Climate Change Litigation and Narrative: How to Use Litigation to Tell Compelling Climate Stories

72 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2018

See all articles by Grace Nosek

Grace Nosek

University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2018


The U.S. government has not taken sufficient action to mitigate the threat of dangerous climate change. Frustrated by the lack of action in the legislative and executive branches, climate advocates turn to the judicial branch and litigation to advance their cause. Litigation is important not only for its ability to create substantive legal change, but also for its power to generate media coverage and shape public and political discourse.

Research from across the social sciences highlights key psychological challenges that can prevent the U.S. public from engaging with the science of climate change, understanding the risks posed by climate change, and feeling motivated to take corrective action. Research also shows that the way in which a public health issue is framed powerfully shapes the public debate and policy prescriptions for that issue. This Article examines how climate advocates can construct their litigation messaging in light of this research to most effectively advance the climate movement in the United States.

If used effectively, the medium of litigation offers a unique opportunity to reframe climate change and overcome some of the public’s cognitive hurdles to perceiving the true dangers of climate change. The structure of litigation, which requires plaintiffs to trace their injuries—including economic, social, and health-related injuries—to the actions of defendants, allows climate advocates to leverage insights from the social sciences to make their climate change narratives as salient as possible.

Keywords: climate change, climate change litigation, climate litigation, framing, climate psychology, climate necessity defense, atmospheric trust, atmospheric trust litigation

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Nosek, Grace, Climate Change Litigation and Narrative: How to Use Litigation to Tell Compelling Climate Stories (June 1, 2018). William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review, Vol. 42, 2018, Available at SSRN:

Grace Nosek (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Law ( email )

1822 East Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia

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