University of San Diego

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law

Library of Congress Authority File


As Professor Charles Wilkinson explains, “The public trust doctrine is rooted in the precept that some resources are so central to the well-being of the community that they must be protected by distinctive, judge-made principles.” Because a healthy and habitable atmosphere is essential to the survival of the human race, it is imperative that the public trust doctrine be interpreted in a way to include the atmosphere within its scope. Civil litigation is an effective legal mechanism to expand the public trust doctrine’s scope by way of the judiciary. Once a state judiciary can determine the applicability of the public trust doctrine to the Earth’s atmosphere, it can affirm its government’s fiduciary responsibility to regulate the substances in the atmosphere. This will protect Earth’s habitability, and will be an appropriate way to sufficiently address climate change, at least at the state level. By utilizing civil litigation as a legal mechanism to coerce governments into regulating excessive anthropogenic GHG emissions, and ultimately in addressing and combating the harmful effects of climate change, the Earth’s atmosphere can be protected for generations to come.