and support the youths’ standing in Juliana, or will it follow the path of its predecessors?” ask Julia Olson and Philip Gregory, co-counsels for the young plaintiffs in the case, in the book’s introduction. “The youth will soon learn whether the new administration will stand up for their constitutional rights and their access to our Article III courts and stop perpetuating the climate emergency.”
Whatever is to be the outcome of the landmark case, the arguments it presented have introduced a definitive indictment of the US government’s role in the climate crisis.
They Knew in the media:
- Speth speaks about both the book and President Jimmy Carter’s legacy inThe Guardian.
‘Decades ahead of his time’: history catches up with visionary Jimmy Carter
- Science reviews the book and outlines the history of the case, Juliana v. United States, that lies at its heart.
The children’s climate crusade
- A review of They Knew appears in Nature, calling the book “timely, clear and concise.”
Witness in US climate-change lawsuit tells all
- Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author of The End of Nature, interviewed Speth for Yale Environment 360.
They Knew: How the U.S. Government Helped Cause the Climate Crisis
- PassBlue’s Barbara Crossetteinterviews Speth about his work and They Knew.
New Pressures Are Shaping Environmental Debates, a Leader Says
- “A rousing condemnation of a system bent on short-term gain against long-term health.”
- “Gus Speth has written a history of federal action and inaction on climate change that spares neither Democrats nor Republicans. They Knew is at once a searing indictment and a fascinating read.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky and The Sixth Extinction
- “Devastating. Enraging. Indispensable. Would that the world had more heroic elders like Gus Speth. He has produced a damning record that will become a potent tool for justice.”
—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine, and No Logo